Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Identifying Vintage: Tags, Part 2

Now that we've covered the basics of the design on the tag in determining its vintage authenticity, let's dive in a little deeper to look at the other tag components generally attached to a garment such as a union tag, the style/lot number tag, and clothing care tag.

Clothing unions were very prevelant in the United States from the early 1900s up until the 1980s when massproduction of clothing sent a lot of jobs oversees to be produced for less.  Not saying that this exportation of jobs wasn't done before the 80s, but this was one of the largest shifts in production to happen up until that time.  Before this, however the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union or ILGWU was one of the most powerful and prevelant unions in the country, and you can see many of their tags on your vintage garments in the form of a white, square tag with a circle design, generally in a shade of blue with red.  If you find this tag on your garment, you can use this guide or this guide to help determine the garment's age.

Some things to note about union tags:  the ILGWU joined the CIO in 1937, the AFL in 1940, and the CIO and AFL merged in the mid-50s forming the AFL-CIO.  Today, the ILGWU is known as UNITE, which formed in 1995.  Tags will reflect these changes.

Once again in our modern world, computers and technology make keeping track of things very easy.  In our vintage world, this wasn't so much the case, so manufacturers had to come up with an easy and efficient way to keep track of which style of what garments were going where.  Enter the Lot and Style number and tag to a piece of clothing.  The lot number is the number attached to a group going to a store, generally done by the size.  The style number is the number for the piece's design.
For example, let's say a production of blue, bellbottom jeans were going to be sent to Macy's, Sears Roebuck & Co, and Montgomery Wards.  They all want size 10 of the jeans.  The style number for the jeans is #708015.  So, they would get articles that read, "Lot Size 10 / Style: 708015," which would be put into their inventory and the manufacturers.  Basically, the number just helped with the assembly line production and distribution of the garment.

Today, style numbers are still on most tags, especially higher-end brands.  This is helped with the return process, as most style numbers are checked against the tags to make sure the correct garment is being returned.

Sometimes, it's what's missing that helps identify if a garment is vintage.  Before the 1960s and the pass of the Textile Production Identification Act, which mandates that, mainly for customs duties, a garment must be labeled with its fabric content in percentages, clothing wasn't required to have a tag in it that said what it was made of.  The same goes for before the Federal Trade Commission passed the Care Labeling Rule  in 1971 which states that all clothing tags must have at least one safe way to clean the garment listed.  This was also when clothing care icons were introduced.  If you see a care or content label or both on your garment, chances are it was created sometime after the 1960s.

However, one must remember, that some companies, especially those that used finer fabrics such as silk and wool, generally advertised the use of these products in their garments, so don't completely rule out an earlier era just because it has a content label, and, generally, this label would be a nicely designed label sewed into the lining of a jacket and not a printed and stitched in label like those we see today.

One last way that the tag can hold the key to vintage authenticity is by looking at where it was made.  If it was made in countries such as Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, it's pretty safe to say that it's vintage, as these countries were disbanded in 1992.

Obviously, as with anything, these are just guidelines in determining your clothings originations.  Many other factors are involved in truly getting a proper reading and feel for a garment's age, but looking at the tags can provide a quick way to glance at a garment in a pile and see if it's worthy of adding to your vintage collection.  So have fun finding them!

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