News / Ask the photo expert – unidentified badges

Ask the photo expert – unidentified badges

22 February, 2012

Our photo expert, Jayne Shrimpton, analyses your family photos.

Claire Oliver sent us her photo and asked:

‘I was wondering whether you could tell me about this photograph, which was found, with many others, in my aunty’s attic after her death. We have no idea which family members they represent and when they were taken. This photograph just intrigues me as I’d love to know who the women are and what group or gathering they were forming. Of course you can’t tell me that, but I’d be interested to know roughly what year it was taken. I thought you’d know this by their rather stuffy outfits. 1920s is my untrained guess, because of some of their hats!’

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Jayne says:

‘This scene, depicting forebears and their contemporaries ranked solemnly in rows and dressed up for a special event or outing represents a popular genre of old photographs. Taken outdoors, probably by a professional photographer hired for the occasion, your photographs shows a group of ladies who were almost certainly members of a club or organisation, although, as you pointed out, we can really only guess at what this was.

The only clue may be the small, bow-shaped badges that are pinned onto many of the ladies’ lapels, blouses and scarves, which must surely have symbolised their group and denoted membership. These badges aren’t immediately recognisable, however, so until they are identified I can only suggest that these ladies belonged to a church group or charitable organisation, the Women’s Institute or possibly a special interest society. Religious and social clubs of all kinds were very popular between the wars, when this was photograph was taken, and photographic evidence suggests that female-dominated societies, especially, enjoyed their outings!

Almost everyone here wears warm outdoor clothing so the season was cool, if not wintry. The ladies look well-dressed in their coats and smart accessories and they have the general appearance of a middle-class group. Hats were always worn outdoors in public before WWII and because female styles changed regularly, they usually offer an accurate date for a photograph.

Jayne Shrimpton

Jayne Shrimpton

As you guessed, this sea of deep-crowned hats indicates a date in the 1920s, but we can narrow this down a little. The most modern hats here are, predictably, worn mainly by the younger ladies, their neat, small-brimmed cloche hats pulled well down over their foreheads confirming a year between 1925 and 1930. Similarly the shorter coats and dresses worn by some ladies are also typical of the second half of the decade, when fashionable hemlines rose dramatically from mid-low calf length to just below the knee.

Other fashionable features to note here are the bar shoes worn by several ladies in the front row – a predominantly 1920s style, although some older women wear more conservative laced boots, as well as longer skirts and old-fashioned hats with a wider brim and tall crown. Typically for this decade, coats are tailored with long lapels and there are many lush fur collars and stoles on view, these being much in vogue during the 1920s.

With a firm date range of c.1925-30 for this photo, hopefully you can now spot one or two of your family members here. Perhaps the building behind was the group’s usual meeting place and if it could be identified this might offer a clue as to the location and occasion. Meanwhile I wonder whether if by chance any readers recognise the ladies’ badges?’

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  • Jane Weller

    By the doors at the back is an advertising board, which could be for a play or film. Not sure if this has any significance.

  • Claire Oliver

    Thanks Jane, that’s certainly something to look into.
    I’ve studies this photo over and over again since I’ve had it and never noticed that before so it’s worth getting other peoples perspective on it.
    I wish my Auntie had written on the back of all the photos she had but sadly I have loads that are unidentified.

    Thanks again, Jane.

  • Lydia Pullen

    I was interested in Claire’s photograph. I immediately felt they were a church women’s group! Regarding the lapel badge – I wonder if this was the ‘White Ribbon Association’? My mother (born 1928) was a member of this and I still have her little lapel badge. She was in the Methodist church before becoming a Baptist. This was a Society where members pledged to abstain from alcoholic drink. I believe this association is still going today although now includes drugs, etc. and the badge has also changed from the bow.
    Hope this might help.

    • Jayne Shrimpton

      Lydia, thank you for your helpful ideas. I agree that these ladies may well belong to a church group and your suggestion of the ‘White Ribbon Association’ certainly sounds plausible.

      Yes, the association still exists today: here is their website

      Perhaps Claire could contact them, to see whether anyone at the organisation can help.

  • larrry royston

    The bow pin was used by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. There’s an example here:

  • George