I call it my “parlor trick.” Like any costume historian, I can look at the clues in costume and hairstyles in painted portraits and photographs and deduce a date or a date range for the image. I enjoy being asked if I can help people date their family photos. Is it 2x-great-Granny or 4x-great Granny? If I can tell you the photo dates to about 1890 and the subject looks about twenty years old, you can look for whoever was born about 1870.
Or if a photo of the mother and child date to about 1850-1855, and the child is a toddler, who was born in that time frame? Say there was Emma Aurelia in 1852 and Edward Arthur in 1854. Uh-oh! Boys and girls both dressed in “dresses” until they were out of toddlerhood (and diapers). But the child’s hair is the key to the gender: boys had side parts and girls, center.
In this series of posts, I’ll do some case studies. Using a daguerreotype or later form of photo, I’ll take you through the clues and how to interpret them, narrowing down a date to anywhere between half a decade, to within a year or two, depending on how much we’ve got to go on and how fashionable the subject is.
In other posts, I’ll show you how to interpret and date specific details, including hair, sleeves, collars, bodice shapes, waistlines, skirt shapes, and so on, so you can look at your own photos and figure it out.
And yes, I’d be happy to look at photos you would like to send me to analyze, especially if you’d allow me to discuss them in a blog post.