Different types of ‘documentary’ data sources

1) The social environment during the teenage years of a relative of your grandparents’ generation

2) The social environment during the teenage years of a social reformer or political radical e.g. black or women’s rights campaigner; peace or environmental campaigner; political radical

3) The social origins or effects of a local or national public event in the UK between 1900 and 1995 relevant to social or cultural change

4) The social environment of a cultural icon within the UK 1900 – 1995


I chose the topic of “the Social environment during the teenage years of a relative of your grandparents’ generation” for my research investigation. Because I have a personal interest in this study. I have a great-aunt and would like to achieve a better understanding of my own family history and about her social environment as a teenager.

I shall be focusing my research on the period of 1945, as this was the year that my great-aunt was a teenager.

I am also interested in fashion and would like to combine the two topics in my research by finding out what women wore in 1945 in the UK, and whether their economic conditions had any influence on what they wore.

I narrowed my question down to “what did women wear in 1945 in the UK and are there indications of the influence of economic conditions?” by asking first who and answered women, I then asked what and answered clothes, next I asked when and answered 1945, followed by the question of where and answered the UK.

Sampling frame

I used two purposive sampling methods (sampling with a targeted purpose in mind) of secondary (second-hand) information:

A. Seven previews from the archives of www.britishpathe.com website.

B A reference book from the Women’s Library in E1 that I visited. (Williams 1945).

I thought these two types of documentary data suited my research topic best. (A) By helping me to visualise and show me evidence of what the clothes looked like and to give me a clearer understanding of the economic conditions at the time. (B) Because photographs are documentary records of physical trace of an actual event, however their meaning is not fixed and other documents of evidence can demonstrate this.

I thought about using documentary data from a newspaper but decided not to because newspapers mostly show constructed photographs of glamour models purely aiming for advertising purposes, clothes aimed at the wealthier reader. I was more interested in women in actual events.

Documentary evidence of official records would have had no purpose in my research topic as they would not have shown me visually what women wore in 1945 or whether the economic conditions influenced this.

A. I used the Internet to access www.britishpathe.com website. (Visited 28/03/03.)

I then used the advanced search facility on the website and used the search strategy.

In “keyword,” I typed “clothes,”

In the “period” option I typed “1945” to “1945”,

Followed by “go” to find the relevant previews.

I chose seven previews from www.britishpathe.com out of the twenty-five results I found to use because I was interested in what women actually wore in the year 1945, and that is what these seven previews showed. The rest of the previews either were just constructed advertising of what fashions would be available in the future after 1945, with just a model in the preview with the clothing she was advertising or subjects that had no relevance to my research topic what so ever.

The documentary data previews were entitled:

1. “Something borrowed”

2. “Inexpensive dress”

3. “Net results”

4. “Neck news”

5. “Service into Civvies”

6. “Knitting goes gay”

7. “Private Smith goes glamorous.”

The validity of these previews is vastly commendable because we know they are from one of the oldest media companies in the world. Owned by The Daily Mail and General Trust Group, who produced regular newsreels in cinemas in Britain.

We know the web site is reliable and that of British Pathe because the email contact address, head office’s address, fax number, telephone number, a “home” button and their copyrights details are all available that link to the homepage.

The accuracy and completeness of this website is faultless as all the resources are available in full and not “under construction”, all the links are still active. All this evidence indicates that this is a reliable and perfect source to use for my research topic.

The documentary data previews showed:

1. A Wren borrowing a frock from the British War relief wedding dress loan service, that American citizen’s sent second hand to Britain.

2. Designer Olive O’Niell at work on a simple but elegant tweed dress.

3. A woman making stockings out of old hat netting.

4. Two women modelling homemade versions of the then latest “dog collars” and chokers.

5. A former Wren going to buy her first civilian outfit for a new job with her ration book

6. A woman knitting accessories including a fascinator, evening gloves and a jersey.

7. Designer Peter Russel redesigning uniforms into civilian clothes.

It was interesting to see evidence in (5) and (7), of the difference in women’s movements depending on what they were wearing. i.e. when the women wore their “Wren” uniforms, their movements were very stiff and military, but they changed into their civilian clothes and so did their movements change becoming more relaxed and informal.

By watching The British pathe previews on women’s clothes in 1945, they all showed evidence that there was a great feeling of simple ness, greyness and a lack of money (poorness) in the environment of peoples lives. This reflected on their clothes that were grey, simple, made as cheaply as possible from the extent of making their own clothes, to even redesigning military uniforms into civilian clothes due to shortage of money as a result of the war.

After carrying out this research on previews I wanted to verify my findings that what women wore in 1945 was not a matter of preferences but that the economic conditions at the time of post-war did influence what they wore.

Therefore, I decided to use another purposive sampling method of secondary Information:

B. A reference book from the Women’s Library in London E1 that I visited. (Williams 1945)

I reason I chose this book was because it was published in 1945 and that is the year that I am interested in therefore, it reflected the social attitudes at the time.

This book showed a practical guide to what cloths were the best to buy, as they were the cheapest and the best ways in which to clean them so they would last longer.


The evidence from both resources indeed confirmed that what women wore in 1945 was not a matter of preferences, but that the economic conditions at the time of post-war did influence what they wore.

I would liked to have used the snowball sampling method (constructing a questionnaire to carry out with my great-aunt and friends recommended by her that were teenagers in 1945) because this would have been a better and completely reliable way of finding concrete evidence.