Dating vintage is a process that employs a number of factors. Style, labels and methods of construction are probably the most heavily relied on but there are others. Sometimes fabric and print offer good clues. Textile innovation and esthetics evolved with the times and the materials used to make a garment can often help pin down it's approximate age, especially with home sewn pieces. We need to keep in mind that women sometimes used older fabric to sew with, but in general, dressmakers and home sewers tried to stay on trend. A great way to glimpse what was being worn at a particular time in history is with the women's or fashion magazines of their day and a really great resource for fabric styles can be found in old mail order catalogues.
I keep a number of vintage Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues on hand because they always have a sewing section. I love the yard goods pages that picture multiple fabric swatches. The button pages are also a favorite. Original catalogues are hard to find and can be pricey but to me they are well worth the investment. There are also reproductions available for less money.
Below are a few clips I chose from my collection, to illustrate a small sampling of the iconic fabrics from the 1930s - late 1960s.
The prints from the 1930s were often dainty
The 1940s saw great innovations in outerwear
The textile world went crazy with novelty prints in the 1950s
Quilted cottons were great for lending structure to a full skirt.
Lots of stylized prints in the early Sixties and
quality cottons were abundant
Classic plaids and tweeds were a staple
The Mod era was in full swing in the late 60s