Are you familiar with Archive.org? The Internet Wayback Machine is a part of it, but there’s also so much more to find there. It is sort of like combining Google Books, the dusty stacks of your favorite old library and youtube– there’s a LOT of information on this website, and searching can get a bit overwhelming and noisy until you learn to narrow down your searches.
The site compiles scans of thousands of books (that are out of copyright and now public domain, I think?So mainly before the late 1920s) along with trade catalogs and magazines.
These are views of Charles Worth’s Paris Salon in the 1920s. Some of Ann Lowe’s clients would have visited these very rooms during their trips to France! Seeing this kind of primary source helps to set scenes:
A search for “Women’s Fashion” at the main page will bring up a torrential overflow of links. Learn to fine tune your requests a bit and narrow it to “silk dress”, and you’ll find a number of interesting (and useful!) sources.
How do I use these sources? I use this site on days when I’m hoping to find the kinds of articles and illustrations which would have inspired an early 20th century dressmaker (like Ann Lowe), but I’m stuck at home and I don’t have a library to wander through.
And I also use this site when I don’t feel like thinking very hard and I want to find some neat film clips. If I’m writing about 1970’s New York City and I need some real views of the streets and the people? Archive. org to the rescue!! This website is also home to the Prellinger Archive and that makes it such fun research for vintage news clips and other films that are too long to be for news shows—but too short to stand alone. I’m not sure where you would have been able to see this Harper’s Bazaar fashion update originally—but here we go. I’m cheating a bit here because this clip is being shared here through youtube, but I found it first on archive.org:
Advertisements are another truly entertaining part of this site…an early advertisement for an ELECTRIC sewing machine:
And what car demonstrated the height of technology and elegance in the 1920s London?
And how much was a dress length of silk in 1899, anyway? Ann Lowe’s mother would have looked in a dry goods catalog similar to this one:
When you don’t have a library to wander through, archive.org can be the next best thing.
If you need a few links to get you started down a fashion history rabbit hole or two: