How Union Labels Help to Date Your Vintage Clothing

July 27th, 2012

an ilgwu union label

Understanding how to date vintage clothing is like putting together the pieces of a giant (but gorgeous!) puzzle. This article will help you understand how a union label’s design speaks to the authentic age of your vintage garment or accessory.

Most vintage lovers would recognize the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) label, found in women’s vintage clothing from as early as the 1920s. But there are more union labels to be found in vintage clothing than just that of the ILGWU.

There are labels for millinery (hat) unions, men’s clothing unions and other unions which made women’s clothing and suiting during the 20th century. These were the unions that helped to not only influence the history of American fashion, but the legalization of fair working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who worked these factory jobs.

Keep reading after the jump to learn more about seven American unions and how to use their label design to help date your vintage garment!

This is not a complete guide to every single union label known to clothing and textile production — but it does cover the largest unions and therefore, the labels you’re most likely to see when examining the interior of your vintage garments.

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

Do you have a vintage union label that you need help identifying? I’d love to see it and figure out its origin and era!

Send me an email or leave a comment below the post for help dating your vintage clothing, or by saying hello on TwitterFacebookInstagram or by subscribing to my newsletter!

xx, SD

 

UNION LABELS FOR HATS

united hatters of north america union label

Source: (left) 4u2own21 on Ebay (right) New York Wanderer 

WHEN USED: 1885 to 1934

LOOK FOR … a union label by The United Hatters of North America (UHNA). The label was trademarked in 1915 but was first used in 1885.

the label of a hat by united hatters cap and millinery workers international union

WHEN USED: 1934-1983

LOOK FOR … “United Hatters Cap & Millinery Wrks” on top of a globe and handshake design with “Int Union” below.

The key difference between this label and older versions is a production number (“785641″) and IN U.S.A. with a small “6” next to what looks like a squished globe.

UNION LABELS NRA BLUE EAGLE

fingers holding a 1930s nra blue eagle label

Source: Jean JeanVintage and on Etsy

WHEN USED: 1933 to 1935

LOOK FOR … The National Recovery Administration (NRA) symbol of a navy blue eagle anywhere on your union label. The label’s overall design differed based on whether it was a jacket, hat, handbag (shown above) or piece of lingerie. 

BACKGROUND: A garment with a blue eagle on its union label means it was produced under the safe and fair working conditions of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration, developed during the Great Depression to create more jobs by forming unions.

Here’s a promotional video from 1933 about the NRA, thanks to Jean Jean Vintage.

UNION LABELS CONSUMER’S PROTECTION LABEL on HATS

fair labor standards consumer protection label

WHEN USED: 1938  to 1950s

LOOK FOR … a blue & white label with the words “Fair Labor Standards” and “Consumers’ Protection Label” on a vintage hat.

BACKGROUND: After US Congress declared FDR’s NRA law unconstitutional as part of his New Deal program in 1935, labeling changed to reflect rebranding after the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938.

The name changed, but the idea renamed the same: All pieces with the Consumer’s Protection Label were made under fair working conditions (workers paid at least minimum wage, time and half for overtime and no employment of minors in oppressive work environments).

UNION LABELS NATIONAL RECOVERY BOARD for COATS & SUITS

national coat and suit industry recovery board

WHEN USED:  1938 to 1964

LOOK FOR … a scalloped circle which says “COAT AND SUIT INDUSTRY” with “NATIONAL RECOVERY BOARD” encircled around.

a union label with consumer protection label and manfactured under labor standards

Flip the label over (shown above), and you’ll find the words “Consumers’ Protection Label.”

Hint: I found this specific label on a 1940s coat along the bottom side seam.

BACKGROUND: The National Labor Relation’s Act encouraged growth in stateside unions to create more jobs during the economic crisis of the ’30s.

The Coat & Suit Industry union was born out of FDR’s New Deal Coalition.

UNION LABELS NEW YORK CREATION DRESS INSTITUTE

NYC Creations Union Labels 1940s

Source: nowandthenstyle on Etsy

WHEN USED: 1940 to 1955

LOOK FOR … an illustrated NYC skyline with the words “NEW YORK CREATION” and “N.Y. Dress Institute.”

The union was operated under the standards of the ILGWU, but clothing with ILGWU union labels didn’t have a New York Creation label as well, and vice versa. Therefore, I consider N.Y. Institute union a separate entity from the ILGWU.

BACKGROUND: The city of New York and the ILGWU developed the “N.Y. Dress Institute” as a marketing label to promote the Big Apple as a hub of fashion production.

Consumers were encouraged to buy clothing with this label because they knew it was made by the stylish eyes of garment workers in the Big City. This is the group that began Mercedes Benz Fashion Week as we know it today!

UNION LABELS AMALGAMATED WORKERS OF AMERICA

the label of a men's suit by amalgamated clothing workers of america

WHEN USED: 1934 to 1976 (above, from a 1949-1962 garment)

LOOK FOR … a rectangular label with a sewing machine illustration and within the label’s design, the words “AMALGAMATED WORKERS OF AMERICAN” and “UNION MADE.”

The garment is always identified on the label. Either “suit,” “workwear” or generic “garment” will be listed.

There are five different Amalgamated Workers of America (ACWA) union labels. For a full description of how to identify them from 1934-1936, 1936 -1939, 1939-1949, 1949-1962 and 1962-1976, visit the Steel Zipper’s guide.

BACKGROUND: The ACWA was founded in the early 1900s as a men’s suiting and workwear union, which it remained the primary producer of through 1976 when it merged with the Textile Workers of America.

The ACWA was the largest manufacturer of men’s clothing from the 1920s through the early ’70s, which is why these labels are useful when identifying the era of men’s vintage clothing.

 UNION LABELS ILGWU

union clothing label on piece of vintage clothing

Read my guide on International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s union labels to learn how their identification helps when dating the era of your women’s vintage clothing.

 

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

MORE ON UNION LABELS & DATING VINTAGE

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 
ILGWU LABELS: A Breakdown of the ILGWU Label Designs by Era
PLUS: 11 Ways to Know It’s Vintage by Labels & Tags
UPDATE: 13 Tips for Dating Vintage Clothing Labels 

VINTAGE FASHION BOOKS I RECOMMEND

Vintage Fashion: Collecting & Wearing Designer Classics
The Little Guide to Vintage Fashion Shopping
New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style

ONLINE RESOURCES

The Vintage Fashion Guild’s  NRA Union Label Guide
The Vintage Fashion Guild’s N.Y. Institute Label Guide
The Vintage Fashion Guild’s National Recovery Board Label Guide
The Steel Zipper ACWA Union Label Guide

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9 Comments

  1. Carol says:

    Thanks for any help you can give me. I have a wide brimmed tilt hat with a union label – “United Hatters Cap & Millinery Wrks” with the production # – 794814

    – I read your comment below but not sure how to date the hat since the production # is different than you give below?

    The key difference between this label and older versions is a production number (“785641″) and IN U.S.A. with a small “6″ next to what looks like a squished globe.

    [Reply]

  2. Brenda says:

    In your article How Union Labels Help to Date Your Vintage Clothing
    July 27th, 2012

    WHEN USED: 1934-1983

    LOOK FOR … “United Hatters Cap & Millinery Wrks” on top of a globe and handshake design with “Int Union” below.
    The key difference between this label and older versions is a production number (“785641″) and IN U.S.A. with a small “6″ next to what looks like a squished globe.

    DOES THIS MEAN THE LABEL WITH THE PRODUCTION # IS FROM THE 1930’S ???????

    [Reply]

  3. Liz Cambron says:

    I have a bucket style rabbit fur hat, it has the label with the hand shake. My question is , my hat has a white label with Doris Designer on it, who is Doris? How can I find out about that part. Thanks

    [Reply]

  4. I have a coat with a similar label, thanks to your article I know a little more its history(story)! Thank you again =D

    [Reply]

  5. I have a white satin hat with the hatters uniun logo with the no#357111.please email me and tell me if ive found a treasure

    [Reply]

  6. Kaylee Clark says:

    I have a soft beige, crushed velvet hat with a Marshall Field & Company tag. Underneath the size tag (22), there is the union label tag (United Hatters Cap & Millinery Wrks) with the number “7722”. On the opposite side of that is the word “MADE”, the squished globe with the number “6” next to it. Could you possibly give me some sort of time period? And tell me what the approximate price might have been at the time of purchase? I appreciate any help greatly.

    [Reply]

  7. Joe says:

    I have a union hatters cap size 7 1/8 number is DT 183596 my it was given to my grandfather by one of the Beatles an it being my grandfather he don’t know which one it was but I am trying to find a price on this hat if you have any idea or can help me in anyway find the info I need cause it is possible that it could be registered to the Beatle that bought it. But I am 100% it was a Beatles

    [Reply]

  8. Debora says:

    I have a coast of ILGWU 318469. Do you know what’s the year?

    Tks

    [Reply]

  9. Amy says:

    Hello! I have a (seemingly) faux fur vintage swing coat.
    The women’s union label dates it to 55-63. But on the flip side, is a coat union stamp. Which I do not know how to date, because it has no relevant back markings.
    Is this combination of labels common? Too bad I can’t submit photos in a comment.

    [Reply]

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