Tag Archives: photographs

Fashion Moments – Middy Blouse

Fashion Moments by Deborah SweeneyWelcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the middy blouse.

Middy Blouse (the sailor shirt)

Picture the scene from the movie The Sound of Music when Maria first enters the Von Trapp household. The Captain pulls out his bosun’s whistle and proceeds to call his children from every corner of the house. When they arrive, all are dressed in sailor uniforms.

For many decades, children have worn school and gym uniforms based upon the humble sailor’s shirt. Summer camps and early bathing costumes have also utilized a similar design. The style crossed over into mainstream fashion throughout the 20th century. While many tops can claim to be a sailor shirt, a middy blouse is a unique garment. While the fit and general style of the middy blouse has been influenced from time to time by minor fashion trends, the basic parameters of the shirt have not changed. A true middy blouse was made of lightweight cotton duck fabric (also called jean cloth) or wool and was not meant to be “tucked in.” During the 1920s, for example, middy blouses sometimes were constructed with a hip band (a popular shirt style of the time), instead of falling straight from the shoulders to the hip.

The authentic middy blouse came into existence around 1910. In its early decades, the shirt retained the full sailor collar. Later versions dropped the collar and even the sleeves. Although hard to tell in black and white photographs, middy shirts were made in multiple colors (not just white or navy).


A teen-aged Ruth Yegerlehner (far right) wears a sailor style shirt in the 1910s. This is NOT a middy blouse.

Students from Clay City High c1918-1922. Several girls are wearing middy blouses.

Further Reading

A wonderful photographic essay on the “History of the Middy” can be found of the Fuzzielizzie Vintage Clothing website. Additionally, Fuzzielizzie wrote a post on a vintage 1920s lavender middy blouse set on her blog the Vintage Traveler.

Peter Thomson (or Thompson) was a tailoring house in New York and Philadelphia around 1900. He designed sailor suits for women and children. Eventually, his clothing style was adopted universally for school uniforms. The Catholic Church was an early promoter of the “Peter Thomson” dress in their institutions. The book Common Threads: A Cultural History of Clothing in American Catholicism by Sally Dwyer-McNulty can be found on Google books.


  1. Four women from Clay County, Indiana, c1915. Photograph from the author’s personal collection.
  2. Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, Spring 1915, 261. Image courtesy of Ancestry.com.
  3. Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, Spring 1926, 60. Image courtesy of Ancestry.com.
  4. Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, Spring, 1935, 61. image courtesy of Ancestry.com.
  5. Clay City High School, Clay City, Indiana, c1918-1922. Photograph from the author’s personal collection.

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/08/23/fashion-moments-middy-blouse/

Fashion Moments – Pigeon Breast

Fashion Moments by Deborah SweeneyWelcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the “pigeon breast” bodice.

Bodice and Shirtwaist Styles

At the end of the 1890s (about 1897-9), the shape of the female bodice began to change. Tops became fuller in front, predominantly at the waistline. Gathering or pleating typically controlled the excess of fabric, and kept this fullness to the front.  The shape is often compared to a pigeon’s breast which is typically thrust forward (hence the name). Another term which is used synonymously with “pigeon breast” is the monobosom. The overall silhouette of the period resembles the letter “S” as the breast is pushed forward and the posterior is forced back. Newer corset styles enforced this shape. Fashion magazines of the time generally exaggerated this “S” curve. Belts or sashes were a common accessory.  By 1905, the style was beginning to fade, and was gone by 1910.

[The “pigeon breast” should not be confused with the gathered bodices of the end the 1900s and the 1910s. As the decade advanced, waistlines rose higher than the natural waist while the “pigeon breast” remained at the natural waist and ofttimes dipped lower in front.]

Further Reading

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s website contains several pages covering the History of Fashion. A brief summary is given for both male and female clothing, arranged by decade.

The Vintage Fashion Guild publishes a fashion timeline on their website, beginning in 1800 and ending at 1990. Fashions are broken down by decade.

Fashion and textile historian, Leimomi Oakes, from Wellington, New Zealand, writes about and critics vintage clothing found in museums around the world. Her website has an online Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopedia. Currently, the page is a work in progress, and mainly focuses on different types of fabric/textiles.

The Vintage Victorian website has an article by Catherine Bishop, focusing on ladies’ evening dress from 1899-1905.


Pink afternoon dress by Jacques Doucet, French, c1903. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession no. 2009.300.1153a, b

Blue afternoon dress by M. Davey & Company, American, c1898-1900. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession no. 2009.300.907a, b

Fashion plates from the Thomas J. Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Costume Institute Fashion Plates: Women 1900-1914, Plates no. 68, 75, 77

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/08/16/fashion-moments-pigeon-breast/

Fashion Moments – Leg o’ Mutton Sleeves

Fashion Moments by Deborah SweeneyWelcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the Leg o’ Mutton sleeve.

Sleeves from the 1820s-1830s

The Leg o’ Mutton sleeve made its first appearance in the late 1820s; the style continued into the 1830s. The French originally named this style the gigot sleeve due to the sleeve’s unique shape. In French, gigot literally means the hind quarters of an animal. In the English speaking world, the name translated into Leg of Mutton, or Leg o’ Mutton. This sleeve was characterized by voluminous amounts of fabric at the sleeve cap which eventually tapered down narrowly at the wrist. Horsehair and other means of support were required to maintain the “puff.” To balance the ensemble, skirts became wider at the bottom and the waist became deceptively narrower.

American, Cotton dress, c.1832-5 (Courtesy of the Brooklyn Costume Museum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“Oh I am grateful,” protested Anne. “But I’d be ever so much gratefuller if–if you’d made just one of them with puffed sleeves. Puffed sleeves are so fashionable now. It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.”

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy M. Montgomery

Fashion Reboot – 1890s

As the bustle made its final decline at the end of the 1880s, a void was created. What would the next fashion trend be? As is typical with fashion, old became new again. The 1890s saw a resurgence (or recycling!) of the Leg o’ Mutton sleeve. As the bustle began to decrease, fashion shifted from an exaggerated posterior to an extreme expansion of shoulder girth.

A cursory glance through fashion journals shows the absence of the Leg O’ Mutton sleeve in 1891. By 1893, sleeves had begun to inflate.  The peak of the sleeve appears to have been the years 1895 and 1896, and by 1897, the style was on the wane. (Please note that throughout the same decade, fashion journals consistently showcased sleeves of moderate girth as well. Do not assume that because a woman’s sleeves are narrower in a photograph that it was not during the years 1893-1897 if other clues indicate this time frame). The following plates are courtesy of the Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).

Further Reading

The Fashion Historian blogged about the original French Gigot sleeve from the 1830s.

A definition and history of Gigot sleeve from the Fashion Encyclopedia.

Collection of Fashion plates from the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of the plates are in the public domain.

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/07/12/fashion-moments-leg-o-mutton-sleeves/

Identifying Everyday Clues in Photographs, Part III

Dating PhotographsSo far in this series, I have gone through the process of identifying details in a photograph of my 2X great grandmother, Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner. In the second post, I provided some resources for identifying period silhouettes. While narrowing down a period silhouette and fashion details can be tricky, finding a probable range for a photograph’s date is oftentimes more simple, especially if you have solid genealogy data to support it. If you are lucky, the range will not be too large, for example, a ten years versus twenty years. The narrower the range the easier it becomes to date a photograph, especially if one is lacks familiarity with fashion trends. Once a range is establish-ed, research within a period silhouette can be pinpointed.

 Step Three is Determining a Timeline using genealogical knowledge:

In the first step, I identified the older woman in the photograph as Elizabeth. I am fairly certain that she is the older woman because I have several photographs of her which have been verified by people who knew her, including my great Uncle Floyd. The young woman has previously been named as Grace Wolfe or possibly one of her sisters, Anna or Pearl. And just because the younger woman was assumed to be a Wolfe granddaughter, does not necessarily make it true. Be sure to check the extended family members to eliminate other possibilities. The worst case scenario would be if the younger woman was not even a family member but had just been assumed to be so.

Grace Wolf & Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner

Elizabeth Yegerlehner and her granddaughter

Elizabeth was born in Bern, Switzerland, in 1843. She immigrated to the United States with her parents and siblings in 1852; they sailed on the ship Hungarian from Le Havre, France, to New York City. Upon arrival, they traveled to Holmes County, Ohio, which had a thriving community of Swiss expatriots. In 1861, Elizabeth married Christian Yegerlehner. Soon thereafter, they moved to Owen County, Indiana, where they lived until Christian bought land in adjoining Clay County. Elizabeth and Christian were the parents of ten children. Their oldest child and first daughter was Rosina E. Yegerlehner. Born in Marion Mills (Owen County), Indiana, during the spring of 1863, Rosina married Henry A. Wolfe at the age of nineteen. Rosina and Henry had eight children, six of whom were girls: Emma, Mary Anna, Bertha, Minnie, Pearl and Sophie Grace. Elizabeth had three other granddaughters who were plausible candidates for the woman in the photograph: Roberta Yegerlehner (born 1892), Bertha Steuernagel (born 1886) and Alberta Yegerlehner (born 1893). Of these three, I am eliminating Roberta and Alberta because I have photographs of both women and they do not appear to be the same as the unidentified woman.

  • Emma, born 1883, married James Hamilton (1914)
  • Mary Anna, born 1885, married Roscoe Snedeker (1914)
  • Bertha, born 1886, never married
  • Minnie, born 1888, died 1917, never married
  • Pearl, born 1895, married Elmer Blanton (c1920)
  • Sophie Grace, born 1897, married Eugene Miller (c1921)
  • Bertha Steuernagel, born 1886, died 1911, never married

Step Four is to Construct Date Ranges based upon time lines of targeted individuals:

Since Elizabeth died in 1922, this genealogical fact creates a finite end to the photograph’s date range. However, based upon the clothing the two women were wearing, the photograph was taken much earlier than 1922 as most women wore shorter skirts and a heavy corset was no longer worn by that time.

In the original assessment of the photograph, I gave the Wolfe woman an age range from 16-25 years old. Dating young woman can be difficult. If you have glanced at young women at the mall or around your local high school lately, you will know what I mean. Puberty strikes in mysterious ways. In this case, the young woman in the photograph is old enough to be wearing long skirts and her hair is worn up. A young girl or pre-teen in the early years of the 20th century would have worn shorter skirts and her hair would have been down or possibly tied back or in braids. The Wolfe woman is also as tall as Elizabeth if not slightly taller, which can be an indication of her age. She had possibly reached her full height. My 14 year old daughter still has quite a few inches to go before she is as tall as me. However, she has friends who are almost my height (and I am tall).

Always remember that the age range is an educated estimate! The person could be a few years younger or older.

  • Emma’s range (1899-1908)
  • Mary Anna’s range (1901-1910)
  • Bertha’s range (1902-1911)
  • Minnie’s range (1904-1913)
  • Pearl’s range (1911-1920)
  • Sophie Grace (1913-1922)
  • Bertha Steuernagel’s range (1902-1911)

The estimated range for this photograph is 1899 to 1922. Next week, I will focus on the clothing of the younger woman to narrow down the range. Why the younger woman? While Elizabeth’s clothing offers some clues, it is generally the styles of youth that reflect the newest fashion trends.

Evolution of the shirtwaist (or blouse):

Identifying Everyday Clues in Photographs, Part I

Dating PhotographsHow many of us have received boxes or albums of photographs from relatives, only to be dismayed to find them unlabeled and undated? This is a concept familiar to many genealogists. Even if our ancestors did not properly annotate their treasured photographs, clues can still be found to help date them. Trends in clothing and hairstyles can be used to narrow down time frames. The type of photography used and the imprints of long gone photographers on cardboard frames offer further evidence of when and where a photograph was taken. Knowing an ancestor’s lifespan and their family’s unique dynamics helps to fill additional puzzle pieces.

This is the first in a series of posts on using clothing and hairstyles to identify and date photographs. My first career was in the field of costume design and history. I studied many fashion trends during my years as a costumer. I still love anything related to textiles – from vintage clothes to sewing reproduction garments. In many ways, studying the history of clothing helps me to visualize  my ancestors with greater depth and clarity. My aim with this series is to help the average genealogist recognize fashion trends in their own photographs and to provide resources for further study.

Today, let’s start with a typical photograph that anyone might have in their collection. In this case, the photograph is of my 2X great grandmother, Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner, and one of her granddaughters. I have had this particular photograph in my collection for many years. When I received it from my uncle Mark (yes, that Mark from the letters!), he was in the process of photographing some of the family’s older photographs. He was generous in giving copies to all the relatives who wanted them. This was prior to scanning and high quality color photocopies. Over the years I was led to believe that the younger woman was Grace Wolfe, one of Elizabeth’s grandchildren. I have heard in the intervening years the woman might have been one of Grace’s older sisters.  This definitely put a spin on my original dating of the photograph! But it did clear up some of the inconsistencies that I could not rectify.

Grace Wolf & Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner

The first step is to Identify and Describe the people in the picture:

During this step, write down everything you observe in the photograph. Even the smallest of details could be important. The background of this photograph does not provide any identification, such as buildings, cars, farm animals, etc. In this case, however, I am fairly certain that the photograph was taken on the Yegerlehner farm, or one of the farms owned by extended family members. However, this information is not relevant to dating the photograph at present. If the photograph had an identifiable background, listing the visible features would be another step in the  process.

Older Woman –

  • Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner (I know this because I have seen other pictures of her so I am familiar with her appearance).
  • Lived 1843-1922
  • Wearing dark clothes, possibly black
  • Elizabeth was widowed in 1903
  • Her bodice has a yoke, with lace or other adornment
  • Sleeves caps are small
  • Sleeves are narrow, but not tight fitting, with cuffs at wrists
  • Bodice does not appear to close in front
  • Long skirt which ends 2-3 off the ground
  • Skirt is plain, with no adornment
  • Long narrow pin at base of neck
  • Bodice has a low or non-existent collar
  • Although her hands cover waist, there is possibly a belt which hits right under her bosom
  • Hair is pulled tight in a bun, with center part

Younger Woman –

  • Most likely one of the Wolfe girls (Emma, b. 1883; Mary, b. 1885; Bertha, b. 1886; Minnie, b. 1888; Pearl, b. 1895; and Grace, b. 1897)
  • Wears long skirt, a couple inches of the ground, striped material, possibly cotton
  • Bodice of same material as the skirt
  • Bodice has ¾ length sleeves, with cuffs below elbows
  • Sleeve caps are slightly puffy, as gathers are evident
  • Sleeves are narrower, but not tight fitting, for “ease of movement”
  • Bodice blouses out at waistline
  • No collar
  • Bodice does not close in front
  • No jewelry
  • No adornment on bodice or skirt
  • Skirt is smoother across hips, and wider at bottom
  • Age between 16-25, old enough to wear long skirts
  • Hair in bun at back, although there is fullness over the ears which mostly covers them; hair appears to be parted in the center but only at the front
  • Working clothes vs. high fashion “good occasion” clothes
  • Clothes likely homemade and not purchased from a catalogue

In the next installment, we will look at fashion trends at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

©2015 copyright by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/05/02/identifying-everyday-clues-in-photographs-part-i/

Monthly Update – April 18, 2015

Well, the weekly update did not exactly pan out. I kept meaning to do a weekly post but it is now a month later, and I am finally making the time to write an update. So it might be better off called “The Monthly Update” since it has been about a month since my last one.

Dear Mother, Love Daddy

Dear Mother, Love Daddy coverThere is a book giveaway for the month of April at Goodreads. If you did not sign up for last month’s giveaway, there is still time. The contest runs until the end of the month.


I gave a few copies of the book to Nichelle Bara of Copper Leaf Genealogy. She is a genealogist is northern Indiana and the St. Joseph’s County ICG. She is in the process of writing a review, and she is going to be running a contest to give a way a couple copies of the book. Stay tuned for links to the review and instructions of the contest!

If you are interested in purchasing an autographed copy of the book, I am selling copies. The cost is $21. The price includes one book, one autograph, and priority mail shipping within the U.S. Please contact me through the contact page/form tab if you are interested. The book is still available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble online. Follow the link on the right hand side of the blog to purchase directly from Amazon.

I now have an official press release for the book, and have submitted several copies to local bookstores. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the press release, please contact me.

Professional Learning

I am now an official graduate of the ProGen Study Group program. I am waiting for my certificate to come in the mail! I recommend the program highly to anyone who is interested in advancing their genealogy skills to a higher level.

I attended the Sacramento Roots Cellar Spring seminar with D. Joshua Taylor as the keynote speaker in March. It was a wonderful educational experience. As a result, I have started revamping the way I organize my genealogy files. I have also started using Google sheets to catalogue some of my projects as well as using Google’s tools to communicate with my clients more effectively. One of the first projects I started was making a catalogue of the World War II letters. So far, I have included all the letters from Dear Mother, Love Daddy.

Google screen shot

I still haven’t decided what educational opportunity I should try next. However, I am starting to look ahead to which projects I should use for my Board of Certified Genealogists portfolio. Among the samples I have to include are: a research report prepared for a client, a case study (proof argument using conflicting or indirect evidence), and a kinship-determination project (lineage). The biggest task is choosing  projects that have not been previously evaluated or published. I have used some of my family research for projects while studying for my Boston University certificate and the ProGen Study group. Those are off limits! The portfolio must be diverse in scope as well. I have to explore different types of genealogy problems, using a wide variety of records and sources.

Local News

I was able to meet with the branch manager of my local library in regards to starting some genealogy programming. We have tentatively set a date in September for an introduction level round table event. I am mulling over all the things I want to say to beginning genealogists. I have to create a 20-30 minute presentation. One of things I have come up with is…always start by documenting yourself! I think everyone has the tendency to jump ahead to great grandma or the ancestor who reportedly served in the Civil War. It is important to build a solid foundation from the beginning. Lots of information can be gleaned from your own birth certificate.


I was pleasantly surprised this month to get a high level match on my maternal side of the family. Since my grandmother was an only child AND she did not have first cousins on her maternal side, there are not many people I can ask to spit for me. In addition, she comes from old New England which is infamous for endogamy. She has a lot of pedigree collapse in her tree. I have occasionally discovered 9th and 10th cousins who appear as closer relatives, but nothing substantial. The new match appears as a 2nd to 3rd cousin, but is actually a fifth cousin to me on paper. This is partly due to the pedigree collapse and to a large portion of shared X chromosome. The X chromosome has a unique inheritance pattern due to male/female inheritance. Males only get one from their mothers, while females get two (one from each parent). It’s almost like DNA playing hopscotch! Of course, this new match has renewed my interest in researching my Howard family lineage. I am descended from John Howard of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, through over 8 different lines of descent.


In the last month, I have created many more boards on Pinterest. In case you are not aware, my first career was in theatrical and historical costuming. I have a lot of experience researching different historical clothing periods. I see a lot of people struggling to identify and date photographs within the field of genealogy. There are several genealogists who specialize in the field of dating photographs. There are many factors to take into consideration when dating a photograph. Clothing is a major factor, and it can be tricky, depending on the age and social circumstances of the person being photographed. On Pinterest, I have created several boards for the 19th and early 20th centuries with the aim of assisting people in dating photographs. The boards are divided by decade and they contain only photographs of actual clothing, not fashion plates. Here is a link to the 1870s board:


I am considering writing a few blog posts about clothing and fashion trends in the future. Please let me know if this is something that would appeal to you.

Upcoming Events

I am getting more excited about the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in June. This will be my first opportunity to meet some genealogy rock stars in person as well as to connect with some fellow genealogists I know only from online. I am an honorary blogger as well.

Blogger badge-blogger-1


©2015 copyright by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/04/18/monthly-update-april-18-2015/