A Guide to Identifying ILGWU Union Labels in Vintage Clothing

July 23rd, 2012

a union label with text how to date vintage by its union label

The easiest way to date a piece of women’s clothing as vintage is to identify whether it has a union label.

The most popular union label found in vintage clothing is from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU).

Vintage clothing pickers and sellers often use ILGWU union labels to help identify the general era a piece of clothing was made because the union tag’s design (which has changed 8 times since 1900) can help narrow the garment’s age within a window of approximately 10 to 20 years.

To conclude a garment’s exact era, it’s recommended that you use my Dating Vintage as Clothing and 5 Ways to Date the Age of Vintage Clothing for more help, and subscribe to my newsletter for dating vintage tips only available to subscribers.

Because the top ranked search result for “union labels” is an Ebay guide sadly missing most of its original images, I decided to produce this post to give you updated materials for identifying ILGWU union labels in vintage women’s clothing.

This guide is on ILGWU union labels found in women’s clothing only — guides to union labels in women’s hats, lingerie and men’s clothing  will be produced in the near future!

Visit my article for 13 tips on dating vintage clothing labels!

Do you have a question about a union label you’ve found in a garment? Let me know what’s on your mind by leaving a comment below, or by saying hello on TwitterFacebookInstagram or by subscribing to my newsletter!

xx, SD

DISCLOSURE

I decided to tackle this article to create a compilation of union labels in one place on the Internet.

Unfortunately, I lack original photography for ILGWU labels from its inception in 1900 to 1936 (thumbnail available from Anjou Clothing), 1936 to 1940 and 1940 to 1955.

I plan on updating this article as soon as I gather these historical materials but for your immediate benefit, I’ll begin exploration of the ILGWU union labels at 1955.

Below is a brief timeline breaking down the different designs by period so that you can at least compare any of your older garments against this information to verify its age. Further description (without images) available thanks to Ebay’s union label guide by ikwewe.

ILGWU UNION LABEL TIMELINE

1900 – 1936 ILGWU AFL
1936 – 1940 ILGWU CIO
1940 – 1955 ILGWU AFL
1955 – 1995 ILGWU AFL-CIO
1975-1992 RED, WHITE, BLUE ILGWU AFL-CIO
1995 – 2004 UNITE!
2004 – UNITE HERE

UNION LABELS ILGWU AFL-CIO

union workers in 1950s standing in front of clothing union tag from the 1950s

Source: Kheel Center at Cornell University, Flickr Creative Commons

ERA: 1955 to 1963

LOOK FOR: The words “UNION LABEL” above a scalloped crest in front of a needle and thread.

The scalloped circle has “INT’L LADIES GARMENT UNION WORKERS” written around a backdrop of ILGWU with AFL-CIO printed in white lettering in front.

There is no “R” for rights on the label (you see the R emerge in 1964).

HISTORY: The scalloped crest in front of a needle and thread was adopted in the ’50s. If you see an ILGWU union label without one, you can conclude the garment was made pre-1950s.

The design with AFL-CIO was introduced to the label after the AFL (American Federation of Labor) and CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) unions merged on December 5th, 1955 under the ILGWU.

this is a union tag of the ILGWU dating from 1955 to 1963

Source: Quirk Vintage Clothing (left) & Fuzzy Lizzie from the Vintage Fashion Guild

UNION LABELS ILGWU AFL-CIO

union clothing label on a piece of vintage clothing

ERA: 1964 to 1973

LOOK FOR: Scalloped circle in front of a needle and thread, but placement of words has changed.

The scalloped circle now surrounds a darkened circle. UNION MADE has moved into the circle. ILGWU is now in the foreground, and AFL-CIO is smaller and written immediately below.

The “R” sign noting the trademark of this logo makes its first appearance.

HISTORY: This label design was first used June 28, 1963 and was officially trademarked on April 21, 1964.

The “R” symbol is therefore indicative of this garment having been produced after April 21, 1964.

If this style of union label has no R, then the garment was made between June 28, 1963 and April 21, 1964.

UNION LABELS ILGWU RED, WHITE & BLUE

union clothing tag on vintage clothing

ERA: 1974 to 1995

LOOK FOR:  The same design as 1964 to 1973, only in red, white and blue colors. Made in U.S.A. is colored in red and more prominent below the ILGWU logo.

HISTORY: As the outsourcing of garment production abroad became more common, a campaign to encourage American clothing consumers “To Look for the Union Tag” was born in 1975.

The union tags therefore adopted a style makeover to the patriotic color scheme of red, white and blue.

This positive propaganda even released a jingle to support its cause, which you can listen to thanks to the Labor Arts site here. 

UNION LABELS UNITE!

vintage clothing union tag

ERA: 1995 to 2005

LOOK FOR: The scalloped circle over a needle and thread is gone, replaced with a more minimalist style approach.

The word UNITE! is most prominent and found below “Union of Needletrades Industrial & Textile Employees.”

“Union Made in the USA” follows.

HISTORY: The quintessential design of a scalloped circle with needle and thread disappears because the ILGWU merges with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers of America (ACTWU, men’s clothing union) to form UNITE!

By 1995, Americans were buying more clothing than ever produced in countries abroad. The merger of women’s and men’s clothing unions is testament to the depleting industry of “American made.”

UNION LABELS UNITE HERE!

unite here union logo

Source: UNITE HERE! on Wikipedia 

ERA: 2005 to Present

LOOK FOR: Tags with black and red writing of UNITE HERE! under “Union Made in the U.S.A.”

The union also represents some clothing production in Canada. Look for CANADA written at a vertical along the tag’s edge.

HISTORY: In 2005, UNITE!  merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) to form UNITE HERE.

Today the union represents only a handful of clothing companies — and no brands worth writing home about. The union predominantly oversees the restaurant, hotel and casino/gambling industries.

the union label for unite here

Source: Made in USA Challenge 

 

Thank you to the Family Vintage Jewels for loaning vintage clothing for creation of this article.

MORE ON UNION LABELS & VINTAGE TAGS

QUICK TIPS: How to Know Your Clothing is Vintage
CLUES: How to Date Vintage Clothing by Construction
THRIFT: 3 Ways to Identify Vintage Clothing Labels 
TAGS: 11 Ways to Know It’s Vintage by Labels & Tags
PLUS: A Visual Guide of How to Date Vintage Clothing
UPDATE: 13 Tips for Dating Vintage Clothing Labels 

RESOURCES

The Vintage Fashion Guild Union Label Guide
The Union Label Ebay Guide
History of the ILGWU from Labor Arts
Union Labels by Anjou Vintage Clothing

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13 Comments

  1. natalie says:

    Yay, this is an excellent resource! Just what I needed to help identify my own union tags. *bookmarks page immediately*

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    Natalie, I HEART YOU! Thank you!!!

    [Reply]

  2. E. says:

    SO helpful. I just linked to you on my most recent vintage post.

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    Thank you, Color Wheel ROCKSTAR! Emailing you now ;-)

    [Reply]

  3. Abby says:

    Hi,

    My grandmother gave me a dress about 10 years ago that has the “INT’L LADIES GARMENT UNION WORKERS” label on it. The label is almost identical to the label shown under the 1955-1963 era except that it does not say “Union Label” at the top. At the top of the label, there is a set of numbers (AAAY) with a set of numbers (935264) beneath it. Could anyone advise me on the date of this dress?

    Thank you,

    Abby

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    hi Abby! With that label, chances are you have a garment from 1955 to 1963. No worries that it doesn’t say “Union Label” at top. Do numbers have RN proceeding?

    [Reply]

  4. Kimberly says:

    Thank you so very much!! This has been very helpful.

    Thanks again for you hard work.

    [Reply]

  5. Liz says:

    Sammy, What a detective. I am about to embark on a Fashion Theory course & the garment I have chosen to write about has a Union Label – had this dress for years and never noticed! From your description I am dating between 1995-1964 but can you enlighten more on other text on the label. The label is turquoise (possibly faded dark blue) in capital letters above Union Label is written AESK and the numbers 041195. Thanks in advance. Liz

    [Reply]

  6. Laurie says:

    I have a question. I have a garment with a union label that looks just like the 1974-1995 era ones, except the Made in U.S.A. is going up the right side of the label, and not across the bottom of it. Does this make it easier to narrow down the date of the item? Sorry, I am new to all this and trying to get things right. I appreciate any help you can offer. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  7. Jen says:

    This is so helpful! Thank you!

    [Reply]

  8. Allure2514 says:

    very nice post!I like it very much!

    [Reply]

  9. Maria Rodriguez says:

    I have a beautiful blue sleeveless dress with matching tailored jacket the label is from the merge of AFL & CIO where the first issue date of June 1963 but I’m unable to determine size by today’s standards it has a separate label with the #48 and just above the union label the # 541279

    [Reply]

    Joanne Reply:

    Measure your garments and then look at sizing charts online to give you an idea as to what size it would fit in today’s world.

    [Reply]

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