If you are new to the world of vintage dress shopping, one of the most heartbreaking lessons you will learn is not to automatically trust sellers who proclaim to be selling “The real deal”. I recall spending a small fortune on what i thought was a stunning 40s house dress on ebay, only to find a flamingo pink 80s does 40s monstrosity in my mailbox a fortnight later. The mention of an elasticated waist and the photograph of a size 14 label on the buyers page should have been enough to raise my suspicions about the authenticity of the garment. Nevertheless, over time I managed to learn a couple of tricks to separate the wheat from the chaff.
This is by no means a definitive list. Rather, I see it as a loose guide to dating your garments and keeping the wool from being pulled over your eyes by others. Remember, the whole point of this exercise is to ensure you aren’t paying a ridiculous amount for mutton dressed as lamb. It’s not to say that an 80s does 40s outfit is completely out of bounds, nor do i claim that all vintage sellers are out to swindle you out of your hard earned pennies. The best thing I can do as someone who has been around the ring (and spent far too much money therein) is to help educate you so that you know what you are paying for and that it is exactly what you wanted.
The Mid-Century Mermaid’s Quick and Easy Guide to Pre 60s Clothing
- Metal zips with visible teeth, usually set to the side of the dress best indicates a late fourties and fifties design. Plastic invisible zippers are definitely sign of a modern dress.
- Zippers were not commonly used at all during the 1930s as they were considered unreliable at best.
- Poppers, hooks and eyes, buttons (usually bakelite, shell, wood, celluloid) are most common in 30s and 40s dresses .
- Belts made of matching or contrasting fabric, the presence of thread/ribbon loops, bakelite/celluloid belt buckles all indicate an original pre 50s piece.
- Swirly or stylised font according to the era
- Any washing instructions especially machine washing indicative of later era
- Presence of standardized size labels (size 12 for example) indicative of later era
- Labels with corners folded down where sewn in indicative of a pre 60s item. Often earlier items will have labels made of ribbon with hand embroidered letters and signs of hand stitching to the garment.
- Label names are an easy dating give away. Certain brands and companies didnt exist pre 1960s. Others have had logo changes over the years. Use google to track label designs and designers.
- Elasticised waist indicative of post 50s design
- Overlocked seams as opposed to pressed, sewn hems or use of bias tape/ribbon indicative of post 60s design
- Shoulder pads should be small, firm, rigid. Material like horsehair, natural fibre and wool used to stuff them. Anything too large or spongy is indicative of a post 60s design (most likely 80s does 40s)
- Some 40s dresses will have diamond shaped patches under the armpits. This was to kurb excessive wear and tear in this area due to sweat and friction.