A Photo Postcard Pair, 1900s

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

This studio portrait was printed on postcard stock, a popular method in the early 1900s. The clothes are from that era as well. The mother/aunt/grandmother here wears what we might call the uniform of adult American women at the turn of the century—a white shirtwaist and dark skirt. In a famous 1909 editorial, “American Fashion for American Women,” the Ladies Home Journal claimed that the shirtwaist was an American invention exported to Europe, bucking the usual fashion trends.

Just what is a shirtwaist? “Waist” is an old term for blouse. This style was called a “shirtwaist” because it had elements of a man’s shirt, often buttoning up the front with collars and cuffs. In the photo above, the blouse even has French cuffs with cuff links, something I haven’t seen before. Although shirtwaists could come in prints and colors, white was the most popular style. In casual settings, they were worn without jackets, as we see here. According to fashion historian JoAnne Olian, the shirtwaist was first popularized in the 1890s and remained a mainstay of the Sears catalog for over 25 years. (Everyday Fashions 1909-1920 as Pictured in Sears Catalogs, ii).

I’m fascinated by the older woman’s tie. Many women wore men’s ties with their shirtwaists, giving them a business-like appearance. (See one here in this family photo.) The woman above wears what looks like a bow tie with a loopy ribbon added. Maybe she was trying to soften the look of her shirt by adding ribbons trailing down the front.

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3 Responses to A Photo Postcard Pair, 1900s

  1. Fabrickated says:

    Interesting. I never knew they were called Shirt “waists” – possibly not in the UK. I have seen lots of working women (clerk type roles) wearing a tie with this kind of shirt – they seem to be having a bit of a come back just as men seem to be rejecting them entirely.

  2. eimear says:

    didnt know the origin of the shirt-waist, I used love wearing mens dress shirts in the 80s as they were so cheap in the charity shops and oversized clothes were ‘in’ (well in my world anyway). those large cuffs are unusual – I wonder if pieces were taken from mens shirts? (I did this – taking off embroidered fronts of shirts and putting it to a nightdress for my sister…)

  3. JenO says:

    I looked at this photo enlarged to see the bow more clearly, and it appears to be something like a bolo style. The two hanging ribbons meet (with a slider or something?) below the actual tie. I know, crazy to think this, but it could happen!

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