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Desperately seeking the Pickle Sisters

An internet mystery brought to you by Leaves of Trash

Come along with me as I try to find more information about the illusive Pickle Sisters!

Initial Moment of Pickle Sister Awareness (IMPSA)

It’s a story as old as time. I was in a work meeting, bored from listening to my co-workers politely disagree with each other, so I decided to scroll through the Facebooks. Suddenly, miraculously, I see this gem of a photograph and my obsession was officially sparked. All these questions started spilling out of my brain:

  • Who are these flapper women in studded outfits?
  • Why do they look like fabulous conehead cactus people?
  • Why don’t I have a time machine already?
The Pickle Sisters in black and white, wearing supposed pickle costumes

A quick search temporarily answered at least one of those questions: THEY’RE THE PICKLE SISTERS!

The most popular picture that’s been shared is actually this colorized version:

Colorized version of the 1920s vaudeville act The Pickle Sisters who recorded a few songs on the radio

You are seeing this correctly. Someone took the time to colorize this photograph!

Context from Social Posts (CfSP)

Here’s the most common description that’s shared along with the photograph:
“PICKLE SISTERS a vaudeville group from the 1920s. Margaret, Mavis, Opal and Florence were just names that no one knew until they changed them to dillie, kosher, gherkin, and bee bee. they recorded a few songs that got on the radio. They appeared in a newsreel that grabbed every moviegoers attention- and suddenly everyone was crazy about the pickle sisters. green studded dresses started flying off the racks, children ransacked their parents wardrobe closet for anything that looked like a pickle hat, and “i’m green for your form” reached 6 on the hit parade.”

The colorization coupled with the ridiculous description made it all sound too fishy (briney?) to me. IS THE INTERNET FILLED WITH LIES?! I had to follow this thread to the very end!

Ok, this is Definitely Bullshit (OtiDB)

Apparently the Pickle Sisters had a song called “I’m Green for Your Form” that reached number 6 on the Hit Parade charts. First thing’s first: No. Second, here’s why:

  • There are only six results when searching for “I’m Green for Your Form” and they’re all the same silly blurb from social media.
  • Even though Billboard’s first issue was published in November 1894, Your Hit Parade was not established until 1935. World Radio History has scanned copies of every issue. Doing the Lordt’s work! I found some super fun gems while searching for the Pickle Sisters, but we’ll save that adventure for another post.

Anyway, in a pickle-themed post, Ashleylister over at Paper Blog wrote about how the Pickle Sisters were a viral joke during the pandemic. Ashley says people took great delight in making up backstories for this photo so they could escape their existential dread. Sure, this may have been a thing in 2020, but the Pickle Sister myth started way before that.

Prove it, you say?

Reverse Image Search Party (RISP)

Now that I’ve done an initial search and found some bullshit, the next step is eliminating the possibility of an AI-generated photo. I did a quick reverse image search, which told me the first appearance predated public AI photo generators.

The earliest image match I could find was first posted on March 14, 2010 on the Everlasting Blort as a sepia-toned number named “best+worst.jpg”

Side note: the Everlasting Blort is an internet fever dream, going all the way back to 2000.
Highly recommend browsing after taking an edible.

Capture of Reverse Image Search of the Pickle Sisters

After coming back down from my Bort high, I looked at the search results again and noticed something a little interesting. The original file was only 134 x 210. A tiny little thumbnail! I couldn’t find the original Bort post, so that likely means the large version of the file came from somewhere else.

The initial Blort link did not work so I took to the Wayback Machine to figure out where this image came from. Turns out it was posted on January 15, 2009 and came from the Flickr Group called Fashions Past.

Blort post of Pickle Sisters from January 15, 2009

Fashions Past is an absolute anthropological treasure. It is filled with vintage family portraits, commercial photography, postcards, and photo cards. I highly encourage you to spend a wholesome night browsing through pictures of real people with wild hair, hats, swim suits, dresses, and costumes. It is so much fun.

Ok I’m back from the distraction. I found this colorized version inside of the Fashions Past group posted by inferno55 but it was uploaded in July 2014.

Pickle Sisters found a second time in Fashions Past

That means the original version posted before March 14, 2010 might still be in this group gallery! I’m feeling lucky.

Narrator voice: She was, indeed, the opposite of lucky. The original must have been posted in that gallery but it is long gone. I even used the Wayback Machine to search through the October 2010 version.

I checked out several other possibilities:

There was a link on the Architect Design blog but couldn’t find the original picture. I’m assuming it was a commenters profile photo because nothing on the Architect Design blog screamed pickles or vaudeville to me. Not all was lost though because there were a few other leads.

  • HauntedbyStoryTelling on Tumblr posted the photo on April 5, 2018.
  • And several years before that, the photo was posted with the caption “Pickle Sisters” on WipWapWeb (RIP) on August 20, 2011.
Pickle Sisters found on Tumblr
Pickle sisters found on WipWapWeb

Also, there were way too many instances of this photograph on merchandise on RedBubble and Alamy. You capitalist buttholes! (P.s. Buy my new album entitled Capitalist Buttholes. Now available on iTunes!

Fun Finds I Want to Mention (FFiWtM)

90.1 WFMU says on May 12, 2021, Ken played “Giga Concerti I” by Eric Lyon on his pickle-themed freeform radio show for the chronically impatient. He associated the Pickle Sisters photograph with the song but offered no further explanation.

Picklet sisters - girls night out pickle canning and faux taxidermy

A Girl’s Night Out event featuring taxidermy and pickle canning. Sibling discounts available. Oh hell yeah!

Pickle sisters meme with War of 1812 description

Pickle Sisters on the front lines of the War of 1812. Maybe these ladies were on board the USS Chesapeake?! This looks like it originated on the now defunct

Using Historical Clues to Date the Pickles (UHCDP)

Now that we’ve gone through all that, I think it’s time to use some good ole’ eyeballs to see if there are any helpful clues in this photograph.

Using the helpful guide to skirt lengths in the 20th Century from Threading My Way, I deduced that this fashion is almost certainly from the 1920s. Why do I think that? These dresses are not form fitting and hemlines rest below the knee.

Another important indicator is the fancy jewels and beads on the costumes. The demand for rhinestones on clothing really kicked up because of the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Then some unknown loser named Daniel Swarovski revolutionized the stone jewelry game, which made rhinestones crazy popular in the early 20th Century. (Rhinestones Online and drag taught me everything I know!) And beading has been popular on clothing since Ancient Greece.

Also, the shooessszzuhh (Shoutout to Mama Pao!) The shiny T-strap pumps are screaming 1920s to me. According to the Antiquarian Print Shop, T-straps were one the most popular shoe styles during this time. They were especially popular given that cute shoe design was becoming more important as those hemlines were getting higher! The shoes also have sturdy heels and could very easily be made for performing.

My next indicator was to look at the hair. Even though the headpieces obscure most of their heads, you can see that the pickle hairstyles appear to be short and curly. According to Fashion Gone Rogue, curly bobs were the most popular style in the 1920s.

The backdrop looks like a fake painted panel in a commercial photo studio. Portraits were extremely popular in the early 20th Century, with photography technology making cameras more and more present. Photographers used dry glass plates, which gave photographs a soft, high contrast look. For a wonderful dive into the history of photography, check out this Blind Magazine feature. I learned so much!

Alternatively, it could be a theater backdrop, so these ladies might have been posing on stage.

So what does it all mean? (SWDiaM)

I believe the original photograph captures a group of performers in the 1920s, probably taken at a photo studio using a glass plate negative.

The physical photograph was likely scanned and uploaded to the Fashions Past Flickr group as a full-size sepia tone image prior to the Everlasting Blort linking to the original on January 15, 2009.

In June 2010, someone posted it on the Architect Design blog, likely as a profile picture. A black and white version was posted by WipWapWeb in August 2011 with the caption “The Pickle Sisters.”

In August 2013, someone tinted it green and started using the image to hock wares on their RedBubble account. Later that same year, it was posted on Tumblr and In July 2014, the original was colorized and posted back into the same Fashions Past Flickr group. That’s when the photo really started making the rounds.

Did the Pickle Sisters exist?
Probably not. If you’re wondering if the Vaudeville act was a thing, that’s a possibility. But the ridiculous backstory with the chart-climbing hit is definitely not real.

Are the women dressed like Pickles?
Also probably a no. Their costumes look like they could be culturally inspired, especially with the intricate beading or stoning. So most likely, these are styles of precious dress associated with the women’s heritage.

I think we’re ending on a vaguely racist note. But also a hopeful one, too, because I feel like the mystery has just begun. I want to learn more about this photograph, and more importantly, about these women.

Well, it’s over (WiO)

Ok now it’s your turn. What do you think? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Ring the pickle bell and comment below.

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