Love, Victorian Style

I’ve been away from Sepia Saturday for quite some time, but after looking at the prompt for this weekend, I felt I could jump back into the fray quite easily! The prompt is a photo of a couple just about to kiss, it seems, leading me to love and romance. Well, you know the Victorians would have never been caught dead kissing so their portraits were, um, rather stiff. Here are a variety of wedding photos through the years.

Early 1860s

This first photo is a CdV with no borders and no props for the subjects. The corners are also square and the paper is a bit flimsy. This all points to the photo being made in the early 1860s. A general rule is the absence of borders puts in in the 1860-1862 range. Her dress is a gathered front bodice, which was a popular style at the end of the 1850s and lasted through the early 1860s. One thing I find interesting is that her under sleeves appear to be dark, suggesting that she is in mourning. I suppose it is possible the couple were married while she was still in morning for a father or brother, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the mourning customs of the time. The photographer was Ewing & M’Laughlin in Cumberland, MD.

UPDATED 4/2014: Since I originally wrote this, I have discovered that colors photographed differently on wet plate images than our modern black & white. This dress could be anywhere from blue to yellow and still show up dark!


Our second couple was photographed in the mid-1860s. Her dress style is from a bit later than the previous subject and the V shape trimming of her bodice is consistent with the mid-decade. Also, the presence of the lines on the border put the photo in that range. The corners of the card were cut to make putting the photo into an album easier. After 1870 the corners became rounded. The gentleman is sitting on a nice padded chair, which became more popular in that time frame. Don’t they look delighted? The photographer was Hill & Benson in Troy, NY.

Natural Form

Here is a gorgeous example of the “natural form” costume which was popular from 1877-1885. The woman’s dress is straight and there is not a bustle behind her. I’d guess this is from the beginning of the period as the elaborate decorations were symmetrical, while toward the end the asymmetrical trimmings became more popular. The natural form gown was designed to show a woman’s “true form” although modified with corsetry, of course. It was the anti-bustle dress. The photographer was Stone’s Great Northern Photograph and Copying House in Potsdam, NY. The CdV is edged with gold.

Allie & Wm Busse 1885

Next we have a cabinet card on a lovely maroon card with gold imprinting. On the back was written “wedding picture of Mother and Dad about 1885, March 4th. Allie Florence Jenkins & Wm Henry Busse.” This dress is consistent with the bustle dresses which returned in 1885. Also she has a ribbon or bow tied at her bosom, which was one method of dressing up for a wedding portrait. Remember, women wore their best dresses for their wedding, not the modern white dress. Most women of the middle class either had a dress they could wear and decorate with additional frills and bows, or they had a good dress made which later became a church or social dress. The photographer who made the Busse’s portrait was Sherraden in Council Bluffs, IA.

About 1887

Our final image of wedded bliss has the added bonus of the lady’s headgear. You can see that her dress is velvet (probably silk velvet as that was the standard of the day) with much trimming, consistent with a bit later in the second bustle period. You can see the edge of her bodice pointing out of frame which suggests to me that she has quite a bustle behind her! Her hair is coiffed under a fancy and feathered hat, and on her left hand you can just see quite a large ring. Our gentleman has his coat buttoned at the top. I read somewhere – but have now lost track of exactly where – that it is possible to date men’s clothing by the way they buttoned their coat. Buttoned at the top means one era, buttoned all the way means another. While men are almost universally unshakable in terms of fashion during the 19th century, their coat buttoning preferences say something. The CdV is mounted on a maroon card and the photographer was Sawtelle.

I hope you will click through to Sepia Saturday and make the jump to love and romance around the world!


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