Sometimes I buy vintage clothing just because of the label on the garment. Obviously, one would do this if the label indicated it was a designer garment, but that's not usually the case. Along with the fabric, the label is the number one indicator that a garment is true vintage, and it's very annoying when the labels have been removed! But sometimes the label is just too cute to pass up, regardless of anything else.
Generally speaking, antique clothing, that is garments at least 100 years old, does not have labels. In the early years of the 20th century commercial "off the rack" clothing was just starting to become available. Most clothing was still either made at home by the various women folk or custom made by a dressmaker. Some dressmakers did apply their labels, and designers certainly did. These items are extremely rare and valuable. If you find a label that looks like either of these on an antique gown, please let me know!
However, I am delighted to say that I currently have two antique garments with charming labels.
Firstly, this antique men's waistcoat from the 1910s -
Made in Toledo -
This next is one of my all time favorite labels:
Women at Oxford, yes! Women had been permitted to study at Oxford since the late 19th century but they were only allowed to graduate and claim their degrees from 1920. So that tells me early 1920s for this night smock or under shirt. Not quite an antique technically speaking, but only a few years short of the required 100 years.
1930s-1950s Garment labels
In the 1930s most garments continued to be home made or custom made, but an increasing number were available "off the rack" or "ready to wear". Branded clothing rather than customised clothing was becoming increasingly available. The great Australian bra company Berlei was started in Sydney in 1910. Here is a very early bra from around 1930, with its wonderful Art Deco label:
By the forties labels are becoming more common.
Here's one from a work jacket I once had - most likely worn by a woman at work in a factory during World War 2.
This beautiful beaded dinner dress is from Bonwit Teller's department store in New York.
By the fifties, "off the rack" was the norm rather than the exception, so we find a great many more labels on garments.
House of Youth
An enormous amount of information can be gleaned from labels when you know how to interpret them. Those of you fortunate enough to have seen "Ladies in Black" on stage a couple of years ago (see my review on Blogger) may recall that the main character Lisa befriends the sophisticated European Magda, who works in the "Model Gowns" section of a Sydney department store - the most prestigious department.
Model gowns were those that were copies of designer gowns, usually under licence. Sydney company House of Youth had the licence to make copies of Dior gowns for the Australian market and is what we would call in Australia "The bee's knees", meaning the very best. This lace skirt and top is not a Dior design, but the "Model" on the label indicates that it is a copy of a designer outfit
1960s Fashion Revolution
By the 1960s it was the norm to buy ones clothes in a store, although most women still sewed at home, and often had a special occasion gown custom made if they were comfortably well off. Fabric tags begin to appear on garments.
The Phillipa labels are just so darned classy. Here is the dress:
Cute and Classy Dress Labels
Yes, as I said, I buy some garments just because the labels are so darned cute (or classy). Here is a selection:
Vintage Labels For Info
Some garments almost have an essay in their labels, particularly men's suits.
Not only do we know this suit is made to measure and hand crafted at Ashman's tailors in Hargreaves St, Bendigo, but also that it's the snappily cut New Yorker style, and that it belonged to Mr L.Worthington, ( I like to think of him as Len) ,who had it made in October 1964. If only all vintage garments came with so much information!
Tailored women's garments such as suits and coats often come with the brand name as well as the name of the department store where it was available.
Many vintage garments from the 1960s onwards come with fabric labels - not just a label saying that it's cotton, or rayon, like we expect these days, but a whole big woven label giving the name of the fabric, the supplier and often the country where the fabric was made.
In this case, the fabric label is predominant, and the dressmaker has added her modest "Made especially for you by Maria" label.
Iconic Australian labels
These are the labels that any semi fashion conscious Australian can recognise - Prue Acton, Norma Tullo, Jenny Bannister, Jenny Kee. And the super cool brands like Merivale and Studibaker Hawk.
Garments by the hugely popular 1960s-1970s Merivale label are highly collectible. Many women of a certain age remember how wonderful it was to just walk into The House Of Merivale and browse - Sydney or Melbourne. It was the height of cool.
Merivale 1950s Style Strapless Lace Dress available at Louisa Amelia Jane
Vintage Designer Labels
And not for the design this time, but just for the name on the label, it's always exciting to find these.
In fashion, it seems, a brand label is everything. Just try selling a garment with a Target label. This snobbery is lost though in the world of vintage, where people forget what the top brands and economy brands are, which can be a good thing. Even vintage economy brands are frequently made of better quality materials and have superior workmanship to what is available today.
And ladies, don't cut off those tags!