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--- Another excellent resource for labels is the Vintage Fashion Guild's label resource. Metal zippers often indicate an item made before 1960, when plastic zippers for dressmaking became more common.
Here, dedicated vintage fashion lovers have collected and compiled histories of the labels of hundreds of vintage clothing manufacturers, often giving you dates when a certain maker's label was used. Metal zippers are still routinely used for heavy-duty uses like jeans and jackets.
She and her husband head to Salt Lake City Utah to research Janie's elusive 4th great-grandmother.
But her search into the past leads her to a dark secret.
--- However, homemade clothing often doesn't have serged seams, so it can look vintage even if it's not.
But, in fact the labels show up in clothes made after 2000. Look for labels that contain the letters ILGWU (International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union).
My day job is business research, so it was easy to find a lot of great sources. A dress with a tiny waist and huge, below-knee skirt screams 1950s, while a slim-fit dress with huge shoulder pads is probably from the 1980s. If your garment has "serged" seams, it probably dates to after the mid-1960s.
I read a ton of books and talked to lots of people. See the "Retro Fashion History" and "Vintage Fashion and Art" links below to learn more about silhouettes and see lots of great photos by decade. Serged seams were uncommon before the mid-1960s, when manufacturers began using sergers routinely to finish seams.
Look at the "Exhibits" page on this fabulous website for a decade-by-decade look at vintage dress silhouettes.
This is an outstanding study resource, featuring tons of beautiful photos of vintage dresses from museums around the world.