The Steel Zipper
Vintage Clothing Definitions

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N -O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V- W - X - Y -Z

 

A

Acetate - Manmade synthetic fiber derived from cellulose acetate.  It was first commercially produced in 1924 by the Calanese Corporation in Cumberland, Maryland.  Celanese acetate was originally marketed as an artificial silk material in the 1920, but was not economical for mass apparel manufacturing until the 1930s when it was widely used as a lining material.

ACWA - abbreviation for Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.  A union formed in 1914 for men's clothing workers and became part of ACTWU in 1976. 

ACTWU - abbreviation for Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers of America. This labor union was formed in 1976 when ACWA and TWUA merged into one union.

AFL - abbreviation for American Federation of Labor.  This union was formed in 1886 for skilled workers.

Akaimimi - Japanese term that refers to the selvedge found on the out side leg seam of vintage denim jeans such as Levi's and Lee.  This selvedge can also be found on the inside seam of 50's era denim jackets.  It is identified by a white outer edge on the fabric with a dashed red line.  Often the red dashed portion of this selvedge has faded and may no longer be visible.  However, this term will still be used to describe these jeans.  This term is also referred to as "red ears" in Japan and "red lines" or "redlines" in the United States.

Amoskeag Mills - One of the largest textile mills in the world in the early 1900's.  Supplied Levi Strauss with naturally dyed indigo fabric for denim prior to 1917.  This was used in the 201 model jeans / overalls.

 

B

Bell Bottoms - Also known as "bellbottoms". Type of trouser where the circumference measured at the knee is much smaller than the circumference measured at the bottom hem of the leg.  Originally worn by sailors in Navy, this style of pants peaked in popularity in the late 1960s though the 1970s.  There has been some debate over when does a "flared" styled jean become a bellbottom.  Generally speaking this is determined not only by the circumference at the knee and bottom hem, but also by the length in between.  We have found that a good rule of thumb for determining this for most typical sizes of pants (waist 30" - 38") is simply measuring the bottom opening.  Classic bellbottoms such as Levi's 646 are usually 21" circumference or greater with the term "big bells" or "elephant bellbottoms" usually referring to a leg opening of greater than 25". A classic example of big bells are Levi's 684.  Again the 21"/ 25" rule for bell bottoms is just a generalization.  For a detailed calculation on determining the difference between boot cut, flares and bellbottoms, please visit bigflares.com bell bottom calculation page where measurements from your bellbottoms can be entered with the resulting calculation explained on their website. 

 

Big Bells - Bell bottom jeans with opening at the bottom hem of 25" or greater.  See Bell Bottoms definition on this page.

 

C

Cam Lock Zipper - Style of locking mechanism on the bottom rear of zipper to prevent the zipper from opening when the in the down or locked position.  First used on jeans Levi's 501ZXX in 1954, which was Levi's zipper version of the 501 denim jean.

Chiffon - A type of shear fabric comprised from a fine mesh weave.  Usually made from cotton, silk, nylon or polyester.  Silk chiffon is the most desired type in vintage clothing.  It is often found in vintage dresses and gowns from the 1960's and 70's.  Unfortunately, silk chiffon tears easily and is difficult to work, therefore it is not typically used in modern fashion. It has been replaced with a polyester chiffon which is not desirable form a collectable stand point.

CIO - abbreviation for Congress of Industrial Organizations, an organization that was formed in 1935

Cone Mills - Textile mill provided Levi Strauss, Lee, Wrangler and other vintage denim manufacturers with bolts of denim fabric woven on 29" looms and dyed with synthetic indigo dye.  Levi's began to purchase fabric from Cone Mills in 1917 and exclusively used fabric from Cone Mills starting in 1922.  Levi's continued to use exclusively use denim woven on Cone Mill's looms for its 501 jeans until 1983.  In 1983 it purchased larger 61" looms and discontinued using the 29" mills in 1986.  Levi's referred to the Cone's Mills fabric as "XX".  Therefore a pair of 501XX is a 501 style blue jean made from Cone Mills fabric.  The XX is not the XX next to Levi's name on the back leather/paper patch.  Although it may appear on this tag after the model number.  The Levi's LVC reproduction line is currently using Cone Mills denim to reproduce vintage models as authentically as possible.

Cravat - older term with French origins used to refer to a necktie or a scarf  of fabric worn around the neck.  Many neckties from the 1950's and earlier will have this term on the label (if a label is present.)

Crotch Gusset - Term used to refer to a separate piece of fabric sewn in to pants or trousers to form the crotch area.  This is the actual out side fabric of the item, not the triangular or diamond shaped liner that may be used inside as a reinforcement .  It is common in vintage trousers and suit pants from the 1940's and prior.  The gusset is either formed from a diamond shapes piece of material or from two triangles sewn together to form a diamond and attached to the top of the leg inseams.

 

D

 

Dacron - Dupont Corporations trademark name for it's polyester, which was created in 1950 by modifying terylene polyester production with manufacturing processing knowledge obtained with Dupont Nylon research and development.  In 1953, Dupont opened its first Dacron plant in Kinston, North Carolina.

Deadstock -  Vintage item in new - unsold condition.  Typically these items still have tags, flashers, and other point of sale advertising literature still present.

Denier - Unit of measure which is a fibers mass in grams per 9000 meters.  Generally this is a way of specifying the thickness (or fineness) of a thread of fiber.  The higher the denier the more durable the fiber and  fabric is. 

Denim - A fabric consisting of a cotton twill textile where the weft passes under two or more warp  fibers.  This creates a ribbed diagonal effect on the reverse side of the fabric.  The word "denim" is derived from the French term "serge de Nimes" which translates to a serge fabric from the French town of Nimes. Levi Strauss introduced the denim material to miners in the 1850's which was well received due to it's durability.  Denim was primarily used in work wear apparel until the 1950's, at which time Hollywood movie star James Dean helped bring the jean to the main stream.

Donut Button - Term used to describe a button with a large hole in the center.  Primarily used in button-fly pants and jeans during the 1940s.  World War II era garments can often be found to have donut style metal buttons with wreaths, leaves or stars stamped into the metal as a decorative details.

DSA - Acronym for Defense Supply Agency which was introduced in 1960 and was added to military clothing labels on 1963

Duck cloth - Heavy cotton canvas fabric that is generally classified from heaviest grade 1 to lightest grade 10.  For a more detailed chart with information regarding duck cloth grades, please visit sizes.com.

 

E

 

F

Flecked - Dotted or speckled pattern in fabric weave.  Popular in fifties era suits, jackets, and rayon shirts.

Fur Product # - A number similar to an RN number that was assigned to fur product manufacturers from 1952 to 1959 as a result of the Fur Products Labeling Act of 1951.  Fur Product # started with 00101 and ended with 04086.  The assigned numbers were carried forward into the RN # system created in 1959.  This number only is an identification number of the manufacturer and should not be used to date clothing.  A manufacturer can still use a number assigned in the 1950's if it is still producing clothing currently.

G

Gabardine - also know as Gab, A durable tightly woven twill fabric usually woven from worsted wool yarns, but can me manufactured from cottons and cottons blends such as cotton & rayon.  The manufacturing method leaves the fabric very smooth on one side and with a diagonal rib on the obverse.  The fabric is known to be very durable, non - tearable and weatherproof.  It  was invented by Thomas Burburry in the 1880s and was named after a style of long loose waist tied frock worn in the middle ages known as a gaberdine.   In the early 1900s, the British army approved an officer's trench coat to be manufactured from this material.  This coat was later adapted to be the widely used trench coat for the first Great War, World War I.   After the war, Hollywood movie stars were frequently scene wearing gabardine trench coats, raising their popularity to even further heights.   Gabardine became one of the most sought after materials for finer clothing from the 1930s through the 1950s.  It is still commonly used today.

Gusset - small triangular piece of material inserted at the bottom the seam that joins the front and back materials of a vintage shirt, particularly work wear and military shirts, although formal  shirts can also be found from the 30 - 50 with this feature.  This material was to make shirts more durable so that the seam would not rip open. In the 1960's a bar tack replaced this gussets in shirts.

Gas flap - Feature on some vintage world war 1 and world war 2 or great war military shirts where a flap is buttoned inside of of the front of the shirt opposite of the exterior buttons.  This feature allowed for a gas mask to be worn if necessary.

 

H

Hallmark - term referring to the number or letter stamped on the back side of the top button of Levi's jeans which is used as a quality control measure to identify what factory produced the item.  This number or hallmark can also help identify what time period the jeans were made during. (Note: We plan to publish a Levi's Hallmark reference page, if you have information that you would like to contribute, please contact us.)

 

Hidden Rivet - Rivets that are concealed with fabric that are sewn over top, so that they are not visible from the outside of the fabric.  Hidden Rivets can be identified  from the inside of the jeans.  These are widely known to be found on Levi's denim jeans dating from 1937 to 1966.  In 1967 Levi's jeans replaced this process with a "bar tack", "latch", or "kannuki" (as referred to in Japan) on each of the upper back pocket corners.

Hige - Pattern of fading that is highly desired in vintage indigo dyed denim that creates a "whiskered" or "tiger striping" effect from the middle hip area into the crotch and down to upper thigh.

Hollywood pants - Also known as "Hollywood waist" or "dropped belt loops".  Style of pants that were popular in the 1940's and 1950's, characterized by the the belt loops attaching below the top of the pants waist line.

 

I

 

ILGWU - Abbreviation for International Ladies Garment Workers Union. This  union was formed in 1900 and joined the CIO in 1935. 

 Indigo - Type of dye used to create the blue color in vintage denim.  Due to the fabric's interaction with the  dye, washing and wearing denim with indigo dye created fantastic fading effect on the denim.

 

J

Jelt denim - a lighter weight denim (for the time)  comprised of twisted yarns that was introduced by Lee in 1925 and used on many products through the 1960's.

 

K

Knife Pleat - Type of pleat that lays flat or forms a smooth looking surface rather than springing out away from the hem line.  Generally these are formed using a 3:1 ratio meaning 3 inches of material are used to create the fold resulting in an 1 inch pleat.

L

Lazy S - Term for the stitching pattern on the back pocket of vintage Lee denim jeans

Loop Collar - Term used to describe the fastener of a shirt that attaches a neck button underneath the right collar of a man's shirt using a loop of material sewn on to the left collar of a man's shirt.  The button and loop sides are reversed for a woman's shirt.  This style of shirt was popular in the 1940's and 50's.   Most vintage Hawaiian shirt's will have this type of neck button.

 

M

Millinery - term referring to a women's hat

N

Nylon - A synthetic polymer fiber.  It was invented  by Wallace Carothers on February 28, 1935.  It was first used in clothing apparel as a substitute for silk in ladies hosiery.  Four years later it was used by DuPont as sewing thread.  During World War II, most nylon production in the United States  was made for use for the war effort ( i.e. parachute fabric, airplane tires).  After the war ended,  clothing manufacturers expanded the use of Nylon to include, shirts, blouses, dress, and suit linings. While nylon is no longer a primary fabric in the apparel industries, it is still used widely today.

O

Orlon - Dupont Corporation trademark name for acrylic fiber or yarns made from this fiber.  Originally created in 1941, this fabric did not become popular until the women's sweater boom of the 1950s.  Peak interest and demand for this material occurred in the 1960's for both men's and women's sweaters.  The demand for this material gradually reduced through the 70's and 80s.

P

Peplum Jacket - Style of women's jacket where the bottom skirts or slightly flairs our over the waistline, contributing to a sophisticated style that emphasized the female figure .  This is typically associated with the Christian Dior's "New Look" of the 1947.  This style was extremely popular from he late 1940's to the early 1950's.  The " new look" revolutionized the fashion industry and the peplum changed the style for women's suits.. 

Q

 

R

Rockabilly - Style referring to the 1950s era when country music was infused blues.  The music was referred to as rockabilly for its  backwoods hillbilly style of rock.  Elvis Presley brought this sound and style to the main stream in his early career, along with Ricky Nelson and Carl Perkins.

RN # or Registered Identification Number, A number assigned by the Federal Trade Commission to identify the manufacturer of a garment.  It is not a requirement for a item to have a  RN #, it is only a requirement to have the manufacturing company identified by name on the tag.  Usually a company does this by identifying it's RN # (due to sub contracting reasons that the seller may not want to identify who the manufacturer was by name).  The RN system allows for this by identifying the manufacturer by a number.  RN #s began to be assigned in 1959 with the RN # 13670. Prior to this WPL # and Fur Product # were used to identify a smaller subset of  manufacturers.  These previously assigned numbers that are lower than 13670 were absorbed by the current RN system and carried forward. As with a WPL # and Fur Product #, RN #s should not be used to date garments with out other considerations.  This is because a number assigned to a manufacturer in 1959 or even earlier can still be used today on that manufacturers label.  The Federal Trade Commission has a searchable index that can be used to help identify a manufacturer to research further on the FTC RN database search page.

S

Smiley Pockets - Term that refers to western shirt pockets that are shaped like an arch with arrows at each end.  This creates a "smile" pattern.

STF - Acronym for term Shrink To Fit commonly used when referring to vintage Levi's cone mills denim that was made oversized and shrunk to the desired fit.

 

T

Taffeta - A stiff fabric woven from silk yarns, that is typically yarn dyed in the garment industry which leads to its stiff, hard properties.  This fabric is considered a high end fabric and is many highly sought after gowns and dress of the 1950's and 60's were made with taffeta.

Tartan - This term is more commonly call plaid in the United States and when the term Tartan is used it is typically in reference to material associated with a Celtic country especially Scotland..  Tartan designs are formed from two colors of pre-dyed thread woven woven at right angles that form a diagonal line.  This results in blocks of colors that repeat both horizontally and vertically.  Many tartan patterns exist and have names that are commonly associated to each.  A great resource for identifying Tartan patterns is The Tartan Finder.

Two Tone Stitching - Term used to refer to two different colors (bright yellow and orange color) of thread used in the back pockets and cuffs of vintage jeans.   

TWUA - abbreviation for Textile Workers Union of America, a southern union formed in 1939.

U

UGWA- Abreviation for United Garment Workers of America. A labor union founded in 1891 and affiliated with the AFL.  In 1914 a group of members split and formed ACWA leaving a much smaller membership. However, UGWA remained a  union presence in the apparrel industry through the 1950's when membership declined sharply.  UGWA continued existence until 1994 when it became part of UFCW, United Food and Commercial Workers. In 1995 UTWA, United Textile Workers of America, also joined UFCW.   In 2000 this union became known as the UFCW Textile and Garment Council.

V

V-stitch or V Stitch - term used to describe stitching around the top button of vintage Levi Denim jeans.  The denim was cut and stitched back together to insert the top button.  The geometry of the stitching formed a "V" shape between the button and the fly seam.  This stitching method ended in 1968 for Levi's denim jeans.

 

Viscose - The most common type of Rayon, dating to the early 1900s, although common commercial production for textiles did not occur until 1916.

W

Wash and wear - phrase first used / marketed in 1952 for cotton and acrylic blends.

WPL # or Wool Products Label Number -A Number issued during 1941 -1959 by the Federal Trade Commission to the manufacturer of any wool product as a requirement of the Wool Products Labeling Act. Numbers were issued sequentially starting with 00101 (now referred to as 101) to and ending with 13699.  This system was merged with the current RN# system that is still used to assign identification number to a garments manufacturer.   Companies that were issued WPL number can still use this number to identify the company as the manufacturer of a current garment.   For example, Levi Straus still identifies its product with a WPL # 423 on its labels. Therefore, Merely dating a garment based on  low WPL# does not mean it is vintage, unless the company went out of business at a known date, which was only state that the garment is at least as old as the date it went out of business.  Identifying a WPL# can give a clue to a garments origin, but should not be used to date an item.

 

X

XX denim - "XX" is a term used to refer to double extra heavy denim.  This is most often associated with Levi's.  This term dates back to 1873 when Levi's Strauss produced overalls from denim fabric purchased from Amoskeag Mill (or Amoskeag Manufacturing Company.)  This material was double extra heavy and referred to as "XX".   Due to competition from Levi's patents expiring in 1890, Levi's also began to produce overalls from cheaper materials to stay competitive, but the durability of the XX denim was desired and has outlasted the cheaper products.  In 1910 Cone Mills began to also supply Levi's with "XX" material.  It became Levi's exclusive supplier in 1922.  This double extra heavy fabric  was used for the majority of Levi's production from 1910 to 1983, including all versions of the famous 501 jean.  Cone Mills referred to the their fabric as "XX",  and Levi's added the XX as a suffix to the jean model number, thus the XX notation on vintage Levi's tags such as 501 XX (Levi's button fly jean manufactured with XX denim) and 501ZXX (Levi's zipper fly jean manufactured with XX denim).  Due to Levi's iconic popularity the "XX" term has become associated with their vintage denim.  However, this term is more accurately defined simply as an industry term term meaning double extra heavy denim and is used to refer to other brands as well.  "XX" jeans are still manufactured today by Levi's for both the normal and LVC lines of clothing.  While the LVC vintage reproduction models are a hot item for collectors worldwide, the standard heavy duty XX series is not sought after unless it from the Cone Mills era of production from 1910 to 1983. The vast majority of these of these models will contain "red line" selvedge, including all 501 from this period.  For Levi's denim prior to 1966 the leather / paper tag on the back of Levi's waist band will list the product model number followed by XX stamped in black ink such as "501XX".    From 1966 to 1983 collectible "XX" denim is identified by the selvedge seem only.  Standard  Levi's "XX" denim after 1983 contains the red XX at the top of the rear label that is present on all double extra heavy duty Levi's regardless of era, however, these are not desired from a collector's stand point.  Most recently Levi's is marketing a 501XX jean as a "shrink to fit" rigid heavy duty denim with the 501XX stamped on the tag in black ink as was the standard prior to 1966. These 501 are nice jeans but are only collectible with selvedge seams.

Y

 

Yoke - Part of a shirts material that lies on top of the shoulders and joins the rear and front. Western shirts  are often embroidered in this area with elaborate designs.

 

Z

Zoot Suit - Harlem jazz style suit popular in the 1930s and early 1940's.  The jacket of a zoot suit is characterized by a long jacket with large / wide lapels and very padded shoulders.  The trousers or pants of a suit are are very wide baggy and wide legged at the to, but tight or pegged at the bottom cuff.  Typically a felt Fedora adorned with a long feather was worn with such a suit, as well as a pocket watch with a chain that dangled below the knees.  The baggy styling of a zoot required  more material to be used in manufacturing than conventional styled suits of the time period.  The onset of World War II brought on the demise of this fashion.  In the spring of 1942  the War Production Board considered such styling wasteful and banned its production in the United States  in 1942 to allow for more materials to be directed toward the war effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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