John Thomas was born in Cellan, Ceredigion, and established the Cambrian Gallery in Liverpool (various addresses) with a branch in Regent Street, Llangollen. He is well known for many portraits he took of Welsh men, especially non-conformist ministers. In contrast, on his travels through Wales and recorded many Welsh buildings. Still, he also took about 100 portraits of women wearing traditional Welsh clothing while surviving 3,000 glass plate negatives. Most of these are labeled with the names of the subjects and the places where they were taken. The earliest is pre-1865, and the rest are thought to be from 1875 – 1885.
Thomas began his career as a photographer in 1863. Many of the younger women he photographed were outside (providing natural light) with a crude backdrop and mud floor. They all wore a combination of three sets of costumes. The costumes comprise brightly patterned bedgowns with large collars, either mottled or spotted; an apron of the bold check or horizontal stripes, a skirt of light on dark or dark on light lines. They did not wear a shawl: the neckerchiefs appear different from one subject to another, and the stockings are other (i.e., these belonged to the subjects). Many, but not all, wore a frilled cap under a Welsh Hat. There are different costumes worn by the older women, suggesting that they had their own. A few older women appear to be wearing a tight-fitting, low-cut, short-sleeved top in the style of a bedgown. The lower part and back are not visible, and the front is usually entirely covered by a shawl. The majority of the women wear a delicate blouse, shawl, long striped skirt, and check apron. Some appear to be wearing separate sleeves on their lower arms.