I am delighted to be sharing my review of; Fashion and Family History: Interpreting How Your Ancestors Dressed by Jayne Shrimpton. I can’t wait to share this knowledgeable book with you all, firstly, a quick thank you to Rosie at Pen and Sword Books for my complimentary copy.

about the book

Fashion and Family History: Interpreting How Your Ancestors Dressed by Jayne Shrimpton.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Family History, Fashion History

Studying dress history teaches us much about the past. In this skillfully 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. 

Purchase Link: Pen and Sword Books: Fashion and Family History


As an avid (or maybe that should read, addicted) family history fan, having been my own genealogy trail for half my life I was instantly attracted to this book. As a fashion history reference book, it’s wonderful, it’s brilliantly researched, I can’t fault the history, but as a family history book it was a bit of a disappointment, I think the genealogy aspect lagged behind and I would have liked more in-depth discussion into the subject.

The book covers a hundred and fifty year period from the 1800s to the 1950s, being devived into sections such as day to day, work and sportswear and special occasions, which makes it an easy to read and accessible reference book. I liked that each section covers men women and children’s fashion, and the book explains how clothes were sourced, the fabrics and textiles used and how clothing was taken care of and laundered.

My particular favourite sections of the book were about the war eras in particularly the steel girls, I was fascinated by the little passage which covered the ‘Canary Girls’ and how they were provided with an allowance for makeup to cover their yellowing skin due to the chemicals and how Max factor gave discounted makeup to the factory worker as a morale boost, I had never heard of that before.

I like how the book explains the evolution of clothes through the years, how clothes were adapted to conform with fashion in a rapidly changing world. It gives an insight into how clothes were made from women stitching at home to mass industrial, mass-produced items which were cheaper to buy and easier to make.

I liked how the author gives an in-depth look into how the Victorians saw clothing and the incredibly strict rules about what she be worn and when, what had to be worn on Sundays, at special occasions even while doing sports and hobbies, the amount of money which would have been spent on luxurious fabrics and the amount of clothing a single person owned and how many times of day they changed was eye-opening.

I was particularly drawn to how the poorer families throughout history had to make do how they had to buy cheaper or make their own how they had to take care of their special occasion clothing, as my ancestry tree is full of people a lot like myself who have had to make-do and mend and who were living on the breadline with very little money to go out and buy expensive fashionable clothing, that aspect of the book spoke to me.

I loved the vast collection of original photographs which are strewn throughout the book, I am a very visual person so found that with the pictures I could identify far easier what the author was talking about in certain chapters which made reading the book very enjoyable.

Overall, this book is a go-to reference book for anyone who has an interest in clothing/fashion history, you can easily dip in and out at ease especially since the writing is very clear and knowledgeable. I wish there was more genealogy featured and how fashion and clothing can aid someone on the family history trail, but despite my personal reservations, this is an insightful book which many who have an interest in clothing and fashion history can enjoy.


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