Historical Eras Guide 1790-1945

Our Historical Eras Guide is here to help you with planning and keywording your period costume shoots!

Period costume photography is one of the most popular areas of the Arcangel collection, and designers and creatives search every week for many different eras. 

You can help ensure that your imagery is relevant and easy to find by being familiar with the costumes and styles of different time periods, and the names commonly used for the different eras. 

Here’s our quick guide to the broadly-defined eras of modern history, from 1790 to 1945, with references to the key events and relevant costume styles…

Circa 1790 to 1830

This period includes the Regency in the UK and the Napoleonic era in Europe more generally. The early 19th century is a hugely popular era for period fiction, especially romance!

Cultural & historical reference points: 

  • Jane Austen’s novels
  • The early years of the United States following independence
  • The Napoleonic Wars

Women’s Fashion: 

  • Simple bonnets
  • Simple dresses without corsets
  • Hair in curls

Men’s Fashion: 

  • Waistcoats and short jackets
  • Clean-shaven, shorter hair and sideburns
  • Powdered wigs for older men

Visual references in TV and film:

Circa 1830 to 1860

This period brings us into the early Victorian age, with Queen Victoria herself reigning from 1837 to 1901. Many of the costumes and styles we think of as ‘Victorian’ are typical of this time.

Cultural & historical reference points:

  • Charles Dickens’ novels
  • The Bronte sisters’ novels
  • The Industrial Revolution

Women’s Fashion: 

  • Corsets, crinolines and gloves
  • Evening wear with exposed shoulders
  • More elaborate bonnets and hairstyles

Men’s Fashion:    

  • High collars
  • Top hats
  • Frock coats

Visual references in TV & film:

Circa 1860 to 1900

The latter part of the Victorian age, and the beginning of the Belle Epoque

In the USA this period encompasses the Civil War era of the early 1860s, the Wild West of around 1865 to 1895, and the Gilded Age in the latter part of the century.

Cultural & historical reference points:

  • The Sherlock Holmes stories
  • Science fiction from Jules Verne and H. G. Wells
  • European colonies in Africa and India

Women’s Fashion: 

  • Crinolines and skirts becoming narrower at the top
  • Broader hats

Men’s Fashion: 

  • Three-piece suits
  • Ribbon ties and bow ties
  • Bowler hats

Visual references in TV & film: 

Civil War US

Wild Wild West US

Gilded Age

Circa 1900 to 1914

The first decade of the twentieth century is often referred to as the Edwardian era in the UK and includes the latter years of the Belle Epoque.

Cultural & historical reference points:

  • The Titanic voyage
  • Campaigns for women’s suffrage

Women’s Fashion: 

  • Long skirts, continuing to become slimmer over time
  • Broader hats with elaborate feathers
  • Tailored suits beginning to appear

Men’s Fashion: 

  • Blazers and morning coats
  • Striped trousers

Visual references in TV & film:

1914 to 1918

The First World War

Cultural & historical reference points:

  • Trench warfare on the Western Front
  • Women working in factories
  • The Russian Revolution

Women: 

  • Nurses
  • Factory workers

Men: 

  • Military uniforms
  • Greatcoats
  • Smooth hair and neat moustaches

Visual references in TV & film:

1918 to 1930

The Twenties. This period includes the Prohibition era in the USA. 

Cultural & historical reference points:

  • Gangsters in the Prohibition-era United States
  • The Jazz Age

Women’s fashion: 

  • Flapper girls – dresses, trousers
  • Short hair and cloche hats

Men’s fashion: 

  • Short jackets
  • Pinstripe suits
  • Tuxedos for evening wear

Visual references in TV & film:

1930 to 1939

In the USA, the Thirties are associated with the Great Depression followed by recovery under Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In Europe, the 1930s saw growing conflict and the rise of Fascism, culminating in the outbreak of war.

Cultural & historical reference points:

  • Unemployment and poverty in the Great Depression
  • Fascism and extremist politics

Women’s fashion: 

  • Growing more conservative than the 1920s
  • Slightly longer dresses
  • Shorter hair

Men’s fashion: 

  • More sober suits
  • White dinner jackets
  • Fedora hats

Visual references in TV & film:

1939 to 1945

The Second World War. Wartime fiction is still in high demand, covering the experiences of men and women, civilians and soldiers, all over the world.

Cultural & historical reference points:

  • The European Occupation and the Resistance
  • Military engagements across Europe, Africa and Asia
  • The Home Front and the Blitz in the UK
  • Espionage and code-breaking

Women: 

  • Nurses
  • Factory workers
  • The Women’s Land Army aka ‘the Land Girls’ – agricultural workers in the UK
  • Military uniforms
  • Resistance fighters 

Men: 

  • Army and Air Force uniforms
  • Clean-shaven

Visual references in TV & film:

There have been huge numbers of WW2 movies and TV shows made from the 1940s to the present day…

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