Last updated on July 6th, 2023 at 10:02 pm
It’s a great time to be alive if you love authentic vintage clothing styles! Unfortunately, a lot of the “vintage” clothing you see on the street isn’t the real thing. It’s just new clothing based on vintage silhouettes, often made with low-quality materials.
It can be hard to tell which clothes are truly vintage and which are just reproductions of older styles. Fortunately, we have a few tricks up our sleeves to help you distinguish between real and fake vintage clothes.
1. Check for a Union Stamp
If a garment was made in the U.S., it will often have a sewn-in Union Label with a stamp. You can estimate the age of the garment by the label’s appearance. If there is a scalloped circle around the union name, the garment was made before 1995.
The International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union was once one of the largest labor unions in the U.S. This union eventually merged with another in 1995, so any garment with their label was made before then. Many vintage clothes have a tag with their union logo surrounded by the union name.
There are a few differences between International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union Labels from different time periods:
- 1955-63: The tag has a large scalloped circle surrounding a union logo in front of a needle and thread. You will see the words “UNION LABEL” above the scalloped circle.
- 1963-73: The large scalloped circle now surrounds a dark circle. The words “UNION MADE” are inside the circle near the top, with “ILGWU” in the middle and “AFLCIO” in the bottom of the circle. If the label has a small circled letter R below the large scalloped circle, it was made after April 21, 1964, which is when logo was trademarked. The entire design should have the same ink color.
- 1974-95: These years had the same design as the decade before 1974, but in red, white, and blue.
If you see an ILGWU label without a scalloped circle crest in front of a needle and thread, congratulations — you found a truly old garment! You have authentic vintage clothing from before 1955 in your hands.
2. Examine the Label
Older designer garments (and some newer ones) tend to have embroidered labels. That means the back of the designer label will show threading. If the garment is a modern reproduction, the label will usually be printed on the fabric or tag instead of embroidered.
Some designer labels have a copyright year noted on the tag. If your garment label has a copyright year, the garment was probably made during the year noted on the tag or a few years later.
If you see a boutique label with a U.S. address that lacks a 5-digit zip code, the garment was made before 1963. The U.S. introduced standardized zip codes in 1963 to help manage mail after the population boom.
If a label says the garment was made in a country or colony that no longer exists, such as the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, that will help you date the garment.
3. Look For Numbers
RN numbers and size numbers can sometimes tell you if an item is vintage.
RN numbers were introduced in 1952, and the numbering convention changed in late 1959. If you see a tag with an RN number between 00101 to 04086, the garment was made before 1960. If the RN number is 13670 or larger, it was likely made in 1960 or later.
Half sizes on clothing were introduced during the 1940s to mark that the garment was made for shorter (petite) women. This sizing convention continued with some brands through the 1960s. If you see a 1/2 after the whole number size, e.g. size 16 1/2, the garment is likely to be genuine vintage from 1940-60.
4. Feel the Zipper
Vintage clothes from the 40s, 50s, or early 60s tend to have different zippers from clothes made in recent decades. Older zippers were made to last! The zipper teeth are all-metal and industrial-looking, and the pull is usually in a square or rectangular shape.
Many companies began to switch to plastic zippers in the mid 60s, and most zippers have been plastic ever since. However, some companies have switched back to metal in recent years, so metal zippers aren’t a guarantee that the garment is genuinely vintage.
Special Note: How to Identify Authentic Vintage Levi’s® Jeans
Vintage Levi’s jeans are especially popular right now. If you have an old pair of Levi’s that you suspect were made before the mid-80s, you can get an idea of its age by checking a few telltale markers.
- The red tab on the right back pocket. If you see the word LEVI’S® in all capital letters, the jeans were made before 1971. If the red tab only has lettering on one side, the jeans were made before 1955. On the other hand, if the jeans were made in 1971 or later, you will see a small letter “e”.
- The presence or lack of care tags. Like many other clothing companies, Levi Strauss & Co. began adding care tags to their clothing in the 1970s.
- The inseams. Most Levi’s® made before the mid-1980s have a single felled inseam, which looks like a single stitch running down the inner thigh.
- Selvedge denim. Levi’s® with selvedge denim, or narrow, tightly woven self-finished edges, were likely produced before the mid-1980s. The selvedge is often white with a colored thread in the middle, as in the picture above.
- The patch. If you find a pair of Levi’s® with an actual leather patch (as opposed to ‘leather-like’ cardboard), the jeans were made before 1955.
Get an Expert Vintage Clothing Appraisal from Fruitcocktail
These are just a few of the many ways to tell how old your vintage clothing is. An experienced appraiser can help with trickier items, more precise dates, and valuations for selling or insurance purposes.
Fruitcocktail Collectables is an accredited appraisal company with expertise in authentic vintage clothing. If you need vintage clothing appraisal in the Seattle area, reach out to us today.