In years to come, it will be rather more difficult to date photos from now by the clothes but images from the past are rather easier as clothes and fashions were generally more date specific. As a rough guide, be aware of TV and film period dramas. Nowadays these programmes are beautifully researched and there is great attention to accuracy. Think about things such as the BBC Pride and Prejudice series or the David Suchet, Hercule Poirot series - Miss Marple - and the clothes that are worn. These notes below would refer to people’s best or most fashionable clothes. Patterns from London were brought to the provinces and copied for the locals for their Sunday best. I don’t want to make this post too long so I have elaborated on some pictures and done notes on others.
A fashion walk through time Pt 1
Have you ever looked at an old family photo and wondered what date it is from? Clothes are probably the best way to give an approximate date for your pictures and paintings.
What better source to use than where it all started for me. My beloved Brooke Bond PG tips cards as a child. ! “British costume”. I have used these images which I own but were drawn by a Mr Michael Youens. He copied them from contemporary fashion plates. The photos, as best as I could scan them, are my own photos of my cards.
Acknowledgements also to the Observer’s Book of European dress and the V and A.
1800 – 1820s
This was the time of the Napoleonic wars and cloth was in short supply. Therefore, women’s dresses were narrow and sleeves were short or very narrow to save cloth. Ladies wore little Spencers – a short jacket which finished above the waist. Waist lines were high under the bust-line. Men wore knee britches, frock coats and tricorn hats.
By 1825, cloth was more plentiful. Waistlines dropped to waist level and skirts became fuller. Hats were large and decorated with frills and ribbons. Men were wearing ankle length, tight trousers, frock or morning coats and top hats.
Dresses in the 1840s had low pointed waists and wide skirts because cloth was more plentiful. Britain had more cloth during peacetime.
Ladies' hair had a parting in the centre with curls and loops down the side. Women wore white caps indoors. Skirts became more voluminous during this time.
Men wore trousers, waistcoats, upstanding collars and ties. Hair was long and men had facial hair rather like Prince Albert, the queen’s husband.
mid 19th C
Later 19th C
The 1870s and 1880s saw the back of the dress detail become the most important feature with frills, flounces, ruffles, bustles. These have featured a lot in on-site photos. The ladies' hair was worn up in an up-do. Men’s clothes were more like we would see now for men’s daywear, a suit. The long necktie was introduced.
N.B. The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1880 and aimed to make women’s clothes more comfortable. Women wanted to wear divided skirts like trousers. This was felt to be dangerous, and a gross violation of women’s place. It was felt that women may start thinking for themselves and thereby assume men’s roles and behaviour.
1893 saw the start of huge leg o’ mutton sleeves and a narrower skirt. Men wore morning coats or suits. For ladies, the bustle had gone, as had the flounces and ruffles also.
Early 20th C
Pictured here 1901 1909 1916
1901 Ladies had a more sculptured dress with a flatter skirt at the front and large hats. Skirts and white blouses became very fashionable.
1909 Look at the size of the lady’s hat – wider than her shoulders, and how narrow the skirt has become in only 8 years.
1916 Within another 7 years, the lady’s skirt was well above the ankle. This trend had started approx. 1913. For men, the suit was rather more as we would see today but with a longer jacket and high buttoning. The man’s collar was detachable and rounded. The necktie is long. Pointed collars on shirts became fashionable during the late 1920s.
To conclude This is brief but I hope it shows how very different the clothes were. Always look at hair, hats and men’s collars too.
Good luck with your fashion dating and thank you for the interest and constant support.
If you look VERY VERY carefully at the top thumbnail, you will see my Beloved Big Bro, 2nd left standing at the front aged approx 4.