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Older woman wearing a black headpiece and cape holding a book

This is a photo of my ancestor from Donegal, Ireland, sometime in the 1800's. What is she wearing, and what is the significance, especially of the headpiece?

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    It's really hard to see the headpiece. Any chance of a better image? – Lars Bosteen Feb 23 at 8:28
  • It looks like a hat with feathers in it. – user2848 Feb 24 at 2:33
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    Do you have any reason to believe that there is more significance than simply 'fancy clothing belonging to a well-off person'? – quarague Feb 24 at 13:14
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The outer garment is a 19th century women's short cloak. This was fairly standard outdoor wear for British women. The white puff over the cloak is probably a kind of women's necktie. The headwear is a small bonnet or hat or possibly draped turban decorated with flowers and feathers--another common element of British women's attire of the time.

It is difficult to make out the rest of what she's wearing, but it seems she probably has a full length skirt, probably woolen. It is yet another exceedingly common item.

In summary, there was a lot of variety in the form of 19th century attire, but the compositional elements here are decidedly average, and with the exception of the flowers and feathers on the headwear, seem to be quite plain. In my opinion it conveys a sense of a modest urban woman. I think in rural areas it is likely a more traditional shawl or full-length cloak would have been worn.

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