Discovery Your Family History

How Your Ancestors Fashion Sense Can Aid Your Research

If you have a cedar chest, or hope chest that belonged to an ancestor such as your great grandmother with old clothing and old pictures, learning the history of these items will help you understand the story behind them. We can learn the history behind the photos if we learn more about clothing styles during the time periods when these pictures were taken. There are a few places you can search for the purposes for the clothing worn during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, be it a ball gown, or every day dress. Once you learn the purposes for the clothing, you can learn more about the events that took place during your ancestors’ lives.

 Were Your Ancestors dedicated followers of Fashion?

 The dresses worn by the ladies between the 1790s and the early 1820s were known as empire dresses that contained a high waist and also a pleated skirt. The skirt tended to be much fuller at the back than it was at the front and the front of the skirt had a special tuck in the centre, designed to bring the skirt out over the toes. The sleeves made up the shoulders of these dresses, and were designed in a fitted fashion down the entire arm. This style was influenced in the United States by the French. During the 1830s, however, the style of dresses changed with a narrower waist band. Ladies had to wear corsets, to make them look as if they had a smaller waistline. Numerous layers of petticoats were worn, because the hoop skirt hadn’t been invented until later on. Hem lengths reached the ankle. Until 1836, the sleeves had shoulders that were dropped and were designed in the gigot style, which were full at the elbow and were also attached at the wrist. After around 1836, the hem reached the instep, and the sleeves were full all the way to the wrist. When the women wore many petticoats with their dresses, not only did this make the clothing look heavy, but it also made it hotter for the ladies. The dresses of the 1840s covered the woman from neck line to her feet, and they had tucks located at the top of the shoulders. The waist was V-shaped, and also pleated to give the illusion that the lady had a small waist and they also had fitted sleeves.

 Around the late 1840s right up until early into the 1850s, a round dress, which consisted of a blouse that came with a drop shouldered neck line, a slim-top sleeve, which was extended and then ran into a more common full sleeve which finally was that buttoned at the wrist that became popular. This dress was worn in conjunction with an under sleeve, and the bodice was often fan-shaped around the waist. Also the skirt and blouse were joined by the same waist band. The hoop skirt became popular in the 1850s, which was designed to eliminate the necessity for the layers of petticoats; however, to keep the hoops from showing, petticoats were often worn underneath the skirt. During the 1860s, the garibaldi blouse was often worn with the hoop skirt. This blouse buttoned up the front and was adorned with an overlapping decoration at the neckline. If you see the ball gowns from the 1860s, these were usually photos of only the brides in their wedding dresses.

 During the 1870s, the skirts were gathered at the back in the princess style. The day dress covered the neck with straight long sleeves from shoulder to wrist. Only the ball gowns revealed the top of the shoulder. These are a few of the various clothing styles changes for ladies from the 1700s to the late 1800s. Once you understand the different clothing changes from era to era and the styles for religious purposes as well as cultural styles, then will you begin to further your LDS family search by understanding the events that took place in your family story. For example, some religious groups would allow women to wear the dresses of the time period without the elaborate decorations. During the twentieth century, some pictures were made by women who wore period dresses, which was not uncommon during this time period.

 Pay close attention to the backgrounds, and any other items that weren’t related to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and you will see that these pictures aren’t necessarily in accordance with the period in which they were popular. Once you have learned about the styles of clothing that were worn throughout history, you can link these photos to events in your family history. As you continue your LDS family search, feel free to use the information you have learned about the changes in clothing throughout history to help you understand your family history. When viewing your old photos and even old clothing worn by your ancestors, start by looking at the skirt. This will help you determine from what century they were worn. By examining the sleeves, bodice and waist line, you can narrow the time period down even further. Now you can sort through the items in your ancestor’s hope chest to piece together her part of your LDS family search.

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