How to Identify Vintage Clothes

8 tips for dating a vintage piece

From Mireille Berton with Valerie, organizer of the convention Be Vintage

The identification of a garment is a reflection of life: practice builds knowledge. Knowing date a vintage piece is an ability that is acquired mainly through experience, but also through discussions with specialists who generously share their skills. Here’s a few points of this modest knowledge assimilated as a collector, and thanks to the people encountered, and consulted books and blogs – it is far from complete, especially as regards the earlier times to the 1960s.

I) vs. Handmade clothing industry

The hand-made clothing as described in retro attire dating mostly before 1970, representing a real alternative to ready-to-wear specialist houses or sale catalog, as well as to the clothing crafted in mass industry that develops from 1950.

Most of the time they do not contain label and traces of manual labor are quite apparent, like the hand-stitched.

Some prototypes of prestigious fashion houses used in parades had neither labels nor liners.

In 1955 the United States for example, 52 million women realize themselves their clothes at home with a sewing machine.

In the 1960s, this figure doubles, but in the 1980s, the preferred buying cheap clothing products in Asia, which explains in part the decline of hand-made.

II) The label

The label is in my opinion, with the material and seams, the most significant evidence to identify a vintage clothing. It is revealing in more ways than one: its content, size, colors, typography indicate fail the age of the garment, especially when some brands have disappeared from the circuit.

The originality of typefaces on labels is much more obvious in the past than today, with a few exceptions, of course. Formerly, it was an aspect of the garment which, although hidden from the eyes of all, was invested as an area of ​​creation reflects the general spirit of the brand (classicism, youth, daring, romance, etc.).

If a garment is labeled with a brand or a particular designer, you can refer to a valuable database provided by the Vintage Fashion Guild American: the Vintage Fashion Guild’s label resource guide .

If one is dealing with a clothing brand, it is interesting to know that the labels of a fashion house have continued to change throughout history, reflecting the style of the firm at a given time. One can, for example, monitor the labels of the company Betty Barclay at the option of the time and date a garment based on their shapes, colors, typography of their writing, their general appearance, etc.

US clothing made before 1980 (period corresponding to the boom in offshore production and globalized) sometimes wear the LGWU label , indicating that they are backed by a union of independent producers who help each other in the fashion market.

A garment bearing a label “One Size Fits All” certainly dates from the 1980s, the heyday of the oversize intended to fit all sizes. Fashion then saw large and universal thought.

Sometimes, alongside the label indicating the brand, appears to indicate the lot (with a number): it is a sign that the garment is prior to the 1980s, when production was not yet computerized. These figures and allow to identify groups of parts produced for different stores. The style number, meanwhile, refers to the style of the room, its exact model.

Although sometimes labels are marked with a city as “Paris”, “London” or “San Francisco.” This is a sure sign that this is a vintage piece from a time where we liked to know from where the clothes, unlike today where the Made in China is outside the chic the-art. Indeed, how to find panache to say that a piece H & M is made in Taiwan, when it was the height of elegance and good taste for New York to sport a look from the West Coast or from Paris?

If women enjoyed their clothes being attached to a specific geographic area, it is also because each piece was a carrier of values ​​and fantasies (cosmopolitan, glamorous, exotic). Mass production and internet sales have superseded the craze for geographical labels.

In the 80s, the labels bearing the terms “Made in USA”, “Made in Italy”, etc. are symptomatic of a reaction to the economic globalization process. Manufacturers and indicate the quality of products designed within a national economy that resists the facilities offered by the mass market. It is, in short, a guarantee of quality for consumers.

You may encounter labels mentioning the countries that have now “disappeared”: the case of Yugoslavia (dissolved in the early 1990s to recover in several countries, including the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) or the British colony Hong Kong (became independent in 1997). If you come across a room marked “The British Crown of Hong Kong” is that it is prior to 1997. Observed closely, the vintage may well deliver a genuine geopolitical lesson and history.

If you find pieces containing a label with the original price, it can provide lots of information on the period in question: the amount, writing by hand or machine, paper quality, etc. . In the years 1960-70, some labels contained holes to be decrypted by a kind of cash register, ancestor of today’s computers that digitize all information relating to a garment (this type of label disappears completely in the 80s).

Labels indicating the care for the garment appeared in the 1970s in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission requires all factories applying a law on the systematic use of the care label (1971 )..

III) The zippers

While metal-zips are invented in the late 19th century, they do not appear in the fashion industry before 1920-1930. Considered vulgar, they provide with only the man’s pants and children’s clothing.

Indeed, a woman wearing a garment zipper would have been considered too “easy” to undress, and by extension, too light. Therefore, in 1930, the retail defaming is cleverly hidden in the side seam of a dress.

Dress 1950 metal zipper on the side seam

The following decade finally accept zippers, usually placed along the side seam. In 1950, then fully utilized in women’s clothing, they tend to move to the back of the garment, on the center seam (but there are always exceptions, see below).

During the 1960s, the majority of clothes are the zipper at center back. It was around 1963 that plastic-zips are emerging, and by 1968, those nylon, replacing metal zips.

Since the 1970s, the rule-plastic zippers that we mark on all mass-produced clothing. To summarize: the zip is aside: 1930-1940; on the back in the middle: 1950-1960; from 1960- 1970: centered on the back.

1940 dress / gown 1950

For underwear and swimwear, in particular, to the early 20s, they are still buttoned. From the 30, the buttons will be replaced by staples, much seillantes for adjustment.

IV) The size of the garment

If a garment does not have a specified size is that it probably predates late 1950. If the size does not fit your size, then you definitely have a vintage clothing in your hands most of the time, vintage sizes are much larger than the current size. As a size 36, you can perfectly fit into a dress showing a 40 or a 42.

The size indication systems that have been changing over the years (in addition to vary considerably depending on the country), it is better to rely on exact measurements of the garment (shoulder width, turn pectoris, waist circumference, hip circumference, length, etc.) to see if it suits you.

V) buttons

The buttons “vintage” are Bakelite, Lucite (known as Plexiglas name) or plastic.

In the years 1930-1940, on use of buttons in Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic invented in 1909. It manages to recognize a bakelite button because it is almost always colorful. To be sure (e), we can wipe the button with a cotton swab cleaning coating and see if it leaves yellow stains on cotton. If this is the case is that it is bakelite.

Bakelite knob 1940 / Plastic button 1960

In the 1950s, the buttons are often made of Lucite, a type of transparent plastic and hard invented in 1931.

By the 1960s, the buttons take a look a little cheap, no longer having the same quality as the Bakelite or Lucite.

Also the evolution of pearl buttons. Initially, handmade then standardized by mechanical processes.


During the period of Art Nouveau, the materials used were bone, wood, mother of pearl, ebonite, porcelain, but also wax, black pressed glass and glossy, jet, painted glass, pearls, galalith, email or on up partitioned field, tin, rhinestones (rhinestones are not branded but stuck). The patterns used at the time: Paris monuments, transportation, female profiles, flowers, plants, Russian motifs, African and Japanese storied buttons, zodiac signs …

During the period of the Art Deco (1920-1935), the materials are: bone, wood, leather, enamel, crystal, silk, velvet, transparent glass, painted glass, plastic, galalith, bakelite, mirror mosaics and then a few gems. The forms are not only round but become square, rectangular, triangular tubes. The reasons are: geometric, egyptian, animal, floral. The colors, often bi-colored, are mixed.

World-Years War 60s, materials: bone, wood, porcelain, painted curved sheet metal, plastic imitation Pearl, horn, metal, corozo, plexiglass, resin, crystal, transparent glass and semi opaque, stones, seeds, sisal, raffia, wool, ceramic craft. The wood is painted, varnished, pyrographed.

Today, the clothes before moving to the washing machine, some materials are abandoned because it no longer separates the buttons to wash the garment. Become insignificant, they are thrown into the drum with the used clothing.

VI) Seams

Before the 1940s, the folds of the net seams, edges of the fabric drawing perfectly straight lines (called French seams).

During the 1950s, we see more and more clothes with jagged seams that prevent the fabric from fraying. The popularization of this kind of sewing is due to the wide dissemination of serrated scissors (invented in 1893) which furnishes then all sewing boxes.

In the 1960s, thanks to the increasing availability of machines serger, the seams twill gradually replacing the jagged seams: they can secure the fabric with large stitches sewn zigzag.

If a part has irregular seams, there is a good chance that the garment has been made before the 1950s, when the serger machines and serrated scissors were not yet available for the seamstress everyday.

VII) Sleeves

Before the 1970s, the sleeves are designed (often custom) to follow the line of the arm, staying close to the body. The space between the fabric and the arm is then equidistant along all points of the set. As for armholes, they are narrow, unlike the largesse of the 1980s.

By the 1970s, the styles change to make way for wide sleeves (puffed sleeves, puffed sleeves, etc.) typical of the hippie maxi dress in Edwardian manners.

During the 1980s, it is the batwing sleeves and puffed sleeves that are in the spotlight no question of wear sleeves with simple and straight shapes.

VIII) The lining

Prior to 1970, women’s clothing are rarely fitted with a liner because the combination is then lining office, protecting the body friction caused by stitching or material. A dress with lining probably dates from the 1970s and beyond, although it should be noted an important exception.
Very often in the 1970s, women were not wearing a suit because the clothes were made of cotton or polyester fabrics opaque enough not to reveal too silhouette.
Dresses with lining are becoming popular in the early 1980s, when the cuts come back closer to the body (as in the 1960s) and the garment emphasizes its shape, revealing the outside.
To differentiate an unlined jacket 60s and 70s, we must especially consider the matter if it is polyester, it is certainly a part of the 1970s.