• 1870s Fashion: The popularity of the bustle

    Following on from theprevious post in our series on dating old photographs from fashions, we have now reached the 1870s. This decade saw an increase in material spending, with mass production in the Industrial Revolution in full swing. Department store displays, advertising and fashion magazines were now consumed more readily and fashion trends became easier to follow, although the style still reflected social standing.

    1870s Women’s Fashion

    The early 1870s saw the popularity of the bustle continue. These were set high and attached to crinolines, but lowered as the decade progressed. Bustles were often elaborate items of clothing, with ruffles, gathers and embroidery.

    They began to lose their popularity in the mid-late 1870s with the advent of the ‘princess line’. A new style named after Alexandra, Princess of Wales. This favoured an incredibly slim and body-conscious look, with severe corsetry. Skirts became narrower, hoops were out and bustles were smaller. Embellished trains became the new trend. 

    For upper-class women, the top of the body was stiff and tight. Stiff bodices and huge bustles gave the wearer limited mobility. Upper-class and elite women did not work, so their rigid clothing would separate them from the more practical clothing of the lower classes. A long, slim silhouette was replacing the hourglass figure of decades past. Bodices could be just as decorated as the skirts, but necklines changed into v-necks or a square neckline. With a more revealing neckline, pendants and velvet chokers became fashionable. 

    In the privacy of homes, tea gowns were introduced. These allowed the wearer to go without the stricter clothing worn outside, although these were only worn in the house and in the company of other females. As the decade progressed, they became more elaborate in style, with frills and lace.

    Continuing on from the previous decade, hair continued to be parted in the centre with an emphasis on height and elaborate coiling. The back of the head usually mirrored the back of the skirt, with some women wearing false hairpieces to gather more height. In the mid-1870s, fringes began to make an appearance. These hairstyles brought attention to the face, along with bows and lacy collars on the necklines of clothing.  

    Shoes and boots had high heels and pointed toes, with stockings to match. These stockings could sometimes be little works of art in themselves, with embroidery or tiny designs.

    Capes and cloaks were replaced by coats and jackets, with some coats designed to accommodate the bustle skirts.


    1870s Men’s Fashion

    The 1870s saw a move to simpler and more sober styles for men with an aim to look respectable and industrious. 

    Mens Coats 1872 Fashion Plate


    The silhouette became slimmer and shirts plainer. Cropped frock coats were popular in the first half of the decade. The popularity of the lounge (sack) suit continued to increase, especially amongst the lower classes. Usually paired with matching trousers and a waistcoat, it's believed that this style formed the beginnings of the three-piece suit. This style was often topped with a bowler hat.

    Hair was cropped and parted neatly. Facial hair was still the norm but was tidied up. Think trimmed moustaches and tidy ‘muttonchops’. 

    We will be exploring the fashion of the 1880s in our next post.

  • How to date COLOUR photographs using fashion

    In this series of blogs about ‘dating photography from fashion’, we have now arrived at the 1860s.

    This was a decade where women’s fashion was characterised by full skirts which relied on crinolines and hoops; but also, conversely, by the influence of the ‘Artistic Dress’ movement which rejected Victorian trends in favour of beautiful materials and simplicity of design.

    In men's fashion, the three-piece ditto suit of sack coat, waistcoat, and trousers in the same fabric, emerged as a novelty.

    And by this decade, some huge advances had also been made in photography, including improved processes and the creation of the world’s first portable camera (although a commercial version did not appear for a further three decades).

    However, the race was still on to produce the first colour photograph – a quest that involved many scientists, inventors and businessmen! There was high demand for portraiture among our middle-class ancestors – a demand which could not be met in volume and in cost by oil paintings – so the first person to produce a colour photograph could expect to reap the rewards.

    But – spoiler alert! – despite several attempts, colour photography as we know it did not begin to appear until the 1890s.

    ‘Colour’ photography in the 1860s

    So, if the advent of colour photography was still 30 years away, how come there are ‘colour’ photographs dating back to the 1860s? I have one of these myself: a picture of my great, great grandmother, which I know was taken around the time of her wedding in 1868 (see below).

    There is a fascinating explanation. Photographers were eager to give their customers what they wanted, and they had given up waiting for the scientists and experimenters. They took the matter into their own hands (literally) and began to add colour to their monochrome images. They employed artists who, with their skill and colour, were able to give the subject a more life-like and natural appearance.

    Photograph taken 1868 (the image on the right is the original black & white; the image on the left has been painted).

    Clothes, hair, colours

    That answers the question about my ‘colour’ photograph – but, if I didn’t already know when it was taken, could I date it from her appearance? Yes! The V&A website tells me that dresses in the 1860s featured tight bodices with high necks and buttoned fronts, and that white lace was popular for collars and cuffs. Towards the end of the decade, hair was dressed high at the back with complicated twists and rolls.

    Wikipedia tells me that the shape of the dress had changed from bell-shaped to flat at the front and more projected out behind – and, while dress colours were generally ‘delicate shades’ in the first half of the decade, 'greens… and darker colours’ appeared in the latter part.

    So, I think it’s safe to say my great, great grandmother’s photograph was taken in the late 1860s.


    Male 1860s Fashion

    But, what if you needed to date a similar ‘colour’ photograph of a man? The V&A website tells us that the fashion was for men's coats and jackets to be single-breasted and semi-fitted, extending to the mid-thigh. Waistcoats were often collarless and single-breasted, and trousers were occasionally cut from a narrow check cloth. High, starched collars were worn with cravats and neck-ties.

    Hair was parted from the centre and moderately waved. A particular hairstyle, known as 'Dundreary whiskers' or 'Piccadilly weepers', was in vogue, which comprised long, pendant side-whiskers worn with a full beard and drooping moustache.

    Look out for our next article on fashion in the 1870s: the decade in which we finally said farewell to the full-skirted fashions. If you're interested in the fashions of the 1850s, read our previous blog.

  • 1850’s Style: Prince Albert's Influence on Fashion

    The previous blog post in this series looked at the influence of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress on 1840’s fashion. Following on from this, we’re now focusing on Prince Albert’s influence on men’s Fashion in the 1950’s.

    1850’s Men’s fashion

    In the 1850s men’s fashion became bolder and more stylised. This was evidenced by wider lapels on the frock coats, which also started to become more loosely fitted. The waistcoats became more boldly patterned with metal buttons. 

    A Princely Fashion

    In fact, the style of men’s fashion still very much followed that set by Prince Albert the decade before. He made the large, distinct, mutton-chops and moustache fashionable. Men also tended to have a side-parting to their hair with an elaborate, high wave at the front. High upstanding collars on shirts and large, asymmetric bow ties, tied at the neck, also followed Prince Albert’s style (shown in the picture of Three English Gentlemen below).

    Coats were mainly in the style of tight-fitting frock coats that fastened high up to the neck, but sack coats were also becoming more fashionable. These were loose-fitting jackets that reached down to the mid-thigh (shown by the man on the right in the picture of Three English Gentlemen below left and the picture of the working-class men to the right). They would later become the modern suit coat.

    This was also the decade the Bowler Hat was invented (around 1850), but it was seen as a working man’s hat and so not worn by members of the middle- and upper-class, who favoured Top Hats.


    1850’s Women’s Fashion

    In contrast to men’s style, women generally parted their hair in the centre and tied it back in a bun or side coils, with deep bonnets. The indoor cap, commonly worn at home to cover the hair, decreased to ribbons or lace worn at the back of the head. Generally, the style was conservative and not as elaborate as in the coming decades.

    Feminist Intentions

    The main changes in fashion were Bloomers (introduced in 1851) and Hoop skirts (1856). Bloomers, often trimmed with lace, were taken up as part of the feminist movement against masculine ideas about what constituted appropriate fashion for women. Prominent Women’s Rights advocates of the time, Libby Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer (writer of the groundbreaking reform paper The Lily) were pioneers of the fashion, Amelia sharing her name with the liberating garment. Bloomers became popular in the early 1850s but fell out of fashion after failing to take off in America - because of a feeling that they lacked decorum!

    The hoop skirt was more successful and greatly altered the shape of women’s skirts. It was often worn over a crinoline petticoat and had three-tiers or deep flounces in it to increase fullness. Paisley patterned shawls also became fashionable at this time. The fabrics were mainly linen or cotton, with silk or wool less common.


    In our next blog, we'll take a look at the fashions of the 1860s, helping you to date those old family photographs by the clothing.

  • 1840s fashion: The influence of Queen Victoria

    1840’s Fashion: Fashion Styles and Queen Victoria’s Wedding Dress

    Fashion can be a fascinating subject to family historians who have photographs to date, as discussed in the first in this series of blogs. We're now focusing on the decade following the advent of photography — the 1840s — including how a change made to the wedding dress then, is still observed by brides today.  

    In March 1841, the first public photographic studio in England opened on Regent Street, London. Sitting for your portrait was now more accessible for those who could afford it. As sitters wore their finest and newest clothes for the occasion, studying the garments in these images can work as a useful tool when researching your genealogy. If you are lucky enough to have photographs of relatives you believe to be from this period, here are some typical styles from the time which may help you date the photographs. 

    1840’s Women's Fashion

    Shoulders were low and sloping, as was the pointed waist. Skirts evolved from conical-shaped to bell-shaped, and increased in volume as the decade progressed. Evening gowns were often off-the-shoulder and accompanied by crocheted or sheer shawls. Lace was a prominent textile, adorning linen caps and shoulder-length gloves. Large bonnets and large collars on capes for outdoor wear were popular. Hair was parted in the middle with side ringlets, or styled into loops around the ears and then pulled into a bun.

    Evolving fashion in the 1830s

    1840s fashion plates

    1840’s Men’s Fashion

    For fashionable men, a low, cinched waist and round chest with flared frock-coats gave them an hourglass figure which was inspired by Prince Albert. Trousers were tight and collars were high, styled with a necktie. Hair was usually long but kept out of the face and facial hair was popular.

    Image of Victorian Men's Clothing 1847

    Victorian Men's Clothing 1847

    Queen Victoria’s wedding dress

    On 10th February 1840, 20-year-old Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg-Gotha at Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, London. The queen wore a white, heavy silk satin gown with Honiton lace detailing. Although the common idea of a white wedding gown was thought to symbolise the bride’s innocence and purity, the colour was actually used to highlight the wealth of the bride’s family. A white gown shows the ability to have clothes thoroughly cleaned - a privilege afforded only to the wealthy in the 1800s - and also to show the public that they can wear a colour that wouldn’t be dirtied or stained by any manual labour. Victoria’s choice to wear a white gown was not to prove any financial prosperity, however; but rather to show off the delicate lace on the dress and support the English industry - and, in turn, to encourage others to do the same. 

    Image of ​Queen Victoria's Wedding Dress

    Queen Victoria's Wedding Dress

    Although not the first royal to wear a white gown on their wedding day, Victoria’s choice was different to the bright and brilliant colours often preferred by Western European brides, or the more practical darker colours which could be reused for other wears.  Soon after, fashionable and elite brides felt inspired to do the same. Newspaper articles, illustrations, paintings and souvenirs were all created in the wake of the wedding, exposing a wider audience to the day's events and inspiring future brides. 

    So there we have it, the queen’s choice of colour for her wedding dress 180 years ago has influenced British wedding dress traditions ever since! Have you ever considered what decisions made in history might have influenced your or your ancestors’ choices for wedding attire? Exploring the influence of fashion trends through the ages is fascinating, and we will take a look at the 1850s next time