Knowing when a photograph was taken, where it was taken – together with the details of the image itself – often make it possible to decide who the sitter really is. Sometimes it can even confirm that it is NOT who you think it is! There can be so many clues which, when all taken together, can give you a very accurate result.Your amazing contributions to the Moments in Time photo series have really blown us away here Archives Outside.Available now on and JOIN the FREE Olive Tree Genealogy Newsletter.

dating a photograph by clothing-59

The details need to be compared with fashionable dress of a given date, and then subtle judgments may be made, or additional data supplied through knowledge of the family tree, the photographer's name and address, or the nature of other contributory details such as studio props., or buildings and vehicles included.

Knowledge of the history of photography in terms of various processes and their dates of introduction, styles of image produced such as the carte-de-visite, and the size of images most popular at different times, can also be brought to bear.

Some fashion features neatly typify decades, for example men's side partings and women's ringlets in the 1840s, men's centre partings and women's leg-of-mutton sleeves in the 1890s.

Certain features are time limited, such as crinoline frames worn only for eleven years from 1856 to 1867, soft bustles gathered up by internal ribbons in the early 1870s, artificial hairpieces from around 1869 to 1874, fishtail trains on dresses c1876-80, stiff angular bustles over steel frames c1881-6, and the introduction of female fringes and hair frizzing in the 1880s.

Here follows such an example of a photographer's instructions, presumably based on his bitter experience:"Very few ladies know how to dress so as to secure the most pleasing photograph.

The best materials to wear are such as are not too glossy, and such as will fold or drape nicely, as reps., poplins, satins and silks.

Changes in men's fashions have generally been more subtle, and less sensational than women's, and photographs of even the most well-to-do gentlemen are therefore far more difficult to date accurately by dress alone.

In contrast, by the end of the 19th century women's fashions tended to bring in a new detail each season, so the most fashionable ladies' photographs can often be dated to within a year.

For instance, do you date photos from: the clothing people are wearing; the cars you see; the progress of building construction; the appearance of telegraph poles; an historic event…or something unusual?

I’ll start off the list with something I learned while following the advice of a Flickr friend.

A black silk dress looks well on almost everybody, and if not bedecked with ribbons or lace, which will take whiter, will photograph satisfactorily.