Postwar Sepia Romance

Picture, if you will, graduate school, 1947 or so, University of Michigan, my father having been discharged from the Army for health reasons, now studying English lit, my mother going for her Masters in fiction. They meet at the hat-check desk where Nelson is working; Beth comes up muttering that she left something crucial at home. His first words to her: "Haste makes waste." They begin a leisurely seven-year romance culminating in their marriage in 1952 (at her insistence he finally agrees it's time to graduate) and escape to the West Coast.

Here's a sample of Forties collegiate attire. Note that these were early color photos that unfortunately faded drastically to semi-sepia in the family album. (As usual, click for enlargements.)

Taking a break from Christopher Marlowe and Ford Madox Ford on the Huron River.
For him, comfort-fit pleated khaki slacks (a style he wore exclusively till the very end), a pastel sweater vest (it looks like autumn, with fallen leaves on the shore), long-sleeved button-down (typically his sleeves were rolled to the elbow, and I have followed that fashion), and a tie for a subtle statement of respectability. He has not forgotten the de rigeur academic pipe. But...he does look a bit out-of-place with trousers rolled ala Eliot, and barefoot in the river.
For her, a casual short-sleeve blouse (striped, or pleated?) and a simple skirt, suitable for posey-picking. She's left her glasses in the skirt pocket, methinks. I can relate to the myopic bliss of having extraneous visual data omitted.

On another date, she takes her turn wading -- same skirt, but with a crew-neck pullover, while he has gotten even more professorial (not to say uptight), keeping the Oxfords on and donning a light jacket. They both look like they'd rather be back at their desks.

Winter rolls around and still they're hanging about under the elms. The pipe has been replaced with a more rakish cigarette, and the coats are more robust (is that beaver?) -- but Beth's skirt is still on duty. My father assumes a gaze that I remember from my childhood (still several years off), of abstracted meditation, particularly reserved for moments in the vicinity of trees and bodies of water. My mother could be meditating as well, but her eyes bore right through the camera.

...I would never be hired by the KGB for crack photo-doctoring but it did seem to me that this pair of shots works well spliced together. It's very rare to see a candid photo with both of them in it (not that these are candid), which makes me think they saved their photo sessions for when they were unaccompanied. Now this looks like something from a winter-wear catalog!


  1. Those last photos look like they could be author's photos on slim books of poetry -- tres romantic!

  2. What an amazing collection of photographs. Somehow the faded colour (the semi-sepia as you call it) seems to match the times and the mood so well. That last merger of photos does work very well and seems like a splicing that has been waiting to happen for decades.

  3. Very stylish, Sean. The splicing works a treat.

  4. Your commentary is a riot! I was thinking the same thing about the winter catalogue. My parents have the same types of outdoor shots in Toronto - my mom (who is 81) still harps on about her green car-coat and a pair of suede shoes. I'm just not that fussed.

    I laughed at the reference to Ford Madox Ford.

    Wonderful post! I look forward to the next one.


  5. Yes, quite the dapper pair. And SO very Eliot-ish. I love what you did with the last photo. Super-duper!!

  6. The photos do resemble a winter wear catalogue with a couple of very good looking models, but also speaks to the quality of the photography.

    Very enjoyable post.

  7. A great piece of photo doctoring. I'm so impressed!
    It really does look like a catalog shot-and what wonderful models.

  8. These are terrific! I love LOVE hearing all about vintage clothes--so much fun to read and look at, thank you.

  9. What great photos. It was fun to look at the collegiate wear of the late-1940s. I am especially impressed by the last photo which you combined from the two previous ones. What a good job! Thanks for sharing.