Using Color in Dating Vintage Clothing

People who are experienced in working with vintage and historical clothing will tell you that there is no magic formula to putting a date on when a garment was made.  Of course, there are those lucky times when the label is dated, or you find the exact garment pictured in a vintage magazine, but that is usually not the case.   That’s when you go to the clues: the styling, the label, the construction methods, the materials.  But a clue that is sometimes over-looked is the color.

Knowing which colors were used in which eras is just like knowing the styles – you have to study them.  I’ve never run cross a book on the subject, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.   So in the absence of a color bible, you go to the primary sources.  Studying the fashion magazines of a season will give you a pretty good idea of what colors were “in”.  Even better are home sewing catalogs.  All the major pattern companies put out a home catalog magazine from the 1920s through the present day, and most of them have a feature on popular fabrics and colors.

The best print source I’ve found is American Fabrics magazine.  It was a trade publication, with its audience being the many US clothing makers.  The magazine started publication in the late 1940s and is like a time capsule of the trends in fabrics, prints and colors.

Harder to find are fabric merchant samples like the ones pictured here.  I got these through a bit of luck, included in a batch of other fashion advertising junk in an ebay auction.  These are from the late 1920s.  Can’t you picture 1920s outfits in these color combinations?


Filed under Curiosities, Vintage Clothing

6 responses to “Using Color in Dating Vintage Clothing

  1. You lucky lady – those are great color swatches


  2. This is so interesting, thank you for sharing this! It’s one of the exciting things about finding vintage pieces outside of a black and white photo – seeing them in color is like going back in a time machine and seeing a garment as others did then.


  3. I wish there was a Color Bible out there… Maybe YOU should take on the task of pulling one together! I’ll bet that thought has crossed your mind, hasn’t it?

    I love the names they gave colors in different eras. “Mother Goose” – Was that a fairly standard industry name for a number of years? I know that I’ve run across that one before in some catalog…


  4. Actually, no it hasn’t crossed my mind; Im too lazy to write a book. All my writing is in small doses so my short attention span won’t be taxed!

    The closest this I know of to a color bible is Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1800-1960 by Eileen Jahnke Trestain. It was written as a help to people dating antique quilts, but I find it handy for other fabrics as well. The dating is a bit generalized, though. Still there’s lots of great info in it that I’ve never seen in another source.


  5. Pingback: 1920s Pierrette Sporting Hat « thevintagetraveler

  6. Pingback: How to Dress the 1920′s – Affordable Modern Day Alternatives to Authentic 20′s Women’s Fashion | Bygone Theatre

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