July 2, 2015

Children's Fashions in Civil War Era Photographs


CDVs (Cartes de Visite) arrived in the United States around 1859, on the eve of the Civil War (1861-1865). Demand for CDVs was high, as soldiers and their loved ones sought an affordable image of remembrance. Special photo albums were designed especially for cartes-de-visite.
Several years ago while prowling through a local antique store, I came upon a gorgeous leather photo album full of beautiful old portraits.  Most of the photos were identified with names in elaborate old handwriting and that also caught my eye. Holding a CDV in your hand is like holding a window to the past and I couldn’t walk away from that album. I wanted a better glimpse through that window.  That was the start of my collection of Civil War Era Photograph Albums. You can see many of them on my Lost Faces website. 

Children’s portraits of this time period  intrigue me, as during the Civil War era they were dressed as miniature adults. Young girls were dressed as miniature adults. Very young girls wore skirts and petticoats that were mid‐calf with pantaloons at ankle length. In 1862 three year old Mary Mermod wore a shorter scoop necked dress with pantaloons just below her knees.
Mary Mermod 1862. Private Collection L. Massey

In 1863 little Fanny Towne wore a scooped neckline which was no doubt identical to her mother’s evening or formal gown.

Fanny Towne July 1863. Private Collection L. Massey

As girls grew older and developed a bust, skirts and petticoats became ankle length or
longer, and pantaloons became shorter. The sisters Emily and Susie Fryer in 1863 have longer skirts and their pantaloons barely show.

Emily & Susie Fryer 1863. Private Collection L. Massey
Other clues for dating these lovely old photos is hairstyles. Young girls wore their hair in similar fashion to their mothers. Notice how these young girls have their hair parted in the middle (just as their mothers would have had) and at the height of the Civil War, had long ringlets added.

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