Backmark: [in pencil: For Alice- With love from Coz. Nellie. Easter, 1896.”] In ink: ” Miss Nellie Lemon daughter of James Lemon a brother of Jos Lemon 2?? Cousin of F A Lemon 2” Alice May Lemon
Subject: Portrait bust of a woman
Nellie wears the enormous leg’o’mutton (gigot) sleeves worn between 1893-19897. Her top may be an example of the newly popular shirtwaist, which was one of the first mass-produced items of daywear available to middle-class women. Shirtwaists were loose-fitting, usually washable, and looked fresh and stylish when paired with contrasting funnel-shaped skirts.
She may also be wearing a two-piece dress consisting of a matching bodice and skirt, linked together at the waist with a few sets of hooks and eyes.
Her huge puffed sleeves would have been supported from the inside with tie-on puffs of buckram, horsehair, down-filled pillows, or cages stiffened with wire or whalebone.
The piece of black lace encircling her neck may have been machine-made and purchased from a department store or catalogue, or she may have spent countless hours making it herself. I can’t tell what the long, dark strip down the center front of her bodice is, but my best guess is that it is a piece of ribbon.
Jewelry: Nellie’s only visible jewelry is a brooch pinned at her throat, which completes the visual focus on her face. It also probably serves to hold the lace in place on the bodice.
Hair: Nellie’s hair is held loosely up in a high twist, and is probably secured by several hairpins and a decorative comb. Notice the clean, soft look of her hair, and how different it is from the slick, shiny styles of earlier decades. Although frequent hair-washing would not become the norm until the 1960s, indoor plumbing made washing one’s hair once a week a possibility.