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A Beginner’s Guide: How to Identify Vintage Clothing

Do you ever find yourself browsing through thrift stores or online marketplaces in search of that perfect vintage piece, but not quite sure how to tell if it's truly vintage or just a modern replica? Identifying vintage clothing can be a bit of a challenge, but fear not! Below are some key tips and tricks to help you confidently identify vintage clothing.

What makes a piece of clothing "vintage"?

Typically, clothing is considered vintage if it's at least 20 years old, but some collectors and experts may have stricter criteria. So, if you're holding a piece of clothing that was made in the 90s or earlier, there's a good chance it's vintage. By most collectors, an item is considered “true vintage” if it's 50 years or older. 

Check the tag!

One of the easiest ways to identify vintage clothing is by examining the garment's tags and labels. Many clothing manufacturers include a label with the garment's brand, size, and washing instructions. These labels can also be a good indicator of a garment's age.
For example, if you come across a label that says "Made in the USA," there's a good chance the garment is from the 70s or earlier, as many manufacturers have since moved their production overseas.
Additionally, older garments may have labels that include outdated brand names or logos. Vintage Fashion Guild has an extensive archive of clothing labels that you can use to research and date clothing.

Lot Tag
Lot tags/ numbers were used by manufacturers to identify a batch of garments that were made from the same fabric or design. Lot tags were used up until 1979. 
Union Tags 
Union tags used by manufacturers to showcase their workers were unionized under the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). This union protected workers rights, pay, safety, etc. There are variations of this tag which can help identify what era the garment was produced: Source 
  • 1900-1936: ILGWU AFL
  • 1936-1940: ILGWU CIO
  • 1940-1955: ILGWU AFL
  • 1955-1995: ILGWU ALF-CIO
  • 1975-1992: Red, White, Blue ILGWU  ALF-CIO
  • 1995-2004: Unite!
  • 2004: Unite Here

      Paper Tags

      Paper tags are often found in vintage clothing and have the materials, wash instructions, size, and other information.

      Woolmark Logo
      The Woolmark logo was introduced in 1964 to showcase the garment’s natural fibers versus the growing use of synthetic fibers. Unfortunately the use of natural fibers became less & less common in the manufacturing industry, but here is a timeline to date your wool garment: Source  
      • Pre-1939: Wool garment without label 
      • After 1964: First Woolmark logo indicates 100% wool 
      • Pre-1971: Woolmark Blend logo indicates 60% wool
      • Pre-1999: Wool Blend logo indicates 50% wool 

        What’s it made of?

      Another way to determine a garment's age is by examining its construction and materials. Vintage clothing was often made with high-quality materials like silk, wool, and cotton, and was constructed with great attention to detail. Look for features like French seams, hand-stitched hems, and unique buttons or closures. These details can help you differentiate between a vintage piece and a modern replica.
      Talon Zippers

      Iconic vintage zippers that was introduced to the world in the 1920s – the original and authentic blue jean zipper. One of the most successful and widely recognized zippers. Source

      Style & Design

      It's also important to pay attention to the style and design of the garment. Fashion trends are constantly evolving, so identifying the era in which a garment was made can help you determine whether it's vintage or not. For example, if you come across a dress with a full skirt and nipped-in waist, it's likely from the 50s or early 60s, when this style was popularized by designers like Christian Dior. Conversely, if you find a dress with a mini-skirt and bold prints, it's likely from the 60s or 70s, during the height of the mod and hippie fashion movements.

      What's the condition? 

      When examining vintage clothing, it's also important to consider its condition. Vintage garments may have signs of wear and tear, but this can actually be a good thing! It's a sign that the piece has been loved and worn, and can add to its unique charm and character. However, be on the lookout for stains, holes, and other damage that may make the garment unwearable or difficult to repair.

      Learn more about the brand! 

      In addition to examining the garment itself, it can also be helpful to do some research on the brand or designer. Certain designers and brands are known for their iconic styles and silhouettes, making it easier to identify their vintage pieces. For example, if you come across a dress with a bold, geometric print and the label "Pucci," it's likely from the 60s, when designer Emilio Pucci was known for his colorful and graphic prints. Similarly, if you find a suit with a slim-fitting silhouette and the label "Yves Saint Laurent," it's likely from the 70s, when the designer popularized the androgynous "Le Smoking" look for women.

      Ask for help!

      Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for help! Vintage shops and online marketplaces often have knowledgeable staff or sellers who can help you identify a piece's age, designer, and other important details. And if you're really stumped, there are plenty of online forums and communities dedicated to vintage clothing, where you can ask for advice and get help from
        Have other tips for how to identify vintage clothing? Leave it in the comments!
      Resources: In my research on vintage fashion for this blog, I came across a helpful guide by Sammy Davis Vintage, in which I used to find more in depth and detailed info. If you're interested, you can check it out here.


      • I was hoping someone could help me date a dress. I originally thought 60s but it has French seams and the Talon metal zipper is one commonly used in the 30s.

        Kimber Smith
      • I NEED TO GO TO THIS STORE. Am going to be a freshman in August. I love vintage clothes just that style and old money style is just so amazing. I want to try to go to your store when back to school shopping comes

      • Such a great article helping people who are just starting out learning about vintage! Thanks nichole!

        Meredith Yalden

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