Comparing Details as an Aid to Dating Vintage Clothing

Collecting sportswear has a particular challenge in that it does not always follow the fashion of the era.  This is especially true in something like riding breeches that were made for a particular purpose, and thus had to be functional.  Sometimes the collector has to look beyond fashion to come up with a reasonable date for an object.

I have three pairs of riding breeches and jodhpurs.  In order to put them in their correct time period, I have to rely on the details and construction techniques.  I’m not an expert in the history of riding pants, but using what I do know about fabrics, construction, and fashion, I was able to put a date on each pair.

The oldest pair I have is the pair above.  These jodphurs have the full thighs that you would expect to see before stretch fabrics came into use.  The fabric is a sturdy cotton twill.

These pants close using buttons on both sides of the hips.  The buttons are of a type that I commonly see on clothing from the 1910s and 1920s.

The insides of the knees is reinforced with an extra layer of twill fabric.

To keep the pants legs from riding up, there is lacing on the outside of each leg.

These jodphurs actually came with a matching coat which had this label.  The Emporium was in business from 1896 until 1996, which does not help, but the style of the label certainly does.  My best guess for this pair is 1917-1925.

The second pair of jodphurs are also made from cotton twill.  The shape is very similar to the first pair.

These have a hip button closure as well as two leather buckles.  The buttons are plastic, and are a type commonly seen in the 1930s and 40s.

The inside knees are reinforced with fine suede leather.

The bottoms of the legs are not as tight as the earlier pair.  They are held in place by suede straps that button to the hems.

Some of the seams are finished by a type of overlock stitch that is sometimes seen on sportswear from the 1920s through the 40s.  There is not a label present, but I’m pretty sure these are from the 1930s.  Any later and a zipper would be used.  These could be early 40s, but not into the war years due to the use of leather.

My last pair is made from a stretch fabric, a blend of cotton and nylon.  Due to the stretch, the hips and thighs could be cut slimmer and still be comfortable for the rider.

The pants close at the hip with a metal zipper.  Note the loops for a belt.

The inside of the knees is reinforced with leather which was attached by the use of a zig-zag sewing stitch.

The bottoms of the legs open by metal zippers.

Best of all is the label, which told me the fiber content.  It also reveals that these were made in Japan, and there is an RN number.  The number does not tell when a garment was made, but because the RN system was first used in 1952, it can’t be older that that date.  A look at the RN data base does reveal that this number belonged to the Miller Harness Company, which had a store located on East 24th Street in New York.  According to an obituary of one of the owners, Jackie Kennedy was a customer.  I can see her wearing these breeches, and I’m quite sure these are from the 1960s.

I used to be determined to narrow down the exact dating of things, but often it just is not possible.  And when it comes to sports styles that were worn over a period of years, it is often just as useful to know the general dating.  At least that’s what I tell myself.



Filed under Collecting, Sportswear

19 responses to “Comparing Details as an Aid to Dating Vintage Clothing

  1. This is fascinating! I wish I had a quick guide to things like when the surger/overlock machine became commercially available. 1920s? Wow!
    I spent some time trying to track down the earliest zig-zag stitch after seeing an add for a zig-zag attachment (I cound not figure out how it would work with a straight-stitch machine, and the photo didn’t give much of a hint. Perhaps it moved the cloth instead of the needle? )
    Picot edges were so popular in the 1920s that there must have been a factory machine that made them easy to do. (You can fake a picot edge on chiffon by tiny ‘zigging’ over a previous straight stitch line, followed by very careful scissor trimming….) It’s also ovbious that at some point a faggotting machine became available, since it appears in many factory made garments. How about Lizzie’s Guide to the history of machine stitches?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Someone (not me!) really should write a book on the history of sewing machine stitches. I’d buy one. I’m pretty sure the zig-zag machine came out in the late 1940s, and yes, the attachments work by moving the fabric. My great aunt had one but it never really worked well.

      I agree; there had to be picot and faggotting machines in the 1920s.


  2. Christine

    How I admire your eye and education. This is such an interesting and detailed journey through the construction and style of jodphurs in the 1st half of the 20th century. Thanks for your analysis and the good photos!


  3. Brooks Brothers and Abercrombie and Fitch are creat sources for this-they custom outfited their clients both Roosevelts and Mrs. Kennedy-at great expense-the missing belts are the “jewels” to me…most custom made as well-found an Hermes riding belt -from the 20’s in my Vintage store-price 850.00 marked sold! Anne Klein and Ralph did them in70 and80’s! i think women look great in them!..just for casual sportswear!


  4. What an interesting point about the wide thighs on the earlier pieces. That had never occurred to me, but once you point it out it’s pretty obvious that wasn’t just a fashion statement 🙂


  5. I really enjoyed this analysis of your three riding pants.


  6. I love the details on the first pair. And I had no idea there were overlockers as early as the 20s. Thanks for the info, Lizzie!


  7. I don’t know much about sportswear, so this is really helpful! All three of these pairs are incredible! I hope someday I can run across a pair small enough for me!


  8. I’m in awe of your skills, as always!


  9. Hi Lizzie,
    Love the latest article on construction details of riding breeches over the years, but I have actually enjoyed your blog for more than two years, ever since I ran across a 2011 blog entry on Pendleton 49ers while doing some research of my own. What a great discovery! I’ve been a faithful subscriber to Vintage Traveler ever since. I am a retired physican, avid sewer and life long fashion history dabbler and have vicariously enjoyed your antique shopping jaunts, now planning one of my own. I live in Kansas, but will be in Greenville SC in early November, and was wondering if you would suggest a favorite antique shop or mall in the Greenville area? It’s fine if you are busy, or unable to make a suggestion, but thought I would ask. Thank you very much.
    By the way, I just finished sewing a 49er replica for myself using a red/gray plaid wool fabric purchased at a Pendleton outlet store in Nebraska. Such fun!


  10. Pingback: Vintage Miscellany – October 26, 2014 | The Vintage Traveler

  11. Pingback: Claire McCardell and Martha Graham | Jet Set Sewing

  12. Karen s Severance

    Wow! Thanks! I found a pair almost exactly like the green buckled and buttoned ones, except it does have a metal zipper, so 40s?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.