How to: Spot Vintage Clothing

Have you ever been out shopping and wondered if an item you were looking at was vintage or is there something in your closet that has you curious? Well, here are a few useful tips and tricks to help you out next time or to help you with that mystery item hanging up!

Sizing

Over the past few decades ladies’ fashion has been flooded what is called “vanity sizing”. This is the process to make women feel slimmer and that has created the double zero and the negative sizes that now exist. However, when shopping for vintage, don’t be shocked when a size 10 or 14 fits you! How is that possible…take these two case studies:

Same waist, different sizes!

Please notice, that both of these dresses have a 28 inch (14 x 2) waist as you can see with the tape measure. The dress on the left is a new dress, with a size 4 tag, however the vintage dress on the right is a size 10.

Zippers

Today, most zippers, except for the pull tab, are made of plastic and the teeth are very small. Additionally, the pulls are often eye-shaped or extremely thin. This is not the case with vintage.

Zippers are key!

On the new dress up top, the zipper is made of plastic (often the plastic is the same color as the dress) and the teeth are small. On the vintage dress, it is a full metal zipper, with a flat, larger pull and larger teeth. Additionally, the zipper has been painted to match the color of the dress. You will notice paint chips on vintage clothing from the piece being worn.

Fabric

Fabric is also very important. Most 1940s and 50s items are made or rayon, cotton, wool or linen. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that polyester became common.  Additionally, if a dress has a lot of spring in the fabric it is in all likelihood that it is new. Spandex was not invented until 1959 and was not commonly used until the 1970s when the disco and hot pants craze hit. Additionally, elastic was not often used in waists. You’ll find a handful of 1960s and 70s dresses with elastic, but usually elastic waists means it is from the 80s or later.

Labels & Where It Was Made

Most vintage labels are stitched, and not screen printed. Additionally, size labels are often paper. Although, you will notice that expensive brands today still use stitched labels. Most of America’s clothing in the mid-20th century was made right here, in America. So a “Made in the U.S.A.” label is wonderful to have.  Additionally, a “Made in China/Philippines/Mexico/etc.” label is usually a dead giveaway that the item is new. While there are some vintage items made in China, however these items did not read “China” but instead “Hong Kong” or “The British Republic of Hong Kong”. Even better to help in dating an item is an International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union label. If you have a piece with such a label, check out this useful guide by an eBay’er.

I hope this was of use!

6 thoughts on “How to: Spot Vintage Clothing

  1. I think it was a very useful post! Over the years I have developed more of an eye, but I think that it is important to reiterate that in order to determine the age of something, it’s the materials and techniques, and not the style.

  2. This is a great post! I was shopping at a thrift store here recently, and was disappointed to find that there wasn’t much in the way of vintage…

  3. what a great post. Those are amazing tips to spot some really great vintage pieces. Have checked my wardrobe and lucky me, I have made some finds without knowing these points. Will walk around in my favorite thrift stores now with more open eyes!!

  4. Great post! Just an addition, Made in Mexico can also be authentic since circle skirts where originally adapted from Mexico. Some america women while vacationing in Mexico would buy clothing there, the trend grew so much designers would import or have clothing made there-cheaper labor-. Hope this helps! Happy thrifting!

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