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Your questions answered

With our panel of experts Jayne Shrimpton, David Annal, Tim Lovering, Emma Jolly and Christine Wibberley


The clue’s in the cloche

QI wonder if you can help me with this photograph of an unidentified couple. If I had an approximate date as to when it was taken, it would help in my research. The photo is imprinted with the studio name: J St Trotman Chippenham. It appears to depict a couple who have just been married or have attended a wedding in some capacity. The lack of the usual white wedding dress puzzles me, unless it was a second marriage or a civil wedding. What do think? The cloche hat gave me a small clue: in my research I discovered it was introduced in 1908 and became very popular between 1920 and 1933, which is a wide spread of time. If you could narrow the time-line it would help me greatly.

Charles Tyrie

AWe know from your description that this scene was taken by a professional photographer hired to come out to photograph your forebears in this outdoor setting. The Chippenham studio address is very helpful as this gives us an approximate geographical location, although the name looks a little odd: I found various brief references online to a photographer or photographers called Trotman, but no clear details worth pursuing. Studio dates, if available, are of some use, but often limited: see my eight-page photo-dating feature in FT August.

Most open-air photographs are best dated and interpreted from the picture clues, especially from the appearance of their subjects. Although the setting here appears to be an ordinary garden or public space (not a church, which rarely features in wedding pictures before the 1930s), this is indeed a regular marriage photograph. This is evident from the intimate pose of the couple, from their formal dress and, especially, the lady’s prominent bridal bouquet. Additionally, she wears a floral corsage on her shoulder and the groom sports a flower buttonhole or boutonnière (although on their own these modest floral accessories do not always denote marriage, but more broadly a special occasion).

Historically, formal weddings and special white bridal wear were a luxury enjoyed only by the wealthy, but from the early 20th century onwards white bridal gowns and veils became increasingly popular throughout society. Nonetheless, over the years some brides, as here, have chosen to wear smart day wear – fashionable afternoon-style clothes and accessories that can double-up as a going-away outfit and be worn again in the future. Sometimes this was/is prompted by the need to economise, or, as you suggest, by a second or civil marriage; some brides have also felt a little too mature to wear virginal white gown and veil. During the 1920s, when this photo was taken, both traditional bridal and modern day wear were popular.

Studying dress here in more detail, we can determine a close date range for this wedding.

Dress styles also aid dating and here is the loose, scoop-necked frock fashionable for several years around mid-decade, worn with the iconic bar shoes that were firmly established by c1922. The calf-length hemline is also significant, for this pre-dates the shorter, slimmer lines of the later 1920s.

Together the female fashion features suggest that this marriage occurred between about 1923 and 1926.

The groom is also attired according to working-class or lowermiddle class male wedding styles of these years: a narrow three-piece suit, special winged shirt collar and felt hat. Hopefully with this close time frame and a geographical location close to Chippenham, you can now work out who these newlyweds are likely to be. JS

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