Friday, October 4, 2013

September 25th Program Review - Claire Santos-Daigle and "Photograph Dating by Fashions" by Karen Yarger

Do you have some old family photos and can only guess at their dates? This month’s topic was designed for you. Our speaker for the September 25th CVGS General Meeting was Claire Santos-Daigle, who has been professionally digitally restoring old photos for 12 years (see her website at In addition to bringing new life to damaged photo heirlooms, she can help you identify the approximate date of your picture – or teach you to do it yourself. For her presentation, Claire came attired in an 1888 taffeta gown complete with bustle and charming feathered hat. In fact, all of her accoutrements were authentic, down to her jewelry, chemise and pantaloons.

(Photo courtesy of Karen Yarger)

Claire began with tips on identifying our photos ourselves: create a fashion dating file and worksheet, record what you know about the item, analyze and note the details and compare them to other photographs, research objects in the photo (hairstyles, jewelry and props), and find and record a minimum of 3 sources agreeing on the same fashion era. Maintain this file for future research. On the right side of her website, Claire has a “Genealogy Corner” with additional information.

Drawing on her extensive private collection of vintage photographs, Claire presented a fascinating talk on how to identify the dates of your family photos by knowing what styles were popular in which decades. Beginning with the different types of photographs – daguerreotype, ambrotype and tintype – she explained the differences and time periods for each. Then, she showed examples of period dress: the shape of the bodice and sleeves, the width of the pleats, lace mitts, hoop skirts, and the evolution from bonnets to hats. She also showed various hairstyles and foreign influences on fashion. She didn’t omit men’s fashions, either: the width and notching of the lapels, the narrowing gap of collars, and the evolution of hats from melon to bowler to top hats.

Claire was so engaging and her presentation so informative and interesting, everyone convinced her to continue well past the usual allotted time. Fashion, after all, is an important indicator of how we want to be perceived, as our ancestors knew.

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