Dating vintage with care labels (see our feature on that here) only helps with garments that are 1960s onwards, but there’s a number of other labels you may come across that will help you to date older vintage pieces. Most of these are US labels, with the exception of CC41, which is British.
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The Woolmark is an easy symbol to spot and date! The logo was launched in August 1964 and inclusion of the symbol on a label certified that the garment was made from pure new wool to the quality standards set by the International Wool Secretariat (now known as The Woolmark Company.)
There haven’t been any updates or alterations to the logo since its inception so it can’t help you pin point how modern the garment is, but you can be sure it is post-1964. The second logo shown here is the Woolmark Blend (also labelled as Wool Rich Blend), launched in 1971, the third is Wool Blend Performance, launched in 1999 (I think!). The difference between them is the percentage of wool content in the garment. A Woolmark indicates 100% pure wool, the Rich Blend is 50-99% wool and Blend Performance is 30-49% wool. I suspect the term ‘Wool Rich Blend’ was introduced after 1999, but I haven’t found any evidence to verify that.
Please bear in mind, the Woolmark is an opt-in certification scheme, and although in widespread use the omittance of the logo does not guarantee that your garment is pre-1964. It’s not technically a care symbol so you may be more likely to find it on the manufacturer’s label.
CC41 Utility was created by the British Board of Trade to certify that clothing, furniture, footwear and textiles met austerity regulations during and after World War Two.
Austerity regulations in clothing began in early 1940 with the Utility mark being introduced in September 1941. It ended in March 1952.
The Utility mark is the now familiar Pac-Man double C and 41 logo. It is often incorporated into the manufacturer’s label. It usually includes code which tells you what type of cloth it is made from.
A code pre-fixed with ‘X’ tells you that the cloth is Super Utility (a better quality) and therefore dated after January 1948. Three digit numbers are earlier, gradually being replaced with four digits. Three digits were finally phased out by November 1948.
Beyond this, there’s a number of changes that were made to the garments themselves, such as pleating, pockets etc., that will help you narrow date even further. The book ‘CC41 Utility Clothing’ by Mike Brown is an essential read.
Shown above, alongside the CC41 logo is the Double Elevens logo, also known as the dinnerplate. This label was launched in July 1946 and certified that a garment with the label had been made from non-utility cloth above a certain minimum price. Think of it as the opposite to CC41! The CC41 label is printed and the Double Elevens logo is embroidered. The CC41 label will often be very faded to the point of almost being invisible or is sometimes partial as people had a tendency to cut them out. I have a three-piece CC41 suit where the coat has had the label cut out as the owner continued to wear it after the war and didn’t want the stigma attached to Utility.
Registered Identification Numbers
In the US manufacturers can apply for an identification number for their garments. I believe it is an alternative to using a manufacturer’s label.
WPL numbers were issued between 1941 and 1959 under the Wool Products Labeling Act. The number will be WPL followed by 5 digits. The numbers issued were 00101 to 13669.
RN numbers will be RN followed by 5 or 6 digits.
RN numbers were issued from 1952 and 1959 by the Fur Products Labeling Act. The numbers 00101-04086 were issued during this period.
Following the adoption of the Wool Act,Fur Act and the Textile Fiber Produacts Identification Act In 1959 the numbering stopped and restarted again at 13670.
At the time of writing (July 2021) the numbering appears to have reached 165260 judging by a quick search on the RN Database (https://rn.ftc.gov/Account/BasicSearch)
To help you with rough dating, it is considered that an average of 2635 numbers were issued per year. Like other systems, this will tell you the earliest possible date, but not the latest as once issued they could be kept and used for a long period of time.
I love having a union label on a garment, like the CC41 label it’s like a birth certificate for clothing. No mucking about, this is the period it dates from.
Union labels are for US-made clothing and like the Woolmark, they are opt-in so omittance doesn’t mean the clothing predates the union.
The early 1900s saw a lot of power struggles between newly formed unions and manufacturers. There were a number a major strikes including the “Uprising of the 20,000” and “The Great Revolt”. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 (which caused the deaths of 146 workers trapped inside) spurred unions and industry on in agreeing on protections and regulations. A union label certifies that the garment was made by union members in decent working conditions.
International Ladies Garment Workers Union
The ILGWU was formed in 1900 and they decided to use a label on finished goods from the get-go. Label use was very limited and by 1905 only one manufacturer was still using the label. I’m not entirely sure what was happening between 1905 and 1935, there were some other labels in use by other groups, to be mentioned later.
ILGWU did have labelling from 1936, I believe it was a fairly simple label, but I have no imagery for this. The first label I have pictured below is post-1940, the year that ILGWU rejoined the AFL (American Federation of Labor), having left three years previous.
In December 1955 the AFL merged with the CIO (Committee of Industry Organizing), with the next design of the ILGWU reflecting this change. It is at this point their logo switches to the needle and thread rosette. You’ll see three further versions of this design – a simplified centre from 1963 (with circled R trademark added a year later) and a change to red, white and blue from 1974 as part of a push to by American-made goods.
On a side note, from May 1960 the Coat & Suit Industry Recovery Board label was used on the reverse of the ILGQW label for a short time.
The label was next changed in 1995 after the ILGWU merged with ACTWU to form UNITE. These labels follow below.
In 1933 the blue eagle was launched as part of the National Recovery Act, indicating goods made under fair working conditions. It was only in use for two years. The National Recovery Board rosette was the next label design of this nature, with “consumers’ protection label” on the reverse. This label was in use from 1938 – 1964.
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America
The ACWA was formed in 1914 and by the 1920s was the dominant union for menswear. They started to include labels on garments from 1933.
Please note, in the labels pictured below the numbering and series lettering is shown as a generic ‘ABC 123456’. Like CC41, different garments use different codes. Also, ACWA labels would read, ‘garment’, ‘clothing’, ‘suit’ etc., depending on what they were. I’ve opted to stick with ‘garment’ for these images.
The ACWA launched a new label design in 1936, which can easily be dated with ‘copyright 1936’ written on the bottom left of the label (one source mentions a ‘copyright 1934’ version of this label, but I haven’t seen it for myself). The label is updated again in 1939 (again, dated as this) with ‘Made in U.S.A.’ added along the side. Also pictured below is a variant label dated 1939.
The final redesign was in 1949 (dated ‘copyright 1949’) into what I consider to be a much smarter label! In 1962 the circled R trademark was added to the bottom left, but the label still reads ‘copyright 1949’. In 1968, the numbering was changed from red to black.
In 1976 the ACWA merged with the Textile Workers of America to form Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). Their label is shown below. I am not sure if there were other versions of this label.
1995 saw the last union merger, with ACTWU and ILGWU merging to form UNITE. The UNITE label is seen in both colour and black & white, with or without numbering. The label was redesigned in 2004 to read UNITE HERE, a few variations of the design being shown below.
Useful links (opens in a new tab):
Cornell University IRL School: Union Label Timeline
WIPO Global Brand Database