Visual Reference

In search of inspiration I subwayed to the Mid-Manhattan Public Library on Fifth Avenue (across the street from the more famous branch with the lion statues in front), which houses a vast Picture Collection on its third floor that has been saving my skin for twenty-five years. The Internet is useful for picture research in a pinch, but Web images lack detail because of their low resolution. To catch the small touches that make a difference, nothing beats the wide array of clipped and archived images offered for free at the library. (Don't assume that libraries outside New York City won't have Picture Collections. Many do.)

The most useful section of the Picture Collection turned out to be their period costume folders, which are catalogued by decades. I searched through the images of British clothing worn during the years when Dickens was publishing and came up with a dozen pictures similar to the ones above.