If you found this in your collection of family photos, with no clues about its date, what would you do? Consult a fashion and costume expert of course! Sandy Whitelaw explains that dating photos is easy when you know what to look for.

It is possible to provide an indication of a time period for photographs of early settlers in South Australia giving consideration to the fashion of clothes worn, particularly if there are women in the photos. Men’s clothing did not such undergo the rapid changes in style as it did for women. Nevertheless, a reasonable assessment can be obtained by careful consideration of male costume in the subtle changes that occurred.

As in modern time, clothing styles changed drastically for women approximately every 5 – 10 years. Each season colours changed, and there where style changes, just as fashion is dictated today. Unfortunately photographs of the time are not in colour, therefore the style of the garment is all we can rely upon.

The early settlers attempted to keep up with European fashion by following Queen magazine and eagerly adopted the new styles as worn by newly arrived settlers. Women who settled in Australia sought advice from relatives in England as to changes in fashion and sought to have the styles copied by local seamstresses here in Australia or attempted to produce stylish garments for themselves. Sometimes the women were a little behind the fashion in Europe, but as a rule were only about twelve months behind.

Dresses were remodeled as the styles changed and an investigation of original dresses give evidence of this remodeling.

In the example above, it is a photograph taken between 1865 and 1870 for the following reasons:

  • the lady riding side saddle is wearing an 1860’s riding habit.
  • the lady in the apron is also wearing an 1860’s gown with the fullness of the skirt being drawn to the back to create an optical shape rather than a bell shape.
  • the lady’s sleeves would indicate late 1865 – 1870.
  • the gentleman is wearing a frock coat and waist coat of the 1860’s period.

The style of women’s clothing changed drastically in the 1870’s.

It is therefore a photograph taken between 1865 and 1870.

Here is is again for easy reference.

For interest, the photo shows Thomas and Susan Colton outside their home ‘Sylvan Park’ in McLaren Vale.


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