Using Women’s Collars to Date Old Family Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

The last two images blog reader Kimble DaCosta sent me are from the same period, but show off two different collar styles: one from the mid- to late 1870s and the other from the late 1870s to early 1880s. Both photos are tintypes.

You can read the first two installments of DaCosta’s photo story: Adding Up the Clues to Identify an Old Mystery Photo and Tips to Trace the Lineage of Your Photos.

Here are this week’s two images:



The collar clues help determine the time period.

Every year brought many fashion choices. Women were inventive when adapting their current clothing to fit the trends. When dating clothing in old photos, it’s important to watch for the details and to add up all the clothing clues.

In the first photo, the dress features a high neckline with a scarf tied around the neck. This was common during the late 1870s. The long bodice, called a polonaise, is paired with a shirred skirt.

We can’t see the skirt in the second image, but the woman wears a lovely ruffled tubular collar, common in the early 1880s. Her fitted bodice features a single line of center buttons. Her skirt would’ve had some trim as well.

Another type of collar popular in the early 1880s was called a fichu. It was usually lace and extended to the shoulders.

Both women in these photos are young, likely in their late teens or early 20s. These ages and the date ranges for the photos give DaCosta a starting point to search her family tree for possible identities.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now
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