So you’ve found your soulmate in suede, your dreamboat in denim… But before your relationship goes any further, you want to know the age gap. Perfectly understandable. Ladies and Gentlemen, a lesson in vintage history… no falling asleep at the back!
When dating vintage, the style of the sleeve can often be a telltale sign based on principles of what was fashionable in each decade. They can also reveal ‘recycled vintage’ – 80s-does-50s dresses often have puff shoulders and wide armholes, whereas original 50s designs generally have quite snug-fitting sleeve cuffs. Popular sleeve styles in the 1940’s were puff shoulders and cap sleeves, where sleevless styles are very typical of the 60s. Look also at the length of the skirt – the timeline below briefly illustrates skirt styles and lengths from the 1930s to early 60s.
Zippers & Closures
Metal zippers were first used in garments in the 1930s, but during that era they were rare. Zippers first became available in plastic in 1963, and by 1968 nylon coil zippers were used in practically every mass produced garment. If for example you’re looking at a circle skirt, a metal zip will be a good sign that it’s an original 1950s skirt, while a plastic zip can be an indicator of a later item. Invisible zips were invented in the 1950s but only really became ubiquitous much later, around the late 80s / early 90s. The placement of the zip can also help – 1930s-1940s dressers usually had a zip in the side seam, whereas dresses from the 50s onwards favoured a placement at the centre back.
The label can be full of clues as to an item’s age, making it your go-to when dating vintage. American and Canadian-made clothing often has a union label, which can help determine a date range. Clothing with the distinctive CC41 Utility label was produced during the period of fabric rationing, which ran from 1941 to 1951. The style of the label itself can be an indicator: early-mid 20th century labels were usually woven, until around the 1960s printed satin labels started to become more common. The writing on the label is another clue: earlier labels often feature script fonts, while in the 60s and 70s modern, hippie-influenced fonts were frequently used.
If there is a size label this can also help: vintage sizing was smaller than modern, so if it’s marked a size 14 but is clearly tiny, chances are it’s got some age to it. In British sizing, a size 14 in the 1940s was a 32” bust. By the late 1960s it was a 36” bust and remained so into the early 80s; it’s now a 38” bust.
In 1971 the Federal Trade Commission released the “Care Labelling Rule” which required all manufacturers (including importers) of apparel to include garment care instructions on an interior tag. The care label tag is required to include one method of care to keep the garment in quality condition, such as “machine wash cold” or “dry clean only.” If the garment was made by a brand but is missing care instructions, you can confidently conclude the piece was produced before 1971.
In the end…
Having run these quick tests, you can now make an informed decision whether to go ahead and part with your cash. So that 1950s dress turns out to be 80s-does-50s? If you like it, don’t let that stop you from buying it – you’ll still look great!. At the affordable vintage fair, we make this easy for you with bargains galore – who knows what rare and elderly items you might discover?