How to work out the age of Vintage Clothes

June 14th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

It can be so hard to know what’s vintage and what isn’t.  It can also be equally confusing to figure out what era clothing is, and weather or not it’s actually an original vintage piece!

What does vintage really mean, and how old does something have to be, to be called vintage or antique?  Here is some tips that will hopefully guide you in the right direction when buying your Vintage clothes…..

Firstly, as far as were concerned anything from the 1930’s and back is absolutely in the antique category.  Items from the 1940’s to the 1960’s are vintage and anything from the 1970’s to the 1990’s is retro.

Antique: 1930’s and before

Vintage: 1940’s-1960’s

Retro: 1970’s-1990’s

Vintage Style or Reproduction: Inspired from a particular era and have taken the shape, cut, and design.


It may surprise you to know that many familiar contemporary brands have actually been around for quite a long time.  For example Abercrombie & Fitch was established in 1892, Marks & Spencers (St Michael) was founded in 1884, and Kangol was founded in 1938.  Therefore just because you recognise the label doesn’t mean it’s really a modern item.  Checking out the fashion house or company label – this is the label at the top of the garment – is a great way to judge how old something is.   The style of the label, or for example the colour and font are key indicators of age.   The Vintage Fashion Guild has an online archive so you can look up a label and see how it has evolved and changed throughout the years, and can compare it to your own.  This is extremely helpful in pinpointing when your items may have been made.  Another good way to date your clothing is to look for union labels, which can often be found on the side seams or underneath the company label.  These are really helpful in dating your garment quite accurately and again, the information can be found online in the Vintage Fashion Guild archive.

Anything with a CC41 Logo/Label is called The Utility logo and was introduced in 1941 during World War Two.  The British Board of Trade required that that this label appeared on footwear, utility furniture, textiles, and some clothing for just over ten years from 1941 to 1952. As the label had quite a short life, again this is a great way of narrowing down when your item may have been made.

CC41_markThere is a bit of speculation as to when exactly care labels were introduced and used but we can be sure that it mostly started in the late 1960’s early 1970’s. So if you have an item of clothing that is posing as a 1940’s dress, if the fabric is synthetic, it has care labels, and a plastic zip your most likely looking at a 1970’s copy or modern piece.

Below is a Marks and Spencers dress. If you just saw a picture of the dress without seeing the labels, you could easily think it was from the 1960’s due to the cut and style.  However there are a few things about it that might surprise you:

In the early 1960’s the mods and rockers dominated the runway. The women wore short skirts/dresses, and big brightly coloured boots. This dress is slightly longer in length but still retains a lot of the 1960’s look and cut which suggests that it’s most likely a late 1960’s early 1970’s item.


looking at the labels also gives us a clue as to when it was made. The number located on the bottom right hand side of the first label, CA01295,  is a Canadian industry registration number for ‘Marks and Spencer Canada’. The second label has coloured international cleaning symbols, which were again only used in Canada, so we definitely know this was made for the Canadian market. St Michael launched in Canada in 1973 and French was only introduced around the same date so this suggests that this dress is most likely to be no later than 1973. Although the shape and cut are very much still 1960s, it’s a good bet that this dress was made in 1973!


Unfortunately, you can’t always find out the exact dates of items.  Records get lost, things don’t get written down etc, but it’s very cool to know that with a bit of research you can find out rough dates and interesting information about the brands that made your vintage pieces.

Another thing we touched upon earlier and should mention again as we are on the subject of labels, is where the item was made. If it says made in China, it’s probably not true vintage (unless it’s a traditional Chinese piece, of course!). In 1887 Britain introduced foreign produce to have the “MADE IN…….” Label as foreign manufactures had been falsely marking inferior goods with the marks of renowned British manufacturing companies and importing them into the United Kingdom. The MADE IN ENGLAND label is becoming rather scarce so if you have an item that looks 1960’s and it says Made In England i would be 98% sure your item is a true vintage piece.

Back in the day most clothing did not have labels t0 tell you what the fabric it was made from. It was only in the 1960’s and 70’s that you start to see dry clean only, and 100% wool labels.  This is another way to help you determine the age of your vintage garment.


Rayon:  Popular during the 1920s and was very commonly found during the 1940s. There are two types of rayon – filament, which looks like silk, and spun, which resembles cotton or linen.

Polyester:  Invented in the 1950s under names like Dacron until the 60s. It became labelled as polyester in the 70s.

Acrylic:  Synthetic wool-like/knitted fibre, was brought into popularity in the 1950s.



1930s: Metal poppers were usually used or small covered buttons. Metal zippers aren’t as common, but if they are present they are always in the side-seam. Plastic zippers did not exist at this point

1940s: There were limitations on the number of buttons that could be used due to rationing. Metal zippers are becoming more common, again were found in the side seam.  Still no plastic zippers.

1950s: Zippers are migrating to the centre back of dresses, and mostly metal. Invisible zippers were invented in the 1950s, but didn’t come into use until later. If you think something is from the 1950’s but the zipper is plastic or invisible, it might be a very good copy OR a replacement zipper.

1960s – 1970s: Plastic zippers arrive in the early 60’s, and become more prevalent throughout the 60’s and 70’s.  Metal zippers are still used by some manufacturers who appreciated their durability over the more fashionable and cheaper plastic versions.

Cut Shape & Design

The cut, shape and design of an item can certainly indicate what era your item might be from.  Obviously styles can overlap, but for the most part you can  tell with a true antique or vintage item what era it is, by looking at its stitching, construction, and shape.

The 1930’s  were all about: Feminine butterfly sleeves and the waistline.

Unlike the boyish look of the 1920’s, the silhouette of the 1930’s day dress was very much about the elegant feminine form. It was tall and slender, with broad shoulders, small bust and waistline. The reason for having puffed sleeves and angular shoulders, was to give the illusion of a smaller waistline. Most dresses in this period were at calf length, and were heavily influenced by stars of the silver screen, like Joan Crawford, who was notorious for rocking the large shoulder pad and small waist look.

Below is a great example of the 1930’s nipped waist dress with puffed sleeves.




The 1940’s were all about:  Simple designs & Bold Patterns

Fashion became simpler, and day wear looked more like a military uniform; unlike the floaty feminine look of the 1930’s.  During the war, fabric, like everything else was heavily rationed, as vast supplies of all fabrics, buttons and fastenings were required to make military uniforms and equipment.   Embellishments like pleating, and long hemlines were seen to be an extravagant use of much needed fabric.  As a result the hem line rose to just above the knee, and trousers became narrower.  Overall cuts were straighter simpler and made the most efficient use of the available fabric.

Printed rayon was popular for 1940s dresses.  Bold prints made a dress stand out despite the absence of tailored features that required extra material.

Trousers gained in popularity for women during this period, as many found themselves taking on the roles of the men who had gone to fight.  It might sound mad, but before then it was very rare for a women to wear trousers.  As feminism and women’s rights rose the wide legged trouser became an essential part of ones clothing.

Here is a wonderful example of a 1940’s evening dress.



The 1950’s were all about:  The new world, feminine Curves, variety of luxurious fabrics, excess fabric, showing off intricate gatherings, a multitude of pleats, poofy petticoats, and fabulous collars!

After the War, fashion was desperate to move out of its basic colour pallette and simple cuts of the 1940’s and move into what most fashionistas call the “New Look,” as coined by Christian Dior. The 1950s dresses became rounded, with ballerina length hems and cinched waists for a delicate, feminine hourglass look. The sheath dress was another design that created the desired silhouette of the decade, as the form-fitting material clung to natural curves. Ornate necklines also came into vogue; many dresses were constructed with jeweled or peter pan collars, or jazzed up with low-cut sweet heart necklines for a feminine touch.

As the decade continued, halter style dresses (developed in the 1930s as a part of evening wear) received a more casual approach; halter sundresses with cute, vibrant patterns like gingham and floral became popular. The shirt dress also came to be during this era as a casual-yet-cute option for housewives.

Here is an early 1950’s cocktail evening dress made of silk taffeta and hand painted floral design.



Here is a mid 1950’s cotton day dress with floral pattern.



The 1960’s were all about: A Mish Mash of,  Mods, Rockers, The resurgence of the 1930’s, Space, Bright Colours and Synthetics!!!!

1960’s, clothing started to really shift and change. It morefed into something new fresh and exciting and very much it’s own.

Although still a little conservative in the early part of the era, the fashion houses started to turn there attention to the younger generation, taking inspiration from the Mods and Rockers unique looks, which were well-tailored, with clean lines and slim silhouettes. Completely different to the 1950’s look.  Fashion icon Twiggy, revolutionised the mini skirt and suddenly skirt hem lines become almost non-existent!

The 1930s style came back in fashion, which was sparked by the rising popularity of old movies revived on television. Hubert de Givenchy of Paris however, sparked major influence in the dress of the decade, due to his styling for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The high-bosomed, sleeveless, slim silhouette dress was glamorous, sophisticated and edgy.


At this time Jackie Kennedy was also a fashion icon,  she was seen to be young, fresh and inspirational with her fashion choices taking on a lot of the new styles of clothing of the day.  Her gentle, high bosomed coats and dresses, slender evening dresses, berets, breton hats, her impeccable jewellery and even her sports wear consistently dominated fashion headlines.


The space race,  In 1959 the first unmanned moon landing was made by the Russians and by 1962 the Americans had done the same. Then in 1969 America were the first to land humans on the moon! This caught the imagination of the world and inspired the “space age” look which became all the rage. Lots of metallics, unusual materials and interesting shapes were used.



Here is a mid 1960’s flower power dress with dramatic sleeves.


A Sweet Mod, Crimpoline gogo dress.


A 1960’s raw silk party dress with gold brocade bodice.



The 1970’s were all about: Peace, Love, The jumpsuit and The “Me Decade”

Early 1970s fashion was such a fun era. It culminated the best elements of the 1960s and perfected and exaggerated them. It perfectly blended the mods with the hippies and created a flamboyant fashion revolution. It’s safe to say that it became the most iconic decade ever!


As in every decade, the fashions of the 1970s were influenced by the social and political issues of the era. During the early 70s, fashion reflected the anti-war, pro-peace mentality that had begun toward the end of the 60s, and flourished as the hippie look became more mainstream.

Polyester was the fabric of choice with bright colours and psychedelic prints. Tight flared trousers platform shoes and cropped tops were a popular fashion choice.  Generally the most famous silhouette of the mid 1970s was the tight fitting bodice, loose trousers/skirts, which applied to both men and women. But by the late 1970s the birth of the indifferent, anti-conformist approach to fashion, which consisted of jumpers, t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers were also popular amongst the hippies.

Disco music was also taking the 70’s by storm and this gave birth to the hot pant, jump suit, lyrica trousers and everything sequinned!379af75db9bc84159f55a09ed4386698





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We hope this post has helped with those niggling vintage questions.

If you want to know anything else or if you have an item you’d like to know more about, please email us and we’d be happy to help.


Past Forward Retro xxxx

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