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You’re thrift store shopping at your favorite store — like the Salvation Army I love in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania — when a unique looking garment catches your eye from between the racks.

You pull the garment toward you, revealing a gorgeous silk dress with lucite buttons in an aquamarine blue color that resembles a shirtwaist style popular in the 1950s.

In the ’70s and earlier, anything not made by the union was most likely handmade by a specialty dressmaker or sewn together using a pattern by the wearer of the garment herself.

Since the ILGWU was founded in 1900, the design of its union tags have changed several times and it’s these changes which tell vintage clothing collectors the approximate era a piece was produced.

For tips on how to spot vintage in a thrift store, keep reading after the jump for insights on vintage clothing union tags, brand designs and Made in USA labels!

Deciphering the vintage era of a garment is like putting together a gigantic puzzle.

What are your tips for spotting vintage in a thrift store? THE SIGN: While you’re combing the racks and flipping through pieces, you spot a tiny, funny looking tag you’ve never seen before with the acronym “ILGWU” on it.

What you’ve just found is a “union” tag, identifying the piece as clothing made by a group of American workers who have banded together (“unionizing”) for better employment opportunities and fair wages.

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Using this information, it’s safe to assume that based on the tag’s design, that this Saks Fifth Avenue label is from the late ’60s – early ’70s.If your label’s modernity seems questionable, look up the brand name in the Vintage Fashion Guild’s label resource guide to compare your label’s design next to the pictures available.Noting similarities between your tag and the vintage examples will help you to decide whether you’ve discovered a vintage piece or not.The more missing pieces you uncover, the clearer the picture and the more confident your answer feels.While these three tips won’t tell you the exact year or even the definitive era of a piece, they will point your detective skills in the right direction of where to learn more so that you can decide the true vintage style origin of your thrift store find for yourself.

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