Tuesday, July 31, 2018

When was it made?


As an avid thrift store shopper, I am no stranger to old clothing. One of my favorite activities is trying to guess exactly when any secondhand garment of mine was made. Now, I'm not a fashion archivist by any means, so my guesses at the vintage of a garment are usually based on my vague memories, other people's online throwback posts, and comparison to stills from period movies. I've learned some techniques for dating old clothing using other clues as well. Today, I thought I'd do something a little different, and share some of the attributes I use to help me guess at a garment's age.

As an example, I'll use this vest that I purchased from Swap.com about a month ago.

I've seen more than my share of 90's vests at the thrift store — they are ubiquitous, usually made of thick tapestry or heavy knit, in hideous patterns, color combos, and bulky shapes that I would never wear today — but this vest fits in quite well with my modern aesthetic. In fact, when I first got it, I didn't even really pay attention to its dated appearance, but focused mainly on the pretty blue-green color and how much I liked the flowers. After I'd owned it for a while, I began to pay more attention to the signs of its age.

Here they are—signs that you can use to help you determine the age of any fashion item!
  1. The pattern - Different eras produce different trendy patterns (think the psychedelic designs of the 60's or the earth-toned rainbows of 70's). On this vest, the profusion of wavy-edged straight lines and imperfect zigzags is something I'd swear was everywhere in the early 90's, but I'm having trouble coming up with photographic evidence. In any case, it's clearly an evolution from the scribble-heavy designs that are definitive marks of the 80's. Meanwhile, the flowers hint at the sunflower obsession that defined the 90's.
  2. The fabric - As textile technologies grow and change, different kinds of fabric rise to ascendancy. This vest is made of rayon. Although rayon-like materials have been around since the 19th century, the rubbery, faux-silk feel of rayon is, to me, firmly entrenched in the 90's. This is definitely a more "vague memory"  than anything empirically backed, but I seem to recall encountering this type of fabric a lot when shopping during my youth.
  3. The embellishments - Much as trends in patterns rise and fall over time, so do those in the little add-ons and visible fastenings.

    Take a look at those buttons. The "knot" style of plastic or metal button is one I often see on vintage clothing and never on clothing of the present day. Although this does nothing to help me narrow down a specific year, I can say with a degree of confidence that these buttons wouldn't have been used past the mid-1990's.
  4. The fastening style - In very old vintage clothing, I've heard you can use the placement of the zipper (or whether there's a zipper at all) as a reliable indicator of the approximate era of construction. With modern clothes, this doesn't often apply, but there is one style of fastening that really had a heyday in the 90's, and that's the side- or back- cinch tie.

    Shirts and dresses that tie in the back to adjust the fit (like this one) were common in the 90's, but seemed to have lost their appeal by the turn of the millennium. I still see them in one-size-fits-all hippie clothes, but popular opinion labels them tacky.
  5. The cut - Obviously different silhouettes can provide a strong clue as to the age of garments--like when you see huge puffed sleeves, you can know without almost any doubt that they came from the 80's. I wasn't really aware that this top had an iconic cut, but then I googled "90's vest." Apparently it wasn't just tapestry/sweater vests that were popular in the 90's—this particular cut (with the longer length, deep V-neck, and pointed bottom hem) was popular in the era as well. Most of the pictures I found of the style were actually modern bloggers trying to do their own take on 90's trends, but I did find one 1992 sewing pattern that confirmed it.
  6. The size - Because of size inflation, clothes manufactured today fit larger than equivalent sizes from past eras. Now, I have to make some assumptions here, because some brands use very unusual sizing, but I'm going to assume this shirt was manufactured using a common size scale. My size in contemporary juniors' clothing (the odd-numbered sizes) is usually a 3 or 5, so the fact that I fit pretty well in this size 9 is a strong indicator that it's a couple decades old.
  7. The label - The materials and method used to make the label are often good ways of telling how old an item is as well. For example, clothing made in the 2010's often has a translucent plastic label, or the label printed right on the inside of the fabric.

    This heavy woven polyester label with the stiff scratchy care tag is definitely an older breed. The logo, surrounded by textural dots, also has that late-80's/early-90's feel.
It's not often that you find clothing a couple decades old with the original tags still attached, but this one was just that. Apparently it went through a battery of markdowns before someone bought it out of pity, and never wore it. Since the style number is printed on the tag, I could probably pinpoint the exact age of this vest by contacting the Joni Blair company (if it still exists), but that would be a little too much work for this armchair fashion detective! I'll settle my investigation here by concluding this vest was made around 1992.

So now we come to a question: with so many features clearly branding this top as out of date, am I still brave enough to wear it?

Thinking, thinking...

Of course! I'm the Unfashionista!

Instead of wearing my retro vest in a retro style, I wore it as a shirt without anything under it. I paired it with a pair of black capri pants (the cut of these also being almost 20 years out of fashion!) and some coordinating robin's egg blue pumps (fortunately, this conservative style of shoe will probably never look too passé!).

The most modern element of my outfit is the jewelry. I made the earrings myself out of a pair of studs that I ordered online recently. The style turned out to look silly on me, so I took them apart and impaled them on some kidney-shaped wire hooks that I cut the fastener end off of.

Now they're a never-before-seen threader-dangle-hybrid style! 1990's vest, welcome to the future!

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