For reasons I do not understand, I find myself falling asleep around 9 pm and waking up around 2 am. I have a case of ennui and because of it I cannot seem to read the Sunday New York Times that are piling up on my bed like Big Apple snowdrifts.
But I CAN seem to flick on Netflix, where I watch every episode of Law and Order, either Criminal Intent or Special Victims Unit. The former began in 1990, the latter in 2006. I favor the earlier episodes, but not for the fact that Chris Noth (scrumptious eye candy) or Paul Sorvino (Italian, adorable, and teddy bear cuddly) are the stars.
Nor is it about Michael Moriarity, playing stiff-necked prosecutor Benjamin Stone or Steven Hill as senior prosecutor Adam Schiff (mimicking E. G. Marshall of the 1960’s hit “The Defenders.”)
Nay, none of the above.
Actually, I am examining the fashions worn by women who appear in the series. It is forensic analysis, except instead of bodies I am perusing fashions.
From the hairstyles I can tell approximately when each episode was shot. If the hairstyles puzzle me, I look at things like shoulder pads and lapels.
Long curly hair and shoulder pads together tell me it’s early 1990’s. When the long, curly hair, the shoulder pads and large suit lapels begin to disappear, we are tacking into the mid-1990’s. When all three disappear and hairstyles become sleeker, we are moving toward the millennium.
One can use a similar method to figure out approximate dates of paintings and pictures with a fair degree of accuracy. If the women in the picture are wearing long, diaphanous gowns with curly hair bound up in a scarf (mimicking ancient Roman matrons), I am generally looking at one period.
If they are in black, wearing white bonnets and bouffant skirts, I am in another.
I look at jewelry, which has it’s own unique time periods. Is the lady wearing a cameo? A pin made of jet? What is the style of her rings and earrings?
Also telling is the style of the furniture. Just as flame stitch upholstery and pastels were ubiquitous in the 1980’s, bolder colors were found in the 1990’s. Early American maple? Leave it to Beaver and the Mayberry crew of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. And, of course, nothing says it’s the 1960’s like pecan furniture. As with fashion, furniture styles went in and out of popularity in the past.
A caveat. Nothing by itself is indicative of age. Rather, it is the sum total of the forensic analysis that gives me what I need to date a work of art. I always remain suspicious and remember that as movies can be period pieces, a painting will mimic the past, too. So while I use this method to begin dating a picture, I don’t use it to confirm the age of its creation.
Finally, family history, unless backed up by written provenance, is notoriously suspect. I only use it if there is a bona fide written list of owners, hopefully with invoices, diaries or wills to document the lineage.
Beth A. Kinstler,