Book Review: The Family Album, Ladies’ Wear Daily 1860 – 1865

I received a new book in the mail from one of my subscribers, Jill, (thank you very much!), and thought I’d do a book review on it. It is all about what women were wearing during the Civil Wear period, and I actually already had a copy of this book in my library, but the one Jill sent me is in excellent condition, so I will share some pictures from it.

[If you click on any picture, it will enlarge.]


It is a paperback book, written by Juanita Leisch, and is a pretty neat book filled with 50 photographs of Civil War dresses. It has a copyright date of 1988 but that really doesn’t matter too much considering the subject. There are only 22 pages, but it has a lot of information packed in those pages. I have used this book for years looking at the pictures and getting ideas for the Civil War doll dresses I make. It also has quite a bit of information on sleeves, necklines, bodices, hairstyles, and more… I think it’s a very good reference book.

I give this book a thumbs up and thought I’d share a few pictures of it. They are all in a sepia tone so I brightened them up just a bit so you could see them a little more clearly. I just checked Ebay and found one copy of this for $10.00 if anyone was interested.

I like this picture of these men..showing off their center parted hair…


Each of the dresses featured, tells something reminiscent of the clothing worn during the Civil War era. The pictures are on the right hand pages and the information about the dresses and how they were made, plus lots more is on the left hand pages.


This part about the tiny waists is something to really consider… can you imagine how small that is? On the back cover of the book is a white circle that is about the size of a saucer… seriously!!


Here are some more dresses to look at…


…and a few more…


Now I’m not an unkind person, but I certainly hope this lady had a great personality… because… well, I better stop…


…a few more…


…some more information…


I hope you enjoyed looking at these photographs…it’s strange to imagine how their dresses are so inspirational to me. I absolutely love sewing Civil War dresses.

Oh, and one more thing. When I got the book in the mail from Jill, she sent along the sweetest card. It’s a replica of a pattern from 1968 and is an actual notecard. I had never seen these and think it’s so much fun. Thank you again Jill.

Here’s the front and the envelope.


…and here is the back of the card… adorable, isn’t it?


See you tomorrow,
Blessings, Jeanne

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  1. Marilyn Grotzky says:

    What a great book. I can see that the details would be very helpful in creating your designs.

    I’ve been reading a book called Eating History, with chapters on some of the things that changed the way we eat — new flour mills, Kellogg’s, the Erie Canal, and so on — and one thing it points out is that until the 20th century, people often lost their teeth relatively early in life. Some of the photos may reflect that. I think when photographs were a big deal and took a long time, they were more serious — it might also have been hard to hold a smile for long enough. It is interesting to see the difference between photos and fashion sketches, not just because of the difference in the clothes but because of the difference between ideal and real women. The idealized ones didn’t have to iron those skirts, either.

    At Kensington Palace several years ago, there was a display of some of Queen Victoria’s dresses including one she wore when she was about 16. The waist was tiny. Of course, she was very small and undoubtedly had been wearing corsets for a year or two already, but the smallness of her waist was surprising, not because we think of her as being not slender, but because any waist of that size is astonishing. The photo marked 50 shows a very small waist.

    I thought the point about small sizes surviving was a good one. A costume historian said that working class clothes were valuable because they were hard to find — they were normally worn out and thrown away.

    All the photos show the off the shoulder sleeve seam that Pleasant Company got right, as well as the lack of seam right on the shoulder (the one that goes from neck to sleeve seam). When did that “back of the shoulder” seam first show up? And why? When did it disappear? It seems to me that it would have been much harder to work out a pattern for that than the top of the shoulder seam. And while I’m asking questions, when did 48″ wide fabric become common? It seems to me that it might have been around 1960.

    Thanks for the book review. They are always interesting and I’ve tracked down some of the books. You mentioned needing to look up who’s up next. Who is next?

    • HI Marilyn,
      Yes, it is a great little book and very helpful when you’re trying to decide on a dress style…

      You’re right about the teeth… who wants to smile with a mouth full of nothing but gums showing?

      About that shoulder seam that sets toward the back… and not just up on top like we have in today’s fashions. I searched and searched for an answer and didn’t actually find one, but it’s very important to be accurate if you are a historical costumers. I’m sure it because of the way the dresses were cut out…it must have given them more flexibility when they moved their arms. The armhole was quite small in most dress. I did found this:

      “Accurately placed seams can catapult your creativity from “Costume-y” to “Period Clothing” in the time it takes to find your seam ripper. The Biggest Mistake? Not following seamline placement.
      That shoulder seam – throughout the 1800s you’ll see it angled from the side of the neck toward the back of the arm. This is for fitting purposes primarily, but it’s also a telltale sign of a well-researched costume. Shoulder seams sitting right on the shoulder will scream modern.” by, author, Jennifer Rosbrugh. She said it’s very important to get it right.

      I couldn’t find out anything about the 45″ wide fabric and when it became popular.

      I haven’t decided who is next. My Saturday has been too busy and I haven’t even made it into my sewing room today… :o(
      Thanks Marilyn,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  2. Linda Doyle says:

    That was so very thoughtful of Jill to send this wonderful gem of a book! I can’t imagine wearing those outfits and having my waist squeezed in to tightly! It seems that no one ever was smiling in long ago pictures, and I can imagine why!!

    That woman in picture 27—-oh my! If I saw her coming, I’d turn a corner fast! Her dress didn’t seem to fit well either!

    That card is just adorable! I wonder where Jill found that. I love to find out of the ordinary cards and send them to people I think they suit, and this one suits you to a “T”!

    • HI Linda,
      I guess with your waist cinched in anywhere from 17 to 23 inches, would make you not smile either… Okay…now that I’ve written that I have more compassion for that poor woman… who knows, maybe she had 10 kids too… I think she needs a Playtex Cross your Heart bra too.. that might help! :o)
      Marilyn posted at the bottom here, where you can find them…
      Thanks Linda,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  3. Marilyn Grotzky says:

    For the note cards, if you go to Google and put in “chronicle cards patterns,” you will be directed to the cards on Amazon or to the Chronicle books site, where you can search for “McCalls” and find the cards and McCall’s themed notebooks.

  4. That book looks interesting. I thought the same thing about that one lady. LOL That card looks wonderful. Have a great day Jeanne! 🙂

    • Hi Christine,
      That poor lady…she probably has gotten singled out for years…
      Thanks so much… I hope you HAD a great day too…
      Blessings, Jeanne

  5. Jeannie Brandon says:

    Jeanne, this is a lovely review of the Civil War era book. I enjoyed looking over the pictures of these ladies. Some I could tell were young and presumably unmarried or at least no children hence the tiny waist and firmer looking bustline.
    All of my grandparents were post Civil War babies so my family has pictures such as these of our ancestors. In particular, my material grandfather, Michael wore his hair in the ‘part down the middle’ fashion for his wedding. He was serious as well. Maybe I can obtain some of these pictures and send you a copy.
    Very cold and windy here in north Texas this morning. I think the January freeze is in full gear!!

    • HI Jeannie,
      I’m glad to have shared this book with everyone and how special that you have pictures like these of your relatives… do you have them displayed on a wall or something? That would be neat to look at.
      We are getting colder by the hour and it’s supposed to be down to 15 degrees by the time church starts tomorrow… it’s 33 right now and dropping fast… try to stay warm. I made a big pot of beef stew in the crock pot and we just had it… yummy!
      Thanks Jeannie,
      blessings, Jeanne

  6. Quite interesting. Love old photos however painful. I don’t think anyone has mentioned the teeth. It appears that many of the poor women had none. Not because they weren’t smiling. Rarely do you find vintage photos where they do. Very difficult to hold a pose for several minutes while the photo was being taken to avoid a blurry one. But, they certainly tried to look nice for their photos wearing the best outfit they owned.
    Cute vintage pattern card too.

    • HI Joy,
      Yes, Marilyn mentioned something about so many of the people losing their teeth.. maybe that makes for the prunish look on their faces…
      I love looking at the styles in pictures like these… you can learn so much and it really helps me with making doll dresses…
      Thank you for your comments, Joy,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  7. Kathie Welsh says:

    Thanks for sending Jeanne that book so we could all see it. I really hadn’t noticed all the ladies had center hair parts…I looked on pics of my Mom’s family from the early 1910’s there were center parts…if there were parts, but half had the front of the hair curly and straight back. Must have had curling irons by then 🙂
    Loved the snoods in pic 18…that one reminds me of “Little Women”
    Interesting post!
    Stay WARM..the high here today is 10!

    • HI Kathie,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the book review. Sometimes I think, “nobody’s going to want to see this book” but you all surprise me… it’s so interesting to sit down and really give these styles the once over… I LOVE looking at details!
      I like picture #18, and yes, it does remind me of “Little Women” too.
      BBBRRRRR… you are really cold there in Nebraska… we are 33 and dropping, and supposed to hit 15 by 8:00 a.m.
      Thanks so much Kathie… YOU stay warm and safe…
      Blessings, Jeanne

  8. This is the first time I didn’t hop onto eBay and buy a book you reviewed. I just went to the drawers and the closet and brought out the pictures of my ancestors from the 1860s including the one for whom I am named. They are mostly portraits and not full length but the dress bodices and necklines look similar. The movies certainly had it romanticized, didn’t they? The ladies have head coverings on with the hair parted in the middle. I may take pictures of the portraits for your reference collection tomorrow. I’ll find the one of a seated couple with my great-great-grandfather with the white beard down to his waist.

    Thanks, Jill, for sending the book and the cards and to Marilyn for finding the source. They’d be cute framed in a sewing room (dream on) or a little girl’s room.

    • Hi Susette,
      I bet you had fun looking at your family photos. I don’t have anything in my pictures that are anywhere that old. It would be fun to look back at past relatives…
      The note cards would be fun framed and in a sewing room.
      Thanks Susette,
      Blessings, Jeanne

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