14 January 2009

A Beginners Guide to Dating Vintage Clothing Part 1

Nothing beats experience when it comes to dating vintage clothing - but there are times when even experienced sellers get stumped - after all, you can't possibly memorize every label, or recall at a drop of a hat when companies started and finished.

So I thought I'd go through some basic things that I've learned as my way of paying forward all the advice and patience I received along the way. I'm not saying you can learn everything about dating on the internet, the absolute best thing you can do is visit fashion museums and established vintage clothing stores, and see and feel the items for yourself, but there are some websites out there that if you use correctly can help you pin point an era.

This is part one:


TESS is a great place to start. TESS stands for Trademark Electronic Search System, and is a database of registered trademarks in the United States. It is not fool proof - they admit themselves that not all trademarks are there, and not all information is current - but it can set you on the right path. It's not the easiest site to navigate, so I'll do a step by step with screen shots.

This data base is of course only helpful if you have a label to work with - but we'll assume you do.

For this example I'm going to use an item from my dear friend RetroThreadz shop:

Here we have a fabulous coat, with the label F.A.I. It's a very classic style, which makes it hard to pinpoint era just looking at the outside, but we have a label, with an R.N and fabric content (I'll come to what that means later on - lets stick to TESS for now)

So off we go to TESS. The first screen you come to will look like this (click on any picture to enlarge):

Click on "Search" which will bring you to this screen:

You want New User Search Form (Basic) - so clicky click.

On the next screen enter the text of your label excluding any punctuation, like so:

Hit return and you'll be brought to a page of results - we're lucky, there are only 35, and only one matches our label exactly - no. 31:

So now we can click on this result, and find all the information available on this website:

So from this we know:

Word Mark F.A.I.
Goods and Services (CANCELLED) IC 025. US 039. G & S: Women's and Girls Shirts and Skirts; Women's and Girls Rainwear-Namely, Raincoats and Slickers; Women's Hats, Scarves and Gloves, Hosiery, Slippers, Belts and Shoes. FIRST USE: 19770200. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19770200
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 73428745
Filing Date June 6, 1983
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition June 12, 1984
Registration Number 1292999
Registration Date September 4, 1984
Owner (REGISTRANT) Frederick Atkins Inc. CORPORATION NEW YORK 1515 Broadway New York NEW YORK 10036
Attorney of Record Granville M. Brumbaugh
Prior Registrations 1080353
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD
Cancellation Date January 23, 1991

So this label was first used in 1977, and was canceled in 1991. That gives us a nice tight range in which the jacket could have been made.

So now - armed with this information - we can start to look at style and construction .

But that's Part 2.....



  1. I just bought a green, chiffon full length dress with matching sheer "coat" that has fake fur at the wrists. Sadly, it doesn't have a label. I think it's a 1970's party dress but not sure. Eventually, I may post a few pictures on my blog. Thanks for the link to the Tess sight.

  2. If you'd like to send me a picture I could help? You can contact me through my etsy shop :)

  3. THANK YOU! i can spot a vintage outfit on a rack from 2 stores over, but when it comes to dating them....no clue. THANK YOU!!! WILL USE THIS. {ok, i will stop yelling now.}

  4. sweet im ganna check my baby clothes lol look wut u started!

  5. Great tool! I am going to venture to say that this coat is from '77-'79 but I am thinking more '77-'78 because of the collar.

  6. Great article & very helpful

    "You Rock Sista"

    luvs ya


  7. Thanks so much Blythe! You are great. This is so needed.

  8. I love this Blythe, you have an awesome Blog!

  9. This is so helpful, thanks for sharing it. I have various pieces of my own and would love to check the dates. I always wondered how sellers found out about their items.


  10. Thanks so much for your help. I will be checking out this site.

  11. does this only work for items made in the US?