Dating 20th century photos

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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.

Children's dress, which echoed adult clothing to a degree, but also followed its own conventions, may also be harder to pinpoint very precisely.

That said, it should always be possible to gain a reasonable date range for a photograph, based on the appearance of its subject's clothing, especially when this technique is combined with the other photo dating methods already covered in previous blogs.

Essentially here we are aiming to use fashion clues cautiously but positively – to establish a realistic time frame for an undated and/or unidentified image that will help to rule in, or out, certain branches and individual members of the family.

In the following sections are some basic, practical tips for recognising the main stylistic changes in female, male and children's dress, with illustrated examples.

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Dress historians and others with a keen eye for detail can accurately pinpoint 19th and early 20th century women's dress to within five or 10 years, by recognising the different components of a particular 'look' - garments, jewellery, accessories and hairstyles – and knowing when it was in vogue.

In around 1880, the train was abandoned for day wear and outfits of the early 1880s were narrow and sheath-like: long, tight-fitting bodices formed an unbroken line over the hips, while shoe-length skirts were wrapped closely around the legs (fig.8).

By the 1890s, naturally-shaped skirts were fitting closely over the hips, the main dating feature of this decade being the bodice or blouse sleeve.

For more detailed advice and to see further dated images for comparison, it is worth checking back over some of the photographs used to illustrate previous blogs in this series and also consulting some of the books listed in further reading.

Between the 1840s and late 1860s, essentially the fashionable female silhouette comprised a fitted bodice attached to a bell-shaped skirt, which became even wider in circumference after the introduction of the domed crinoline frame in 1856 (fig.3).

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