The Costumer's Manifesto: Links for Dating Old Family Photographs usingFashion History and styles of Photo-mounts Links for Dating Old Family Photographs using Fashion History and styles of Photo-mountsThese links are provided so you can teach yourself to do this for yourself. Please note, the author of this site does not accept commissions to do this, paid or unpaid, so please don't email me attachments of your old photos with this sort of question.
Online Costume References
The Costumer's Manifesto (This site)
Some examples of undated photos 1840-1950 to use for practice:
Books for Costume Reference:
Non-Fashion Steps to consider:
What kind of photo is it? Format? Framing?This will narrow the range of dates to look for, depending on whether it is a daguerreotype, cabinet-card, or snapshot.
Are there props, backgrounds, or other clues that can tell you about the occasion of the photo?
If the photo has been faded, or damaged or has a faded caption, scanning and enhancing in Adobe Photoshop can reveal missing information.
Womens clothing is easier to date than men or childrens dress.
Try to date clothing first using similar dated photographs as a guide, rather than jumping straight to fashion plates.
Fashion plates are good however for spotting matches to a weird detail of dress that doesnt show up in many photos.
Not all wedding dresses were white.Not all white dresses were for weddings.
From 1850-1914 Particular attention should be placed on the shape of womens sleeves.Sometimes sleeve shape alone can nail down the exact year the dress was made.
Remember that fashions are usually worn for a few years after they are bought, but it is really unusual for a normal person to have a fashion that is even a year ahead of its time.If your granny swears up and down that a photo is of her own granny on her wedding day in 1895, and she is dressed in a gown with a 1903-style sleeve, she got the date wrong.
Note the age of the sitter in relation to the clothes.Older peoples clothes and hairstyles tend to be a bit more outdated than younger peoples are.An 18-25 year old will not be caught dead wearing a fashion that is five years out of date, but his grandfather will. Many women wear the same hairstyle they adopted at 18 till they die.
The Truth as Revealed by Yearbooks: Older fashions (especially in hair and makeup) tend to make young people in old photos seem older looking to their descendents.This is especially true of the 50 years that precede the viewers birth.
Fashions tend to be less extreme, and move more slowly in more rural areas.
Menswear changes since 1800 are all about tiny details.Necktie history in the 20th century, and coat collars and vests in the 19th century are often big clues.
When looking for images that will match your own, try to find photo or costume books from the same country or general area.However, if you find a matching style of dress from London or Paris, and your photo is from a rural or frontier outpost, dont automatically assume the image is from a year much later than the time the fashion was new.Fashion information traveled quite fast by the time of the beginning of photography, and mass produced clothing was normal by the mid 19th century, so even in Alaska or Australia, Western fashions traveled to remote outposts quickly.
Traditional dress in most places is not fixed in the same style over time, it just moves slowly.Examining the minor textile or needlework details in a photo in Traditional Ethnic or ceremonial dress will give you hints about the year the photo was taken, and bits that are Westernized will too.
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