Welcome to part 3! We're now approaching the vintage eras which you're more likely to see on our rails - frocks from the 40's onwards! Though in all honesty, it's not often you will find much pre-60's vintage at our events, and that's simply because it's hard to find older vintage, and anything we do find tends to be in really poor condition and so won't make it to the rails (we pride ourselves on offering only second hand clothing that's ready to wear!) Having said that, we do find them from time to time, you just have to know what you're looking for...
Those who are passionate about 40's & 50's clothing will instantly be able to spot a true vintage number from a mile away, but it can be difficult if you're not familiar with the manufacturing techniques and textiles used through recent history. And as we've previously seen, modern fashions have always taken great influence from trends of the past, so while one dress might scream iconic 1950's glamour, you may be surprised to learn it's actually an 80's party reproduction.
If we look to the examples on the left, one 70's and one 40's, while they're not identical in style, there's still some similarities with the checked cotton material used, short sleeves, high neck and button front. To help differentiate between the eras these dresses came from, you should turn to the smaller details which will hold vital clues, especially for those older numbers.
One of easiest way to date a dress is to look at the way it fastens. Zips date back to the mid 1800's, but it wasn't until the 1920's they were commercially used for clothing, mostly on children's items or mens trousers. Zips on dresses didn't really take off until the late 1930's, surprisingly because zips were often frowned upon as they suggested that a ladies clothing could too easily be removed!
Plastic and metal zips existed at this time and were almost always found on the side seam, though metal was used less so during the war years, with tiny snap fasteners or hook and eye closures taking their place. If you find a dress with these snap closures on the side seam, there's a good chance it's from the 30's or 40's, as zips were again favoured in the 50s for their ease (though they were moved to the centre back of the dress), and the nylon coil zipper introduced in the 60's become the favourite fastener from there on.
As you can see with the 70's dress, there's no fastener at all except a few buttons at the front, with a drawstring waist to create a more fitted silhouette. As technology improved, clothes from the 60's onwards could use any multitude of fastenings and fabrics, from buttons to zips, ties, buckles and elastics, allowing a wider variety of creative options.
Another thing to look at when trying to date vintage is the stitching and construction. For pre-1940's clothing, French seams would have been used which is where the raw edge of the material is neatly tucked away out of view.
Serged seams would also have been used, which is where the edge is held in place with a looped stitch known as an overlock, though this would almost always have been done by hand as pictured on this 40's dress. Pinking shears were then introduced in the 50's which leaves a zig-zag edge to stop the material fraying.
It wasn't until the 60's that commercial serger overlock machines were available, so if your dress looks hand finished there's a good chance it's pre-40's, or if it has a zig zag edge it's likely to be 50's or 60's. The sewing technology used back in the 40's was limited, so have a good look at all the seams to help you determine the era of your dress, hand finished seams may not be as neat and as uniform as clothes manufactured more recently, but they sure knew how to stitch them well enough to last!
Looking at these small details should help give you an idea of what era your clothing came from, or at least help you determine if its pre-40's or not. If you're still struggling, there's many fashion and textile history books available, or check online for other guides to help you date your clothing. Or if you're ever stuck at an event, you can always ask our staff who know their vintage - gives us a shout and we'll almost always be able to give you more information!