Nine ways to identify vintage clothing

Vintage clothes are valuable – monetarily or sentimentally. Plus, these days, they have value as fashion.

So it’s understandable that so many people and companies are trying to make authentic-looking vintage clothing. The downside is that you could find yourself the proud owner of something that looks vintage but it’s not.

So how do you know if you just paid a small fortune for the real thing? Well, vintage clothing and their brand labels can be distinguished thanks to their uniqueness. All you need is a couple of hints to clue you in.

1) The typography

Certain eras come with their unique tags. For example, typefaces inspired by art deco were all the rage in the 40s, but a couple of decades later, round and bubbly fonts were all the rage.

A good fake or wannabe may copy this, but pair this trick with others on this list, and you’re well on your way to identifying authentic vintage pieces and dating them too. A few extra seconds spent looking at the tag is key.

2) The copyright

Not all tags will have a copyright marker on them, but if they do, you know you’ve got yourself a vintage garment. It was either made in the year stated or a few years afterward.

If the copyright year is before 1992, then your piece is vintage according to the industry. Remember, ‘92 was almost 30 years ago, so even if the piece doesn’t seem that old, it is by clothing’s’ standard.

3) It’s USA made

Today many goods are imported from offshore factories. A piece will only be made in the USA if it’s a small or family-run business, or if it’s a one-of-a-kind of some sort.

But if you think a piece is vintage, have a look at that label. If there’s a “Made In USA” note or an American flag, it’s a hint that this is a vintage piece. It’ll typically be from at least the 1980s.

And if you see a “Made In USA” marker on the reverseside of the tag, it may be more modern than the location of origin suggests. Today, the production country is placed on the back of the clothing tag, but on vintage clothes date it’s typically frontside.

4) It’s union

Unions were common prior to the 1980s, before garments being manufactured overseas became common. So, if you see a union label on the garment, it’s a good sign that it’s vintage. 

Some modern union made clothing possesses union tags though, but it’ll look more modern. You should dig deeper if this is the case — especially if the label is in color. But in the case of a black and white label, it’s safe to say the item is vintage.

5) The how-to-wash tag

Also known as a care tag, these helpful labels didn’t become mandatory until 1971. If your piece is missing that instructional part, there’s a good chance it was made before 1971.

But there’s a catch. Tags are itchy, and people often cut them out! So be mindful and do your research on the piece. Also be aware that these tags mayhave been included on some pieces made before 1971. It just wasn’t mandatory until that year.

6) Absent Zip Codes

ZIP codes were invented in 1963. So, if your clothing has a boutique name but no ZIP code, it might be pretty old, meaning it might be vintage.

Of course, some places may not want their ZIP code on their labels. Or really good fakes will exclude this part to look more authentic. But if the lack of ZIP code is paired with several other deciding factors, you’ll be able to more easily determine it’s a piece of vintage clothing.

7) The material

Many labels will have the type of material used printed on the label. See if you recognize the name of the material —for example, Dacron Polyester. That was used mainly prior to1970.

Other vintage material names are Veyron, Kodel and Celanese. These were used in place of polyester. In place of acrylic, you might see Creslan, Zeran, Acrilan and Orion.

8) Outdated countries

Although imported goods were uncommon decades ago, they weren’t impossible to find – especially once you got to the late 80s and early 90s, where the “this is vintage” marker stops.

In that time, there have been plenty of changes around the world. For example, the former country of Yugoslavia split up into several other countries. So, if you know your history and geography regarding locations, you may be able to spot a vintage piece.

9) Using half sizes

From around the 40s to the 70s, some clothes ran in half sizes, which included an even number, with a “1/2” afterwards. Odd numbers were used for petite sizes back then. A label with a half size on it is a sure indicator of a vintage piece.