Tag Archives: Sears Catalog

Fashion Moments – Beret

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 beret with thanks to reader Jackie Dinnis with her question about some 1930s berets providing this week’s inspiration.


In basic terms, the beret is a round, brimless hat which generally fits around the crown of the head. It is a soft hat without stiffening. Traditional French and Basque berets are made from felted wool, but different fabrics have been used to create a beret like velvet or cotton. The size and shape of this hat has been adapted and refashioned for millennia. According to several websites, the history of the beret is long and its origins are no longer known. Nowadays, most people think of the French when it comes to berets or elite military groups such as the Green Berets.


Some modern berets (Photograph by the author)


During the 1930s, the French beret became iconic with Hollywood movie starts like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. The beret quickly made its way into popular fashion. While it did not remain in the forefront of fashion, the hat has never completely disappeared in modern times. The style emerged again in the 1950s and 1960s with the beatnik generation.

Further Reading

A great history of the beret from Hat Tales.

More about military beret styles from blueberet.org

An overall history of hats with a descriptive list of some different hat styles from hatbox.com

Thinking of buying a traditional-styled French beret? Check out the website of Laulhère-France! They have included a “Some History” tab with a great review of the beret’s influence and history.

Blog Post from Glamour Daze regarding the French Beret in the 1930s.


Marlene Dietrich, 1933. Image from the German Federal Archives via Wikipedia.

Sears catalog, Fall 1931. Image from Ancestry.com‘s collection of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993.

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/08/02/fashion-moments-beret/

Fashion Moments – The Shirtwaist

Fashion Moments by Deborah Sweeney

This is the first in a new weekly series on specific fashion trends. Each week I will present a different garment or piece of female fashion that was prevalent during the 19th and 20th centuries. My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all encounter and struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family history should be aware of the environment in which our ancestors lived, and that includes what clothes they wore.

The Shirtwaist

The shirtwaist was a mainstay of the female wardrobe from the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. What exactly is a shirtwaist? To understand the evolution of the term, it is necessary to understand the definition of waist to a 19th century person. In modern times, the word waist refers to the part of the human body between the ribs and hips. In the past, waist was another term for the bodice of a woman’s dress.

Waist (wāst) n. The upper part of a garment, extending from the shoulders to the waistline, esp. the bodice of a woman’s dress.

As women became more independent and began working outside the home, their style of dress was modeled after male attire. A well dressed man of business typically wore a white shirt with a turned down collar and cuffs under his coat and/or vest. The term shirtwaist was a combination of the two terms: shirt + waist. Therefore, shirtwaist is a term only used to describe the female version of a male dress shirt.

 Shirtwaist (shȗrt’ wāst) n. A woman’s tailored shirt with details copied from men’s shirts.

A typical shirtwaist was unstructured (no boning or inner lining) and was made from a material such as cotton or linen. Occasionally they were made of silk. Another benefit of the shirtwaist was the ease of laundering. Boned and lined bodices were generally not washed often. Over time, shirtwaists evolved from the simple tailored version of a man’s shirt to beautiful feminine garments embellished with lace and trimmings.

Shirtwaist, c1895, American silk and cotton

Shirtwaist, American, c1895 (silk & cotton). Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Collection

Although introduced as early as the 1860s, shirtwaists became more popular as the 19th century progressed. With illustrators like Charles Dana Gibson regularly drawing sporty and active women, women’s dress was finally changing. However, it would take another twenty or so years before the more natural styles of the 1920s became fashionable. By the mid 1890s, women were no longer being hampered by bustles and hoops as well as obsessive corseting. The movement to promote Aesthetic Dress (which began in England in the 1850s and was led by artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema) also influenced the trend towards healthier and non-restrictive clothing for women. The Aesthetic dress movement rejected the wearing of tight-laced corsets altogether.


A study for “When Women Are Jurors,” by Charles Dana Gibson, 1902 (Image in the Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons)

The term shirtwaist, or waist for short, endured from the early 1890s though the 1920s. The term finally passed out of common usage with shirt and blouse being more commonly used today.

Perhaps one of the most well known events regarding the shirtwaist was the 1911 Triangle Factory fire in New York City. Shirtwaists were very popular and cheap to manufacture. Mail order catalogues as well as clothing stores all sold shirtwaists. See the links below to learn more about the Triangle Factory fire, and PBS’s documentary about this tragedy which killed hundreds of immigrant factory workers. The overwhelming majority of the victims were women.

Evolution of the Shirtwaist

The style of the shirtwaist changed over the years. When dating photographs, it is important to note the changes to cuffs, collars and necklines as well as the rise and fall of the waistline.

Shirt waist patterns from the Modern Priscilla Magazine, 1906. (Image from the Library of Congress)

For Further Reading:

More about the fashion trends that influenced the Aesthetic Dress Movement:


On the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and Shirtwaists:

©2015 written by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/05/30/fashion-moments-the-shirtwaist/

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 II

Dating PhotographsIn my first post in this series, I set out to date a photograph of my 2X great grandmother, Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner and one of her granddaughters, an unidentified Wolfe. I went through the process of identifying clues in the photograph that would provide me with usable information. Each woman was broken down by age and by the various parts of her clothing.

Before we proceed further, I want to add a few fashion warnings. Dating photographs is never a precise process, and oftentimes, without other documentary evidence, may never be completely accurate. My goal is to help the average genealogist or vintage photography enthusiast to understand and recognize fashion trends as well as to give advice for finding resources.

  • Older people may not change their clothing fashions as quickly as younger persons do or be inclined to adopt new trends, however this is not always the case. A great example would be in the costumes of Downton Abbey. The Dowager Duchess was wealthy enough to buy new clothing every season but her clothing style evolved more slowly than some of the younger characters like those of her granddaughters: Mary, Edith and Sybil.
  • People from metropolitan areas are more fashionable than rural areas (sometimes!). With the advent of ladies and fashion periodicals, like Godey’s Lady’s Book, country women were able to see the latest fashions more quickly. Mail order catalogues, like Sears, Roebuck & Co. and the National Cloak & Suit Co., allowed women away from the big cities to purchase the latest fashions. Even if they made their own clothing, they could be inspired by the fashion plates. Pattern companies, like McCall’s and Butterick, also sold high fashion to rural customers.
  • Working class people dressed differently than wealthier people. One must always consider class when dating a photograph. The “best” dress for a poorer woman might last for many years while the “best” dress for a wealthy woman might last one season. People tended to hold onto clothing, and remade dresses year after year, as well as handing them down to young folk.

The second step is to Identify the Period Silhouette:

What is a period silhouette, you might ask? A handout from the The Secret Life of Costumes by Canada’s National Art Centre describes it thus….

“A silhouette provides an uncluttered outline of the basic shape of a person from a particular period in history as dictated by the clothing worn. Each shape is different from any in the century either before or after. The outline of your body wearing today’s styles would be very different from your great grandmother’s or grandfather’s shape at the same age.”

The pdf article contains wonderful advice as well as a fun activity for identifying some different silhouettes. Make sure you download it for future reference!

Fashion silhouettes can change very rapidly. They can also overlap as evidenced by my first point above. A woman from 1880 will have a different silhouette from a woman in 1860 or 1900. In both of my costume history courses, I was required to keep a sketchbook of period silhouettes for every century from the 1st through the 20th, for men and women. Within a hundred year period, fashion silhouettes can change a dozen times or more. Just for fun, I’m including two costume renderings from two different time periods, about 100 years apart. Try guessing the decades of the two pictures, and leave your answer in the comments!

Learning the intricacies of fashion trends takes time, and requires paying attention to little details.

There are many great resources for learning about historical fashion trends, in contemporary documents. Here are a few:

A couple sources for Godey’s Lady’s Book

Ancestry has many Sears catalogs available for searching from 1896-1993. To find them, go to Ancestry’s main catalogue and search under Sears. You can browse by year. Many years had more than one to chose from (spring/fall).

Ancestry screen shot

Internet Archive has many old catalogs and magazines in their collection. Here is a National Cloak & Suit Co. catalogue  from 1907: https://archive.org/details/newyorkfashions00nati

Dover books sells reprints of old fashion catalogues. Be careful of some of their “costume” books as they are secondary sources.

Dated photographs are great resources since fashion plates are not always realistically drawn.

The Library of Congress has a Civil War Collection: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/

The website PhotoTree has thousands of dated photographs:

Several museums have clothing collections.

One of my favorite is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Here is an example of a shirtwaist, dated 1899-1902:

©2015 copyright by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/05/09/identifying-everyday-clues-in-photographs-part-ii/

24th or 25th (Gladys)

Today’s letter was a short one. I believe it was written on Saturday, October 24th, not the 25th as it has been dated. Gladys typically did not write letters on Sunday. I do not know the rationale for this practice. Perhaps she was usually too busy with church activities (although she probably had not attended services for awhile due to the baby). In addition, the envelope has a cancellation mark dated October 24th at 5 PM.

1942 Sears Fall catalog - Boys coats (Image from Ancestry.com)

1942 Sears Fall catalog – Boys coats (Image from Ancestry.com)

The letter mentions John’s new fingertip coat for a second time. Now we know who took the picture (Aunt Ruthie). The picture of John was dated October 24th so this also gives weight to my theory that the letter was actually written on the 24th, instead of the 25th.

Letter transcription:

Kentland Ind.
Oct 25 – 1942

Dear Daddy-

Another beautiful fall day – however it is cooler now. Had a heavy frost last night. The heat feels good today. I am keeping the temp. at 70. It seems to be warm enough for everyone except Mother. I wear a sweater and the boys do part of the time.

Ruthie is waiting for Floyd to come. She took some pictures this morning. One of John with his new fingertip coat so you can see how he looks in his new coat when we get the film developed. I have a roll of film to take and if it is nice tomorrow will try to get more of David. I hope you get all we have sent you so far. I put some in your Christmas box.

[page 2] I am supposed to go see Dr. Cole Mon. afternoon. I want him to see the baby besides getting my check-up. I feel pretty good. I think I’ll be “O.K.” so long as I don’t overdo.

Next Sun. is my birthday and I haven’t decided yet what to buy with my ‘gift’ – Maybe nothing- or bonds. I am not going anywhere for a while so don’t need clothes. After the baby is old enough to ‘leave’ so I can attend club once in a while maybe I’ll get something – but you know I would rather stay home and take care of him myself than leave him when he is so small.

Mark is waiting to take this to the P.O. so must get it finished.