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!
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
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.
Source: Quirk Vintage Clothing (left) & Fuzzy Lizzie from the Vintage Fashion Guild
UNION LABELS ILGWU AFL-CIO
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
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!
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!
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.
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
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
Yay, this is an excellent resource! Just what I needed to help identify my own union tags. *bookmarks page immediately*
Natalie, I HEART YOU! Thank you!!!
SO helpful. I just linked to you on my most recent vintage post.
Thank you, Color Wheel ROCKSTAR! Emailing you now ;-)
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?
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?
Thank you so very much!! This has been very helpful.
Thanks again for you hard work.
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
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!
This is so helpful! Thank you!
very nice post!I like it very much!
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
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.
The big question remains: Why did no textile company consider just putting a DATA on clothing like most other products have in some way?
Kheel Center says
Thank you for providing this resource and sharing a photograph from our collection. The Kheel Center houses the historical records of the ILGWU, and using those archives, we recently completed a historical timeline of union labels. You can view the timeline itself with sample labels here http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/ILGWU/timeline/union-label-timeline.html Our hope is that by viewing labels broken down by date range, researchers can estimate their garment within a decade or so.
Thank you for posting this guide, it is a huge help. I just purchased a vintage coat that has the ILGWU tag; it resembles the one used in the 1950’s however instead of ALF-CIO in the center it says ALF-CIO-CIC, I’m assuming this is just because it’s Canadian?? I couldn’t find any information for it anywhere. :/
I have a vintage bathing suite that has a red Union MAde ILGWU i am trying to find the Era of the suit. My e-mail is [email protected] if anyone has any information on this type of label. It is white tag with red writing only.
I have a coat that belonged to my great aunt it has a small tag that days Union Made & under it days ILGWU & under that it says AFL-CIO. Around it it says Int. Ladies Garment Workers Union
Then on the other sude of the coat it has a bigget tag that says A BORGE FABRIC. BORGANA styled by Sportowne.
Hi I have the same as the int log in the pic but it also has another tag styled by avan t garde large t in the middle.. I’ve had this outfit since I was a teenager does that extra tag mean anything on both pieces?
This article is wonderful! I have mostly collected children’s vintage clothing up until recently. I tell myself (mostly my husband) that once I get a good collection I’ll start an Etsy shop. I do have several pieces I hang in our daughter’s bedroom as “art”.
Last weekend was my first “real” (non thrift store) purchase on a vintage women’s dress (This is definitely not going in the someday Etsy stash)! It resembles very much like the 1955-63 label.
Above the symbol it also has AADN and a number, 413127.
The very top right side, close to the seam on the tag has a small oval/diamond shape with 191 next to it.
There is a basic tag with a hand written red “3” an order# 4716 and a Style number 327 10. There are no other tags on the dress. How would I know which brand this dress is?
I love this dress! It’s a beautiful mint green, a crinoline is attached underneath, a pretty bow on the back and has circles all over it. The fabric is formed by circles connected to one another. . I can send you a picture if you would like:)
I paid almost 100.00 for this dress at an estate sale. ..did I pay too much? I think since I fell in love with the dress that maybe I overpaid. I do not know much about vintage woman’s label’s so I have your pages bookmarked so I can learn more before I buy! Thank you:)
Thank you; this was extremely helpful for dating a beautiful cloak.
One thing I found out that’s not listed here is that in April, 1960, they began using labels that had “National Coat & Suit Industry Recovery Board” label on the backside.
Thus, for the 1955-1963 afl-cio labels, you can further pinpoint the date by the presence of the coat and suit label on the flipside.
Also, to my surprise, by that time in 1960, rn’s were already in the 920,000+.
janice graves says
ER Thomas says
Thank you for your article! I have a black sequin vintage dress I picked up back in the 1980s and had always wondered about. Thanks to your work, I was able to date it within a year (late 1963 to early 1964).
Dorothy Kalama says
This is an excellent site!! I have a label . . . the ILGWU red white and blue label with “ADAT 875864” On a wedding dress and hav been searching for year ans value of this dress. . . it is in like new condition
This is so helpful! Can you assist me with dating a floor-length black velvet evening coat? Label reads National Recovery Board, Coat and Suit Industry, with the number 109721 on one side; on the other side Consumers Protection Label, Manufactured Under Fair Labor Standards, and in a rectangular box the letters KJM. Thank you so much for any hints.
Gricelda A Jacquez says
Thank you so much for your dedicated work. I’m going through an entire wardrobe and have been finding very beautiful, interesting and garments that excite me.
Now I have a better understanding about vintage clothes.
I think because I don’t have parents or grandparents I have been drawn into vintage everything. I appreciate the styles, detail of design and individual character of each piece of clothes.
People really made clothes differently. Nowadays mass production has left out quality and everyone wares the same thing.
I want to be able to also identify personally tailored pieces.
Looking forward to reading your blog.
Jana Bertolani says
My mom got married in 1960 and her wedding gown has a ILGWU label inside the dress. It also has AAJN AND EO3244 on the label as well. Can you tell when and where was made?
Hi, I have a beautiful silk dress with the an above label you have 1964 to 1973
How do I determine the value?
Lynne Davies says
I have recently bought a pair of vintage ladies tweed trousers with a Ralph Lauren Collection label. On the inside leg of the trouser is a small white UNITE! label , the writing is red with UNITE in blue exclamation mark in red. My question is, would these be used in Ralph Lauren clothing ? Thank you.