Today’s guest writer is Shauna Thomas, The Flea Market Fashionista, whose blog can be read here. An avid thrift-store shopper, Shauna has hunted for vintage fashion gems all over the world working as a TV writer, reporter, and producer of series such as “Launch My Line,” “The Dr. Phil Show,” and “The Bachelor.”
I love labels. In fact, I never buy any item without finding, feeling, and analyzing the label first. People who say they “aren’t into labels” have absolutely no idea what they are missing. Label looking is one of the most important steps when shopping for vintage and recycled fashion. The label is the key to unlocking the true value of any piece of clothing, handbag, shoe, or accessory because it reveals the history of the item.
Any veteran vintage shopper understands that a valuable label doesn’t need the name Gucci, Prada, or Dior to be worth something. The key to understanding labels as the way to determine the authenticity of an item is done by examining the look and feel of it first, and the name second.
Here are some tips to help you identify vintage labels and which era the item is from. First, different eras used different fonts on the labels because the options were more limited years ago before the age of computers and graphics. Second, most vintage labels were hand-stitched and have far more intricate detailing on them. Third, vintage labels almost always have discolorations or fading on the tags because they are so old.
Always check for the size, too, because this can tell you which decade an item is from. Size measurements were much different in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s than they are today—for example, a size 12 in the ’60s is about the same as a size 4 today.
I am not a label snob, but I do sometimes buy things specifically for the label. Usually, it’s because of the unique time, place, or country that it came from. My most recent purchase was an offbeat retro argyle sweater that I found thrifting in Los Angeles. It was hanging on a rack, stuffed inside a mountain of men’s knit shirts. There it was, standing out like a sore thumb, a feminine, white, wool V-neck sweater with pink and blue textured diamonds on the front, connected with intricate zigzag stitching.
It was so different from most of the sweaters I typically find that I began to examine it—and then I understood why I loved my new find. On the label, written in English and Chinese characters, were the words “Jin Shan.” Immediately, I knew this was a very special sweater. I scooped it up, paid a mere 15 bucks for it, and took it home to do my research. As I began looking into Jin Shan, I wondered how this beautiful sweater ever came to be in my hands and fantasized about its journey.
While I didn’t find anything specific about this sweater, or the company named “Jin Shan” that produced it, I discovered that Jin Shan is one of the biggest districts in Shanghai. It is located on the water with several beaches, has five major Buddhist temples, and has only been growing as an urban center since 1997. According to Cultural China, in Shanghai, “Fashion is on the lips of everyone in the area, and should you find yourself anywhere in China, Shanghai’s ascent into the ranks of a fashion capital will no doubt be a hot topic.”
I would never have thought that this cute little type of “cheerleading” sweater could have taught me so much. I feel lucky because not only did I get a great statement piece to add to my eclectic wardrobe, but I also got a history lesson about a tiny place all the way across the world in Shanghai. I hope to visit there some day soon.
(Photos courtesy Shauna Thomas / The Flea Market Fashionista.)