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Having learned in the previous blog how photograph compositions and studio settings changed over the years, we now look closely at what our forebears are wearing in old photographs.
In any kind of portrait it is often the subject's clothing that engages us most: fashion history is a fascinating topic and recognising the modes of different eras is an invaluable tool when trying to date unlabelled photographs.
There may also have been a time lag of a few years between new fashions first being worn in urban areas and their adoption in remoter country districts.
Ideally we should consider all these criteria when considering the clothing of family members as seen in old photographs.
Men's attire, on the other hand, is often only dateable to about a decade or thereabouts, as male modes reflected more subtle shifts in tailoring and slow-changing features such as styles of neckwear and fashions in facial hair, as well as the occasional appearance of new garments.
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.
Women's dress 1840s-1890s Between the 1840s and late 1860s, essentially the fashionable female silhouette comprised a fitted bodice attached to a bell-shaped skirt, which became even wider in circumference after the introduction of the domed crinoline frame in 1856 (fig.3).
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.