Welcome to the fifth in our series of blogs about how to understand and interpret your old family photos.
In this series, Jayne Shrimpton, internationally recognised dress historian, portrait specialist, photo detective and regular contributor to Family Tree, Your Family History and Family History Monthly magazines, dates and analyses different types of photographs and helps you to add context to your old family pictures.
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.
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.
There may also have been a time lag of a few years between new fashions first being worn in urban areas and their adoption in remoter country districts.
Ideally we should consider all these criteria when considering the clothing of family members as seen in old photographs.
By the time photography reached a mass market in the 1860s, the concept of fashion was already well-established and was widely understood across the social spectrum.
Information about new trends was plentiful and old garments were often re-styled to bring them up to date.
A domestic servant, for example, could appear superficially similar to her more affluent mistress.