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Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900

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Fashion has always been a cultivating force. And during the 19th century--a time of great change--fashion was a powerful component in the development of American society. Through dress, average individuals could step beyond class divisions and venture into the world of the elite and privileged. Beginning in 1840, with the advent of the daguerreotype, that moment could be c Fashion has always been a cultivating force. And during the 19th century--a time of great change--fashion was a powerful component in the development of American society. Through dress, average individuals could step beyond class divisions and venture into the world of the elite and privileged. Beginning in 1840, with the advent of the daguerreotype, that moment could be captured for a lifetime. In Dressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa gives a visual analysis of the dress of middle-class Americans from the mid-to-late 19th century. Using images and writings, she shows how even economically disadvantaged Americans could wear styles within a year or so of current fashion. This desire for fashion equality demonstrates that the possession of culture was more important than wealth or position in the community. Arranging the photographs by decades, Severa examines the material culture, expectations, and socioeconomic conditions that affected the clothing choices depicted. Her depth of knowledge regarding apparel allows her to date the images with a high degree of accuracy and to point out significant details that would elude most observers. The 272 photographs included in this volume show nearly the full range of stylistic details introduced during this period. Each photograph is accompanied with a commentary in which these details are fully explored. In presenting a broad overview of common fashion, Severa gathers letters and diaries as well as photographs from various sources across the United States. She provides graphic evidence that ordinary Americans, when dressed in their finest attire, appeared very much the same as their wealthier neighbors. But upon closer examination, these photographs often reveal inconsistencies that betray the actual economic status of the sitter. These fascinating photographs coupled with Severa's insights offer an added dimension to our understanding of 19th century Americans. Intended as an aid in dating costumes and photographs and as a guide for period costume replication, Dressed for the Photographer provides extensive information for understanding the social history and material culture of this period. It will be of interest to general readers as well as to social historians and those interested in fashion, costume, and material culture studies.


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Fashion has always been a cultivating force. And during the 19th century--a time of great change--fashion was a powerful component in the development of American society. Through dress, average individuals could step beyond class divisions and venture into the world of the elite and privileged. Beginning in 1840, with the advent of the daguerreotype, that moment could be c Fashion has always been a cultivating force. And during the 19th century--a time of great change--fashion was a powerful component in the development of American society. Through dress, average individuals could step beyond class divisions and venture into the world of the elite and privileged. Beginning in 1840, with the advent of the daguerreotype, that moment could be captured for a lifetime. In Dressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa gives a visual analysis of the dress of middle-class Americans from the mid-to-late 19th century. Using images and writings, she shows how even economically disadvantaged Americans could wear styles within a year or so of current fashion. This desire for fashion equality demonstrates that the possession of culture was more important than wealth or position in the community. Arranging the photographs by decades, Severa examines the material culture, expectations, and socioeconomic conditions that affected the clothing choices depicted. Her depth of knowledge regarding apparel allows her to date the images with a high degree of accuracy and to point out significant details that would elude most observers. The 272 photographs included in this volume show nearly the full range of stylistic details introduced during this period. Each photograph is accompanied with a commentary in which these details are fully explored. In presenting a broad overview of common fashion, Severa gathers letters and diaries as well as photographs from various sources across the United States. She provides graphic evidence that ordinary Americans, when dressed in their finest attire, appeared very much the same as their wealthier neighbors. But upon closer examination, these photographs often reveal inconsistencies that betray the actual economic status of the sitter. These fascinating photographs coupled with Severa's insights offer an added dimension to our understanding of 19th century Americans. Intended as an aid in dating costumes and photographs and as a guide for period costume replication, Dressed for the Photographer provides extensive information for understanding the social history and material culture of this period. It will be of interest to general readers as well as to social historians and those interested in fashion, costume, and material culture studies.

30 review for Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Loved this book! Added many of the photos to family search for posterity.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Spectacular sourcebook, featuring good reproductions of black and white photographs and detailed (but not overwhelming) commentary on each one.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    This book doesn’t have an equivalent in my experience. Joan Severa spent years funded by an NEH grant compiling and studying early photography to unpack the visual evidence for what it can tell us about fashion history, and what fashion history can tell us about the larger social trends in place.What I appreciate most is that not only are there so many images, but that the images feature people of all ages, sizes, wealth levels, and a variety of racial backgrounds. Severa avoids falling into the This book doesn’t have an equivalent in my experience. Joan Severa spent years funded by an NEH grant compiling and studying early photography to unpack the visual evidence for what it can tell us about fashion history, and what fashion history can tell us about the larger social trends in place.What I appreciate most is that not only are there so many images, but that the images feature people of all ages, sizes, wealth levels, and a variety of racial backgrounds. Severa avoids falling into the trap of whitewashing history by including black, Hispanic, and indigenous peoples in her examples. While I was primarily focused on women’s fashions this go through it is also an indispensable resource for children’s and men’s fashions. full review: https://faintingviolet.wordpress.com/...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    This is a big book with many illustrations and must have been a tremendous amount of work requiring enormous expertise. Nevertheless, I was somewhat disappointed because it was recommended to me as a book that could be used to date photographs and it is not. The author may be familiar with 19th century fashion but would almost certainly fail a test in logic because photographs have been re-dated based entirely on the clothing worn by the subjects. Yes, the book is about "Ordinary Americans and F This is a big book with many illustrations and must have been a tremendous amount of work requiring enormous expertise. Nevertheless, I was somewhat disappointed because it was recommended to me as a book that could be used to date photographs and it is not. The author may be familiar with 19th century fashion but would almost certainly fail a test in logic because photographs have been re-dated based entirely on the clothing worn by the subjects. Yes, the book is about "Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900" but only the clothing can be dated that way, not the photographs because everyone in the photographs is not wearing new clothing. The author of the book dates photos without consulting other resources and that is a problem. Photos with identified subjects are better dated by the age of the subject. Bottom line, a 5 year old child in hand-me-down clothes is still a 5 year old. For example, the photo on page 334 of Miss "M. McDaunt" by Mathew Brady has been dated by the National Archives as having been taken in the early 1860's. In this book it is dated 10 years later based on her clothing. Unfortunately, the bottom 1/5 or so of the photograph is not shown in the book so that the portion of her skirt on which part of the dating was based is not visible.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Valarie

    Absolutely awesome. Even though I do not know the meaning of all the vocabulary the author uses the describe all the features and details of the clothing shown in the images presented in this book, I have been able to gain much knowledge. This one is a must for any student of 19th century fashion and costume design. I want a copy in my personal collection and the library at my school.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kate Hannigan

    Incredibly helpful for anyone trying to get a sense of Victorian clothing and the period. From children and infants to teens, single adults to couples, and dramatically garbed grannies, the photographs on these pages document sixty years of American fashion. A wonderful find.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mairead the Librarian

    A comprehensive, beautiful and important resource for the historian, costumer, or anyone interested in understanding the way average people dressed and lived in 19th century America. I highly recommend it! Makes a terrific coffee table book that one can leaf though whenever the mood strikes.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robin C.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lilian Najarian

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Rose

  11. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  12. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

  15. 4 out of 5

    Neil G Stewart III / Kathleen

  16. 5 out of 5

    Babe Rainbow

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kim

  18. 5 out of 5

    Angela Wade

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  20. 5 out of 5

    untogether

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ann L. Lloyd

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anne Strupp

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Ditroia

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

  27. 4 out of 5

    Becki

  28. 5 out of 5

    Estott

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chantal

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