Dressed to impress: 1860s cdv photograph and green silk gown

Dressed to impress:

1860s cdv photograph and green silk gown



cdv green silk gown 1860s




Dating photographs at the recent Who Do You Think You Are? Live family history show, I was very lucky to see not only a fine mid-1860s carte de visite photograph of a fashionably-dressed young woman, but also a length of the actual fabric used to make her gown. The lady in the photo was Jean Follett’s great great aunt, Mary Calder (nee Jamieson) and the family have carefully preserved the very dress that she wore in the photograph almost 150 years ago. This extra length of material was found only recently, tucked away in an old suitcase. No doubt its safe storage away from the light had helped to preserve its vibrant emerald green colour. The fabric is a stiff silk with a very fine black stripe that isn’t evident in the photograph, but Jean confirmed that the surviving dress is also trimmed with black bows down the front of the skirt and that the pleated edging around the hem also incorporates a narrow band of black braiding – a very stylish and co-ordinated outfit!




ladies fashio plate 1860s




Black and white Victorian photographs can demonstrate the style of garments, but they tell us very little of the colours worn by earlier generations. However we know that bold-coloured silks were very fashionable in the 1860s. This fashion plate from 1863 demonstrates some of the vivid hues then in vogue for ladies’ clothing materials, including an emerald green very close to the colour of our fabric. The taste for vibrant colours was inspired by the recent development of the first chemical (aniline) dyes. Mauvine – a strong purple shade – came into existence in 1856 and in the following years the spectrum of new colours commercially available for dress fabrics ranged from violets and blues to greens and reds.

The ancestor in the photograph may only have been a domestic servant  but she was dressed to impress in her special portrait and was bang up to date with the latest 1860s fashions!

WDYTYA? Live 2014: Photos, Artworks & Costume

WDYTYA? Live 2014:

Photos, Artworks & Costume



bonnet wdytya? live costume 1800s



Every year I date photographs and, unofficially, various other family heirlooms, at the annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live family history show at Kensington Olympia. This year I worked for Genes Reunited and for Family Tree magazine, who kindly gave permission for me to feature this photograph and the photo below.

One of the first items brought to the FT stand on Saturday was a beautiful 19th-century bonnet belonging to Jean Follett from the West Surrey Family History Society. Mainly hand-sewn, this delicate item from her family collection had been expertly fashioned from fine white cotton material, shaped with cording and ornamented with broderie anglaise. Perhaps a baby’s cap or a sun bonnet for a child or small woman, I thought a date in the 1830s possible from the tall shape of the crown, but there also appeared to be traces of some machine-stitching, suggesting possibly a later date or subsequent alterations. I suggested that Jean contact her nearby Chertsey Museum, who have a dedicated costume curator. Hopefully they will be able to take an expert look and narrow down the identification for her.



wdytya? live family snapshot album




Another highlight of Saturday was a visit from FT reader Heather Redman from Hampshire, who brought along a wonderful early 20th century snapshot album containing many photos taken by – and of – her paternal grandfather, John Neale. Heather has sent me scans of some of the pages and kindly gave permission to share these on my blog.



wdytya? live family snapshot album




Many families did not acquire their first household camera until the inter-war era, but there were significant numbers of keen ‘snap shooters’ around the turn of the century and by 1900 it seems that John – still a young man – was using a personal camera to record his life, for example, his local surroundings, his work as a smart shop assistant at Guards outfitters in Romsey, group outings such as cycle trips and boat rides with friends/work colleagues and hockey matches.




wdytya? live family snapshot album




These candid views not only show vividly how Heather’s grandfather and other young people living near the south coast enjoyed spending their free time, but also offer superb glimpses of everyday warm weather dress at the very end of the Victorian era. Ladies wearing cool cotton blouses and carrying parasols arrange their cumbersome skirts, gents have donned comfortable knee breeches for cycling and straw boaters are popular hats for summer..




family snapshots album



During the early 1910s John was even experimenting with indoor photography, as seen in the top of the above two photos, depicting his second wife and young son, Heather’s uncle, born in 1907. Illuminating interiors for amateur indoor photography was not at all easy in the days before modern, safe flash equipment, but here is a rare scene showing relatives at ease in their own home over 100 years ago, just before the First World War. The snapshot below the interior shot is post-war in date – late 1910s or early 1920s, judging from the fashions. Charabanc outings were enormously popular until the later 1930s and many of these photos survive in family collections.
Who Do You Think You Are? Live always produces some wonderful family heirlooms and I would like to thank everyone who shared their photographs and precious mementoes with me and others on the stand. More impressions of the show courtesy the Family Tree team can be seen here: http://family-tree.co.uk/2014/02/enjoyed-wdytyalive/
Until next year…