Genealogy research: Dating vintage photographs by clothing & hairstyles

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Genealogy research: Dating vintage photographs by clothing & hairstyles

Nancy Price co-founded in 1999, and now serves as the site’s Executive Editor. In the midst of growing several award-winning websites over the past decade, she also served as the editor-in-chief of two national print magazin.

Style clues & cues in antique photos

Here are some places where you can pick up a few style cues to help you ID your own vintage family photographs!

style &, style

The University of Vermont

The site for the university’s Landscape Switch program offers a wealth of information about dating vintage/antique photographs using cues such as women’s clothing, hats, hairstyles, style accessories &, mens fashions. Violated down by decade: 1850s | 1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s

The collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia provides a nicely detailed collection of articles about the many eras of clothing style. Here are direct links to the sections dedicated to the time since photography was possible: 1830s | 1840s | 1850s | 1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s |1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930&ndash,1945| 1945&ndash,1959 | 1960s

Flickr collections by era

These contributed photographs are grouped by decade, and the multitude of photos will provide you with a helpful framework of reference to compare your vintage photos.

With descriptions, antique sketches and photos, offers clues on clothing styles from the 1850s through the 1910s. Topics include evening attire, style accessories and even bathing costumes and undergarments.

Columbia College in Chicago has a fine collection of women’s clothing which document historic styles, revival fashions and period details of what was in vogue during the 20th century.

The London’s museum’s helpful section on dating clothes and photographs uses items from the V&,A’s collection to illustrate the superior trends of the decades inbetween 1840 and 1960, and is helpful even when investigating photos taken outside Fine Britain.

A look at how women wore their hair in eras past, illustrated with photos of modern recreations. Also see some sketches of vintage hairstyles here. demonstrates how to decipher the little details in photographs &mdash, such as the sleeve type and kinds of neckties.

Skill in activity

Even if you think you’re on the right track, identifying fashions can help you confirm information. For example, the portraits at right were labeled, so I know them to be my grandmother’s two grandmothers — and the photo albums they came from suggested that the photographs were taken in the 1880s or 1890s.

Despite the womens’ different cultural backgrounds and individual tastes in style, the similar type of high, standing collars suggest that they’re on the earlier end of that time framework, most likely the mid-1880s.

If I needed more data points, other style cues I could research would be the fit of the dresses, the hairstyles, and their jewelry.

Approximations, not absolutes

While all the clues you gather from appearance can be very helpful, they’re not always precise. By way of example, your relative might have been a trendsetter. or perhaps she cared little about style and was always a few years behind. Location (city or country, US or abroad) and income level can also influence a woman’s style choices.

By combining various modes of research, however, you should be able to detect the essence of the era — and your family’s place within it.


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