Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

pretty, pretty

pretty, pretty

From the late 1880s-1890s, this cabinet card shows a pretty young girl showing off her dress. She is nicely groomed with curls, a fancy dress with lace trim, black stockings and shiny black shoes with buckles on them. I learned recently about an interesting aspect of 19th century photography, which is that colors photographed using wet plate technology do not photograph the same as our modern technology. For instance, a modern yellow dress would photograph as gray or white using modern photography (e.g. modern black & white film). However, a yellow dress photographed by a wet plate camera would photograph as dark gray/almost black! I found a fascinating article about this on The Sewing Academy, a website dedicated to reproduction sewing using historical techniques. So, while this young girl’s dress is most likely white, this new information casts a whole new light on the clothing in every other 19th century photograph I have seen. Reds photograph as black, greens photograph as shades of dark gray. Blues show up as light gray.

I recall a previous photo I posted which had written on the back “gray and orange.” I am going to have to reevaluate the dress with this color information in mind!

2 thoughts on “Show your skirt, love

  1. A beautiful child in an unusual pose. Thank you for including the link on The Sewing Academy article about vintage photo colors and gray scale. This is exactly the kind of information I’ve been looking for, as color is so important in identifying military uniforms. I’ve thought many times about doing that same experiment. The difference in wet plate sepia tones versus B/W film was astounding. I never expected that a dark blue fabric became a lighter tone of silver grey.

    Have you found this website?


    It is a popular spot for digital artists to post colorized versions of antique photos. Some are famous photographs re-imagined in color but most are just ordinary vintage images. I suspect after reading that article that the colors may not be correct, but it is fascinating to see the technique.


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      That site is wonderful! I shall be browsing it often I suspect. In the cases where we know certain colors – for example militaria – the images might be quite accurate, but looking back at some of my cabinet cards I know I have imagined them all wrong.


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