Quick Tips for Dating Vintage

Quick Tips for Dating Vintage

Here are just a few quick easy-to-remember tips. These facts don’t necessarily place a garment in a year, but they will help narrow it down.


  • Men’s dress trousers continue to have button-flies thru the 1940s.
  • Belt loops on men’s pants started in the early 1920s, coexisting with suspender buttons for years.
  • The modern metal zipper was invented in 1914 and were used in galoshes and bags afterward, not used in men’s pants until 1927 and were not common on women’s dresses until the late 1930s.
  • YKK – Japan, a zipper company founded in Japan in 1934.
  • Talon Zippers – USA – since 1894.
  • Lightning Zippers- Canada.
  • Eclaire Zippers- France.
  • KIN Zippers – Germany.
  • Coil zippers – invented in 1940, but not in common usage until the early 1960s.
  • Side seam zippers – late 1930s-1960s.
  • Short CB neck zippers – mostly 1930s-1940s.
  • Sleeve zippers – 1930s and 1940s.
  • Center back dress zippers – seen occasionally in the 1940s and early 1950s, but generally later 1950s and 1960s and always from the 1970s on.
  • Velcro® was invented in 1948, not used in clothing much until 1960s.
  • Vintage slips, bras and garters have metal hardware, not plastic.


  • The first practical sewing machine was invented in 1845. Not in general use immediately. If is has machine sewing, it’s post 1845.
  • Machine chain stitch came first, followed by lockstitch. Lockstitch seams are rarely found prior to 1870.
  • Hand-sewn construction (rather than hand finishing) and machine-sewn construction coexisted for years – until the 1880s, if not later.
  • The zigzag machine was patented in 1873 by Helen Blanchard. This led to the industrial use of the overlock stitch. Home sewers gained access to the zigzag machine in 1947, with the introduction of it by the Necchi company.
  • The serger has been in use at least since the 1920s for seam finishing. This is the overlock or serger thread finish we still use today on cut fabric edegs inside the garment.
  • Hanging loops at the neck of jackets, blouses and so on, are usually of European manufacture.
  • Hemming tapes generally denote North American manufacture. German manufacturers never used them.
  • Circle stitching inside the cups of a bra is a good indicator that it’s from the 1950s.


  • The NRA Blue Eagle label was used in the USA only from 1933-35. This label, noting compliance with the Manufacturing Codes, was used inside garments and dates them specifically to those years.The NRA was delcared unconstitutional in 1935.
  • The US National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. So these labels will be seen after that date.
  • The National Recovery Board was brought into effect in 1934, as part of the New Deal. The Coat and Suit Industry National Recovery Board was a trade organization that came about in order to assure that garments were made in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards.
  • The ILGWU (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union) was formed in 1900. It joined the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) in briefly in 1937. Rejoined the AFL ( American Federation of Labor) in 1940. AFL-CIO merged in 1955. In 1995 ILGWU reformed as UNITE. Union labels will reflect these name and date changes.
  • Look for labels in the side seams and even the hems of older garments.
  • Country of origin labels came about in the USA following the McKinley Act, 1891.
  • Garment Care labels began in 1971 in the USA. The current labels were introduced in 1983.
  • International care symbols were developed 1971.
  • The USA Textile Products Identifications Act, 1960 mandated the use of fabric content labels.
  • The Fur Products labeling act of 1952 required an accurate description of fur. i.e. “Hudson Seal” became sheared muskrat.
  • A small ‘e’ on the label of a pair of Levis denims means they were manufactured after 1971 and if a capital ‘E’ they are pre-1971.


  • Watch pockets can be found on the waistline or waistband of dresses 1840s-1880s and elsewhere on the dress bodice from the 1880s.
  • Cartridge pleating of the skirt at its waist is seen 1840s-1860s, fading out by the 1870s.
  • Tiny piped armhole seams date a garment to the 1870s or before and were rare after that.
  • Armholes were cut high and fitted in the 1950s and the 1970s.
  • Three-quarter and seven-eighth sleeves were popular late 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
  • Diamond gussets in the armhole indicate 1950s.
  • In 1942, men’s double-breasted suits in the USA lost their vest and became 2-piece due to the war effort.


  • 18th century silk brocade with white grounds usually denotes English manufacture whereas silk brocade with yellow grounds usually means its French.
  • Rayon (known as artificial silk) was a French process developed during the 19th century. AKA Viscose (English process). The name Rayon was coined in 1924 and was used extensively for lingerie and light summer dresses until the 1950s when nylon became popular.
  • Dacron¨, trademarked by DuPont and denotes numerous types of polyester yarn. Used in manufacture from 1953.
  • Nylon was the first true synthetic developed by DuPont in the 1938, available to the American public in May 1940, used in stockings. Not used in clothing until well after WWII.
  • Qiana¨, a filament nylon used for woven and knitted fabrics was registered by DuPont in the 1970s.
  • Spandex – first commercial use in 1959, seen in lingerie in the early 1960s, but not in clothing much until the 1980s. (Registered to DuPont as Lycra¨)


  • Vintage shoes will be sized for width AAAA – DDD. i.e.: 1940s platforms will be marked for size with A – D – 1970s will be med, narrow wide.
  • Women’s European shoes between 1810-1830 rarely have heels.
  • Women’s American made shoes between 1810-30 often have heels.
  • Women’s shoes from both origins between 1830-55 never have heels.
  • Shoes made between 1800-1860 never have right or left sole shapes unless they were made to order to fit a client’s foot.
  • Paris Point system (i.e. 42) is used on European and Asian shoes. England and Germany use the traditional method of sizing (i.e. size 5). American system is similar to England, but modified (e.g. size 7). However, some countries that manufacture shoes for export sensibly mark shoes in the size system of the country they are shipping to.
  • Exotic leathers (crocodile, lizard. alligator) are commonly used for shoes during WWll because they weren’t rationed or used for the war effort.
  • Remember – “Croc has a dot, alligator not” when identifying skins. The dot is in the middle of the scale.
  • Sandals entered the shoe wardrobe in mid-1930 – first in Europe, then USA.
  • From the sandal came the open toe and the sling back in the late 1930s – never before.
  • Mules or open back clogs are likely to be European if they predate 1990. Though some were seen in the 1970s in the USA, they really weren’t popular in North America until the 1990s.
  • Stiletto heels began in Italy in 1955 and pointed toes in 1957.
  • Generally speaking, shoes with round toes and Spanish heels (high, but thicker than a stiletto’s) are pre-1957.


  • Pre-1930s hats will normally have a hand sewn lining.
  • Hats with interior grosgrain ribbons started in the 1930s.
  • 1930s-40s hats will often have a hat size tag.
  • A circular wire loop on the back of the hat to hold it to the head dates it to the late 1930s – early 1940s; while two ‘V’ shape wire clamps on the sides date it to the early – mid 1950s.
  • The last element of a pre-1930 hat to be completed is the lining. If there are threads sewn through the lining to anchor decorations, then those decorations are not original to the hat.

Written by Hollis Jenkins-Evans/pastperfect2

1940s Hollywood Jacket  - Courtesy of realgonevintage

1940s Hollywood Jacket Courtesy of realgonevintage

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