by Shannon Butler

The Vail photography studio that once operated on Main Street took thousands of photographs of the people of Poughkeepsie. As we discussed in an earlier blog post, we have in our collection boxes and boxes of these photographs. However, until fairly recently, most of the people were unidentified. Not long ago, our local history librarian Kira Thompson discovered that some of the ledgers from our collection have names and numbers that match up with these photographs. So now we are endeavouring to transcribe these ledgers so that we can put the names to the faces.

While going through these images you begin to notice certain trends in the hairstyles of women. Bonnets were out, and braids, curls, and buns were in. Victorian era women tended to keep their hair very long (very few trips to the hair stylist back then, sound familiar my ‘Covid-19 era’ friends?) though it was not respectable to have your long hair out loosely much past the age of 15. With all of that hair, ladies could get very creative with their up-dos. Generally, women would be inspired by looking through magazines like Harper’s Bazaar or Peterson’s Magazine (seen on the right). These publications would show the latest trends for hair and clothing and then it was up to the lady, or perhaps her maid (if she were wealthy enough to afford one) to pull off the look.

Hair styles generally reflected the dresses as you can see from the magazine example. A woman’s silhouette was a big factor when it came to the latest styles and as the bustles moved ever further to the rear, the hair styles moved even higher off the head. We can see in some of these Vail photos that the braided bun on top was very popular between 1873-1876. Another popular trend was the frizzy bangs (hey, didn’t those make a comeback in the 1980s?). And we cannot forget the glorious use of curls.

The ladies we have on display today have now been properly identified with the help of our handy ledgers and transcribing skills and #9527, now identified as Miss Ella Latham is sporting the frizzy bangs and the long curls in the back. Miss Emma Yuengling went for the braided bun on the top of her head, and so did Annie Steele and Allie Warring (who is seen with her large bustle dress). Miss Bell Fairchild has lots of frizziness and lots of curls and one can’t help but wonder how long it took to pull off these looks.