Dating photographs by clothing

Boxes of old photographs can sometimes come down the family with no indication of who the sitters are.

With a date, you can narrow the field of possible suspects and even, sometimes put a name to a face as it stares back at you from the past: Look at the format.

Ladies wore tight fitting jackets, high white collars or ruffs a brooch at the neck, lots of buttons in rows, tight fitting sleeves, odd little hats, hair plain or curls usually pulled back.

The back of the card is quite filled with print, with medals, famous customers, branches, and could be artistic.

If you contact any of the people listed below, they will need a copy of the front and back of the photograph to be dated.

If it has been enlarged please let them know the size of the original: a stamped, self-addressed envelope will ensure a more prompt reply. We do not advise the original photograph be photocopied directly.

Older women are much more likely to be conservative and still be wearing a favourite dress from ten years ago! This can be difficult as there were whole decades of the 19th century when women had a centre parting but when a new fashion comes in with hairstyle it is quicker for people to update than clothing. Of course, it is worth looking at everything that the men in the photograph are wearing but how you tied your cravat or the shape of your collar was something that was cheaper and easier to update than a whole suit, so more likely to reflect the date of the photograph. Dating military photographs can often lead to relatively precise results and this is when people with expert knowledge really come into their own.

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Most cartes were head and shoulders only, the backs were very elaborate and artistic, coloured backs and gold print common.There are also websites that collect details of photographers. Again, look online for different sleeve shapes through the ages and try to find ones that match those in the photograph. For the 20th century, dress length can be quite revealing.Always judge by the younger women in the photograph if possible.Those enormously wide brimmed hats date from June 1911 onward and were often worn with a short slit in the skirt.In the 1920s hair was cut short (for some) and the hemline rose for the first time ever.

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