Street style has always been a useful tool for understanding how people actually dressed during a particular era and that holds true for the late 19th Century. Unfortunately, street style’s usefulness is limited by the level photographic technology and the further we look back, the less useful it is- until cameras became portable enough to take outside, photographs (aka “images”) were limited to set-piece studio shots in which people dressed up specifically for (early photographs were expensive and required a lot of time, equipment, and effort to get right). It’s not until the 1880s and 90s that photographic technology had evolved to the point where useful pictures could be taken outside.
For fashion purposes, images of street style prior to the 1890s are limited (although they’re out there) so it’s a real treat whenever we come across a new source. In this case, we recently discovered online (got to love the internet!) a series of pictures that were taken in the Mid-1890s by a one Carl Størmer (1872-1957) who was a Norwegian student at the time who later went on to become a mathematician and physicist. Using a specially designed vest camera, Størmer would greet people on the street and take their picture, unbeknownst to them. The details are fascinating and more can be found HERE.
The pictures are fascinating not only for portraying what sorts of clothing were worn in everyday life (as best as we can determine) but we also candid, unstaged poses- more “real people” rather than people deliberately posing for portraits with all the attendant restraints.
In previous posts, we have approached 1890s day fashions from more of an ideal perspective, using fashion plates, illustrations, and original artifacts. All of these mediums are useful but lack that final step of answering precisely “just HOW did they look while being worn”. Hopefully, we can help bridge that gap a bit and so there are a few examples to get us started- please note that because of the way these photographs were taken, they’re not the best angles nor are they always in the best of focus (and of course there are the vagaries of digital imaging).
Here are a few featuring outerwear:
In the above pictures, the short jacket style is predominant although there is also the mantle; both were popular during the Mid to Late 1890s although the leg-of-mutton sleeves shrink in size as the decade progresses. Just to put it into perspective, here are some supplemental images of the sorts of jacket styles that were out there, at least in the United States:
And here’s the actual jacket. This is just one of the various styles that were out there:
And for a few mantles:
In the next installment, we’ll take a look at some other forms of street style for the 1890s so stay tuned. 🙂