into old family photographs
To identify a photograph and thus date it requires the researcher to undertake
the following detailed examinations. In past issues we dealt with:
1. Determining the type of photograph.
2. Analyse the mounting board itself.
3. Examine the back of the mount for printed information.
4. Examine the composition of the image—the pose and background.
In this issue we will examine the fifth and least reliable factor in dating
photographs—the clothes worn by the subjects.
What we can be sure of is that our nineteenth century ancestors were usually
dressed in their Sunday best for their photograph! It was an expensive
treat undertaken more often than not to record special occasions. If their Sunday
best was not good enough for the studio, then they may be dressed
in borrowed clothes—some studios maintain wardrobes for this purpose!
While the way people dress is also determined by fashion, unfortunately
we can never be sure that our subjects were wealthy enough or even motivated
sufficiently to keep up with the latest fashion. Many older people settled
for a particular type of clothing and hairstyle and ignored the changing
we can say when looking at the way our ancestors were dressed is that a
particular style of suit or dress was not available until a certain date
and therefore the photograph cannot be earlier than that date! The most
obvious example of this has to be the men’s three-piece suit that
was unheard of before the 1870s. Some fashions such as mens' ties and the
leg of mutton sleeve of the 1890s can be dated very precisely by their
Mens' ties 1870, 1875, 1890, 1893.
Leg of mutton sleeves to bodice 1892, 1893, 1894.
||High necklines with
small collars & brooches; full sleeves;
single coloured crinoline dresses; hair parted in centre; ears
exposed by the end of the decade.
||Either a full beard or large moustache but not both; contrasting
often patterned waistcoat; darker jacket than trousers; curved
brim in top hats; wide sleeves and trouser legs; raised seams in
||Tartan popular for young children; short crinolines for girls
||Cluttered necklines; bustles; coloured heavily trimmed complicated
dresses; hats tilted forward to accommodate high built up hair
||Tight fitting jackets; all pieces of the suit match; broad lapels;
top hat brims narrow; homburg hats; spats; pointed toes on shoes.
||Sailor suits for boys; elaborate dresses for girls; sisters dress
||High collars with piecrust frills; hair styled but plain; small
bustles; dresses with fitted tailored plainer tops; small hats
with items from nature.
||Full beards and moustaches; bowler hat; boaters make an appearance;
pointed toes on shoes.
||Sailor clothes for boys and girls; very elaborate costumes for
||Elaborate tops and blouses; plainer dresses; small hats and boaters;
leg of mutton sleeves.
||Lounge suits; high shirt collars; straw boaters common.
||Adult-like clothes; smocking common in young children; sailor
nee Gilmour b. 1823 shows off the high necklines with small
full sleeves; single coloured crinoline dresses of
Jane Cawley nee Puttick b. 1883 illustrates the distinctive
hair styles of the 1870s. Note the bustle.
Louis Frank L Jaunay b. 1884 Melbourne in Brisbane
QLD. Such suits were popular for girls too by the 1890s.
Krug b. 1874 Reims demonstrates the popular elaborate
lace blouses of the 1890s.
Cawley b. 1817 holding his 1860s curved
brim top hat wearing his coat with wide sleeves.
Krug b. 1869 Reims at his overdressed best the fate of
many young boys of the 1870s!
beard and moustache reflects the fashion of the period
led by the Prince of Wales in the 1880s
Jaunay nee Cawley b. 1860 showing the popular leg
of mutton sleeves of the 1890s.
and wedding dresses can often prove difficult to date
as they often ignore prevailing fashion. Militray uniforms
can sometimes prove obscure as well. The
most notable exception to this has to be the wedding dresses
Gilmour McCorkell of the Bombay Presidency India b.
1849 London in his official robes of office.
Robert Schlumberger later a Brigadier-General in the
army in WW1 b. 1859 Nancy in his military uniform.
tunics had 7 buttons before 1910 and then 9.
When we couple the data gleaned from a close examination of all aspects
of a photograph and our family knowledge we can often pin down the date
of a photograph very precisely.
nursing the child (Mary Jaunay nee Cawley) is wearing a dress with
leg of mutton sleeves that date 1892. Although
here the same dress is depicted in another photograph above. Her mother
to the left (Mary Jane Feige fmrly Cawley nee Puttick) has sleeves
of the same style. While her mother on the right (Mary Puttick nee
Cox) is not so concerned with fashion in keeping with an 83 year old
woman. Since old Mary died in Jan 1893. We know this photograph must
have been taken in 1892.
This series of articles has been
adapted from Graham Jaunay's booklet: Identifying and dating 19th century
Note: All photographs displayed are
from the family albums of Graham Jaunay.
They are currently subject to
copyright as they appear in publications by Graham Jaunay.