Dating old family photos

09-Oct-2016 14:25 by 3 Comments

Dating old family photos

Wealthy subjects had many fashionable ensembles to choose from, whereas ordinary working-class ancestors usually donned their best outfit, kept for church on Sundays and special occasions.

This is a good question but photographic evidence suggests that in many cases even humbler working ancestors followed the latest styles.

A wide array of materials of varying textures and prices was available to suit different pockets and needs.

It was, therefore, the quality of fabric and extravagance of trimmings that distinguished the dress of the affluent from that of the poorer classes – not in general its basic cut or shape.

Having learned in the previous blog how photograph compositions and studio settings changed over the years, we now look closely at what our forebears are wearing in old photographs.

In any kind of portrait it is often the subject's clothing that engages us most: fashion history is a fascinating topic and recognising the modes of different eras is an invaluable tool when trying to date unlabelled photographs.

For dating purposes, however, we can broadly assume that (unless they are wearing an occupational uniform or other specialised forms of dress) their 'Sunday best' garments largely followed, to a recognisable extent, the prevailing style of the era.

Photographs were ultimately designed to show off good taste and a pleasing appearance.A domestic servant, for example, could appear superficially similar to her more affluent mistress.Of course, there were exceptions to this general principle.There may also have been a time lag of a few years between new fashions first being worn in urban areas and their adoption in remoter country districts.Ideally we should consider all these criteria when considering the clothing of family members as seen in old photographs.Many young adults followed fashion closely, while the more mature might wear a modest, toned-down version of the most extreme styles and the elderly generally dressed much more conservatively than the youth of their day.