Dating vintage clothing using care labels

Hi everyone,

Further to my posts on dating vintage clothing and looking for clues in labels, the care labels (or lack thereof) can tell you quite a bit about the age of a garment, so we’ll have a closer look at them today.

Care labels (labels that tell you how to care for, or clean your garment) are a relatively modern thing. Up to the 1960s, new garments might come with a swing tag that provides the information.

Here’s an example:

The tag tells you that the dress is made from the fabric “Pat-a-sheer”, a U.S. rayon patented in 1955.

The label also says it was ‘styled by Rite-Fit’: that’s the name of the company that designed and made the garment (and they’re also mentioned in the patent, suggesting they’re different arms of the same business). I wonder if it’s the same company that is now called ‘Fit-Rite Fashions’ who have been going since 1926 in New York? Quite possibly.

Lastly, the tag supplies the care instructions: “For best results, wash separately in lukewarm suds made of mild soap like Lux – squeeze, do not wring or twist – rinse well”. Good advice, it’s how I would still wash it today.

The dress itself displays style elements from the late ’40s: shoulder pads, shirtwaister style with diamante-centre black plastic buttons, turned back cuffs, sewn down pleats and the skirt length all point to a late ’40s date. We know the skirt length is original because this is a new, unworn and unaltered garment. But the patent date is decisive and precise: it’s probably not much later than mid ’50s because I could only find one mention of the fabric online so it wasn’t produced (or survived) in great numbers. The old-fashioned (for the time) style elements suggest it was produced for an older clientele and is a good example of how we can be misled on dates sometimes: not everyone wants to dress to the latest style.

Swing tags are useful when you’re selecting a garment to buy, but once you’ve got it home you remove the tag and wash it – so these tags relied on the memory and skills of the home laundress to know the correct treatment.

So the inclusion of care labels was introduced in the early ’70s. It’s rare to find them earlier than that, but when you do, they’re usually in luxury garments and so denote quality. Here’s an early ’60s evening dress by Melbourne label Leonie, that has a type-written label included ‘DO NOT USE HOT IRON’. It’s an indication that the metalllic rayon jacquard fabric is delicate and will damage if mis-treated – and that the manufacturer cared enough to individually type up a label for it.

Here’s another early example: Sportscraft (a great, and prolific fashion company that’s still going after more than a century) produced this lovely silk print shift dress. The dress is early-to-mid ’60s by its silhouette, fabric and size but also has a ‘Dry clean only’ label.

As an aside, if you have printed vintage silks, I always recommend dry cleaning because the prints have a tendency to run and it’s very sad when it happens. I once almost ruined an Hermes by hand-washing.

This tailored early ’60s Harella afternoon coat with big, chartreuse flower buttons also has a care label. Originally it likely had a matching shift dress too. I like the double padded piped collar. The ‘cool iron’ suggests a synthetic component.

In this ’70s polo-neck jumper, the words ‘Superwash’ indicate that the garment can be machine washed. It also features the Wool Mark logo: introduced in ’63 it’s another reliable clue for dating. The Wool Blend logo was introduced in 1971. The size 20 to fit 105cm also puts this garment into the ’70s (more on sizing here).

Ginetex laundry symbols were introduced in Europe in 1963, but we don’t see them in Australian fashion much before the ’70s though. These can be really helpful in dating modern clothing as not only do more symbols get added over time, the shape of the symbols change too. This Kenzo late ’70s shirtdress displays the symbols for washing, dry-cleaning and ironing.

Washing temperature = 30C

No dry-cleaning [unless the below products are used]

Ironing = moderate temperature

The last symbol indicates professional dry cleaning with perchloroethylene, hydrocarbons (heavy benzines) is recommended.

This VFG Forum thread has more information about the progression and timelines of the symbols.


  1. “This fashion blog’s commitment to sustainability is admirable! From eco-friendly brands to upcycling ideas, it’s leading the way in conscious fashion.”

  2. Hi! I am wandering into the controversial “Y2K is vintage” world and am running into an interesting gap in care label knowledge.

    I am researching Nanette Lepore and have clothes that bare the logo she used from 2000-2009. Several of these pieces have a paper like care tag with faint blocky printed letters that I usually associate with the 80’s and 90’s. They also start with “self:” before the care instructions and say “MADE IN U.S.A.” at the bottom.

    I’m guessing these are really made in the first few years of the millennium, but I’m curious if you have any knowledge of when we mainly switched from paper to folded shiny fabric labels.

  3. Hi Teresa, you’re right about the controversary. Unfortunately I’m way behind and still getting a grip on 1990s fashion, so am no use to you on more modern styles, especially those made in other countries. Good luck with your search!

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