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Having learned in the previous blog how photograph compositions and studio settings changed over the years, we now look closely at what our forebears are wearing in old photographs.
In any kind of portrait it is often the subject's clothing that engages us most: fashion history is a fascinating topic and recognising the modes of different eras is an invaluable tool when trying to date unlabelled photographs.
The succession of distinctive, dateable styles that characterised female dress centred on a changing silhouette formed by the corsets, crinolines, bustles and other under structures worn beneath clothing, along with the complimentary sleeve shapes, dress trimmings and hairstyles of each period.
Men's attire, on the other hand, is often only dateable to about a decade or thereabouts, as male modes reflected more subtle shifts in tailoring and slow-changing features such as styles of neckwear and fashions in facial hair, as well as the occasional appearance of new garments.
Everyone wished to create a good impression in the treasured photographs that would later be shown to family and friends and might be displayed in an album, or hung on the wall.Like today, some of our forebears were more interested in their personal appearance than others, spending proportionately more of their income on new clothes and accessories.Age was especially significant when it came to dress.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.
A wide array of materials of varying textures and prices was available to suit different pockets and needs.