How to date vintage clothing


How to date vintage clothing!

Establishing the year in which a particular vintage garment was made, can be a very tricky and daunting task, especially when there are no tags attached, as is the case with a lot of garments made in the 1930s-1950s which were often handmade or the tags did not survive the wear and tear of time. Some of my most valuable 1940s suits were clearly made to measure by a seamstress and judging by the fabrics used, as well as the incredible craft that went into making them, the clients were undoubtedly very well to do.

As much as the topic of the history of vintage clothes is a never-ending learning curve for me, there are certain ways by which I’m able to identify and date most but not all of my collected pieces. I’ve been asked many times by readers to write a post about that very topic and I hope my tips will be useful!

How to date vintage clothing

How to date vintage clothing! In the pictures, I’m wearing a dress from circa 1955.

How to date vintage clothing

  • Though the metal zipper was invented in the 1800s it was only first used in women’s clothes in the 1930s and placed either in the side seam or centre back of the dress, usually very short in length, concealed with a flap of fabric, as it was considered vulgar. You see, zippers made it too easy to take one’s garment off and clearly a real lady wouldn’t be in a hurry to undress. Or would she? 🙂


  • I really struggle to find 1930s evening gowns that would be the right size and have a zipper, without which putting on velvet or liquid satin gown is almost impossible, at least for me. Contrary to the popular belief that 1930s clothes did not have a front zipper, I’ve been able to find MANY examples of 1930s dresses and patterns with a zipper placed in front.


* Vintage patterns that can be found on Etsy and eBay are a great resource for learning about the different styles popular from the 1930s-1950s.


* Elsa Schiaparelli used plastic zippers in her 1935 collection and shocked everyone by placing them in very visible parts of her garments.

  • In the 1940s metal zippers were wildly accepted in women’s clothes and the place to find them would be in the side seam, sleeves as well as at the back, but again they would be rather short. All of my 1940s dresses have either a zipper or buttons placed in the side seam.


  • In the 1950s it was popular to place a long zipper at the centre back of the dress but always concealed.


  • Metal zippers were replaced with plastic ones after 1963

NOTE that some zippers might have been replaced at a later stage! I’ve seen a 1940s dress, where the original but sadly broken zipper was replaced with a new one.



  • Dresses made from the 1920s-1960s didn’t have a lining because of the undergarments, in particular, slips that women wore at the time. Meanwhile, most if not all jackets in the 1940s and 1950s have a lining but never the skirt. Having said that I recently bought a dress from 1955, which I was able to identify thanks to the Union Label and the lower part and it did have a lining. I do wonder though if it’s possible, that the lining was added at a later stage.



This is actually the most difficult part for me to identify a vintage garment by, as I don’t know how to hand-sew, I’ve never used a sewing machine and even attaching a simple button is like a mission impossible. So… For me looking at different types of seams is like trying to read hieroglyphs. The one thing I’ve learned really fast though is that if a garment has unfinished seams it was most likely made before the 1950s.


The three seams you should familiarise yourself with are French, pinked and Serged seam.

  • In a French seam, which I call the invisible seam, the raw edges of the fabric are completely enclosed and this type of seam was used from the 1900s through to the 1940s.


  • Pinked seams are found on 1950s garments that were cut with pinking shears and the easiest way to identify them is by the zigzag teeth cut of these shears.


  • Serged seams, which are an overlock stitch, replaced the pinked seams in the 1960s when the Serger sewing machine became widely available and affordable. 

*Please note that the overlock/serger machine was developed in the 19th Century by Merrow Machine Company and a line of  “A Class” machines produced in 1932.  Don’t be surprised if you find an overlock stitch in garments pre-dating the 1960s. I’ve seen it on breeches and a skirt from the 1930s.



  • In 1971 the Care Labeling Rule was issued by the Federal Trade Commission. The rule states that manufacturers have to tag their apparel with at least one cleaning method such as “dry clean only” or “machine wash cold”.


  • There are a lot of 1970s dresses inspired by the 1940s but if you see a  tag bearing the words “dry clean only”  you can be sure that it’s NOT from the 1940s!


Care instructions on clothing from the 1950s and 1940s were not that uncommon but the wording on the tag will be most likely  ” DRY CLEANING RECOMMENDED” or something similar  but  not “DRY CLEAN ONLY.” I once had a deadstock 1950s dress with a removable care-tag attached to the dress. I will post a picture of it as soon as I find it!

*If you happen to have a vintage garment predating the 1950s with “dry cleaning” as a recommended method of cleaning on a tag, please let me know! I would love to post more examples on my website.




  • If you see a brand’s name on the label, I strongly recommend that you check if it’s listed on the Vintage Fashion Guild’s website, as it’s a good source of information and they have pictures of vintage tags so you can compare with the one sewn in your garment.


  • Example of a St Michael Label courtesy of Emma from NYLON NOSTALGIA. You can read an in-depth article about how to date St Michael labels on her website!


1950s St Michael label courtesy of Nylon Nostalgia

Example of a vintage St Michael Lingerie Label courtesy of Nylon Nostalgia.


CC41-The Utility Clothing Scheme

  • CC41 (Civilian Clothing, Orders 1941) – the utility logo (Rationing of clothing started in 1941 and lasted until 1949). The utility clothing scheme started in 1942 and lasted till 1952. Garments with the CC41 logo on them were synonymous with good quality for a low price.



CC41 Utility Logo

CC41 Utility Logo

  • RN numbers (issued by the Federal Trade Commission to business in the U.S that manufacture, import or sell; textile, wool or fur products) can be very helpful in determining the age of your vintage garment.

RN numbers issued from 1952 through 1959 starting at 00101 and continue to 04086.

If the RN number is 13670 then your garment is younger than 1959!

PLEASE REMEMBER that RN number is NOT the number of the date when your garment was made but when the RN number was issued!

I use RN database to find more information.

  • The lot numbers were a way for manufacturers to keep track of their garment. These numbers stopped being used in 1979.


 ILGWU UNION TAGS (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union)

1900 – 1936 ILGWU AFL  (The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union was formed in 1900)

1936 – 1940 ILGWU CIO

1940 – 1955 ILGWU AFL

1955 – 1995 ILGWU AFL-CIO  (In the picture below!)


How to date vintage clothing! ILGWU AFL-CIO label found on one of my dresses. It’s not older than 1955 and not younger than 1964 as there is no R symbol!

You will see the words “UNION LABEL” right above the scalloped crest, a needle with thread and no R symbol, which appeared on this label in 1964.

1964 -1973 ILGWU AFL-CIO (The R symbol appeared and the word UNION MADE are now inside the circle)

May 1960 – Coat & Suit Industry Recovery Board Label and the ILGWU label were merged.

1975-1992  ILGWU AFL-CIO (Red colour is added)

1995 – 2004 UNITE!



The registered trademark symbol was introduced in the Trademark Act of 1946.



The Woolmark logo first appeared on tags of garments made of wool in 1964. Also, garments with a 100% Woolmark logo will be not older than from 1964. The Woolmark blend logo was introduced in 1971. 

Through the years the logo has changed but you can see and compare the different tags on the Vintage Fashion Guild’s website!

How to date vintage clothes

This particular tag is from my 1952 Handmacher suit. As you see, it says “100% WOOL SUPER-FINE WORSTED.”

How to date vintage clothes



None of my dresses from the 1930s and 1940s have a size tag, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as it wasn’t until 1958 when standardised sizes appeared on tags.



Invented in;

1911 – Rayon, invented in 1846, began to be manufactured in the United States in 1911. (very popular in the 1920s-1940s). Rayon, which was a cheaper alternative to silk, was called artificial silk until 1924. Other names used to describe rayon were; artificial silk, art silk, rayon silk, chemical silk, manufactured silk.

1924 – Acetate

1939 – Nylon (nylon was first commercially used in 1939 by E.I. du Pont) Qiana, a silky nylon fibre was developed in 1962 and introduced by the name of Qiana in 1968 by DuPont. That particular material was very popular in the 1970s in the production of faux-silk men’s shirts with bold patterns. A la Travolta “Saturday Night Fever” 😉

1950 – Acrylic (DuPont created the first acrylic fibres in 1941 and trademarked them under the name Orlon. It was developed in the 40s and wildly available in the 1950s. It’s a soft and warm wool-like fabric used for example as an alternative to expensive cashmere)

1953 – Polyester

1959 – Spandex

1961 – Polyolefin/polypropylene (in 1966, polyolefin wast the first and only Nobel Prize-winning fibre).

If you see rather unusual names of fabrics it usually means it’s vintage. For example;

Dacron Polyester appeared in garments from the late 1950s through to the 1970s. Polyester was very popular in the 1970s but first commercially used in 1953 and Celanese was an acetate fabric softer but stronger than satin or taffeta and most importantly much cheaper.



When you are lucky enough to have a tag with the brand’s name attached to the garment, look through Pinterest or Google for vintage ads with the brand in question and even if you don’t find the exact same model of a dress, suit or a coat that you have, it might help you to narrow down the date.

Being the tenacious person that I am, after two days of searching and going through countless  Handmacher ads, I found a picture of my Handmacher suit in Harper’s Bazaar from 1952!

1950s Handmacher suit

How to date vintage clothing!

How to date vintage clothing! In the picture on the left, I’m wearing the exact same model of Handmacher suit which I later found in Harper’s Bazaar from 1952.


I hope this post was useful to you! If you have any additional tips on how to date vintage garment, please leave them in the comment section below!





This post was featured on Links à la Mode fashion roundup by Independent Fashion Bloggers.




12 Responses
  • Avatar
    February 1, 2021

    Jacket with woolmark label numbered 506393
    No other label
    Can the designer be identified from this?

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      Dominique de Merteuil
      February 2, 2021

      Hi Penny,
      Get in touch with someone at Woolmark. They might be able to help. Every brand needs to pay a licence fee in order to use the Woolmark logo. It should be in their database.

  • Avatar
    Vermilion Novak
    October 30, 2020

    Loved this article! I’m always drawn to vintage looking dresses when i’m out and i want to make a custom one for myself so i’ve been trying to identify the era’s that are my favorite. I had never looked at the tags until today for some reason and discovered two of my dresses are from the ILGWU. The dress that i am struggling with the most is a wedding dress that doesn’t have any tags on it, so i’m inclined to believe it was tailored for someone. It does have a long metal zipper down the back that is covered by a flap filled with fake buttons. There are pads underneath the sleeves that are surged but other than that all the seems are pinked. Would love to hear your thoughts!

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      Dominique de Merteuil
      November 1, 2020

      Thank you for the lovely comment!
      I’m thrilled that the article turned out to be useful to so many people. I will be adding more tips in due course.

      Without seeing the dress in question or at least pictures, I can’t help you, I’m afraid. I’m not surprised that the wedding dress doesn’t have any tags, a lot of wedding dresses were and still are custom made. Any idea what fabric is the dress made of? A long zipper at the back would suggest a dress that’s not earlier than from the 1950s. Zipper and its placement can be a good indication of the era when the garment was made, but it’s not always that simple. I have seen examples of the 1930s dresses with zippers at the back, although they weren’t very long! You can find authentic zippers from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s at a vintage fair, Etsy or eBay. It’s possible for a dress to be from one era and the zipper from another.

      Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people out there who make vintage reproductions, use true vintage buttons or zippers and sell the garment as vintage.

      Let’s not forget about the possibility of alterations that could have been done much later. You have to look at each clue individually and start putting them together, like a Vintage-fashion detective. 🙂 Take a close look at the zipper. What brand is it? Compare it to vintage zippers on Google! There a few vintage-zipper experts!

      I suggest that you take as many detailed pictures of the dress and post them on the Vintage Fashion Guild Forum.


  • Avatar
    Gayla Esch
    January 2, 2020

    I am so glad to have stumbled onto your blog post on how to ID and Date vintage clothing. This was so interesting, and was a reminder of the clothing my grandmother and mother wore in the mid 1950s. I have made my own clothing, and that my daughters clothing, and so I was quite surprised that plastic zippers were used as early as the 1930’s. Wow! Great article!

    TheJewelSeeker on 21VintageStreet

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      Dominique de Merteuil
      January 2, 2020

      Hi Gayla,

      Your comment made my day! I’m thrilled to hear that people find my articles helpful. I envy anyone who is capable of making their own clothes. Sewing is definitely not my forte. I can’t as much as attach a button. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Ann Elkington
    October 29, 2019

    In your descriptions of seams, above: A French seam is, in a way, self enclosing, and is always in the inside of a garment, while another kind of self enclosing seam, the flat-felled seam, is often found on the outside of the garment. For example: the outside leg seams of some types of jeans. This is what I was taught, but if there are others out there who have more info, I am perfectly happy to be corrected.

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      Dominique de Merteuil
      October 30, 2019

      Thank you for your comment!!!

      As I explained in my article, identifying different types of seams is rather difficult for me. Most of my clothes are from the 1940s and have an unfinished seam.

      “In a French seam, the raw edges of the fabric are fully enclosed for a neat finish. The seam is first sewn with wrong sides together, then the seam allowances are trimmed and pressed. A second seam is sewn with right sides together, enclosing the raw edges of the original seam” The Fashion Dictionary: Fabric, Sewing and Dress As Expressed in the Language of Fashion Mary Brooks Picken (1957)

      I don’t own a pair of jeans so can’t really comment on the flat-felled seam. From what I’ve read it’s a very strong and durable seam so it makes sense to use it on jeans.

      It’s my understanding that flat-felled seam shows stitching on the right side while a French seam does not.

      It’s all a learning curve but if I can’t see the stitching on a garment, usually lingerie, from the 1930s I know that it’s a French seam. 🙂


  • Avatar
    August 31, 2018

    Love the article! Had no idea about RN!

  • Avatar
    August 25, 2018

    Very informative article! I’m learning so much about vintage fashion thanks to your blog!


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