Vintage 101: Looking for clues in fashion labels.

One of the best clues you will find when examining vintage clothing are the labels – they will reveal who made it, the quality of the production, perhaps the location and provide vital clues for dating.

1 – The fact of it having a label at all will tell you that it’s commercially made rather than made by a dressmaker (although more recently, some dressmakers use labels).

2 – A printed label will likely date it as being no older than the 1950s, and of cheap manufacture, whilst a good quality label of woven fabric will show that it is better quality. Most printed labels are from the ’70s or more recently.

3 – Where to find labels – in jackets and coats up to the ’60s, usually on the inside front panels. More recent jackets will often have the label at the collar. Couture frocks up to the ’60s may have them inside the waist, on the side seam or on the petticoat, cheaper frocks will have them at the collar, as will more modern frocks. Blouses will have them at the collar too, and skirts will have them at the waistband. If you can’t find the labels, look down the side seams: since the ’70s, many garments will have them there.

4 – Name labels (designer, manufacturer, fabric supplier and/or retailer) are uncommon in Australia prior to the end of WW2, but are more common in American or English garments. If there is no label, I recommend that you look for evidence on one being cut out. The more of these labels, the better quality the garment is likely to be eg, a ’50s coat might have three or four from the fabric manufacturer, the garment manufacturer and the retailer.

5 – Up until the ’60s, most garments were sold with swing tags that provided care instructions: these labels were introduced in the ’60s but were not a requirement until the ’70s. A Dry clean only label dates it as probably being no earlier than the ’60s, but probably post ’60s and they were only used in fine quality garments pre ’70s.

6 – Sizing systems changed: prior to about 1967, Australian labels used an alpha system eg “SW” for “Small Woman” which was about a modern size 10. An American-style numeric system came afterwards – and for a short time you find labels with both systems so you can confidently date these to the late ’60s.

During the ’80s, vanity sizing was introduced and sizes became more generous – so if a label has Size 12 with the measurements of a modern size 8, it’s a clear indicator that it’s from the ’70s. An ’80s garment may have Size 12 with the measurements for a modern size 10. This is a whole big fun topic, so I’ll post properly about sizes at another time.

Here are some labels that are currently available at Circa – all of these are from the early to mid ’70s, and show signs of some of the things mentioned above, as well as some cultural influences from art, film and music of the time. You can see the “fat” letters that we associate with this time, as well art deco and art nouveau influence. The more conservative labels are plainer than the youth oriented labels which are more fun. Many are very distinctive in style and easy to recognise compared to labels of other times – I’d like to post about other eras too if I may, as when you get styles from an era, a certain consistency forms.

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27 comments

  1. So interesting! The blouse I found in Savers the other day still had SSW for the sizing – Do you think it’s reasonable to say its mid 60’s at the latest? Its a soft apple green polkadot shirt made of “100% cotton” as the tag claims.

    So stoked to find something like that in Savers for a measly $6!

  2. Well done Esz! At the latest it would be ’67 but I’d need more info to date it earlier – it could be ’50s. Savers can be a real treasure trove.

  3. I was directed to your blog via Nelli, And read your post and i wanted to cry. How could they do that vintage showed be admired and adored and by 100’s of people it is, i would sack the sewist i agree its very badly made and has no style or class to it what so ever. Dee x

  4. Hi I have been offered to buy some very well made French women’s clothing. No labels but very beautiful fabrics. Because they are made by a dress maker does this decrease the value? Made from the 40s through to the70s. Thank you

  5. Hi Holly,

    The value of a garment depends on many factors: the type of manufacture is only one piece of the puzzle. For most of us, it’s more about the style, the size, colour, fabric, detailing, condition etc. Good fashion labels are more sought after than skilled but anonymous dressmakers as a general rule, but a professional dressmaker’s fashions will probably be better than the home seamstress. I hope that helps.

  6. Hi Nicole, and thank you for this amazing website. It truly makes me smile! Was wondering if I could ask a question that you might know the answer to. I have a Cue Design bright blue dress, with peplum and mandarin collar. My gut is that it’s 1980s, but wondering if it could be 1970s? I’m really confused as the label looks a bit different to other 80s Cue items I’ve seen (an extra thin label ‘polyester’ is attached as opposed to other dresses I’ve seen where it’s all printed on one label. Is it 80s, still, do you think?

    Thanks in advance and please keep up this beautiful and inspiring site! Love it and appreciate it.

    Kirsty
    x:)

  7. Thanks Kirsty – glad to hear you’re enjoying it ๐Ÿ™‚

    Your dress sounds like it could be very early ’80s, maybe ’80-81 but if you could send me pics of the dress and label I can tell you more. I quite like the ’70s and early ’80s Cue and they were one of the few non-vintage labels I wore in the ’80s because their styles were very vintage-friendly.

  8. Hi Nicole,

    Great website! I found what I think it’s a 50’s dress at the op shop yesterday. There is label ‘by Harvey Graham’ but no further information. The label looks printed – does this indicate it wasn’t high quality? The dress appears to be otherwise handmade and beautiful.

  9. Hannah, even the poorest quality ’50s dress is well made by modern standards – if it has a label, it’s commercially not home made but it could well be hand-finished. If you’d like to send me pics I can help date it, but ’50s styles are very distinctive, and it sounds like it could be from the ’50s or early ’60s.

  10. I wish I had read this as recently I brought what I thought was advertised as a 1950’s garment and Nicole helped me to identify that it was not by the label. This has taught me a valuable lesson. This is a great article and is so helpful. Now I know what to look for, and will be sharing this article on my page for others. Thankyou so much.

  11. You’re welcome Deborah: glad it’s been useful. I should do a follow up on labels since the ’70s.

    Good luck with your seller! We all make mistakes occasionally so I hope she does the right thing.

  12. Hi there!
    Great article! I was wondering if you could help me out with some other labels? Trying to find labels from australian clothing is so hard! I’m not sure what to date the dress I have. Is there anyway you could do a follow up from this post? If not this post is so helpful in itself

    Thanks!

  13. Hi Tatiana, can you come into my Melbourne shop? If you could bring them in, I could tell you whatever information I have. Even if I don’t know the labels, I’m pretty good at dating dresses.

  14. Hi there, I was wondering if anyone was able to help me with this find. In a Salvos shop I purchased a black satin knee length jacket with cobalt blue flowers on it. It has no buttons or clasps down the front, just sits open. Long sleeve, with a label that says “Spring time fashions Sydney” on it. The label is embroidered, with a smaller tag underneath that says SW. I have googled this label to no avail.. Im am unsure if it is a jacket/evening coat or a dressing gown. Thanks Donna

  15. Hi Donna, would you like to email me some pics and I can help? I’ve had other things with this label and they’ve been from the ’50s or ’60s. It’s hard to say more without seeing it.

  16. I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this website.
    I really hope to view the same high-grade blog posts by you in the
    future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to
    get my very own site now ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Hi Nicole, Could I send you a few pics of the dresses I have acquired for you to help date for me or shed any light on in regards to their make. Thanks in advance. I have also googled, to no avail. Only had luck finding a similar dress, with the Jonathan Summers of Sydney one. Thanks in advance

  18. Hello!
    Are you familiar with a label-
    By Caltona
    SSW
    ALL COTTON
    it’s a dressing gown/ day dress
    Thanking you in advance

  19. Hi Fiona, it doesn’t ring any bells but it’s a distinctive name: have you tried searching Trove? There should be something there. If you wanted help with dating it, you can send me a photo and I’ll do my best.

  20. Hi there. I recently purchased a vintage 80’s concert sweatshirt on eBay, but am a little suspicious of it being new. Would ’80’s care tags have the 40 degree wash symbol? This seems like something a lot more recent to me. Thank you!

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