Learning to date vintage clothing is one of the challenges that the vintage lover faces: unfortunately, unlike vintage cars, clothes don’t come with VINs to help you on your mission – you need to read and interpret the clues in the style, fabric, construction and detailing. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some provenance too, but if incorrect that can send you in the wrong direction.
Books can be a great help, as can magazines, newspapers, films, TV – and the more you expose yourself to the fashions in their original settings, the better you get at it. When I was learning, I used to visualise which Golden Era of Hollywood movie star I could see in something: is it a Jean Harlow outfit (’30s), or more Rita Hayworth (’40s) or perhaps it’s something that Marilyn might have worn in “Bus Stop” (’50s)?
It’s not an exact science, and that’s why you often see people identify an item using a decade or more, but I’ve discovered that with skill, you can often narrow it down to a year or three.
Thankfully there is one easy tool at your disposal – some sewing pattern companies print dates onto their products. Also, you used to be able to order patterns through certain magazines and newspapers, and some had them as supplements too, so if you have the original publication or post-marked envelope, you’ll have a date there too.
Today I’ve been listing vintage patterns onto the webshop, and I like to play “Guess the Date” with the styles – and then I can turn it over and find out if I’m right.
Here are some for you to test your knowledge with: keep in mind a few things – the patterns all give you bonus clues with accessories, hairstyles, make up, poses, and style of graphic. Sewing patterns are rarely fashion forward, and generally represent popular designs that have already sold well in the community, so can be sometimes a little behind the times. Also: if the pattern sells well, and fashions haven’t changed much, they still might make it for a few years. The date should be from when it was first printed though.
Clicking on each pattern will take you to the webshop listing and you can see how accurate your guesses are! Good luck.