So many people searching their family genealogy come to the art of dating photos through fashion history. Here below is an old photo of a woman who entered the USA via Ellis Island as a child in
When dating old photos, always try to compare your photo with a dated
image. Fashion plates and magazines of the
era are great sources to research features of your photograph. Begin with a fifty year time-span such as pre 1950, post 1950
or pre 1900. With a little web browsing it should be
possible to narrow the date to a decade either side of the image date.
applying techniques that I will explain, you should be able to date your old picture to within 5 years.
By combining fashion features you can narrow the date to within a year or two. If you have a distinctively dressed woman you may be very lucky and hit the exact year. Examine costume, footwear, hats, hairstyles, jewellery, decor, posture
and any transport. Compare your photo with comparative images of a known date to arrive at a year for that old photo.
Dating costume pages.
This family wedding photo right was sent by a site visitor from the USA. The old
wedding photo is of Ella Simister and Charles White and their marriage took place in the USA on June 9, 1926.
There are differences in the bouquet styles in this old photo above and the
wedding group photo shown below. In this wedding party the
bouquets have ribbon streamers, which makes them seem larger than the
Even though make up was worn in this era, these women all look as if they
wear very little extra cosmetic enhancement. The bride's
hair looks very natural and almost unruly.
The 1926 wedding dress above was the latest shorter length and the
length most associated with our mental perception of the 1920s.
an old photo of the 1920s should be straightforward, once you know what you are looking for, since the hemlines
seemed to change each year in the twenties.
The three wedding dresses on this page all feature rounded
scallop hemlines. Scallops were in vogue through the twenties,
since they are a natural edge finish for lace. But, it's clear that one of the main trends of 1926
was not just shorter dresses, but dresses with scallop hem finishes.
The illustration left, shows how shaped scallop hemlines could be used
as a feature on both
the skirt and the loose overblouse bodice top.
Fluted double layers cut from soft
fabrics were used to add lightness to skirts. Crossway bias and floating fabrics were another feature of this 1920s era. Sleeves were bloused with
soft fullness at the wrist line which drew attention to 1920s manicures. This was in contrast to an
otherwise boyish silhouette from head to hipline.
By 1926, shorter dresses were very much the fashionable norm for younger and older
women. The double layer
skirt, and scallop hemline were both ways of creating the optical
illusion of the skirt length appearing shorter than it really was.
Scallops can easily be made by home dressmakers simply by drawing a
portion of even circles with a cup, wine glass or saucer and then either facing them with
fabric, making a narrow rolled hem, or embroidering the edge. They could also be bound with
contrast fabric as shown in the McCall's dressmaking pattern green dress right.
Ella, the bride above, travelled to America with her mother when just a
Joan Gillard wrote to tell me about this couple and their change of
'Ella’s grandparents William & Eleanor Astin were very well to do
farmers in Shropshire, Great Britain. The events below all occurred around
the area of Market Drayton, England, until they moved to the USA. Their
daughter Matilda Astin (born 1845) married William Swan Meakin (born 1846) in
Nov 1968. Matilda and William Swan attended the same boarding school in
1951. Ella’s Grandma Clara Meakin was born Oct 1871 and her mother died
before Clara was one year old. Clara Meakin married John Simister (b
1864) in Dec 1893. They were successful farmers, had 4 children (one died).
In April 1904 William Simister departed for the US via Ellis Island
with a friend who told him that earning a living was easier in the USA.
Later, in October of 1904 Clara sailed to the US through Ellis Island with
children, Cyril 8, Kathleen 5 and Ella 2 years 9 months to join John in New
York State. They had a Meat Market and Grocery business.
They had another son named William who was born in 1909. The Simisters seemed to be
successful. Clara’s half brothers and half sisters came from England to the
US and arrived at John and Clara’s before finding their own homes. John died
June 1955 age 91 and Clara died July 1961 age 90.
After Ella (the above bride) married, she never worked outside their home. She and Charles never had children. Charles
grew up in New Jersey, USA, and had 2 sisters who were teachers. Charles
worked at the Oneida Silverware factory as did numerous other
they emigrated from England.
I am not sure that they had a better life in America. They were doing
so well in England......'
So many people have crossed continents seeking a better life, a bigger
fortune and this family were no different. Moving on from Ellis
Island and the Port of New York these people, so typical
of pioneering generations before, went forward with optimism.
Nearly half of all Americans can trace family history to at least one
family member arriving via the Ellis Island Immigration Station. Between
1892 and 1924 some 20 million people entered through Ellis Island.
Over 1 million people passed through Ellis Island in 1907 the peak year
of immigration. One day in April alone 11,747 immigrants were processed.
The station finally closed as an immigration clearing depot in 1954.
Those unhealthy or otherwise were not allowed entry and families were
often separated as some immigrants were sent back to their original country.
The American Family Immigration History Centre contains the ship
passenger records of the 25 million people who passed through the Port of
New York and Ellis Island from 1892-1924. They say that at ellisislandrecords, visitors are able to access 11 fields of digitized information, as well as
view and obtain reproductions of original ship manifests and photos of ships
of passage, plus much more. If you are in USA and tracing family members it may
be a worthwhile website to visit.
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I have no firm date for the old wedding photo
left a copy of which was given to
me by an eBay seller of
vintage collectibles and ephemera.
I would date this wedding at
1926-1928, and not earlier than 1925. The image bears a strong
similarity to the wedding photo shown on the 1928 wedding page another
twenties wedding, but with a known date.
In this old UK wedding photo observe how there is much more greenery in both the
bridesmaids and the bride's flower sprays than in the photo above from
the USA. The use and volume of flower greenery is also strikingly
like that of the floral sprays in the 1928 image.
Although not a traditional wedding dress, the bride is clearly wearing quite a special dress.
Take in that scallop hemline again.
A close look at the old photograph shows that the lightweight narrow
hemline has been rolled, just like the hand rolled edge of a good silk
The darker bands going
around the dress appear to be applied contrast lace.
I believe this picture was taken in the autumn winter of 1926/7 when skirts were substantially
higher than in 1925. The older woman far left is
wearing a coat and a fur collar or tippet, an accessory for a cooler season. It is unlikely
she would have worn a fur accessory out of season. Also the long sleeved dresses
of all the younger women are not pastels, but the solid colours of a
colder time of year.
The ladies who sit, also have simple dresses with
rounded necklines, bloused sleeves and skirts with obvious fullness.
This style of dress very much fits with 1926 and early flapper style
Styles of 1927 were very similar, but as 1927 progressed the silhouette was often
straighter in line.
Most of the hat styles are more in tune with 1926.
The far right close fitting cloche hat was especially favoured in 1927.
This cloche still has a narrow remnant of a brim in line with hats of
Since 1908 some women had worn close fitting hats that clung over the
brow. By World War 1 the close head fit became even snugger and the
cloche hat became a firmly established headwear style. The closer and
more fitting the cloche style became the shorter the hair beneath had to
be. The cloche hat was statement making and said 'new woman.' Softer
variations had small brims at the front.
By 1926 so many variations of the cloche had existed that the only way
to update the hat style was to reduce the brim even more. Since the
cloche hat brim disappeared entirely by 1928 we can surmise this is at
least late 1926, possibly 1927. By 1929 asymmetric cloche brims
reduced to nothing, although of course there are always women who wear
items previously owned in the immediate years before an event. When
dating any photograph always choose the woman with the most fashionable
hairdo or hat and you'll have a very good photo date estimate date.
cloche hat time frame here.
old wedding photo right is of Norman Shaw Snr., after marrying Mary
Anderson at St John’s, Hebburn, North England in 1926.
and you will see there is also evidence of a scallop hemline in the
skirt of this wedding dress too. The Mary Jane shoes in all these
images though have much more pointed toes than in weddings of earlier
years. In earlier years toes were rounded or squared off as seen
1921 wedding page.
Norman the groom is wearing white spats, as is the groom in the 1926/7
wedding above. The groom looks very pleased with his decision and is
firmly hanging onto his bride!
Mary Anderson, the bride right, was born
1899 and is also shown below here aged 6 with her sister Lottie Anderson.
The old photo below is of an old Hebburn Quay School class in 1905. Notice the hair ribbon bows and several of the girls wear sweaters,
cardigans or hand knits that feature bobble tie closures. Those
with black hair bows may well be in mourning.
A few of the girls in this photos wear protective white cotton apron smocks
that are probably covering fabrics like worsted and woollen material
that was difficult to clean before the washable wools of today.
Cotton was a favourite fabric for smocks. It was relatively easy to keep
clean because it could be boiled. Washing would have occurred
according to a ritual pattern of the washday Monday when all whites
would be boiled up in a big copper boiler, mangled then hung to dry.
The next day or two would be spent ironing the clothes in various
degrees of dampness or dryness. The small cast iron flat iron
used, was heated on a stove or had hot glowing coals placed inside the
base. Great care was required to stop smudges of soot appearing on
the clothes. The person ironing would spit on the iron base to
check the iron temperature! Sizzling meant the user was ready to iron.
Interestingly a quarter of the girls also wear necklaces, or brooch
jewellery, something which probably would not be allowed in most schools
Schoolchildren of this era everywhere in Britain, probably looked just like this bunch of girls
from Hebburn Quay Board School.
I suspect there is a difference of about 2 or even 3 years between the
ages of girls shown on this photo. The girls at the back look
decidedly older than the girls at the front.
At the time this
photo was taken, adult women were trussed up in S-bend corsets. I
doubt if any of these young girls ever imagined that as adults, they would
be spared such formality and enjoy the freedom of the much looser easy 1920s
Norman wrote to me - 'I've attached a family photo for you and taken
in 1918. My dads 2 older sisters are on it. Aunt Betty Dunn 2nd from
left front row. Aunty Peggy Dunn 3rd from right second row from back. I have
the names of most of these girls and the school was Hebburn Quay Board
School.' Norman has lots of old photos
Many of the women in this photo were probably left as
widows or single women, as the Great War of 1914-18 led to the loss of
many men worldwide.
Anderson, the bride above was shown in her school photo with her sister Lottie Anderson.
Later Lottie Anderson was the teacher herself (right) in this
wonderful old photo of St John’s Church Sunday School trip in about
Notice how the hats the girls wear bear a helmet like resemblance to the
hard hats of soldiers.
No children today would ever be allowed to ride in a vehicle with such
freedom as this. Health and safety rules of the Nanny state forbid such
I recall a similar day out in the early 1960s, where all the children
were bundled into the back of my uncle's open lorry and we could see the
road through the cracks in the wooden floorboards of the truck. It was one of
the best days of my life. A happy memory to be treasured and I'd
wager these girls felt just the same.
One thought - have you noticed how the girls are segregated from
the boys in both old photographs further above.
Caithlin Barry, a site visitor from Nevada sent me this old photo.
In the picture, Caithlin's grandmother is with her sister and the baby.
Over in USA in the same year as the Hebburn Wedding above, Caithlin's
mother had her photo taken as a one year old baby. In this photo you can see a little detail
of the important dropped waist and visible knees. These dresses are
all relaxed and casual and yet
only 20 years earlier similar young women would have been bound-up in
Edwardian S-bend corsets.
Note how the stockings wrinkle at the knee, and how they both have
bobbed hairstyles. Clearly these young women were keen adoptees of modern
Left - Old 1926 photo of Lois Post, Lee Post and Margaret Lynch.
If you have interesting old photos which could be included in these web
pages do send me some good scans.
For more information about Wedding Photos click below:-
Old photos can be useful when tracing family members and narrowing down
search dates. These photo pages may help you put an era to your
If you have old wedding photos please send them to me and if suitable I will
add them to this pictorial section of social history.
OLD WEDDING PHOTOS
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