Sleeves Tell the Story

Sleeves Tell the Story

Family history mixups happen all the time, especially with photo captions. Vicki Beegle wrote a name on this image awhile ago, but now she's not sure if it's a woman on her mother's side or her father's. It's going to take a little time to sort...

Family history mixups happen all the time, especially with photo captions. Vicki Beegle wrote a name on this image awhile ago, but now she’s not sure if it’s a woman on her mother’s side or her father’s.

It’s going to take a little time to sort this out. In the mean time, I can tell her that there’s one detail in this image that pinpoints the time frame when this woman lived: her sleeves.

Holleman2 Viola Dickerson or bennett.jpg

In the 1890s, women’s sleeves dramatically changed. At the turn of the decade from the 1880s to the early 1890s, sleeves stood up straight from the shoulder in a sharp peak. In the mid-decade, large, oversize sleeves were fashionable. In the late 1890s, small puffs at the upper arm were common.

This woman’s sleeve is the sharp peak of the early 1890s.

Holleman3 Viola Dickerson or bennett.jpg

It’s a clue worth watching for. This small detail places this image in the 1889-1892 period.

Another clue also confirms it’s the 1890s: White cardstock mats were a popular choice in that decade.

The big question is this woman’s identity. She could be Viola Dickerson Holleman (b.1846) or Elizabeth Bennett (b.1841). Another photo of the same woman could confirm her identity.

It’s a worn photo with lots of scratches in the surface of the picture. To protect it from further wear and tear, I’d store in a non-PVC plastic sleeve, such as those available from archival suppliers and the Container Store.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Related Products

    1 Comment

    Leave a Reply

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


    1. The dress is from the 1890’s, but the photo might be a decade or so later. The area of the country where she lived, economic status, etc. could all play a factor here. Older people tend to hang on to their clothes and continue to wear them for years after they go out of style. My grandmother wore big clumsy shoes from the 1930’s until about 1970! If the photo studio that took the picture was a small shop or located in a small rural town, it may have been using older equipment and supplies than one in a metropolitan area.

      The dress and the cardstock help us set the earliest possible date, but I think the key to this one is the woman herself. Does she appear to be in her late 40’s or more in her 50’s or even 60+. She appears to have completely white hair. My guess would be that the photo was taken in the 1900’s.