Dating photographs fashion

By the time photography reached a mass market in the 1860s, the concept of fashion was already well-established and was widely understood across the social spectrum.

Information about new trends was plentiful and old garments were often re-styled to bring them up to date.

For more detailed advice and to see further dated images for comparison, it is worth checking back over some of the photographs used to illustrate previous blogs in this series and also consulting some of the books listed in further reading.

dating photographs fashion-11

Throughout the later 1860s, the front of the skirt became progressively flatter, with the emphasis growing increasingly on the back.

By 1869/70 the material behind was being draped up over a projecting bustle – a pad worn under the clothes behind the waist – and garments were often layered and flounced to accentuate the full, bouncy effect (fig.6).

Welcome to the fifth in our series of blogs about how to understand and interpret your old family photos.

In this series, Jayne Shrimpton, internationally recognised dress historian, portrait specialist, photo detective and regular contributor to Family Tree, Your Family History and Family History Monthly magazines, dates and analyses different types of photographs and helps you to add context to your old family pictures.

A wide array of materials of varying textures and prices was available to suit different pockets and needs.

It was, therefore, the quality of fabric and extravagance of trimmings that distinguished the dress of the affluent from that of the poorer classes – not in general its basic cut or shape.

Many young adults followed fashion closely, while the more mature might wear a modest, toned-down version of the most extreme styles and the elderly generally dressed much more conservatively than the youth of their day.

Occasionally certain regional differences are apparent in 19th century photographs, for example, in the case of Welsh, Scottish and Irish ancestors.

Like today, some of our forebears were more interested in their personal appearance than others, spending proportionately more of their income on new clothes and accessories.

Age was especially significant when it came to dress.

Sadly, those unwaged or destitute family members who were so impoverished as to own only old-fashioned, ill-fitting or ragged clothing were unlikely to have had their photograph taken very often, if at all.

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