How to Date Vintage Clothing

Dating vintage clothing can seem like a foreign language to those who have never attempted it before. It’s so easy to be walking through a thrift store and see a vintage style piece that looks oh-so-1950s, but in actuality is just a modern look-a-like. Or, you find a piece from the 1980s that appears to be 1920s but truthfully, it’s just the ‘80s doing ‘20s but you have no idea what that really even means. 

Demystifying how to date vintage clothing has been a passion of mine since I launched my first website (sammydvintage.com) back in 2009. You see, I was just getting started in the vintage resale business and eating up all the information from experts I could grab. With a little help from my vintage dealer friends, books, and the then-available resources online, I learned some great tips and tricks that can evolve your vintage dating skills from zero to hero in just a short read.

While this article does not cover every single nook and cranny of dating vintage clothing, it does give you an excellent foundation to continue learning from. Let’s get into it.

What is Vintage?

  • Vintage clothing is a generic term for garments originating from a previous era
  • Vintage clothes are defined as 20 years or older. Currently this means clothing produced before 2004.
  • Antique Clothing is 100 years old or older. This means before 1924!
  • Retro is short for retrospective, or “vintage style,” usually refers to clothing that imitates the style of a previous era. This clothing is a newly made copy of an older garment. Also called reproduction, repro, and vintage inspired.

Logical Steps to Identifying Vintage Clothing by Era

Step 1: 

Review silhouette / design 

Can’t quite identify the era? Then …  

Step 2: 

Review fabric, buttons, zipper placement 

Still puzzled? Then …  

Step 3: 

Review label and designer history 

Nothing seems to match up to a definitive era? Move onto research …  

Step 4: 

Research advertisements, online museum archives (especially if garment is quite  older) or designer archives (such as from their runway collections)  

Tip: Using styles of clothing to date clothing age – Fashion history knowledge is important

  • Oftentimes, you will know that a garment is from a particular decade but you may want insights into the exact “years” that garment is from. Identifying a silhouette /  style will help you identify the potential years it was produced, for example,  1963-1965 
  • The more educated you are on silhouettes and styles, the faster you can identify  the vintage era of a garment.  
  • Studying fashion history does take time and accumulative review 

Tip: When you can become confused with the silhouette:  

  • The garment is a decade “doing another” decade, as fashion designers started  replicating styles of the past beginning in the ‘50s  
  • You’re looking at ‘90s clothing, which resembles a lot of different eras 
  • You’re looking at modern clothing or vintage reproductions (I’ve been confused in  the thrift store!)

Quick review of trends per era 1920s – 00s

1920-1930: Key Trends to Know

  • Below-knee length drop-waist dresses with a loose, straight fit.
  • Beaded evening dresses (not full on sequins)
  • Sports attire: Casual sport golf knickers, argyle socks, blouse and tie.
  • Cocoon fur coats and fringe wraps
  • Casual outfits, knit wear 
  • Tea dresses (like 1910s-1920s) but without white lace, more silk feminine florals

Trends: 1920s Accessories

  • Cloche hats and short bobbed hairstyles
  • Bead or feather headbands for evenings
  • Long pearl necklaces, bold Art Deco colors, faux gemstones.
  • Art Deco design
  • Small beaded purses held pretty makeup compacts and cigarette cases
  • Mary Jane or T-strap heel shoes

1930-1940 Key Trends to Know

  • Midi length bias-cut dresses
  • Puff sleeves
  • Belted waists 
  • Large yokes or collars
  • Old Hollywood evening gowns – backless, sleeveless, long bias-cut dresses
  • High waisted sailor pants and wide leg beach “pajamas” (also: actual pajamas!) 
  • Casual sports clothes — skirt-like shorts, striped knit shirts
  • Feedsack dresses
  • Fur collar winter coats.

1930-1940 Key Trends to Know

  • Midi length bias-cut dresses
  • Puff sleeves
  • Belted waists 
  • Large yokes or collars
  • Old Hollywood evening gowns – backless, sleeveless, long bias-cut dresses
  • High waisted sailor pants and wide leg beach “pajamas” (also: actual pajamas!) 
  • Casual sports clothes — skirt-like shorts, striped knit shirts
  • Feedsack dresses
  • Fur collar winter coats.

Why You Won’t Find a Lot of 1930s Vintage

  • Depression Era. Woman re-wore clothing and patched it when it ripped. 
  • Often disintegrated over the years (dry rot)
  • 1930s materials were repurposed in the 1940s during WWII when material was scarce
  • Feedback dresses and other unique material came from this decade. Feedback dresses were made at home, usually by women, using the cotton sacks in which flour, sugar, animal feed, seeds, and other commodities were packaged, shipped, and sold. They became an iconic part of rural life from the 1920s through the Great Depression, WW II, and post-WW II years.

1940s: Wartime Fashion Restrictions

The United States Production Board put into place ‘Limitation Orders,’ order L-85 governing women’s clothes, which were in effect until 1946. 

 

    • These restrictions were much less severe than in Europe, but still greatly limited what clothing was to look like
    • The length and width of blouses, skirts and dresses was restricted, as was sleeve length and hip width
    • The amount of pockets, buttons, pleats, and seams was dictated, and most decorations were not allowed
    • This came to be known as the ‘no fabric on fabric’ rule
    • The colors of fabrics were set each season to conserve chemicals, so only a handful of patriotically named hues were available
    • The heels on shoes could only be 1.5 inches high
    • Britain: Coupons were purchased for clothing allowances per year

1940-1950 Key Trends to Know

  • War time versus post war time – two distinct styles of the ‘40s 
  • Shoulder pads and blazers 
  • Blazer and skirt combos for women – simple design without “decoration”
  • Shorter hemline 
  • Cotton became #1 material alongside synthetic rayon
  • Silk rarely used due to wartime necessities 
  • Women gained fashion liberation – pants, workwear, relaxed fit, no constrictive girdles

1950s Trends to Know

  • Shirtwaist dresses
  • Novelty prints
  • New Look: Cinched waist with full skirt
  • Patio sets
  • Mexican influences (because of increased air travel!)
  • Hawaii influences (1959, Hawaii became a state)
  • Leisure wear – pants and matching top
  • Petticoats with dress
  • Girdles – didn’t have material to make in ‘40s, returned to fashion in ‘50s

1960-1965 Key Trends to Know:

  • Dresses with petticoats
  • Shirt waist dresses (continuation from 1940s- 1960s)
  • Matching dresses and petticoats
  • “New Look” full skirt still prevailed
  • Dressy-look for women continued in popularity from ‘50s
  • Rhinestones ( called Aurora Borealis – not used until 1960s)
  • Cardigan sweaters
  • Casual wear for women (continuation of 1950s)
  • Short / playsuits with matching jackets

1965-1969 Key Trends to Know:

  • Hemline above knee beginning 1965, and way above knee in 1968
  • Short, shapeless shift dresses in bright colors and psychedelic swirls became a staple of the Mod look
  • The Youthquake movement created “Babydoll” clothing
  • Button-down shirts, turtlenecks, chunky knit sweaters made up casual outfits
  • Mini skirts or pencil skirts in plaid
  • Jax pants,, bell bottoms, pantsuits
  • Low heels flats, boots and shoes made of vinyl
  • Stockings or tall socks in all colors
  • Pop Art Jewelry
  • Short bobbed hair or long straight hairstyles
  • Hippie fashion – blue jeans, ethnic clothing

1970-1975 Key Trends to Know:

  • Early trends Inspired by 1930s and Edwardian styles
  • Patchwork, crochet and knitting, embroidery
  • Peasant blouses, tunic tops, funny t-shirts/ band shirts
  • Collegiate look
  • Jumpsuits with palazzo pant (started ‘75)
  • Denim bell bottoms (early 1970s)
  • Track suits (mid ‘70s)
  • Long knit vests over tops and pants
  • Polyester pant sets for women
  • Secretary blouses / dresses
  • Pastel coloring (mid ‘70s)
  • Chambray
  • Inverted pleats
  • Ponchos

1975-1980 Key Trends to Know:

  • Disco era actually began late ‘60s, but popular culture made it “known” to public eye in mid ‘70s
  • Dresses: Halter neck / open back style
  • Strapless dresses
  • Empire waist
  • Sequins, lame, velour
  • Cowl necks
  • Wrap dresses (DVF)
  • Embroidered denim
  • High waisted denim
  • “Daisy Dukes” shorts
  • Pant suits for women

1980s Trends to Know:

  • Dolman sleeves
  • Hammer Pants
  • Leotards
  • Plastic jewelry
  • Big buttons on clothing
  • High cut legs for swim wear and workout wear
  • ‘50s styles – shirt waist dress
  • Leotards – bodysuits
  • Urban style
  • Bright colors
  • Hip hop influence
  • ‘80s Prep

1990s Trends to Know:

  • “Minimalist” styles
  • Baby doll dresses
  • Grunge – ditzy floral dresses
  • Flannel
  • T-shirts
  • Crop tops
  • Denim shirts
  • Rayon, casual dresses
  • Longer shorts
  • Platform shoes
  • Low rise pants – late ‘90s

00s Trends to Know

  • Large, visible logos.
  • Sportswear and streetwear.
  • Bold colors and print.
  • Crop tops and low-rise pants.
  • Velour tracksuits.
  • Lace strings.
  • Metallics and reflective fabrics

Eras that “Do” Other Eras

  • 1950s does 1850s
  • 1960s does 1920s
  • 1970s does 1930s
  • 1970s does Edwardian (Young Edwardian/Prairie Style)
  • 1980s does Edwardian
  • 1980s does 1920s
  • 1980s does 1940s
  • 1980s does 1950s
  • 1990s-present borrows all decades
  • Late 2010s – 2020 does 1990s

Labels & Tags

When you come across a label of a brand that you recognize, it’s always good to fact check the age against our greatest friend: Google Lens. You can also search for “vintage (insert brand here) labels” and see if it matches anything you see. The truth is that the internet can give false reports – so you want to look in a few places. The Vintage Fashion Guild is your most tried and true.

Labels are tricky in that they can “seem” older than they really are sometimes. It’s about referring to the label AND the design, seams, buttons, material, etc. and not just the label itself to determine the age.

What to look for:

  • Department stores with the designer name, so “designer for Saks Fifth Avenue,” etc. This ended pretty much in the 1980s as the designers didn’t create lines for department stores. Department stores carried their own “brands” more so in past than today (if ever, today) Look for department store brands with secondary designer names attached, or unique descriptors, such as “Exclusive” or “Active Sportswear” as you see in these tags. Often times a designer made their designs “for a department store,” so both names (designer and department store) will be on the label. 
  • Phone numbers without area codes – the US Postal Service created area codes in 1963
  • “Made in” or “From” can give hints – referencing major cities like “New York,” “Chicago,” “San Francisco” was a 1950s-1960s trend, although you would often see “Made in Italy” through today (as it’s a sign of quality) 
  • Important note about Made in China vs Made in USA: Made in USA was very much a 1980s tag. Made in China really only appeared in the 1990s or later. This is because Made in USA was a movement of the 80s due to the cold war and patriotism. 
  • Mention of fabric material (not typical until 60s) – because of the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act, based in 1958. This act made law to disclose the content of fabrics on all mass produced clothing items from the early ‘60s onwards.
  • Mention of Dry Clean Only (not typical until 60s). I’ve read the “Dry Cleaning Preferred” pre dates 1960s, but that might not be entirely true. Care symbols on clothing labels was introduced in 1963. Keep in mind that wash codes changed in 60s, 70s, 80s, 1982 and again in 1994.

Woolmarks

Garments featuring the first Woolmark logo, boasting 100% wool, place their origin no later than 1964, while those with the second logo, indicating 60% wool, hail from no earlier than 1971. Similarly, if you spot a vintage clothing piece with the third logo, symbolizing 50% wool, it can be dated no further back than 1999.

Let’s look at a 1950s, 1960s, 1970s version of brand tag

  1. Fancy! Scripty!
  2. Smaller – rectangular
  3. Very simple and minimalist – block thick letters

Above: Typical 1950s tags – very scripty – often with the origin city, or “tailored by” or some sort of statement aka “four season wear.” Almost like marketing on the label. The key thing to look for when identifying 50s /60s pieces is typically the stitching on the label. It’s usually very prominent. Stitching became more clean and hidden in the decades to come, and almost impossible to spot by the 1980s. Also, “cursive” handwriting pretty much disappeared from mainstream brands by the 70s. This is sort of a theory, but black and red stitching was super popular in the 1950s. I feel varied colors in stitching came in the 1960s.

Above: Typical Early 60s tags  – Still script and fancy stitching, but you’re going to notice that the size isn’t typically so “square.” You start to see rectangular tags or just smaller in general. Plus – the fabric content, a size, or dry clean reference. The dry clean reference is usually a dead giveaway that it’s not pre 60s. Again, my theory, but more varied colors in stitching seem to appear in the 1960s

Typical 70s – These labels are still going to look pretty vintage, but you might struggle differentiating a 70s label from a 60s one before looking at the item itself.

Typical 80s – You’re going to see more personality with the 80s tags and the brand names could  just be wacky.

Typical 90s: I’m showing you the designer labels and there are so many others to show you, but the designer labels help to showcase the minimalist / clean vibe of vintage clothing labels in the 90s in comparison to their 70s-80s counterparts.

 

More fun 90s logos (see above)

 

 

 

 

Typical hint for 00s clothing – Paper tags! Yes there are paper tags for older items that usually say a “lot” number on them. The lot number really doesn’t mean anything (People want it too, trust me). The paper tag on the 00s clothing has the material content and care content on it. They can be very faded because of multiple washes.

 

When the label can distinguish the collectors value: Designers had “moments” marked by labels, and these labels can really help you distinguish what has higher probability of collector value. Great example is Norma Kalama OMO label (which stands for “On My Way” marking her career post divorce)

 

Also, when we are talking about design houses especially, there were notable designers designing for those houses at certain times. This is expert level stuff, but as you get into the gritty of valuable vintage these are the facts it takes to truly understand the market value of an item.

RN Database Lookup

If a vintage clothing item is missing its logo tag but you can find an RN number, using the RN number basic search will help you to track what the brand is. It will also give you some range on dates, but it’s not going to date the item. For example, Abercrombie & Fitch has been in existence since 1892 so the RN basic search will basically tell you the founding year and then you’re still on your own figuring out the potential era the piece was from.

Union Labels

Clothing only – hats were entirely different! Jewelry did not have “union labels” and I’ve always wondered how they were able to get away with that ;-) Additional reference – Vintage Fashion Guild: Union labels for hats: https://sammydvintage.com/vintage-style/union-labels/

ILGWU CLOTHING UNION LABEL TIMELINE

●1900 – 1936 ILGWU AFL ●1936 – 1940 ILGWU CIO ●1940 – 1955 ILGWU AFL ●1955 – 1995 ILGWU AFL-CIO ●1975-1992 RED, WHITE, BLUE ILGWU AFL-CIO ●1995 – 2004 UNITE! ●2004 – UNITE HERE Photos of labels that might matter to you

Union Labels: 1955-1963

 

ERA: 1955 to 1963

LOOK FOR: The words “UNION LABEL” above a scalloped crest in front of a needle and thread.

The scalloped circle has “INT’L LADIES GARMENT UNION WORKERS” written around a backdrop of ILGWU with AFL-CIO printed in white lettering in front.

There is no “R” for rights on the label (you see the R emerge in 1964).

HISTORY: The scalloped crest in front of a needle and thread was adopted in the ’50s. If you see an ILGWU union label without one, you can conclude the garment was made pre-1950s.

Union Labels: 1964-1973

ERA: 1964 to 1973

LOOK FOR: Scalloped circle in front of a needle and thread, but placement of words has changed. The scalloped circle now surrounds a darkened circle. UNION MADE has moved into the circle. ILGWU is now in the foreground, and AFL-CIO is smaller and written immediately below. The “R” sign noting the trademark of this logo makes its first appearance.

HISTORY: This label design was first used June 28, 1963 and was officially trademarked on April 21, 1964.

The “R” symbol is therefore indicative of this garment having been produced after April 21, 1964.

If this style of union label has no R, then the garment was made between June 28, 1963 and April 21, 1964.

ERA: 1975 – 1995

LOOK FOR: Scalloped circle in front of a needle and thread – same as previous era, however, the union colors are red, white and blue. 

HISTORY: As the outsourcing of garment production abroad became more common, a campaign to encourage American clothing consumers “To Look for the Union Tag” was born in 1975.

The union tags therefore adopted a style makeover to the patriotic color scheme of red, white and blue.

Union Labels: 1995-2005

ERA: 1995 to 2005

LOOK FOR: The scalloped circle over a needle and thread is gone, replaced with a more minimalist style approach.

The word UNITE! is most prominent and found below “Union of Needletrades Industrial & Textile Employees. “Union Made in the USA” follows.

HISTORY: The quintessential design of a scalloped circle with needle and thread disappears because the ILGWU merges with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers of America (ACTWU, men’s clothing union) to form UNITE! By 1995, Americans were buying more clothing than ever produced in countries abroad. The merger of women’s and men’s clothing unions is testament to the depleting industry of “American made.”

Fabrics

Your ultimate resource – The Vintage Fashion Guild: https://vintagefashionguild.org/resources/fabric/
  1. Fabric timeline – the basics of what might have been most comment

1950s

  • Not typically using synthetics despite the invention already having occurred
  • Silk, Cotton, Wool
  • Nylon lingerie – undergarments went from silk to more synthetic in the 50s
  • Chiffon (which is polyester) – first synthetic that really hit big
  • Taffeta

1960s

  • Synthetics emerge
  • PVC, polyester, acrylic, nylon
  • Heavy leathers / suede in late 60s
  • Barkcloth (palm fiber material) – often with a maxi dress
  • Nylon zippers emerged (non metal)
  • Double knit polyester – so thick!! Not for warm weather areas
  • Cotton tanks

1970s

  • Return to natural (but not all the time)
  • Cotton
  • Leather
  • Georgette Silk
  • Corduroy
  • Denim
  • But still polyester, too and other synthetics
  • Polyester maxis (versus barkcloth maxis)
  • You’ll see special materials like “Indian cotton” and “Pakistani cotton” became popular.

1980s

  • Rayon became popular again and this trend carried into the 1990s. Rayon was originally popular in the 1940s
  • Spandex / Lycra (a trade name of basically polyester) became an “It” fabric
  • Acrylic (especially in sweaters and sweater dresses – those crazy printed ones!)
  • Denim (thinner denim, not so much thick workwear / farm denim). Thinner and body conscious
  • Cotton came back as a “made in the USA” factor especially during Cold Water. You also see more “Made in the USA” tags in 80s to promote patriotism
  • Taffeta came back (was first popular in 50s, there was a ‘50s resurgence in this decade)

1990s

  • Rayon continues from the 1980s – Rayon blouses were popular
  • Silks
  • Bias cut silks (90s and even earlier) – requires more fabric and is more expensive to construct
  • Crushed velvets – synthetic velvet (early velvets are silk)
  • Spandex / Lycra

2000s

  • Look for blends of materials
  • Fabrics got thinner
  • Fabrics don’t “feel” as luxurious
  • Continuation of polyester

Fabrics have different names but are basically the same thing. A few popular synthetic fabrics you may encounter below:

 

Dacron Polyester: If you stumble upon vintage garments labeled with “Dacron Polyester,” you’ve struck gold from the years 1958 to 1970, a remarkable period of fashion history.

Polyester: The invention of polyester dates back to 1941, but its commercial use took off in 1953. The heyday of polyester fashion was during the 1970s and beyond. Look for vintage monikers like “Celanese,” “Kodel,” and “Vycron”.

Nylon: An early pioneer, Nylon entered the commercial scene in 1939. Keep an eye out for the vintage name “Qiana Nylon,” a hallmark of garments from approximately 1968 to the 1970s.

Lycra (Spandex): The invention of Lycra in 1959 revolutionized stretchy fabrics. Known interchangeably as “Spandex,” it brought newfound comfort and flexibility to fashion.

Acrylic: Commercially introduced in 1950, acrylic also boasts a collection of vintage names like “Orlon,” “Acrilan,” “Zeran,” and “Creslan.”

Where Items Were Made – what to know

  • Made in the USA was normal until the late 70s / 80s – when a ton of garments began being outsourced to Korea
  • Polyester – Became popular in the 1960s (birth of fast fashion era!)
  • Polyester, one of the most famous synthetics, was first introduced in the 1950s, but it really became a definitive material of choice in the 1960s. The material spandex was patented in 1959, Kevlar was produced in 1965, and by 1968, synthetic fibers surpassed natural fibers in the USA for the first time in history.
  • 1960s-1970s: The advent of “patent approved synthetics.” Dupont was one of the manufacturing companies of these “new materials” made from synthetics which were branded. Imagine getting excited to run to the store to buy “spandex” or “lycra” but that was the case! Tip: Most popular synthetic fabrics on a material label: polyester, polyamide (nylon), acrylic and polyolefin
  • 1980s: 70 percent of clothing was still made in the USA.
  • 1994: North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 lifted import duties and so more and more clothing started manufacturing overseas.

Shifts in manufacturing overseas took place during the 1970s, as huge textile mills started to emerge in developing countries in Latin America and Asia, particularly in China. These operations offered the benefits of cheap labor, plenty of raw materials and the ability to mass produce orders fast.

By the 1980s, even though 70 percent of clothing was still produced at home, some major retail chains had caught on to the idea of outsourcing their manufacturing. They still designed and marketed their clothes, but they began to transition away from manufacturing them. Retail giants, like J.C. Penney and the Gap, were adopters of this new production approach.

  • Made in a country that no longer exists? That’s your best “dating” tip. For example if it was made in Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia became part of Russia in 1991 and lost its namesake. So the garment can’t be newer than that year. West Germany – same thing. The Berlin wall fell in 1991, and West and East Germany became one again. You see West Germany on a ton of jewelry, for example.
  • Hong Kong – It was no longer dominated by Great Britain after 1997. While this is not a “guaranteed fact,” if label says made in Hong Kong it was most likely made before 1997. It would  most likely say “made in China” after that. If it says: Made in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, you’re looking at a 1950s / 1960s piece.

Unique Features – What to Know

Zippers

1940s: The zipper is accepted in women’s clothing, hooray! Zippers (always metal) are most often found along the side seam.

1950s: Metal zippers are more accepted than ever in lady’s garments, and their predominant placement shifts from side seam to back and center middle seam (some dresses still zip along the side seam, however).

1960s: The zipper is now almost always a center back placement. Metal zippers begin to be replaced after 1963 with the invention of nylon, which introduces the plastic zipper. These zippers were more hidden and so not as scandalous.

1970s – TODAY: Plastic nylon zippers found along the center back of a garment officially reign supreme — and are what we’re left with today!

Buttons

1930s-1940s: Bakelite buttons are plastic buttons found on 1930s and 1940s garments. Bakelite was invented in 1909 as the first ever synthetic plastic.

You know a button is bakelite plastic versus a more modern synthetic plastic because it’s almost always colored. Test a button’s bakelite authenticity by spraying a Q-tip with 409 cleaner and rubbing it against the button. If the swap has yellow stains, then it’s bakelite.

1950s: If the button is clear, you’re most likely looking at lucite, a transparent type of plastic invented in 1931. Lucite buttons were most popular on garments of the ’50s.

1960s: Buttons begin to take on a more “cheap” look, and aren’t the same quality of plastic as bakelite or lucite. Case in point: bakelite buttons won’t burn! That’s why they’re also called “hard plastic.”

Size label

 

The below content is from Pre Loved Kilo: https://www.prelovedkilo.com/post/plus-size

  • Early 1800s: Garments were originally made to measure until clothing began to be manufactured for retail purposes.
  • Late 1920s: Standardized size charts became more common, with the USA trying to enforce sizing standards in the 1950s.
  • 1970s: Trying to enforce standardized sizes was abandoned. That clearly went well.
  • 1980s: The introduction and development of vanity sizing to make people feel good and buy more. Hello consumerism!  
  • 1990s: Specialist plus size retailers emerged, typically selling clothing available up to a modern size 32, increasing the range of sizes previously available.
  • Handmade Vogue, Butternick, Simplicity: These were the pattern brands that allowed women to own the trends without breaking the bank, by making the clothing themselves.
  • Making your own clothes became popular in the 1940s during WWII. It was considered patriotic because you were using American resources while also conserving resources.
  • Through the 1980s, putting together an outfit from a sewing pattern was not considered unusual.
  • This is why you’ll often find amazing vintage clothing without labels that seems “hand made.”

Shoulder pads / under arm pads: Shoulder pads actually came to prominence in the 1940s!! They were much smaller than their 1980s cousins, however. Shoulder pads returned in the 80s and somewhere in the early 90s started to slip away completely. You’ll notice that shoulder pads have varied sizes and sometimes are sewn into the  garment and are somehow removable with stitches or removable with velcro.

If you find a dress that you suspect is 1950s, and then find “underarm pads,” you definitely have a 1950s dress. These underarm pads were popular to capture sweat! How smart.

 

Sequins

 

1930s into 1960s: Gelatin sequins are made by treating collagen with acetic acid or alkalis, heating it, and then pouring and rolling out the gelatin into gel form onto metal plates to dry and solidify. The plates are then punch-pressed to form disk-shaped sequins. They were prone to melting and definitely couldn’t be washed / soaked in water.

Around this time, the history of the sequin changes course.  Sequins needed to be more affordable to the general public, thus mass produced, and so began to be made of gelatin, a substance that melted from both heat and water.  Some sources say that gelatin sequins came about in the 1940s, while others say earlier.  Following gelatin, a man named Herbert Lieberman developed acetate sequins, an improvement over gelatin, but still susceptible to heat and water damage.  

Finally in the 1950s, Lieberman began sandwiching his acetate sequins in mylar, a new material developed by Dupont, and created the first washable, non-melting, non-metal sequin.  His legacy lives on: these days sequins are made from pvc, polyester, and vinyl.

*the above is from a source I cannot remember – not credited to me!*

 

Seams

  • 1950s: Pinked seams — which look like scalloped teeth — are most common on garments from the ’50s because it was the easiest way to cut a seam without leaving fraying behind. While “pinking cutters” were patented in 1893, it was the invention of the pinking “shears” (essentially scissors) by Benjamin Luscalzo in 1952 that popularized this seam style.
  • 1960s: Serged seams replace the pinked seam in the 1960s. Serged seams are an overlock stitch that strongly secures the fabric and leaves a zig-zag like pattern behind. While the serged seam had been around since the early 1900s, the serger machine became more affordable for at-home dressmakers in the ’60s, thus women adopted the serged seam to leave behind a clean, crisp finish to their work.

UNFINISHED SEAMS: If the piece has unfinished, frayed seams there’s a good chance it was made before the ’50s since both pinking shears and serger machines weren’t available to at-home seamstresses.

Lining

NO LINING: Garments prior to the ’70s were often made without lining because a woman’s slip would operate as the lining instead.

Because a woman was expected to wear a slip, her dress didn’t need to be finished with lining to prevent the raw seams and stitching from brushing against her skin.

LINING: A dress with lining is possibly from the 1970s or later, however there is an important exception to note.

Women in the 70s often didn’t wear a slip because the styles of the era were less body conscious and made from cotton or polyester material (no Mad Men wiggle dresses here!) and therefore didn’t require a slip to conceal and smooth lines.

Manufacturing dresses with lining became more popular beginning in the 1980s, when styles reverted back to form-fitting and body conscious.

 

More Helpful Ways to Date Vintage Clothing

When push comes to shove, your number asset to dating vintage clothing is always going to be: research.

I’ve worked in the vintage fashion business since 2009 and I’m still learning to this day and am in no shape or form an expert! The greatest teacher is always by being a student. 

Here’s a quick check of how to keep studying and learning so that dating vintage clothing comes to you like a breeze. 

More Research: Sewing Patterns

Sewing patterns provide photos of the styles of the times. You can easily find them on Pinterest or just Google images. Make sure you search “Vogue sewing patterns 1970s” or “McCall’s sewing patterns 1950s.” 

 

Here’s an example on Pinterest. 

  • Vogue
  • McCall’s 
  • Simplicity
  • Butternick
More Research: Getty Images

Getty Images is an insane historic images archive. You can’t legally use the photos – but you can learn from there. Here is an example of 1970s fashion from Getty Images. 

https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/1970s-fashion-photos?phrase=1970s%20fashion%20photos&sort=oldest

More Research: RN number calculator

What is an RN number? 

An RN (Registered Identification Number) is a number issued by the FTC, upon request, business residing in the United States that is engaged in the manufacture, importation, distribution, or sale of textile, wool, or fur products. (

FTC.gov) In other words, an RN number is an ID for a clothing brand. (From the site: Independentmarket.blogspot.com)

The number correlates when the certain brand began.

In 1956, the first RN number was given of 13670.

This calculator will help identify the year that the RN number was issued. 

The calculation does NOT tell you the date the item was made. It does tell you the earliest the item was made. 

Key tip: The RN calculator will tell you the oldest the garment can possibly be.

If you believe the garment is older than 1998, then this calculator will help. https://independentmarket.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

More Research: Vintage Advertisements

Using Pinterest, Google and a few key sites, you can research advertisements per era, which will give you the most accurate information regarding specific years

For example: Search Lillie Ann vintage advertisements on Pinterest, and you just might find the exact ad with the exact piece you have, and with a date on the ad!

Thus, you know that piece is from say, 1973 versus just the ‘70s.

In Conclusion

Without a doubt, the art of dating vintage clothing is a passion for many and expertise for few. As the years pass, “more” clothing “becomes vintage” and the knowledge base has to grow with it. This is why there are individuals in the vintage industry with specific niche expertise, versus a general expertise of all the eras, designers, styles and features one needs to know in order to call oneself an all-things-fashion expert.

 

The key to dating vintage clothing success is research, which is why I’ve ended this content with some suggested links to learn more about vintage fashion, era identification and general fashion history. 

More Resources - Extra Credit!

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