Monday, November 19, 2012

The Game

(No, not that one)

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Hint: it's not a secret at all. I'm a huge nerd when it comes to historical fashion. One thing I love to do for fun is to look at old paintings and photographs of historical clothing and guess what year they're from. It's a little nerdy (Read: very nerdy. Frighteningly nerdy), but it's also really fun, and it stretches my knowledge to its limit, and way beyond. Let's play a round, and I'll show you what I mean.

Here are the rules of the game.

  1. Go to,, or some other website that has photos of clothing with the year underneath. I'll be using a mixture of both sites for this round of the game (mainly because both sites also have photos of nightgowns, hats, and things that are outside my expertise). All images in this post are from either or
  2. Scroll down so that you can see the photo, but not the caption.
  3. Guess the year from which the garment comes.
  4. Scroll down to see if you're right!
It's as simple as that! Of course, it's pretty difficult to get the year exactly right, so I count it as a correct answer my guess is within five years of the correct date.

Let's get going!

The first thing I'm seeing here is the bell-shaped skirt, which says we're somewhere between 1830 and 1850. The narrow sleeves rule out the 1830's, so we're looking at something in the 1840's. The oversleeves, the high neckline, and the v-shaped bodice all look like fashions that came near the beginning of the 1850's, but the skirt just isn't big enough. I'm thinking we're looking at something in the late 1840's. I'll go with 1848.

My guess: 1848
Actual date: 1835-1840. It looks like I was about a decade off. Shame. Let's see if I do better with the next one.

Okay, well the beautiful quality of the photograph rules out anything before the 1860's-70's, we can tell that without even looking at the gown. The crazy amount of corseting going on here also points to the late Victorian era. The lady's hairstyle says 1880's, with the frizzled bangs and high bun. The sleeves are really what's throwing me here, married with the fact that I really only have the bodice to work with.The waistline looks very pointed, which also says 1880's. I'm puzzled by this gorgeous gown. My gut is saying early 1880's, though. I'll go with 1884.

My guess: 1884
Actual date: The site just lists it as "1880's-90's," so I guess I'm in the clear.

Well, my first inclination is to scream "Downton Abbey," so I'm thinking we're in the pre-war 1910's here. In the interest of going off of some cold hard evidence instead of my fangirl tendencies, I'll also point out the loose draping, high waistline, lace, and silk that were characteristic of the era. I'll say 1911 for this one.

My guess: 1911
Actual date: 1910-11. Let's just say I feel like Charlie Sheen right now. Winning.

We don't get to see much of the dress here, but I think the few details we can see from the back will be enough. The hoop skirt is the big piece of evidence (literally), and it lands us firmly in the 1850's or 1860's. What little I can see of the bodice makes me think we're somewhere between 1855-1865, because of the low neckline that was briefly unpopular for evening in the later 1860's. I'm going to take a shot in the dark from there and say 1861.

My guess: 1861
Actual date: 1860's, which doesn't tell us much. I'll call it a tentative win? A win with an asterisk?

The empire waist says we definitely have something in the Extended Regency. From there, things get a little difficult. If you've read my Decade Wednesday posts on the era, you'll know that fashion didn't progress much during the Regency era because of the Napoleonic wars in France, which makes it hard to pin down a specific year for this outfit. Still, we'll give it a go. The bonnet is something from earlier in the Regency, not like the more hat-like chapeaus we see in the 1820's. The dress is simple and understated, which also says early Regency, with the "return-to-nature" vibe at the turn of the 19th century. I honestly have no idea what's going on with the ruff, so I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist. Another honorable mention is the background of this painting, which features nature and neoclassicism with that snazzy pot-and-pedestal combo. I'll go with 1803.

My guess: 1803
Actual date: Listed as "early 1820's." Ooh, that's pretty embarrassing. Well, I guess that means I need to brush up on my Regency era fashion. Does watching Jane Austen adaptations count as homework? I'm not entirely sure.

Three for five isn't too bad, I'd say. I'd love to do a little cramming (via Jane Austen marathons and Pinterest, like the pros do) and play another round in the near future. In the meantime, you should study up with Decade Wednesday and try the game yourself!

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