I've rounded up the most important tips I've found as a vintage shop owner about how to date your vintage finds. When I was setting up my business, I really wanted to finding the best and most reliable resources so I could offer the best possible product to my customers. My day job is business research, so it was easy to find a lot of great sources. I read a ton of books and talked to lots of people. Since then, I've practiced on hundreds and hundreds of items.
So I hope you'll use these ideas with confidence. I've also included other sources to contact at the bottom of the page. First, what is the silhouette of the garment? In other words, what's its general shape? A dress with a tiny waist and huge, below-knee skirt screams s, while a slim-fit dress with huge shoulder pads is probably from the s. See the "Retro Fashion History" and "Vintage Fashion and Art" links below to learn more about silhouettes and see lots of great photos by decade.
If your garment has "serged" seams, it probably dates to after the mids. Serged seams were uncommon before the mids, when manufacturers began using sergers routinely to finish seams. Older garments also sometimes had very large seams to allow for alterations. They might also be finished by "pinking," or cutting with zig-zag scissors. If your item's seams aren't serged, look for a manufacturer's tag to see if it's commercially made. Start with the obvious: If your garment has a retro-looking label without any fiber content, it might be older than Lots of garments from the s will have a fiber tag without a percentage--for instance, simply "Cotton.
These are still being used. Union labels are a good clue but they don't always mean vintage. Union labels have been appearing in US-made clothing for over a hundred years--so it's true that a lot of vintage clothing has them. But, in fact the labels show up in clothes made after The key is knowing what the labels mean. These variations of ILGWU labels were used through close to the current vintage cutoff year of For more details on when each kind of union label was used, see the Vintage Fashion Guild's guide to union labels, here.
Here, dedicated vintage fashion lovers have collected and compiled histories of the labels of hundreds of vintage clothing manufacturers, often giving you dates when a certain maker's label was used. Metal zippers often indicate an item made before , when plastic zippers for dressmaking became more common.
Metal zippers are still routinely used for heavy-duty uses like jeans and jackets. But a metal zipper in a dress is often a good clue for vintage status. Keep in mind that an old dress could have a plastic zipper if the original one was replaced. And a newer item with a metal zipper could have been homemade. Look for care labels. If your garment has a sewn-in label stating how to care for it, it was probably manufactured after The US government started requiring full care labels that year, and many clothes made before then did not have them.
Keep in mind, though, that a lack of care label doesn't necessarily mean the piece is older than Sometimes people cut them out. And not all clothes were made in the US, obviously.
If you're still not sure, you might check out the Vintage Fashion Guild forums. I highly recommend this if you want a short, one-stop reference for vintage shopping.
Check out the other resources below for more education. Archivia Vintage Fashion and Textiles Blog. Perpetually updated bibliography of resources on almost anything you can imagine dealing with vintage styles, textiles, and clothing care. Retro Fashion History, An index of photos of popular styles, searchable by year. Great for educating yourself to what popular silhouettes were in any year. Vintage Fashion and Art.
Look at the "Exhibits" page on this fabulous website for a decade-by-decade look at vintage dress silhouettes. This is an outstanding study resource, featuring tons of beautiful photos of vintage dresses from museums around the world.