Dating photographs by clothing

Your illustrations, whether photographs or other materials need to be identified.Together with the gathering of oral history this should be any researcher’s first priority as some of the sources of information won’t be around for ever.Those with connections worldwide should recognise that fashions originated in France during the 19th and 20 centuries, England followed, and it took even longer for North Americans to adopt the latest styles.Avril Lansdell’s well-illustrated 1985 work, Fashion A La Carte 1860-1900, and the charts and pictures in Robert Pols (1994) works are recommended reference works.

Ask questions of the picture such as—is the lady wearing a wedding ring, is there any identification of the trade, or is there anything in the photo that has been passed down such as a christening robe or jewellery?Numbers are studio negative numbers which run consecutively thus can be useful in date-sorting a pile of photos from one studio.Photographers used the reverse of cartes de visites and cabinet prints to advertise their businesses, their name and address could be close to your ancestor’s home, or perhaps where they were visiting on holiday or with relatives.In the 1870s it became usual to have the studio name on the front also, and from the 1880s this may be embossed.If a photographer had won a medal at an exhibition he would show this proudly with the year, so assisting you to date the print.A more academic approach with copious line drawings is by Doreen Yarwood(European Costume: 4000 Years of Fashion).The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has the largest collection of costume history material in England, but many other museums have examples, illustrations and other research aids and put on displays, in particular the Museum of Costume at Bath.Archives may have listings of local ones’ addresses by date, and may know if their sitters’ records or key to negative numbers survive and where they are.Michael Pritchard has published an invaluable directory, A Directory of London Photographers 1841-1908, for London which has a good history and bibliography for other towns as well.Trade and occupation photos can often lead you to identify the actual building, for example a shop in the High Street.Suburban property reviews and (real) estate agents publicity giving further details can be found at archives or in newspapers.

Dating photographs by clothing