We have another photo from the archives of Mrs Fawcett (she of the cape – see 20 February). It is interesting to ‘do an Alan’ with this one (Alan Clarke is a Volunteer who works with our photographic archive and frequently contributes photos for the interest of our blog readers, guiding us through a forensic observation of these).
It is obviously a posed photograph, taken, presumably, in a photographer’s studio. Mr Fawcett (and we must assume it is he – far too intimate a pose for it to be anyone else) is wearing a remarkable tie! What at first appear to be pince nez (spectacles that perched on the nose, without ear pieces) may, in fact, be glasses with small lenses. Is one lens blacked out?
We can learn a lot about costume from photographs of course, and often date a photo by dating the clothes. Mr Fawcett’s jacket, with its wide lapels and cuff effect on the sleeves is typical of the 1870s. Wing collars were still worn on shirts, but so were the more modern type seen here. No turn-ups on the trousers, lace-up boots – both bang on trend. Even his hair, medium-long at the sides and back but with ears showing, is just right for that decade.
For the ladies, the crinoline (effectively a wide cage worn under the skirt of a dress to make it stand out in an exaggerated fashion) had gone out of fashion by 1870 and Mrs Fawcett appears to be wearing a bustle under her dress in this photograph. This was a more limited framework designed to support the fullness of the back of the dress, giving an interesting shape but, more practically, making sure that the material was lifted clear of the ground. One source suggests that as the bustle became fashionable, so “the hair got higher”. No explanation, but it certainly appears so from this photo. Zigzag, lacy or scalloped edges were all the rage, as were decorations achieved with arrangements of buttons – all of which we can see on the dress here. There appears to be a crotcheted shawl on her lap.
Mrs Fawcett is wearing a very dark dress, suggesting she might be in mourning.
The pose would hit the wrong note in the 21st century. The wife is seated obediently (and below!) the husband, supposedly reading dutifully to him.
If you have early family photos at home, you can have the same fun with them. All of the costume information is available on the internet of course (or a good book!).