Pictorial Sources for Nineteenth-Century Women’s History

Dress as a Mirror of Attitudes to Women
  • Glory Robertson


Dress is one of the most revealing mirrors of the social attitudes of any society It has strongly reflected attitudes to class, to youth and age, to male and female roles. Clothes until quite recently were intended to set people of birth, affluence and leisure apart from the rest. Dressing above one’s station in life earned disapproval and ridicule from those of higher rank. This disapproval in Jamaica sometimes mirrored racist as well as class attitudes. A visitor in 1900 wrote, ‘Next morning everyone turned out in their Sunday best. Big hulking negresses were attired in gorgeous silks and satins, and truly wonderful hats with broad brims and feathers, and ribbon … The woolly locks under all this fashionable headgear were pathetically ludicrous.’1


Educational Supply Peasant Woman Waist Level Jamaican Woman Pictorial Source 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    E.A. Hastings, A Glimpse of the Tropics (London: 1900), pp. 241–42.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Anthony Trollope, The West Indies and the Spanish Main (London: Chapman and Hall, 1860), pp. 69–70. Another writer who wrote favourably was Sir David Sibbald Scott, To the West Indies and Back: 100 days (Dalziel, Scotland, 1908), pp. 229–30. Robert Elwes, W.S.W.: A Voyage in that Direction in the West Indies (London: Kerby & Son, 1866), pp. 46–47 was the visitor who realised that his own attire might be criticised by those he thought ludicrous.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Penelope Byrde, Nineteenth-Century Fashion (London: Batsford, 1992), p. 72; Norah Waugh, The Art of Women’s Clothes 1600 to 1930 (London: Faber, 1968), p. 150.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe (London: Batsford, 1984), p. 115.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Kathy Pos and Barbara Clarke Smith, Men & Women: A History of Costume, Gender and Power (Washington, DC: National Museum of American History, 1989), pp. 15–16.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Alison Gernsheim, Fashion and Reality (London: Faber, 1963), p. 25.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Quoted in C. Willett Cunnington, English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century (London: Faber, 1937), p. 289.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    For the history of nineteenth-century dress I have relied mainly on Anne Buck, Victorian Costume and Costume Accessories (Bedford: R. Bean, 1984), Byrde and Gemsheim, op. cit.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Patrick Bryan, The Jamaican People 1880–1902 (London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1991), pp. 233–36; Aleric Josephs, ‘Gender and occupation in labour force statistics’, paper presented at the 25th Conference of the Association of Caribbean Historians (UWI, Mona, 1993).Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    The woman sorting coffee beans in W. Bellows, In Fair Jamaica, (Kingston: Educational Supply, 1907); the butleress, Alfred Leader, Through Jamaica With a Kodak (Bristol: Wright, 1907); the hatmaker, James Johnson, Jamaica: The Riviera (London: Cassell & Co., 1903); Westwood teachers, E.A. Wilson, Men With Backbone (2nd edn, Kingston: Educational Supply, 1913); the fashionable wedding, National Library of Jamaica photo files.Google Scholar
  11. 23.
    Elizabeth Ewing, History of 20th-century Fashion (2nd edn, London: Batsford, 1975), p. 41.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Department of History, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Glory Robertson

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations