Russell Chowning submitted this picture, a perfect example of how it takes many clues to determine a date. Let’s add up the head-to-toe details:
- This man wears a wide brimmed hat set rakishly back on his head. He’s relaxed for this portrait.
- His suit has padded shoulders. That detail alone could date the picture to the 1940s, but additional features of his suit rule out that date.
- Notice the large pocket on the left side of his suit and the button trim on the sleeves. This suggests this portrait dates from earlier in the 20th century. The sleeve trim is similar to details on suits from the late 1910s.
- This man has paired his suit with a light-colored, soft-collared shirt and a silk tie, also in a light color.
- He wears embroidered, light-colored socks. You could buy these through catalogs in the WWI period. In the 1920s, this simple pattern was replaced by brightly colored argyle socks.
- His shoes are a bit of a mystery. The opening (known as the cuff) comes to the ankle like shoes worn in the period from 1914 to 1920, but I can’t find similar shoes in catalogs from that time frame.
All these facts point to this picture being taken around 1919. The final detail helps determine that date. Notice the narrow pants leg at the ankle. Around 1920, men’s pants narrowed at the ankle. In the 1920s, pants got wider.
(Click on this image to open a bigger version in your Web browser, then click on the bigger version image to magnify it.)
A couple of weeks ago I asked readers for photos with interesting backgrounds. Here, you see a simple backdrop with few architectural details (stairs, doors and curtains) and no scenery. It was decades old when the portrait was taken—the paint is so old it’s crackled. Either this photographer had been in business for a long time, or he purchased the canvas used.