Sorting Out Children’s Clothing

By Maureen A. Taylor

It’s been awhile since I’ve put out a call for photos from your collections. If you have a photo of a child wearing interesting clothing, please send it to me. I’d love to run a series on what kinds of clothing children wore, and when.

This week’s photo came from Loretta Gillespie. She asks, “With men’s clothing being more difficult to date and [this girl’s] clothing being a little unconventional, how do I narrow down the time frame?” Great question.

Studying clothing clues is all about the details—collars, cuffs, sleeves, trim and accessories.


In this case, the clothing suggests that this tintype was taken in the mid-to-late 1880s.


The horizontal bands with prominent buttons combined with horizontal contrasting fabric was a key feature of girl’s clothing during the mid-1880s. Her dress was likely made at home. It’s a printed cotton fabric.

The high collar with the slight ruffle and the cuffs also help date the photo.

Joan Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion (Kent State University Press, 1995) is wonderful resource for clothing styles.

I’ll be back next week with another installment of this photo mystery.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album