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The Fedora Lounge Guide to Union Labels

Discussion in 'The Fedora Lounge Guides' started by Dinerman, May 8, 2013.

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  1. Dinerman

    Dinerman Super Moderator Bartender

    Union labels can be useful in dating vintage clothing made in the United States and in Canada. However, there are some important things to keep in mind when using them as a resource. Not all clothing makers were unionized, and not all shops which were necessarily used union tags in their products, so you will not always find one. As with any other method of dating vintage clothing, there are always quirks and exceptions which cause issues when trying to assign a precise date to a garment. There is always overlap when new batches of tags come into a tailor's. When the new 1949 ACWA union tags came into a shop, the tailor would use the rest of the roll of 1939 tags up before transitioning to the new tags. As such, sometimes earlier tags show up in later garments. There will also, almost assuredly be a number of variant tags which did not make it into this guide. Keeping this in mind, never use a union tag as the sole means of assessing the age of a garment; always use it in combination with other dating methods.

    The Tailor's National Progressive Union
    1885-1889

    Though founded after the Journeymen Tailor's Union of America, the Tailor's National Progressive Union was the first clothing union in the United States to issue a label on union made clothes in 1887. The Progressive union had jurisdiction over unionized tailors of ready-made clothing. The union had a socialist lean and was short lived, existing only from 1885-1889. (source)


    The Journeymen Tailor's Union of America

    1865-1876, 1883-1920s

    The Journeymen Tailor's Union of America originally organized in 1865, but dissolved in 1876 after massive embezzlement of funds by one of its officers. It re-organized in 1883, and had jurisdiction over unionized custom tailors. Its refusal to accept "less skilled" otr and mtm tailors led to the formation of the UGWA. They first issued a union label in 1891. I can not find reference to the union past c.1929. Modern history books point to 1914 as the demise of the union, but period documents and garments show it was around until at least the 1920s.

    Custom Tailor's Union Label.
    custom.jpg
    Custom Tailor's Union Label variant.
    custom - Copy.jpg
    1920s variant
    customvariant.jpg

    (source)
    Example from 1900

    The United Garment Workers of America
    1891-1994

    The United Garment Workers of America was formed in 1891 by ready-made tailors who the Custom Tailor's Union had refused admission. They issued a union label shortly after their organization. In 1896, the UGWA started placing their union label on factory-made made to measure clothes, which the Custom Tailor's Union felt overstepped the jurisdiction of the UGWA union, creating friction between the rival unions. They resolved that the UGWA would have jurisdiction over all non-custom union made garments. In 1994, the UGWA merged into the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

    The United Garment Workers of America tag remained virtually unchanged from its first usage in 1891 until its last in 1994. The most notable changes occurred c.1930, when the manufacturer number relocated from the side to the center of the label and c. 1955 when the AFL merged with the CIO. The first two label variants date from the first decade of the 20th century. The second two are representative of what was used 1930s-1990s.

    Tag from 1903. Note presence of signature of Henry White, General Secretary.
    01.jpg

    Tag from 1908. Slight difference in illustration of hands. In this example, the signature is omitted, though this is likely just for the ad in which this image originally appeared.
    02.jpg

    Depending on what was the tag was on, there could be different background text. Pictured is “clothing- clothing”. Other examples of background text would be “Duck Goods” or “Special Order”.
    03.jpg
    Generic variant omitting the background text, used for advertising purposes.
    04.jpg

    The United Textile Workers Union of America
    1901-1939
    Merged with the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (1937-1939) to form the Textile Workers Union of America
     
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  2. Dinerman

    Dinerman Super Moderator Bartender

    The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America
    1914-1976

    The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) was formed in 1914 by members of the United Garment Workers of America who disagreed with the policies and politics of that union. The two unions had a rocky relationship in the years to come. However, the union continued to grow, and by 1920, accounted for 85% of unionized shops. Due to the large number of makers under this union, these ACWA union tags are the most common tags in vintage menswear, and are also the most useful for dating. In 1933, the ACWA afiliated with the AFL. Arond that time, they started putting their union tags in garments.

    The ink on tags rubs off sometimes, complicating issues. For instance, the top of a 1939 tag may rub off and appear to read 1934. Or the side of a 1936 label may rub away to look like 1935.
    There are a number of variants to each of these labels. As with the UGWA labels, the ACWA labels will state what type of garment the label is to appear on. You will see ones which read, "Clothing", "Coat", "Suit", "Garment", "Work Clothes", etc. The designation on the label will not always match the type of garment into which it is sewn.

    c.1933 tag
    CIMG1602.jpg
    courtesy GoldenEraFan

    1936 tag (1936-1938)
    1936 date at bottom left corner.
    1936.jpg

    1939 tag. (1939-1948)
    1939 date at bottom left corner
    1939.jpg

    1939 variant tag
    (relocated information from standard tag. uncommon)
    1939 v.jpg

    1949 tag (1949-1961)
    1949 date at far right
    1949 tag was first used in commerce on March 01, 1949
    1949.jpg

    1949 tag with (R). (1962-c.1968).
    1949 date at far right
    Trademark was granted August 7, 1962. (R) started being used shortly thereafter.
    1949 v.jpg

    1949 tag with (R) and black numbers (c.1968- 1976)
    1949 date at far right
    IMG_9512.jpg
     
  3. Dinerman

    Dinerman Super Moderator Bartender

    Post- Golden Era clothing union evolution:
    As these are beyond the scope of the era of interest of this board, I will only briefly go over the different American clothing unions of the 1970s-present. With dwindling union manufacture and other political concerns, the major clothing unions for the most part merged.

    If you see tags from these unions, you can be assured that a garment was made after the "golden era". Far fewer garments of this era will bear a union label, which makes them a less useful tool for dating garments of this period.
    It is worth keeping in mind that there can be bleed-over in union tags. For instance, 1981 dated suit in my collection bears an ACWofA label, despite that union having been defunct for five years at the time of its manufacture. As stated above, never use a union label as the only means of dating. Use it as a tool in combination with other factors.

    The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union
    1976-1995
    (ACTWU)
    Formed from the merger of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and the Textile Workers Union of America (formerly the Textile Workers Organizing Committee)

    The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
    1979 (1994) -present
    The Amalgamated Meat Cutters union and Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979 to form the The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. In 1994, they merged with the The United Garment Workers of America and retained their previous name.


    The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees
    1995-2004
    (UNITE!)
    Formed from the merger of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union


    The Union of Needletrades, Industrial, Textile Employees, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees
    2004-present
    (UNITE HERE!)
    Formed from the merger of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union

    Workers United
    2009-present
    Formed from a split with UNITE HERE!
     
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