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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.
Wealthy subjects had many fashionable ensembles to choose from, whereas ordinary working-class ancestors usually donned their best outfit, kept for church on Sundays and special occasions.
Everyone wished to create a good impression in the treasured photographs that would later be shown to family and friends and might be displayed in an album, or hung on the wall.
Essentially here we are aiming to use fashion clues cautiously but positively – to establish a realistic time frame for an undated and/or unidentified image that will help to rule in, or out, certain branches and individual members of the family.
In the following sections are some basic, practical tips for recognising the main stylistic changes in female, male and children's dress, with illustrated examples.
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.
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.Children's dress, which echoed adult clothing to a degree, but also followed its own conventions, may also be harder to pinpoint very precisely.That said, it should always be possible to gain a reasonable date range for a photograph, based on the appearance of its subject's clothing, especially when this technique is combined with the other photo dating methods already covered in previous blogs.The distinctive bustle silhouette prevailed until around 1875, when it began to become outmoded.The new, elongated cuirass bodice effectively forced the bustle downwards and in the late 1870s the excess drapery fell into a long train behind (fig.7).