Dress is a vast and complex subject, but here are some pointers to help with understanding, identifying and dating the clothing styles of those family members from the past who stood before the camera in their 'Sunday best'.Fashion in photographs It was understood that clients visiting the photographer's studio (or, less commonly, those inviting a photographer to their home) would be dressed in their best quality, most fashionable clothing.
Sadly, those unwaged or destitute family members who were so impoverished as to own only old-fashioned, ill-fitting or ragged clothing were unlikely to have had their photograph taken very often, if at all.
Dating dress Dress historians and others with a keen eye for detail can accurately pinpoint 19th and early 20th century women's dress to within five or 10 years, by recognising the different components of a particular 'look' - garments, jewellery, accessories and hairstyles – and knowing when it was in vogue.
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.
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).