Posted by Betty Shubert on July 27, 2015 in Research
Photo courtesy of Janice Moerschel
Photo courtesy of Janice Moerschel

The women in this photo are wearing soft, formal gowns of the early 1930s. Their short hairstyles and coronet-shaped headpieces are of the era except for the bridesmaid on the right who is somewhat fashion forward, her hair is longer as worn in 1935.

The men are so classic and well tailored it is hard to specifically date their clothes. However, the wide lapel of the groomsman on the right, could have also adorned a double-breasted suit coat as might have been worn in America in the early 1930s.

The cute little fellow in kilts does place this photo in Scotland. Did you know, Queen Victoria & Prince Albert made a trip to Balmoral castle in Scotland, bringing back kilts, tartans, clan plaids & tam-o’shanter berets. Women all over the world began wearing plaid dresses and plaid ribbon trims.

The kilt brought back and worn by the little Prince of Wales, was copied and worn by children in America and around the world until as late as the 1890s. Since this photo was taken in the early 1930s, and the little fellow in the photo is obviously a close family member, it would seem that it was considered traditional formal wear for boys in Scotland.

Does anyone out there know more about this? Your comments are welcome.

I also note the groomsman wears a Scotch plaid handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket.

Photo courtesy of Janice Moerschel
Photo courtesy of Janice Moerschel

This lovely photograph was taken in the 1920s between 1922-1925. It is the soft, “garden party look” that was a fashionable variation to the famous (or infamous) Flapper of 1925-1927. The skirt length worn by the maid of honor is well below knee length, which means it was probably 1922-1924, because the just-below-knee-length of the flapper era did not become standard before 1925. After that, only older ladies continued to wear longer lengths. 

Another style clue here is that nude color stockings (at first considered shocking) replaced black stockings after about 1922.

Social events influence changing fashion. For instance, do you know why flappers wore turned-down hose?  In 1920, when women got the vote, they celebrated their new-found freedom by discarding tight corsets which had dangling garters that held up hosiery removing the only way to hold up their stockings. So they rolled their stockings around elastic thigh garters (which enticingly exposed bare thighs while dancing the Charleston). You can learn more about 1920s fashions in my chapter entitled Who Put The Roar In The Roaring Twenties? in my book Out-of-Style.

McDaid Family Photo taken in Musselburgh, Scotland courtesy of Mary Merlino
McDaid Family Photo taken in Musselburgh, Scotland courtesy of Mary Merlino

This is a difficult photo to date because it is from Scotland and differs somewhat from the evolution of fashion as seen in American family photos. Or, the clothes may have been designed and made by someone who artistically dressed the women in her own unique style. 

However, here are the international style clues that to me, place it about 1900-1902. Interestingly, it is the men’s clothes that most readily reveal useful style clues. The men are wearing three-piece suits with medium size lapels and vests with key chains. Their long ties have tie bands that show around the neck. These are worn with narrow, wing-tip collars. Although soft, turndown collars were by now more popularly worn, perhaps these fellows were wearing wing tips because this was a formal portrait. Shirt sleeves show fashionably, one inch below coat sleeves and pocket hankies are neatly folded into breast pockets. The sitting gentleman shows no pant cuffs nor front trouser creases, that style detail came later. Men’s hair styles are groomed with each one sporting some variation of walrus moustache from small to large to exaggerated.            

The young boy is wearing a Norfolk suit with an eton collar, which could also have been worn a decade earlier. The name was changed to a knickerbocker suit, after they added knickers but it was still worn in 1900.

Young girls of the late 1890s-1900 wore dresses with yokes; the yokes trimmed with ruffles. Older girls wore yoked dresses with wide sashes to determine the waist. Dress lengths were age appropriate as seen in this photograph.

The average woman wore her hair simply and without added hairpieces, but with modest attempts to fluff it out like reigning Gibson Girls. Huge leg o’ mutton sleeves had died by 1898, but in America, the popular hourglass silhouette required volume at the top shoulder. Sleeve caps had large ruffles or ball-shaped puffs that resembled a lollipop. This lasted until about 1900 when the s-curve, pouter pigeon look appeared.

I see no signs of top sleeve details in women’s clothes in this photo from Scotland. The style clues that appear for men, boys, & young girls, compare to similar style clues in America.

Anna Smith & Baby Lon courtesy of Janis Shaffer
Anna Smith & Baby Lon courtesy of Janis Shaffer

I am dating this photo around 1899-1900 for these reasons: The firm, corseted look, the return to a slightly full sleeve cap after huge leg o’mutton sleeves of 1885-1898 deflated and the hourglass silhouette, all say “turn of the century.”

The s-curve silhouette and the pouter-pigeon look came out about the same time but these were built upon differently shaped undergarments.

However, Anna’s hat is a mystery because it is not typical of 1900.  It is a huge, awkwardly shaped tricorne hat with towering feathers. The only similar hat I found was not shown until 1918. The mystery is that corsets in 1918, were no longer hourglass shaped. Sometimes individual’s created one-of-a-kind millinery for self-expression that is why I think the corseted shape is more dependable as a guide.

Women began wearing tailor made suits in the 1890s because they needed more comfortable, practical clothes for their increasingly active lives. From that time on, suits became mainstays in women’s wardrobes. Suits could adapt to whatever silhouette was in fashion and to whatever temperature. They were easily worn with either dressy or plain blouses as occasion required. Now, more than 125 years later, and for the same reasons, we are still wearing suits.

Baby Lon, is wearing newly short infant clothes. In previous times, infants wore long swaddling dresses. The elderly lady’s outfit is not really visible enough to read.

Want help dating your old family photographs? Betty Shubert is a historical fashion expert and the author of Out of Style. She is offering to help a handful of community members date their historical family photographs. Email your old family photographs, along with any information you have about the photo and the person(s) in it to social@ancestry.com. Your photograph may be selected to be featured in one of Betty’s future blog posts.

Betty Shubert

Betty Kreisel Shubert: Costume Designer/Fashion Historian/Author-Illustrator of the book Out-of-Style: A Modern Perspective of How, Why and When Vintage Fashions Evolved (see http://www.outofstylethebook.com/). Named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2013, by Family Tree Magazine UK, Our Top Choice and Finalist 2014 USA Best Book Awards: Performing Arts Theatre – Film category. Beverly Hills Best Book Award, Performing Arts.

7 Comments

  1. Carol Kuse

    I have subscribed to this blog for a long time and thoroughly enjoy and learn from it. The only problem is: I have to shrink the size of the print to be able to see all of it. Usually just an inconvenience, but today I went so small (67%) I couldn’t read the print and still could not see the entire line of printing. This is the only one where I have this problem. What can I do to solve this problem?

  2. Ann Lamb

    Carol, it was the same for me when I tried to read it in my email, but when I went up to the top and clicked on the title, I was reading it in my browser and the formatting was fine.

  3. Janice

    Thanks for the info on the photos. Also note that the second photo was taken in New York City and that the groom appears to be wearing a masonic emblem. If anyone knows any of the folks in the first two photos, please post here as they are still unidentified. Thanks.

  4. Note to Carol Kuse & Ann Lamb: Hi there! I reported your tech problem to the Editor at Ancestry, Jessica Murray. She set the wheels in motion to fix this problem. Other than that, How do you like seeing how old photos can be dated by style clues? Best, Betty Shubert

  5. Janis Shaffer

    Recently the site Traces of Texas posted a picture of Mrs. Alice Colquitt, wife of Texas Governor O.B. (Oscar Branch) Colquitt and another woman. The pic is dated 1912. She is wearing a tricorner hat much like Anna’s and the other lady is wearing a suit much like Anna’s form fitting suit and the lapels are about the same size. I feel the picture is 1912. I wish I could post the picture for comparison.

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