We take it for granted that we can walk into a store to purchase clothing to suit our needs and wants. The choices are endless. It wasn’t so easy for our ancestors. Many lived in remote areas where stores were few. How did your ancestors clothe themselves and their families? What did they wear and how did they acquire clothing to meet their needs?
Clues can be found in your ancestors’ wills, estate inventories, diaries, and photographs. Look for newspapers, catalogues, store ledgers and account books, and magazines from the time and place where your ancestor lived to learn about the styles and trends of their time. Then, use the research questions at the bottom of the page to guide you in your research.
Resources on the Internet
The websites presented here are just a sampling of what can be found on the Internet to help you learn about the clothing styles your ancestors might have worn. Use these website examples as a guide to customize searches for your specific research goal.
The Costume Gallery – 1700s Costume Image Sites: A guide to the 1700s period fashion including the Restoration, Cavalier and Baroque styles.
18th Century Clothing from Colonial Williamsburg: Pictures, images, and descriptions of clothing found in and around Williamsburg during the eighteenth century. Go behind the scenes to learn about the construction of the garments.
Dressing Up – A Timeline of Women’s Fashion in the 19th Century: Learn about nineteenth century Victorian fashion with all its frills, flounces, lace, braid, and fringe from the “uncomfortable and inconvenient” to the “frivolous and decorative.”
Victorian Bridal Gowns from Harper’s Bazaar (c. 1867-1884): Actual sketches of bridal gowns from the pages of the popular magazine from the late 1800s.
The Late 19th and Early 20th Century Ladies’ Dress Glossary: Glossary of terms related to the clothing worn by women during the 1800s and 1900s.
Flapper Fashion of the 1920s: Fashion trends from the 1920s including everything from outerwear to intimate apparel with links to images.
Women’s Clothing in the 1940s: Everyday clothing worn during this post-war era.
History of the Bathing Suit: Follow the history and evolution of the bathing suit beginning in the late 18th century through the 1920s.
Civil War Era Fashions and Hairstyles: Clothing and hairstyle trends during the Civil War period are examined and explained through the use of actual photographs.
Research Questions to Consider
What were the prevailing styles of the day?
Were shoes fancy or functional?
Were clothes homemade or bought in a store?
Who sewed the family’s clothes?
What types of stores might have sold clothes and shoes?
What types of fabrics might their clothes have been made of?
Was the fabric homemade or store bought?
How were children’s clothes different from adult clothes?
Were accessories (i.e., hats, scarves, etc.) an important element of fashion?
What length did women wear their dresses?
What were the styles and colors women chose for their wedding dresses?