There are vintage sellers, and then there are vintage sellers. There are extremely knowledgeable sellers and lots of rank amateurs out there. Dating vintage garments is a tricky task. Anybody can make a mistake. Some make more than others. Some tell downright lies.
I have seen items in some of the most popular and biggest selling vintage stores inaccurately described. Crocheted, knitted and tatted are confused. This annoys me, but it's a minor quibble. I have also seen a supposed "1930s dress" in a top ranking store with a zip down the back. No, not never.
How can you tell if the dress is what the seller says it is? Here are some tips to help.
Dating Vintage Clothing
As I said, this is a tricky task and books have been written about it. A reliable seller will give you their best opinion, but they are not infallible.
Here is an express guide to buying vintage clothing.
If you want more information, please, read on.
How do I decide whether a garment is vintage or repro, and how old? Here are some guidelines:
The style of a garment is the first thing I look at when deciding if it may be vintage. However, more often than not, items turn out to be a reproduction, so the style is a starting place only, and not a very reliable indicator.
Bear in mind -
1930s, 1950s and Edwardian styles were popular in the 1970s.
1970s chiffon dress with flared sleeves and cape You can see how this '70s maxi is reminiscent of the 1930s with it's flared sleeves and separate capelet.
1940s style was popular in the 1980s.
This shirtwaist style reminiscent of the 1940s, and usually sporting shoulder pads, was popular in the 1980s.
As I stated in my earlier post - What's In a Name - Vintage Clothing Labels, a huge amount of information can be gleaned from a garment's label. It helps to be familiar with some vintage brands. If the design of a label looks retro - Google it. If it's got a website, it's repro, not vintage. If you can find nothing, it's a good sign. Little is known about many vintage labels. Good signs also include six digit telephone numbers and defunct addresses.
Although this is not the famous London Biba label, it did tell me this dress was genuine vintage. Australia has not had six digit phone numbers since the 1960s.
Vintage garments generally have completely different sizing. In Australia, Alpha sizing was in use until 1966-1967. Your vintage garment will say XSSW - Extra Small Slim Woman, SSW - Small Slim Woman, SW - Small Woman, W - Woman, XW - Extra Woman (got to love that one) or OS - Out Sized. So, if your 1950s dress says Size 12 - it's repro.
1960s Mod Style Lurex Dress sized SW for a small woman.
In Australia, numerical sizing was in use from about 1967 onwards. However, just to keep us on our toes, in the early 1980s vanity sizing came in. So a size 12 in 1979 was bust 86 cm. From the early 1980s, size 12 was bust 91 cm. This is useful for the tags that give all the measurements.
The sizing on the label tells us that this Floral Shirt is 1970s, when a 34" bust meant size 12.
Labelling Small, Medium, Large etc was commonly is use from the 1980s onwards.
Where Was It Made?
- Sadly, the words "Made in Australia" on a garment is usually a sign that it could be vintage, up to the end of the 1980s - 1990s.
- Made in China usually indicates a modern garment, unless you have reason to believe it could genuinely be 1930s or older. China was making luxury items for the export market from the 19th century until the end of the 1930s. From the 1940s to the 1970s trade with China was disrupted by either war and revolution, or by trade embargoes.
- Made in Hong Kong - 1950s or 1960s.
- Made in Japan - 1960s-1970s.
- Made in West Germany - 1945-1989, then the wall came down.
- Made in Indonesia or Bangladesh - Modern.
Blue 1960s Scarf was made in Japan
Realistically, the majority of vintage items pre mid 1960s won't even have labels. It's either been home made, or has been custom made for the owner. This is when you need to look at fabric and construction as well as the style.
Vintage garments did not commonly have fabric labels until the late 1950s-early 1960s. Vintage fans would be well advised to familiarise themselves with fabrics.
- Polyester appears on labels in the 1960s. In the 1950s and early 1960s polyester was also called acrylic, Terylene, Crimplene etc.
- Rayon was the most common man made fibre before the 1950s.
- Nylon garments appear after World War 2 and were very common in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Silk was not available during World War 2 - it was requisitioned for the making of parachutes!
1960s Maxi Dress With Front Lacing in Marchioness rayon crepe
Construction of Vintage Garments
Here are a few tips of what to look for in the way a garment has been constructed.
Closures on Vintage Clothing
- 1920s dresses are usually just pull on, with no closures.
- 1930s dresses close at the side, with press studs (snaps) or hooks and eyes. Metal zips in the side begin to appear but are less common.
- 1940s dresses usually close at the side with a metal zipper. Sometimes you will find a short zipper at the back of the neck.
- 1950s dresses are side closing, (metal zips) until about 1957, when zips in the back start to appear.
- Plastic or nylon zips appear during the 1960s. However, be aware that zips may have been replaced, and a 1940s dress may sport a 1970s nylon zip. Look for signs of unpicking and resewing.
- Invisible zips appear in the late 1950s but are not common until the 1970s.
- Velcro was patented in 1958 but not commonly used in clothing before the 1970s.
Other Construction Clues
- Diamond shaped underarm gussets were common in the 1950s.
- Hem and seam allowances were much more generous in true vintage garments to allow for letting down or out.
- Hemming tape (not adhesive) was often used until the 1960s.
- Adhesive interfacing was not used until the 1970s.
- Cotton thread rather than polyester was used until the 1960s.
- Sleeve headers were used to puff the tops of sleeves in the 1930s.
- Shoulder pads were used in the 1940s and 1980s. 1940s shoulder pads could be stuffed with anything from cotton wool to unravelled rope. They will not be polyester. 1980s shoulder pads tend to be larger.
Underarm gusset in a 1950s Knit Jacket
Buy your vintage from someone who knows what they're talking about. Look for this sign on a website - The Vintage Fashion Guild has stringent requirements for membership. We are all still learning of course, but the VFG set high standards for sellers to meet.