In around 1880, the train was abandoned for day wear and outfits of the early 1880s were narrow and sheath-like: long, tight-fitting bodices formed an unbroken line over the hips, while shoe-length skirts were wrapped closely around the legs (fig.8).In around 1884 the bustle returned, this time a more severe and extreme version that often projected sharply like a shelf behind the waist, remaining in vogue until around 1889/90 (fig.9).

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.

For dating purposes, however, we can broadly assume that (unless they are wearing an occupational uniform or other specialised forms of dress) their 'Sunday best' garments largely followed, to a recognisable extent, the prevailing style of the era.

Photographs were ultimately designed to show off good taste and a pleasing appearance.

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.

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.

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.