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. (Edit: here it is)
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.