Accurately dating an old family photograph can be a difficult task. But with a little knowledge about what people wore throughout history, dating your photograph can become much easier. Clothing is a very good indication of when a photograph was taken. Here is an overview on past fashions to get you started in your research. Please note that it is much easier to date if there is a woman in the photo, as women's fashion changed much more dramatically than men's until the 20th century.
In the 1840s, women wore dresses with low, sloping shoulders and fitted sleeves. Waistlines were at a natural height and lowered to a point in front. Full skirts were made with many layers of underskirts. Their hair was often parted in the center with curls or braids at the ears.
Men wore tapered pants with stirrups. A cinched in waist and full chest was popular, as were standing collars. Relatively patterned fabric was more fashionable than it would be in later decades. They curled their hair and wore sideburns.
In the 1850s, women's skirts were full and often tiered. The cage crinoline appeared in 1856. Despite being an undergarment, its structure can often be seen under a skirt. The bell-shaped sleeve worn over cotton or linen under-sleeves was fashionable.
Stirrups in men's pants disappeared. A looser, thigh length coat called a sack coat was common. Coats were usually single-breasted. Men wore large mutton chop sideburns and moustaches. The bowler hat was introduced c.1850.
Early in the 1860s, tiered skirts disappeared. Skirts became their widest around 1863. By 1865 the fullness of the crinoline moved to the back. Then the volume moved up to behind the butt. Hair was worn close to the head with low buns and hair nets were fashionable.