Dear readers, we are sorry for neglecting you!
Winter tends to be a busy time here in the CCHA office as we close out one year and prepare for the next. Throw in multiple holidays and a few COVID quarantine periods, and suddenly time moves very quickly. But fear not! The CCHA staff has been busy at work preparing for a really awesome, history-packed 2021 season, and we can't wait to share it with you.
We've also been busy cleaning and re-arranging the office and museum space, to allow for greater productivity and overall usefulness. We're counting down to the day we can open back up to the public safely and show off all our hard work! New additions to our permanent exhibit are in the works, as well as a great line-up of temporary exhibits. With any luck we'll be able to make some of them digital, so we can share with you sooner.
Our topic for today's post is brief and light-hearted--a reminder of warmer days to come (we're all very tired of winter already, and it's only January): A picnic!
This photo is almost a complete mystery. The location, occasion, and identities of the participants are all unknown. Based on the women's clothing, we can date it to the 1880s: note the tight sleeves with the fullness at the top. Sleeve shapes changed with every decade in the 19th century, making dating images featuring clothing easier.
Note the changes in the fashion plates above. Can you see the similarities between the picnic photo and the 1880s plate? The bodice of the dress - the top half of the dress that covers the chest and torso - is very tight in the picnic photo. The tightness is only really seen like that in the 1880s. Of course, this is a bit of a generalization - just like today, there are dozens of nuances in dress styles, but this is a pretty reliable generalization if you're wanting to know the general time frame of a photograph. We can't see enough detail in the photo to get a narrower date, so we'll have to be comfortable with the decade.
This trick works outside the 19th century, too. So long as you know the general shape of women's clothing (men's clothing can also be traced in this way, but their styles change far less frequently and obviously. More on them in a future post), you can judge the time period pretty accurately. If you really want to get specific, you'll have to start dating objects within the image, but even then it gets tricky.
Do you have any handy tricks for dating photos? Need help dating family photos? Let us know!
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.