Hello! It’s Laurie from Retro Reporter back with another post about vintage clothing.
Today’s post is all about dating clothing, so you can get a better idea of how old it is, and will mostly deal with women’s clothing from the 1930s to 1960s. Charlotte at Tuppence Ha’Penny has done a fabulous article about dating vintage clothing here. I won’t recreate it, so I recommend you check it out for yourself!
Firstly, a glossary of sorts, so you know what I’m talking about when I refer to something.
Vintage – Lots of people have a different idea of when vintage starts! For the purpose of this article, I am going to call anything from the 60s or older vintage.
Retro – Anything that is from the 1970s or newer.
Vintage-inspired or vintage-appropriate – anything that has a vintage flair to it, but would be considered modern (late 90s – now)
Reproduction – anything that takes direct inspiration from a certain era.
70s-does-30s, 80s-does-50s – fashion is cyclical. This is a term to describe something from the 70s that has a definite 30s vibe to it.
Before I get any further, I want to mention that just because something it’s vintage doesn’t mean it’s not great! I honestly only have a handful of vintage clothing from the 1940s. The rest is made up of stuff from the 70s and 80s, modern vintage-inspired clothing and reproduction pieces. If you love something, love it, regardless of its age.
1930s: dresses/skirts were longer, somewhere between the ankle and knee, depending on your height.
1940s: Due to rationing and changing styles, these dresses and skirts were just longer than knee-length and A-lined. Blouses and dresses had small (non-football player) shoulder pads. Clothing was very structured. 1970s & 80s copies will likely have elastic waists.
1950s: War is over and hemlines dropped. Look for full, long circle skirts (full short skirts are likely to be square-dancing skirts), high-waisted tight pants with a side zipper.
1960s: Dresses had pencil skirts, and were back to the knee area or higher.
|A modern dress found at Goodwill Beverly|
that could be styled to look 1940s.
|An example of a 1940s dress with a “lady tie”, found here|
|1940s shoulder pads|
|Modern shoulder pads|
Seams and Hems
French seams: raw edges are encased in fabric. This is the neatest of seams, and doesn’t allow for fraying.
Pinked seams: from the 1950s on, which is when pinking shears were invented. However, I have a 1940s dress with pinked seams, but these may have been snipped by hand or with a pinked rotary cutter – it’s hard to tell.
Raw seams: possible vintage hand-made garment, or made of something that won’t fray.
Overlocked seams: many people go by the hard-and-fast rule that anything with overlocking is from the 1960s or newer, but I actually have a 1940s suit with overlocked seams, so it’s really hard to tell. It’s best to go with the majority rule: overlocked is 1960s or newer, otherwise it’s vintage (or handmade).
Another way to date by seams is how generous they seams were, as garments were meant to last longer and be tailored to fit the body. The more narrow the seams are, the more modern the garment.
|Modern overlocked seams|
|Overlocked seams in 1940s suit jacket|
Narrow Hem: A narrow, visible hem. Mostly found in garments from the 1970s to today.
Blind Hem (with hem tape): A wider hem (to allow for future alterations) that is mostly invisible.
|Blind hem on the wrong side|
|What a blind hem looks like on the right side. Can you see it?|
Look for union labels in the garment, and match against this resource from the Vintage Fashion Guild.
CC41 Labels denote clothing that conformed to ration standards during WWII.
In the 1970s, care labels are introduced and used.
Be sure to check out the company’s label too, and judge the style of the label (script or deco font is likely older than modern fonts) to date the garment.
If you are curious about a label in particular, check the Label Resource at the Vintage Fashion Guild, which may help.
It can also help to search Etsy or eBay for the brand, as some sellers will upload a photo of the label.
Also, look to see where it was made, if it says (origin labels became mandatory in the 1980s). If it’s made in China, it’s probably not true vintage (unless it’s a traditional Chinese piece, of course!).
Rayon: popular during the 1920s until now, rayon was very commonly found during the 1940s. There are two types of rayon – filament, which looks like silk, and spun, which resembles cotton or linen. This 1940s dress is spun rayon.
Polyester: invented in the 1950s under names like Dacron until the 60s. It became labelled as polyester in the 70s.
Acrylic: synthetic wool-like/knitted fibre, brought into popularity in the 1950s.
Don’t forget about other classic fabrics, like wool and cotton!
Metal hardware on slips, lingerie etc denote an older item.
1930s: Zippers aren’t as common, but if present they are in the side-seam.
1940s: There were limitations on the number buttons that can be used due to rationing. Zippers (still metal) are more common, and found in the side seam.
1950s: Zippers are migrating to the center back of dresses, and mostly metal.
1960s – 1970s: Plastic zippers are becoming more common.
Invisible zippers were invented in the 1950s, but didn’t come into use until later. If you think something is vintage but the zipper is plastic or invisible, it might be a very good copy OR a replacement zipper.
|Metal zipper in the back of a 1970s garment from Beverley Goodwill.|
When in doubt, date based on the most modern construction feature. For example, if something has a blind hem, pinked seams but a plastic zipper, it’s likely on the modern or homemade side of things.