Using fashion to help date old photos

We’ve recently had contact with Emily Taylor, a curator at National Museums Scotland, who’s given us her thoughts on the date of one of our most atmospheric Auchindrain photos. This is of four ladies and a small child doing the washing in front of Building F, which is now a cart shed with a corrugated steel roof.


The dress worn by the woman on the extreme right of this photo has very puffed sleeves, commonly known as mutton leg or butterfly sleeves, which were a style very specific to the mid 1890s. In the early part of the decade women wore tight bodices with high collars and narrow sleeves, but from about 1893 the upper sleeves started to puff out, whilst the bodice and lower sleeves remained tight. Given that fashion would have come to Auchindrain later than elsewhere, this suggests a date for this photo as being around or a but after 1895.


Auchindrain’s washing photo pictured outside of building F, now dated to the 1890s.


Building F is built in to what we call the “raised kailyard”, a flattened-off glacial mound used by the families living in Stoner’s and Martin’s houses as a space to grow vegetables. Given this, maybe these women are also from those houses, although the woman on the far left may be an exception to this as we’ve been told that Eddie MacCallum identified her as Beal Pol (Isabella McCallum), from Building M. In the 1901 census we’ve got Bella Munro, aged 30, and Catherine Munro, aged 37, in Stoner’s House, and then in Martin’s House Isabella Munro, aged 22, and John Munro, aged 8. Bell would have been 73.


So taking a few years off these ages, does the woman on the far left look around 70 to you? And could the child be a 5-year-old boy?