Dating photographs by clothing
1860s If you look at the image of the standing person in the photo (or lady sitting on a chair) and you can see both head and feet with a carpet some old furniture and studio props such as a curtain, the man may have a jacket buttoned only at the top and the woman has a down to the ground wide dress and her ears cannot be seen for the hair covering it and the back of the card has a simple print for the photographers name and the cardboard feels a bit thin - it is from the first half of the 1860s. Men wore lounge suits with matching waistcoats by the middle of the decade.
1870s If the portrait is a half or three-quarter (no feet) the ladies hair is less severe, with perhaps a curl, and perhaps much jewellery and perhaps sitting down in a more casual way, clothes trimmed with lace or tassles.
The card may have rounded corners - (mid to late 1870s). (Some still show full length and a carpet in the early 1870s) 1880s The ladies dress may be severe and close fitting or it has a bustle (1881-1886 ish), skirts had pleated edges, boys wore sailor suits and velvet suits, Men did not wear frock coats and wore a morning-coat suit or a lounge suit, top hat, bowler or straw hat.
Norfolk jackets were popular as were more casual clothes.
Older women are much more likely to be conservative and still be wearing a favourite dress from ten years ago! This can be difficult as there were whole decades of the 19th century when women had a centre parting but when a new fashion comes in with hairstyle it is quicker for people to update than clothing. Of course, it is worth looking at everything that the men in the photograph are wearing but how you tied your cravat or the shape of your collar was something that was cheaper and easier to update than a whole suit, so more likely to reflect the date of the photograph. Dating military photographs can often lead to relatively precise results and this is when people with expert knowledge really come into their own.
The National Army Museum runs regular photo dating sessions and there will be military photo daters at this year’s Who Do You Think You Are? It’s also worth posting images on specialist forums such as Victorian Wars, the Great War forum or our own WDYTYA? This might seem obvious, but if a photograph is stuck in an old album or framed up on the wall, it may be that nobody has looked on the back for years.
Gallery of English Costume | Platt Hall, Rusholme, Manchester M14 5LL | 01 Does not offer a formal photograph-dating service, but may be able to offer some advice.
Collars were high and with a ruffle or lace under the stiff outer.
Always be very careful when removing a photograph that has been stuck into an album.