Spring Exhibition 2022


Spring Exhibition 2022 - presented by Yeovil's Virtual Museum




Photo by John Swatridge, c1860




About the Spring 2022 Exhibition

Today, of great value, is the recording of how ordinary Yeovilians looked and dressed through the decades. The vast legacy of cartes de visite and cabinet cards, followed by professionally-produced postcards and domestic photographs, have produced significant documentation of the fashions in clothing for both women and men.

This Spring 2022 Exhibition of Yeovil's Virtual Museum looks at the fashions of all classes of people in Yeovil from the 1850s to the 1920s. It should be borne in mind that a visit to the photographer’s studio, or even a home visit, would often have been a special occasion and called for the sitter to be attired in their ‘Sunday best’.

All photographs, except the 'glass chamber', are from my collection.


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Modern photography began in the late 1830s in France. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a portable camera obscura to expose to light a pewter plate coated with bitumen. This is the first recorded image that did not fade quickly.

The late 1840s saw the introduction of the photographic studio in England when the new 'science' of photography meant that a 'likeness' would soon become affordable for the masses. As with other towns, Yeovil saw its fair share of photographic artists setting up studios.

A typical photographer's 'glass chamber'


In 1847, Thomas Sharp of London would become the first of several visiting professional photographers to set up temporary photographic studios in Yeovil, usually within existing shop premises. These temporary studios would exist for just a few weeks or several months - the ‘season’.

Yeovil soon began to have more permanent studios created in the town. The first of Yeovil’s professional photographers was probably John Swatridge who, together with his son Thomas, set up a photographic studio in his shop premises in Princes Street during the 1850s.

Since lighting for photography was a real problem at this time, the majority of the new studios, frequently called ‘glass chambers’, were little more than greenhouses equipped for photographic portraiture as seen at left.

The next great step forward in photography was the invention of the carte de visite, patented in 1854 in France by Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. The carte de visite image, or images, were usually taken in multiples of eight or less and were small enough for the photographer to take eight images on a whole plate camera fitted with four lenses and a repeating back. Most would produce the same image multiple times but, depending on the camera and the lens set-up, some could accommodate various poses on one photographic plate.

Cartes de visite (also known as cartes or CDVs) are small paper-on-card photographs. The size of cartes quickly became standardised and they typically measure 4" x 2½" (102mm x 62mm). The photograph which was pasted on to the card was roughly cut to about 3½" x 2¼" (90mm x 57mm). They were never actually used as visiting cards.

Cartes de visite were introduced in Britain in 1859 and became a relatively cheap way for almost anyone to have their photograph taken. The newly-invented negative/positive process allowed photographers to easily produce multiple copies. This had not been possible with earlier photographic processes such as the ambrotype and the daguerreotype. By keeping the negatives, the photographer could offer reprints at any time after the initial sitting - a fact usually advertised on the back of the carte.

The ability to reproduce images in bulk, led to a fashion for Victorians to collect photographs of famous people, topographical views and a whole range of other subjects. This fashion was boosted in 1860 when the society photographer, JE Mayall, produced a set of photographs of the Royal family. As cartes became cheaper, people began to swap images with their friends and around 1870 leather-bound albums with bright brass clasps became popular. Until then, cartes had square corners, but these tended to rip the openings in albums. So, from around this time, cartes began to have rounded corners - an easy way to roughly date a carte.

Throughout the 1860s and 1870s the passion for collecting cartes boomed and literally millions were produced across the country each year. It has been called the start of ‘cartomania’.

Cabinet cards - a larger version of the carte - were introduced in 1866 by the London company of Window & Bridge to revitalise the flagging sales of cartes. However, they did not become really popular until the late 1880s and 1890s. Cabinet cards were the larger version of the carte de visite and customers were often sold the same photograph in both sizes. The photograph of a cabinet card measures 5½” x 4” (140mm x 100mm) and is pasted onto a mount measuring 6½” x 4¼” (165mm x 115mm). Cabinet cards usually have the studio name and address printed at the bottom.

For size comparison, at left is a carte de visite by John Chaffin & Sons of Hendford (next door to the Butchers Arms), at right is a cabinet card also by John Chaffin & Sons, but appears to be a portrait taken in the sitter’s home. Both date to the 1890s. Cartes measure approximately 4" x 2½" (102mm x 62mm), while cabinet cards measure 6½” x 4¼” (165mm x 115mm).

The carte de visite format continued in use until around the turn of the twentieth-century, while the cabinet card persisted until about 1910. By this time, both had been replaced by the much cheaper postcard format.

As an example of the cost of a photograph - the visit to the studio was generally free and the following list of prices, from John Bell of Hendford in 1896, are typical -

  • Cartes de visite - 12 copies from 7 shillings (about £35 at today's value)

  • Cartes de visite - 6 copies from 4 shillings

  • Cartes de visite - 3 copies from 2s 6d

  • Re-orders - 6d each, any number

  • Cabinet Cards - 12 copies from 12 shillings

  • Cabinet Cards - 6 copies from 7s 6d

  • Cabinet Cards - 3 copies from 4s 6d

  • Re-orders - 1s each, any number


Many of the early photographers had originally trained as artists and a frequently-offered service was to provide a coloured version of the photograph. This was often achieved by creating a portrait in oils, or other medium, as a direct copy of a photograph. Alternatively, as in this example at left (not a Yeovil photographer), by painting directly onto the photograph.

For example, John Chaffin of Hendford, employed his three daughters as artists to create lifelike portraits in oil paints or to colour monochrome prints. Louisa at the Hendford studio and at Taunton by her elder sisters Kate and Maria, who had earlier been listed as artists.


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Fashions of the 1850s

Around 1856, skirts expanded creating a dome shape, due to the invention of the artificial cage crinoline. The purpose of the crinoline was to create a simulated hourglass silhouette by accentuating the hips and, together with the corset, creating the illusion of a small waist. The cage crinoline was made from thin strips of metal, forming a circular structure to support the large width of the skirt. The introduction of the crinoline freed women from the great weight of many layers of petticoats and was a much more hygienic option.

The following four photographs are all by George Bartlett Coggan, who was only living in Yeovil from 1859 and running a photographic studio until around 1862.

Proving that almost anyone could afford a carte de visite, this carte de visite is of Susan Ellis (1839-1903) originally from Halstock, Dorset, who, in the 1861 census (three years after the time of this photograph) was listed as a 23-year old servant living with and working for the family of bookseller, stationer and printer Henry Wippell at (today's) 1 & 3 Princes Street.

Susan's dress is typical of the mid- to late-1850s before the full crinoline became fashionable.

She holds a book - symbolising an educated young lady (as well as the fact that she worked for a bookseller). The background has a simple swag of material to one side and Coggan's ornate studio chair appears in many of his photographic portraits.


This older lady wears a dark silk morning crinoline dress with the skirt almost conical and dressed simply with ruching around the hem. The sleeves are wide and heavily decorated.

This lady's hair is dressed simply, middle parted and in a bun or wound braid at the back, with the sides puffed out over the ears. She wears an indoor cap with long ribbons which, by this time, was a little dated and would usually only have been worn by the older generation.

Again, the props are sparse, just a simple table to give the lady something to rest on and maintain her pose, since exposure times were lengthy and any movement of the sitter would cause the photograph to blur. The background has a simple painted cloth depicting an outside scene.

This gentleman wears a long frock coat, for informal day wear, over a straight cut, single-breasted waistcoat and trousers of a similar material.

Thought to be initially worn by military men, frock coats are said to have been popularised by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

Originally, the frock coat was worn as the more casual version of the popular dress coat of the middle nineteenth century but soon became the formal day-coat. It had skirts almost to the knees and buttoned in front. It was influenced by the style of the greatcoat, but was more fitted in shape.

This photograph features a painted backdrop and the man rests on a moveable prop balustrade for stability during the photograph's exposure.


This lady has a similar dress to the previous photograph of the older seated lady. It has a high collar in contrasting white, very full sleeves, a belt with a large buckle at the waist and three layers of frills at the hem.

Her daughter wears a dress with a design based on adult’s clothing. Like her mother, she has long dark ribbons in her hair.

Almost devoid of studio props, Coggan's studio chair makes another appearance, while the wall behind appears to have a large tapestry of an outdoor scene.

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Fashions of the 1860s

After about 1862, the silhouette of the crinoline changed and rather than being bell-shaped it was now flatter at the front and projected out more behind. In men's fashion, the sack coat and cutaway morning coat, waistcoat, and trousers in the contrasting fabric continued as the norm.

This is the earliest carte by John Chaffin, from 1862, before Chaffin started to have the backs of his CDVs printed (it has a hand-written back).

The sitter’s early style sack coat is typical of this period. The sack suit, or lounge suit as it was termed in Great Britain, originated in France as the sacque coat during the 1840s and took its name from the way it was cut (contrary to popular belief, the sack coat did NOT get its name from its loose fit “like a sack”).

The full length portrait was normal during this period, with clear areas of floor visible below the sitter. The background is quite plain and the props are sparse. Note the base of a neck clamp behind the sitter’s feet. Neck clamps were used in order to stop the sitter’s head moving.

Again, one of the very earliest cartes de visite by John Chaffin, almost certainly dating to 1862. In this instance, Chaffin had bought a standardised carte with a printed back with name and address hand-written indicating that he had still yet to organise the printing of his own carte stocks.

For most of the nineteenth century children's clothes were all but replicas of their parents fashions, the exception being that young girls' dresses were shorter than adults.

The same painted backdrop as in the next photograph is seen, featuring a rural landscape. The balustrade prop, for support during the long photographic exposure, was appropriately short for the use of children, although as seen at the left edge clearly isn't long enough to be convincing.

 Another very early carte by John Chaffin from around 1862, featuring the lady’s dress, with its full, bell-shaped crinoline skirts, typical of this date. The fashion would change dramatically within a year or two.

Her hair style, centre-parted and swept back showing her ears is another indicator of this period.

The same painted backdrop as in the previous photograph is seen again. It was typical of the period and shows a simplified opening with a view through to the outside.

The balustrade studio prop, on which the lady rests  was moveable and features in many of Chaffin's studio portraits for many years.


This man, also photographed by Chaffin in 1863, wears a tailored, mid-thigh length morning coat that tended to be worn for more formal day occasions.

 The morning coat was cutaway, as here, so that only the top button could be fastened. It was ideal for business wear. Waistcoats, usually in a contrasting, plain material, were generally cut straight across the front and had lapels. He wears traditional contrasting light-coloured trousers.

The props are a simple swag of material and the moveable balustrade makes another appearance.

Note behind the the man’s legs are the feet of a neck brace to keep him from moving his head during the long exposure time.



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Fashions of the 1870s

1870's fashion is characterised by a gradual return to a narrow silhouette after the full-skirted fashions of the 1850s and 1860s. By 1870, fullness in the skirt had moved to the rear, where elaborately-draped overskirts were supported by a bustle and secured by tapes. This necessitated an underskirt, which was heavily trimmed with pleats, ruching, and frills. The bustle was short-lived at this time, although it would return again in the mid-1880s. It was followed by a tight-fitting silhouette. The cuirass bodice, a long-waisted, boned bodice extending into a point below the waistline in both front and back. Sleeves were very tight fitting. Square necklines were common and day dresses had high necklines that were either closed, squared, or V-shaped. Sleeves of morning dresses were narrow throughout the period and women often draped overskirts to create an apron-like effect from the front.

Typical of the early 1870s, this lady's day dress is quite simple and fairly plain. The high neckline of the buttoned bodice (the buttons appear to be the same colour as the dress fabric, while the four white 'buttons' are, in fact, a jewellery ornament).

The skirts are now much reduced and are flatter at the front, with an emphasis at the rear. In the following years the rear 'emphasis' would be enhanced by the use of a bustle.

Of particular interest is the chair featured. This is not a normal chair, but a photographer's 'posing' chair. This was designed such that the 'seat' could be used for sitting or kneeling and the height of both the seat and the padded back would have been fully adjustable, to accommodate sitters of different heights.


This photograph by John Chaffin dates to 1870.

The man, in what is sometimes referred to as a promenade suit, wears a long jacket with very wide lapels and generous sleeves - a refinement of the earlier sack coat.

He wears a collar and silk tie, with a jewelled tie pin through the tie's knot.

His waistcoat, worn with a heavy watch chain, is double breasted and of the same material. It is worn with contrasting light coloured trousers (they are actually finely striped). The ensemble is finished off with a summer hat and a cane.

The scene is somewhat let down by a plain background and incongruous papier-mâché rocks.


In Britain the return of the beard (the full beard had last been in vogue in Tudor times) was thanks to the Crimean War of 1854-56. Beards had been banned in the British army until this time, but the freezing temperatures of Crimean winters, and the impossibility of getting shaving soap, led to a necessary change. By the time the last troops returned home, beards were the mark of a hero. Within a few years, it was almost impossible to see a beard-free male face in Victorian Britain. During the 1860s and '70s, Piccadilly weepers , or as the Americans called them, Dundreary whiskers, became popular. They were long bushy, carefully combed side whiskers, worn without a beard.


1870's fashion is characterised by a gradual return to a narrow silhouette after the full-skirted fashions of the 1850s and 1860s. By 1870, fullness in the skirt had moved to the rear, and here elaborately-draped overskirts were supported by a bustle and secured by tapes. This necessitated an underskirt, which was heavily trimmed with pleats, ruching, and frills.

Of special interest is the early use of an elaborately painted 'outdoor' backcloth (the like of which had not been seen for a decade) and the massive 'rock' (probably Papier-mâché) posing aid on a wooden base. It is likely that Chaffin's daughters, who were all artists, painted the backcloth and possibly created the impressive 'rock'.



Photographed in the late-1870s by Adam Gosney of Sherborne. Gosney had a studio in Princes Street, as well as Sherborne, Dorchester, Crewkerne and Wimborne. Gosney also invested in a mobile photographic studio with which he travelled to many villages throughout the district.

This lady’s skirts are trimmed with layers of ruching. The sleeves are tight and the cuffs edged with white lace to match that at the high collar. Her hair is severely pulled back.

The man wears a thigh-length cutaway jacket, with tiny lapels, buttoned at the top, over a single-breasted waistcoat.

For the first time we do not see an expanse of carpet below the sitters' feet.


This carte, also by Chaffin, dates to around 1874.

The lady’s bustled dress with its overskirts, is a style that became fashionable around 1873 to 1874 and featured overskirts and an apron-like overskirt, caught up with buckled ribbons. Again, the bustle emphasises the rear of the skirts.

The bodice is of the 'Cuirassier' style with a drop-pointed front, plainly decorated and with quite tight sleeves with button detailing.

Unusually for a photograph at this date, the lady wears large pendulous earrings.

The props are minimal, with the edge of a fringed table supporting a book - the ever-present symbol of education.



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Fashions of the 1880s

Ladies' fashion in the middle of the 1880s was characterised by the return of the bustle as emphasis remained on the back of the skirt. The long, lean line of the 1870s was slowly replaced by a full, curvy silhouette with gradually widening shoulders. Fashionable waists were low and tiny below a full, low bust supported by a corset.

As in the previous decade, emphasis remained on the back of the skirt, with fullness gradually rising from behind the knees to just below the waist. The fullness over the bottom was balanced by a fuller, lower chest, achieved by rigid corseting, creating a narrow waist and an S-shaped silhouette.

These gowns typically did not have a long train in the back, which was different from the gowns worn in the 1870s, and were extremely tight. They did still have overskirts. They were known as the "hobble-skirt" due to the tightness of them.

The painted backdrop is 'rustic' and flowers / foliage in the foreground help to give the illusion that the lady is outside, in the countryside.


This lady's velvet dress emphasises her tiny corseted waist with a draped overskirt and bustle. The effect is accentuated by focusing attention on her bosom and hips - producing the ideal full, curvy silhouette.

Her high collar trimmed with white lace, a carry-over from the previous decade, is typical of the early 1880s.

The background is extremely plain - unusual for this period.




A good three-quarters shot of a young man seated on a prop balustrade in front of a rural backcloth.

He wears a tailored jacket, far less loose than the earlier sack coat, with a high-buttoned, single breasted contrasting waistcoat and trousers of the same finely-striped material. He wears a bow tie.







The man in this carte wears a three piece suit with jacket, waistcoat and trousers all in matching material (called a ‘ditto suit’) and sports a bowler hat - traditionally worn with informal attire and favoured by the working classes.

The man sits on the photographer's adjustable 'posing' chair, and the base of a head support is clearly seen behind the legs of the chair.

The use of props is again sparse.





During the Victorian age, different style clothing was worn according to age and gender. Girls wore mostly skirts and dresses, the style and length changed as they grew older. Meanwhile, the boys wore sailor suits, and clothes that would be considered girls clothes in modern standards.

Girl’s fashion from the Victorian era was mostly based on skirts. At certain ages, the skirts would have to be longer. At first, before they started school, the girls would wear very frilly dresses - the frillier the dress, the richer the family. When they got into school, then they would usually wear skirts. The skirts would start at about knee level, at ten years of age the hemline would drop to about mid-calf, and at sixteen years of age they would go all the way down to their ankles. At this age, the girls started dressing more like adults - even wearing corsets underneath their clothes, to make their bodies look the way that was most popular then.

Boys would also commonly dress according to their age. They would usually wear knickerbockers as a standard, casual piece of clothing. Very young boys wore frocks, blouses, and tunics with pleated skirts up until the age of three or four (I even have a photo of my three-year-old grandfather in a dress in 1902). After this young age, they wore knickerbockers with short, collarless jackets. Boys also wore the popular naval-style uniform, or 'sailor suit', which consisted of buttoned trousers, dark stockings, black boots, buttoned reefer jackets, and a wide brim straw hat. Most of the naval-style clothing was either colored in white, black, or navy blue.

Unlike in the 1860s (q.v.), by the end of the 1880s children's clothes were no longer little replicas of their parents' wardrobes.

The children’s clothes in this carte are typical of this period. The little girls wear loose-fitting white smock-type dresses with sun bonnets. Girls dresses continued to be much shorter than adults' hemlines.

The little boy wears knickerbockers, a shirt with a very large Oxford collar and a large sun hat.

This carte is a deluxe version with a maroon-coloured stock sporting a gold edge and gold lettering.

Note that the front is printed “Yeovil and Taunton” after Chaffin opened his Taunton studio that would eventually be run by his son..


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Fashions of the 1890s

Fashionable women's clothing styles shed some of the extravagances of previous decades, so that skirts were neither supported by crinolines as in the early 1860s, nor protrudingly bustled in back as in the late 1860s and mid-1880s, or tight as in the late 1870s. Nevertheless, corseting continued unmitigated, or even slightly increased in severity.

Early 1890's dresses generally consisted of a tight bodice with the skirt gathered at the waist and falling more naturally over the hips and undergarments than in previous years. The 1890s introduced 'leg of mutton' sleeves, which grew in size each year until they disappeared around the end of 1896.


This is a special deluxe carte de visite with the photograph, smaller than normal, set within an embossed border. It is by William Sherrell.

The carte dates to the early 1890s, as evidenced by the nascent ‘leg of mutton’ sleeves of the sitter which were tight for most of the length of the arm, but enlarged at the top of the arm.

The dark-coloured day dress is decorated with much lace to the bodice, the sleeve cuffs and the high collar.

Shutter speeds were improving at this time but exposures were still relatively long, so the lady has an ornate pillar, decorated with house plants, with which to steady herself.


Dating to around 1895, this magnificent dress features enormous 'leg of mutton' sleeves - without doubt the most extreme example of this five-year fashion in which sleeves increased annually in size until the fashion faded in 1896.

It is difficult to tell if the bodice and skirt are separate items, but nevertheless the lower half of the bodice is in the same fabric as the skirt. Again, a rigid corset produces a tiny waist while emphasising the bosom.

Again, the lady balances herself on Sherrell's prop column, this time adorned with ferns. There is also a large rural backdrop.

This is a fine deluxe carte de visite, with a plain dark brown back and gold lettering and edging on a heavy cardstock. This is probably one of the last cartes by Chaffin & Sons before they moved to the postcard format.

Dating to around 1895, the lady wears a tailored jacket with exaggerated leg of mutton sleeves, a massive collar and a small dead animal.

Her hair is piled up on top of her head and her hat sits high and straight, trimmed with feathers.

Her skirt appears to be the popular simple A-line of the time.

This photograph, by Jarrett Beckett, was produced as a cabinet card and dates to about 1898.

The lady wears a silky, striped blouse with generous, residual ’leg of mutton’ sleeves and is decorated with ribbons and lace at the high collar and cuffs. Her skirt is dark and plain, in contrast to her blouse.

The man wears a three-piece suit with matching coat and trousers but a contrasting, chequered waistcoat. Waistcoats fastened lower on the chest, and were collarless.

His shirt collar is turned over into "wings" - collars were overall very tall and stiffened. He wears a fashionable fancy bow tie.



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Fashions of the 1900s

The fashionable silhouette in the early twentieth century was that of the 'confident woman', with full low chest and curvy hips. The 'health corset' of this period removed pressure from the abdomen and created an S-curve silhouette. Early twentieth century blouses and dresses were full in front and puffed into a 'pigeon breast' shape over a narrow waist. Skirts still brushed the floor, even for day dresses, in mid-decade.

For men, the long, lean, and athletic silhouette of the 1890s persisted.

By this time, the carte de visite was little used and the cabinet card was in sharp decline, both being replaced by the new postcard format, enabling photographs - whether they be professionally taken or by enthusiastic amateurs - to be sent to friends and loved ones.

This is a photograph of four sisters produced as a postcard around 1905.

The girls all wear similar, but slightly different, dresses. Girls generally wore their dresses shorter than adults and the younger the girl, the shorter the dress.

Note that the eldest (seated) girl wears a wristwatch. Wristwatches were worn only by women before the twentieth century - and more for decoration rather than anything as practical as punctuality.





20-year-old Ellen Warren photographed in 1909 (and produced as a cabinet card, despite the late date) in her wedding dress.

The full-length dress is in a slimming, dark navy, square-cut at the neck but with a white lace, high collar infill. The dress has the smallest of lace cuffs in very tight sleeves, with silk detailing at the elbows matching the detailing across the line of the bosom. The lower sleeves are in a colour-matched crepe.

 Her hair style is typical of the Edwardian period.





The Norfolk jacket, made of sturdy tweed or similar materials, gained popularity for rugged outdoor pursuits, such as fishing and shooting.

It would be worn with matching waistcoat and breeches, when it became the Norfolk suit, suitable for bicycling or golf with knee-length stockings and low shoes.

The man wears a winged collar with a necktie. The flat cap was commonly worn at this time by all classes.





Again photographed by Adam Gosney, but in the carte de visite format that had been abandoned by most other photographers.

These two boys wear suits that would have emulated their father's.

The waistcoats are fastened high on the chest. The usual style, as here, was single-breasted.

The older boy, standing, wears a watch chain and carries a bowler hat while his younger brother wears knickerbocker trousers because of his age.





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Fashions of the 1910s

Fashion from 1910–1919 was characterised by a rich and exotic opulence in the first half of the decade in contrast with the sombre practicality of garments worn during the Great War period. Men's trousers were worn cuffed to ankle-length and creased. Skirts rose from floor length to well above the ankle by the end of the decade. Women began to bob their hair, and the stage was set for the radical new fashions associated with the Jazz Age of the 1920s.


High Street decorated to celebrate the Coronation of George V on 22 June 1911. The ladies at left and right have ankle-length hemlines, but the five younger girls at centre have higher hemlines because of their age. Nearly all the ladies and girls wear fashionable wide-brimmed hats.


This photograph dates to about 1910.

Large hats with wide brims and broad hats with face-shadowing brims were the height of fashion in the early years of the decade, gradually shrinking to smaller hats with flat brims.

Fur muffs and stoles were important fashion accessories in this period.

Beneath her coat this young lady wears a separate blouse and skirt; the blouse has a high frilly collar while the skirt length is just a couple of inches clear of the ground.







This studio portrait is by Grace Cumming, who was only active as a photographer in Yeovil in 1911 and 1912. Grace died in 1913.

Produced as a postcard, it is embossed with Grace's name at the bottom right corner.

By this time the man’s double-breasted jacket has morphed from the earlier sack coat to become the modern suit jacket. He wears matching trousers and probably wears a matching waistcoat.

The background is a simple swag of material.





During the 1914-1918 War, the vast majority of men’s clothing naturally tended to be military in nature.

This corporal had his photograph taken while on leave.

It was usual for servicemen to have a photographic portrait as a keepsake for their loved ones while they were away on active service. These are more numerous today than any other type of portrait of this decade.






This photograph of two sisters dates to about 1917 and shows the very plain style that became popular during the Great War.

Both ladies wear simple long-sleeved blouses with high necks with ankle-length plain skirts.

These are the two elder sisters shown in the photograph of the four sisters of 1905 above.









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Fashions of the 1920s

The 1920s was the decade in which fashion entered the modern era. It was the decade in which women first abandoned the more restricting fashions of past years (the confining corset was discarded by most) and began to wear more comfortable clothes.

The decade was characterised by two distinct periods of fashion. In the early part of the decade, change was slow, as many were reluctant to adopt new styles. From 1925, the public passionately embraced the styles associated with the Roaring Twenties.

Men also generally abandoned highly formal daily attire and even began to wear athletic clothing for the first time. The suits men wear today are still based, for the most part, on those worn in the late 1920s.


Photographed by Witcomb & Son around 1924, and produced as a postcard.

This lady, with her bobbed hair, wears a drop-waisted dress with a loose, straight fit and shorter sleeves.

Although unseen in this photograph, the length of her dress would be just below the knees.

Further, she is unencumbered by the rigid corsetry of previous decades.






By 1920 the 'bobbed' hair style was rapidly becoming fashionable although in the early 1920s it was still seen as a somewhat shocking statement of independence in young women, as older people were used to seeing girls wearing long dresses and heavy Edwardian-style hair. Hairdressers, whose training was mainly in arranging and curling long hair, were slow to realise that short styles for women had arrived to stay. The bobbed style became standard by the end of the decade.

This young lady wears the most iconic 1920s coat, the fur collar wrap coat, or 'cocoon coat'. This was a woman’s prized possession. Almost every woman owned one and wore it throughout the year.


This formal family group photograph dates to 1928 and shows a range of 'Sunday best' clothing.

For the first time in centuries, women's legs were seen with hemlines rising almost to the knee and dresses becoming more fitted.

The cloche hat was a fitted, bell-shaped hat for women that was invented in 1908 but became especially popular from about 1922 to 1933.

Although the younger lads wear a standard 'newsboy' cap and a flat cap, these were also popular with working class men at this time - as were the trilby hats worn here by the older men.




The ever popular 'box brownie' camera (invented in 1900) allowed people to take their own photographs at any location as, for example, this scene on a crowded beach.

While the older ladies at left retain their somewhat old-fashioned clothes and hats, the young couple have a far more relaxed wardrobe - an open shirt collar (albeit still with a double-breasted suit jacket buttoned up, even on the beach).

Even the older man has removed his stiff shirt collar for the occasion.