Interest in dating vintage clothing is more popular than ever, and an easy way to quickly determine a date range is by looking at the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) Union Label. Many individuals curious about an old dress found in a relative’s closet or a vintage coat purchased at a resale shop have contacted the archives to find out more about their item. While the ILGWU archives contains thousands of photographs and documents on the union and provides information on the history and use of the union label, unfortunately material does not exist for specific manufactured clothing. But, the archives recently undertook the task to compile and create a helpful guide to assist researchers date their garments. The new Union Label Timeline provides background on the predecessors of the ILGWU label, historical information on the inception of the union label, and its use through the twentieth century. Most importantly though, the Timeline offers numerous examples of sample labels for comparison and identification. The labels are categorized by date range, and even identified by type (paper or cloth) and which local utilized the label. While the union label design did not change frequently, this new tool will allow researchers and interested individuals to date their clothing within specific decades.
Jai Khalsa, working as an intern while completing her MLIS at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, performed the research and created the timeline. She discusses the project below:
The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives gets numerous information requests regarding ILGWU labels found in clothing, especially time periods of manufacture. Previously researchers were referred to outside sources. When one of these sources lost data through equipment failure, the need to have an in-house resource to refer to became apparent. Additionally, source citations in the external guides were scanty. Original source verification and samples of label changes were needed. I was happy to tackle this project, given my interest in historical textiles and antique/vintage sewing machines.
A broad search through the entire collection was initiated. Reports presented by the General Executive Board to the ILGWU Convention and Gus Tyler's book on the history of the ILGWU were invaluable in providing timelines of changes and dates of events. Photographs from the ILGWU collection included several of Union Label launch events, and the Union Label department files, ILGWU Memorabilia, correspondence of Louis Stulberg, General Secretary-Treasurer, and the Sol Chaikin papers provided a wealth of label samples, allowing us to provide many more examples of labels than most of the external guides. The amount of examples the collection held, including a whole roll of one particular label, was surprising. The final piece of the puzzle was finding samples of the NRA era eagle label design.
Besides finding the format of the eagle design, the most interesting discovery to me was a letter from the Union Label Department files dated February 24, 1982 which indicated that at one time it had been theoretically possible if you had both the number and letters of the label to compare numerical records of label sales to various manufacturers to trace the manufacturer of the clothing. Sadly, this is not currently possible, but the idea that those records might exist is infinitely intriguing and warrants further investigation. It was also interesting to note that according to papers in the ILGWU Wilbur Daniels papers and Louis Stulberg correspondence, labels came in various sizes and both paper and cloth varieties, which were distinguished by different series letter designations. It was a pleasure to work on this collection and explore the depth of the resources available.
Sewing union label
Union label dresses
Eleanor Roosevelt sewing union label
Mrs. Mary Rockefeller sewing union label
David Dubinsky watching Mrs. Rockefeller
New York Creation Label
Mrs. Helen Meyner sewing union label
Sewing union label
Mrs. Dilworth sewing union label
Tyler, Gus. 1995. Look for the union label: a history of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe.
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Trends and prospects: women's garment industry: report presented by General Executive Board to the ILGWU Convention. [1928-1974] New York: International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
5780/002 David Dubinsky President’s Records
Boxes 6, 212, 281, and 282 records from the Union Label Department and correspondence with advertising agencies regarding promotion for the label, newspaper clippings
5780/003 Louis Stulberg, General Secretary-Treasurer Correspondence, 1956-1966
Box 6 and 10 contains material from the Union Label Department (1960-1965) including correspondence, reports, releases, publications. Also information from Hawaii union label and shops with lists, negotiations, and contract agreements.
5780/083 Sol Chaikin Papers
Boxes 3 and 17 includes letters from consumers regarding the quality of garments bearing the union label, reports and samples of labels used by locals, Joint Boards and departments, and label specifications.
5780/084 Wilbur Daniels Papers
Boxes 9 and 12 include correspondence regarding labels and prices, as well as procedures for handling union labels, and union label rules and regulations.
5780/088 Gus Tyler Papers
Boxes 12 and 13 includes the records of the Union Label Department as well as correspondence regarding the union label publicity campaign and information on strategy, planning and media use.
5780/152 David Melman Papers
Boxes 5, 6, 9, 30, 33 and 43 documents relating to the union label and the Union Label Committee Task Forces
5780/020 New York Cloak Joint Board Records
5780/022 Local 62 Correspondence
5780/039 Upper South Department Records
5780/043 Toronto Dressmakers Joint Council and Toronto Cloak Joint Board Records
5780/058 Southeast Region Records
5780/065 San Francisco Joint Board Records
5780/077 Local 98 Records
5780/111 Archives Department Records
5780/115 Western States Region
5780/116 Montreal Joint Board Records
5780/119 Political Department, Evelyn Dubrow Papers
5780/120 Western Massachusetts District Records
5780/142 Political/Legislative Department, Evelyn Dubrow Papers
5780/176 Communications Department Records
5780/207 Pacific Northwest District Council Records
5780/209 Research Department Records
5780 AV Audio-Visual Collection
Union Label commercials with the union label song “Look for the Union Label” performed by the ILGWU Chorus—under the direction of Malcolm Dodds, the ILGWU Chorus was most well-known for the performance “Look for the Union Label” on television commercials in the mid-1970s. The song, written by Paula Green and composed by Dodds, was part of the ILGWU’s general campaign to educate the public about the union label.
5780 MB ILGWU Memorabilia Collection
Boxes 9.2, 13, 14, 15 contains items that advertise the union label such as aprons, scarves, button-up shirts, patches and bags. Also available are actual ILGWU union labels, cloth and paper as well as a roll of adhesive labels that were sewn into clothing.
5780P ILGWU Photographs Collection
Boxes 6, 10, 17, 22, 40, 41, 50, 109, and 114 includes photographs of the various ceremonies of sewing in the first union labels (Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Mary Rockefeller), workers sewing the label into garments, union label events such and fashion shows, union label floats in parades, promotional label ads, billboards and banners and images from production of union label television commercials.
5780 Perm ILGWU Permanent Exhibit
Box 2 includes the words and score for the union label song
5780/046P Los Angeles Cloak Joint Board Photographs
Box 1 and 2 includes the union label in Los Angles and the first union label in California
5780/090 P Central Pennsylvania District Photographs
Boxes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 contains photographs and negatives including Union Label conferences and meetings, individuals sewing in the union label, union label dresses, and promotional events in Pennsylvania such as Union Label Week.
5780/102P Justice Photographs
Boxes 1 and 4 includes images such as union label fashion shows and dresses and the sewing in of labels
5780/176P Communications Department Photographs
Box 16 and 22 consist primarily of union label promotional material such as imagery and products used in advertisements
5780/212MB Myrtle Banks Memorabilia Collection
Includes fabric imprinted with the union label, as well as items such as bags and aprons created from union label fabric