A couple of weeks ago I posted about the creepy haunting picture of a group of kids that I bought at the sci-fi convention I went to. I lamented that I did not know much about the picture and probably never would.
Oh hahaha, silly Sommer. Aren’t you supposed to be a writer? You don’t know how to research? You should be ashamed.
I am. I really am.
Because, I realized, I do have a resource. My friend Lydia is a costume graduate at the University of Indiana and has a vast and rich knowledge base of costumes from many, many time periods. I knew if I could get her to look at the picture and dig into the clothes the kids were wearing, I bet I could learn at least when, if not where and who, these kids were. And she was brilliant just like I knew she would be.
Sommer Leigh: If I sent you a picture, could you look at it and see if you recognize the time period of the clothes? Even narrowed down to a century?
Lydia Dawson: Yup. Send it my way.
Sommer Leigh: The only information I have is that the seller collected pictures from the 1800s and early 1900s.
Lydia Dawson: There will be something in the picture for me to date it. Fashion changed quickly during that period.
Lydia Dawson: Oh! I’m intrigued! Based on the girls’ dresses, I’m going to guess anywhere in the late 1850s to the early 1860s. Good buy! I would love to read a story based on these kids.
Sommer Leigh: Can you take a guess at who they might be? I mean, are their clothes rich or expensive or poor? Do they fit the kids or do they look hand me down? What about the fact some of them have jewelry?
Sommer Leigh: Haha I’m so glad you’re so smart
Lydia Dawson: Well. They are all wearing shoes. Good clue to them not being poor. And wearing jewelry. Boys are wearing suits. Girls are wearing pretty darn fancy dresses. I highly doubt this is an orphanage.
Lydia Dawson: This is fun. I actually have to do this for classes.
Lydia Dawson: I really want to say that this is a school picture. If this was an orphanage (the only other reason for a picture like this) there would be adult females there as well, since there are little girls, but I think those are maybe teachers in the background, the guys with mustaches.
Lydia Dawson: The kids are definitely wearing their best clothes.
Sommer Leigh: Maybe a boarding school? Or private school? There are a lot of different ages here.
Lydia Dawson: Though I think there’s a few poorer kids in there, too. Yeah, some sort of boarding school.
Sommer Leigh: They are American?
Lydia Dawson: Definitely. Architecture on the building? That’s American. Wouldn’t see red brick like that in England. Maybe Canada? More than likely here.
Sommer Leigh: I am very impressed with you
Lydia Dawson: Awwww!
Sommer Leigh: I thought there was no way I’d learn anything about this picture
Lydia Dawson: Thank you! This is fun! I’ll point out a few more things?
Sommer Leigh : Yes please
Lydia Dawson: Oh! It could also be an employer picture. I highly doubt that since they’re dressed so nicely, but it is a possibility. Look at the girl in the second closeup. She’s wearing a dark colored gown with a crucifix. She’s wearing what is called a fan front dress, because of the folds that make it look like a fan. It’s a mid 1850s-early 1860s fashion. The neckline is a little higher so I would say closer to 1860s.
Lydia Dawson: The girl on the left? In the white? She looks likes wearing pants under a short skirt? It was very fashionable in the 1850s to have gowns that stopped at that length and then wear matching long bloomers underneath. More girls than women. It’s a lot like swimsuits of the later Victorian period. I think that might be where they pulled the design from.
Sommer Leigh: That would be so uncomfortable to wear wet.
Lydia Dawson: They’d be made of WOOL.
Sommer Leigh: That’s like jumping into the swimming pool with your winter clothes on
Lydia Dawson: Decorum first. Comfort second.
Lydia Dawson: Oh! And the high waists! On the girl’s gowns. Guys are tricky but girls fashions never lie!
Lydia Dawson: Dude! Girl on the right, second from the right, fourth row up. She looks likes she trying to make your head explode with her mind.
Lydia Dawson: OH! I didn’t notice before. Their hair! Something’s going on with the girl’s hair! This is soooo interesting. I’ve never seen hair like that. And some of the girls are wearing the same sort of necklace. This is interesting.
Lydia Dawson: [Lydia returns from vacuuming] I had a thought while vacuuming. I think these are immigrant children, or at least ethnic European. Based on that hair and the necklaces.
Sommer Leigh: I think I found something else for you to look at. See the boy in the bottom row sitting on the ground, far right? This looks like the kind of suit jacket he is wearing:
Sommer Leigh: It says it is from the 1860s so I did some Googling for waist-length bolero style and cut away jackets for young boys during this time period. They seem to have been used in France for uniforms and then progressed into boys fashion and became popular by the end of the 1850s and all throughout the 1860s. Based on what you’ve told me I think we can narrow down the time line for this picture to be the last couple of years of the 1850s or the first couple of the 1860s. 1858-1862.