News / Ask the photo expert – unidentified badges

Ask the photo expert – unidentified badges

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 findmypast.co.uk readers recognise the ladies’ badges?’

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