Woman with vase

The unidentified young woman in this photograph is wearing a drop-waist dress and a Marcel Wave hairstyle, hallmarks of the flapper era of the 1920s.  The photograph is about the size of a postcard, but it was printed on plain photo paper, rather than postcard stock.  It came to me from a dealer in Pennsylvania who often sells photos from resort areas of New Jersey, such as Atlantic City, but I don’t know if it originated there or not.

Early photographs of African Americans are prized by historians because of their relative scarcity and because they can provide insights into the lives of a people who were frequently marginalized or stereotyped in contemporary written sources.  When I think of flappers dancing in a club or sipping drinks at a speakeasy, I don’t immediately picture African-American women, but images like this remind us that they participated in the popular culture of the era and in some ways helped to define it.  Josephine Baker is a great example.

I like how she uses the vase to create an elegant and graceful pose.

Woman with vase (1920s) 2



34 thoughts on “Woman with vase

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  1. I haven’t been reminded of marceled hair in some time. She’s so lovely. What is that on her arm? I decided it might be a bracelet of some sort, with the band less visible in the photo. If you hadn’t mentioned it in your text, I wouldn’t have thought of her as African American. I followed your link, but still wasn’t sure if this woman is Josephine Baker. I don’t think so — if not, do you know this woman’s identity?

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    1. I didn’t mean to suggest that this might be Josephine Baker. This woman is unidentified, so I’ve added that word to the beginning of the post. I’m sorry that was confusing! The back of the photo is completely blank, unfortunately.

      She seems to be wearing a bracelet in the shape of a watch. At least, I don’t think it’s a watch. Thank you for your helpful feedback, Linda!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even with flowers, I sometimes forget the little details that would make an image understandable to people, or say things that are ambiguous. I always like it when people ask questions or tell me they’re confused. Whoever the woman is, she’s just lovely — and so self-assured.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I always wrestle with how much to say. I think a little context is good, but the focus should be on the photo, not my text. I don’t know if I struck a good balance in this post. Maybe I should have just let the photo speak for itself.


  2. This definitely looks like an engagement photo, and those shoes, T-straps for sure! My favorites when I was a child but seemed like sandals. Long before flip-flops came along, we dealt with sand filling our shoes 🙂 What a lovely, graceful pose, demure but confident…I love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That is a beautiful image. I concur with those who think it’s an engagement photo. I don’t think I would have immediately snapped on her being African-American if you hadn’t mentioned it. I didn’t know about Marcel waves before, though I did peg this for the 1920s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know little about fashions and trends, but the Twenties were a great decade for fashion photography, spurred by the growth of the silent film industry and by film and fashion magazines. I think later decades are less interesting, as fashion photography became more of an industry and less of an art.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My first thought when I saw her with the vase was that she might be a potter who makes such beautiful vases. But it is more probably a studio prop, used to create her elegant pose. I never thought of ‘engagement portrait’ as a category, but it makes sense.

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    1. When you think about how young people were when they first married in previous generations, a portrait could signal a coming-of-age. With or without an engagement, it could signal that a young woman is mature enough to enter society (‘come out’).


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