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Fashion and Family History (Paperback)

Interpreting How Your Ancestors Dressed

Family History Social History Photographic Books Colour Books

By Jayne Shrimpton
Imprint: Pen & Sword Family History
Series: Tracing Your Ancestors
Pages: 200
Illustrations: 20 colour & 75 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526760265
Published: 26th November 2020

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Studying dress history teaches us much about the past. In this skilfully-illustrated, accessible and authoritative book, Jayne Shrimpton demonstrates how fashion and clothes represent the everyday experiences of earlier generations, illuminating the world in which they lived.

As Britain evolved during the 1800s from a slow-paced agrarian society into an urban-industrial nation, dress was transformed. Traditional rural styles declined and modern city modes, new workwear and holiday gear developed. Women sewed at home, while shopping advanced, novel textiles and mass-produced goods bringing affordable fashion to ordinary people. Many of our predecessors worked as professional garment-makers, laundresses or in other related trades: close to fashion production, as consumers they looked after their clothes.

The author explains how, understanding the social significance of dress, the Victorians observed strict etiquette through special costumes for Sundays, marriage and mourning. Poorer families struggled to maintain standards, but young single workers spent their wages on clothes, the older generation cultivating their own discreet style. Twentieth-century dress grew more relaxed and democratic as popular culture influenced fashion for recent generations who enjoyed sport, cinema, music and dancing.

This is a well written, easy to read book that supplies a wealth of information for anyone wishing to find out what their ancestors, rich or poor, might have been wearing in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. I would recommend it to anyone interested in family or fashion history.

Shirley Sura, Barnsley Family History Journal, July 2021

This is a very easy-to-read history, good to dip in and out of, as well as to read cover to cover.
There is accurate historical information in each section, with advertisements from magazines and newspapers to put clothes into their historical context.

Th author makes clear the differences in fashion for each social classes in the past, and how this has changed. For our own families, if we have old photographs or painting, one can use this book to help us put our ancestors into their correct time period.

I loved the photographs, and would have enjoyed the inclusion of a few more from WW2 onwards.
A great read for anyone wanting to understand the past through fashion.

Dudley George, Alnwick FHS

This is an in-depth expert guide to the period 1800 to 1950 containing firmly-dated images of fashion details to help identify the date of old photos. The book explores how clothing adapted to meet needs of a changing world, through City dress to modern workwear, clothes for special occasions and sportswear.

Dress was transformed as Britain evolved from a largely agrarian society into an industrial nation in the 1800s. The story proceeds from women sewing at home to the introduction of new textiles and mass-produced goods with the aim of bringing affordably fashion to ordinary people. The author describes how the Victorians observed strict etiquette through special costumes for Sundays, weddings and funerals while poorer families struggled, often with ‘make do and mend’.

Eventually young people had sufficient wages to spend on smart non-work clothes. Dress codes in the 20th century became more relaxed as popular culture influenced recent generations in their social and sporting lives. Also covered in this book are the clothing industry, matters to do with laundry, and fashion heirlooms. There are many delightful illustrations and good bibliography.

Bristol and Avon Family History Society

This is a well researched and easy read book, which looks at our ancestor’s mode of dress.

It is comprehensively illustrated and paints a vivid picture of our ancestors.

Clwyd Family History Society, featured in Hel Achau 148, March Issue

Review by Dr Sophie Kay

… breaths fresh life into bygone worlds, and professional genealogists and keen amateurs alike will undoubtedly find this gem of a book a superb addition to their collection.

WDYTYA? Magazine, April 2021

A fascinating book, which in my view has many uses not just for identifying the age of family images and photographs - I feel this book would be useful for adding touches of social history to family history write ups, for example, about workwear worn by ancestors in particular occupations and may also be of value to historical fiction writers.

Loved the chapters on making and buying clothes and caring for garments – I well remember my grandma’s mangle. The elaborate dress etiquette of mourning clothing , even for children, is well detailed. The section on fashion heirlooms had me searching through my mother’s keepsake boxes and asking questions!

A lovely read for anyone with an interest in how their ancestors dressed. It will be on my book shelf from now on!

Read the full review here

Amazon Customer, Jayne

From the opening paragraphs onwards, Jayne Shrimpton’s lifetime of experience, researching the fashion and photography of past times, and her passion for the subject, glows off the page… Beautifully and extensively illustrated, the pictures (both photographs and period drawings) are all firmly dated, helping the reader to build a visual image library in their mind’s eye.

Family Tree, March 2021

Article: ‘Lewes author tells us what their clothes reveal about our ancestors in her fascinating new volume’, as featured by

Sussex Express, 12th February 2021

It was an interesting read. If you’re into historical fashions then this is a good book to pick up. Really gave you a sense of the time.

NetGalley, Siobhan Rodriguez

An intriguing little book on a subject I hadn’t probably given much thought too, but then when you think about it we do look at clothing and style quite a bit without realising it. In my opinion we should probably look more at fashion and clothing and give it a bit more importance, because after reading through this book we all know quite a bit about the subject but we don’t give it the importance it deserves. The book was good in that it didn’t just look at the clothing and fashion, it also gave us an insight into the creation and care of the products too. This was a very good book indeed, a great read and well written, you can see there has been quite a bit of good research put into this probably underrated book. A really good read.

5 stars

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Review by Chris Broom

In summary, as someone with limited dress sense, who can have no claim to be a ‘dedicated follower of fashion’, I found this an absorbing read. For anyone with more than a passing interest in fashion and family history, I would position this publication as essential reading.

Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group

Jayne Shrimpton interview with presenter Sarah Gorrell

BBC Radio Sussex, 5th January 2021

It is a book that should find a place on your family history book shelf. There are plenty of images to look at which might help you to put a date to your family photos from the 1800s to the 1950s.

East Yorkshire Family History Society

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A fantastic read a well written look at fashion family history.The book is full of interesting information drawings and photographs. I was completely engaged going back in time out of my world into this interesting eye opening look at this time in history.

NetGalley, Abby Siverman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An excellent book, "Fashion and Family History" is well written and very well researched, and includes a wide range of illustrations and photographs to support its text. The is a book that covers not only what the wealthy elite wore, but also the everyday English person, the poor, those living in both country and city. Fashions are charted over time from 1800 to 1950, including some reasons for the changes and how those changes effected lives. It also goes into more detail than I've seen before for men's and children's clothes, instead of focusing solely on women's fashions. From day wear to evening wear, sports to work, this book covers it all. Excellent for those hoping to research how to date time periods through images and also writers looking for descriptions of clothes in these time frames across Britain.

NetGalley, Anne Morgan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Great reference book for fashions in bygone times. A great way to help identify clothing in pictures and in your genealogy.

NetGalley, Lou Davis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this glimpse into a part of everyone's history, the book was informative and interesting!

NetGalley, Heather Bennett

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Fashion and Family History by Jayne Shrimpton is a comprehensive book that covers all aspects of dress from 1800-1950. The first chapter is a tour de force. I think it’s probably the best account I have read of the changes in costume over the busy period of 1800 – 1950. In 36 pages, Shrimpton gives us detail of women’s, men’s and children’s fashions; and the strict chronological history in each section ensures we understand how one form morphed into another as waistlines moved and sleeves loosened or tightened. When I finished the chapter, I had to go back and read it again because I couldn’t believe that she’d packed in so much so succinctly. Brilliant!


This is a great book and one that I shall re-read for pleasure as well as keeping for reference.

NetGalley, Colin Edwards

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Another excellent publication from Pen And Sword and Jayne Shrimpton. I love this series of books and they are a constant source of information when I am researching my family history... This was well written and informative and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

NetGalley, Alison Bevington

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I found this to be a fascinating read, and the pictures and illustrations were fantastic. As a Historical Romance author, I have a feeling I am going to be referring back to this book again and again as it is a remarkable resource for the various time periods between 1800 and 1950. I love how it is categorized, and indexed! You can quickly look up very detailed descriptions of clothes worn by the aristocracy in one section, and workman and laborers in another. I found the section on sportswear especially fascinating. Very well written and easy to follow. I think anyone who has any interest at all in history, or fashion would love this book.

NetGalley, Sandra Schehl

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant. Though keeping up with modern fashion trends holds no attraction for me, the history of fashion and how it related to life in my favourite eras encompassing 1800 to 1950 is utterly absorbing. Clothing told stories. Still does.

Clothing, of course, is worn for several reasons. This book details information on work wear to bathing costumes to bridal wear to formal evening wear to hairstyles and scores more applications/purposes/events. Upholding status was crucial in this time period, especially 1800-early 1900s and clothing was one of the most prominent ways of displaying it, though often impractical. Gender clothing, including the beginnings of blue and pink, are discussed. There is also information on what men and women wore for leisure and sport including golf, swimming, horseback riding and golf. There are even old clothing advertisements in this book.

Clothing itself and accessories such as fabrics, handkerchiefs, hats, ribbons, lace, boots, stockings, gloves, neckties, etc. are described in wonderful detail. You will learn about portrait photography, what was worn on farms and in cities, how feet were kept warm as well as mourning etiquette. My least liked occupation related to clothing would have been hand washing...talk about involved and tedious.

One of my favourite aspects is the photographs, especially the personal touch of the author's relatives! I am so fortunate to have a very old photo album filled with portraits of my ancestors in my family's possession. It is interesting to note the range of facial expressions from severe and stern in the 1860s to the relaxed grins of the 1950s.

History readers, this is for you whether you are intrigued by fashion or not. It cannot be missed.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton
 Jayne Shrimpton

About Jayne Shrimpton

Jayne Shrimpton is a professional fashion historian and internationally-known ‘photo detective’ with a MA degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. A former Curator at the Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery, London, she is an independent image consultant, speaker, author and magazine columnist, working primarily in the family history arena. She dates photographs at public events and advises on celebrity photographs, also appearing on-screen for BBC TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? Her books include Family Photographs and How to Date ThemBritish Working DressVictorian Fashion and Tracing Your Ancestors through Family Photographs.

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