Vintage Mystery #1: Sherbet navy pinstripe dress
I think one of the reasons vintage clothes are such a passion for many thrifters is because of the story. Whenever you find a piece, you can’t help but wonder about the original owner. There’s a connection between the past and the present when you discover a love for vintage, and that frequently manifests in an insatiable curiosity and desire for learning.
Dating vintage garments can be pretty tricky, even for expert vintage sellers! I’m a vintage newbie, so I’m still learning the ropes of how to identify clues that help you pin down a date for vintage clothes. This post kicks off a new series for Destination Thrift: Vintage Mysteries. I’ll walk you through the stories of my vintage clothes – from acquisition all the way to resources that will give me clues. Hopefully all of my “vintage mysteries” will end with a confident resolution! But even if they don’t, I think the journey will be a lot of fun. Now, on to the mystery of the navy pinstripe dress…(beware, this one’s a doozy!)
See more detail shots in the Vintage Mysteries Flickr album.
I bought this particular vintage dress at a garage sale back in May. It was hanging on a rack facing outward, and I was immediately drawn to it. I had a strong feeling that it was vintage because the fabric looks old and the silhouette seemed like it might be vintage. When I glanced at the maker’s label, the typography and lack of other tags confirmed my suspicions. It looked a little big, but I had to go for it. When I asked how much it was, the seller said one dollar. Sold! I whipped out my wallet as fast as I could.
When I tried it on at home, my instinct proved correct – it was a little baggy on my petite frame. But I still think I can make it work with a belt. Navy pinstripes are a classic pattern. All the better if it’s true vintage!
Now I found myself wondering, just how old is this dress? At the earliest opportunity, I googled the maker’s name in an attempt to narrow down the search.
Unfortunately, “Sherbet” is not a terribly original word to search by. I kept getting listings for dresses in sherbet colors. The label is so simple and minimalist – I didn’t know where else to turn.
RN numbers were first used in 1952, according to my go-to girl Sammy Davis Vintage who wrote a recent article about identifying vintage. But this dress doesn’t list any RN number - only the maker’s tag. Could my dress have been made pre-1952? To check the maker’s name, I went to the RN database to see if I could get any clues.
Three results popped up in my search: two listings for Sherbet Frocks Inc. and one for Sherbet Originals Inc. When I searched for Sherbet Originals Inc., I found a Manta listing for a “Men’s & Boys Clothing Merchant Wholesaler.” Not quite what I was expecting. If this dress is as old as I think (and hope!) it is, it is more likely by Sherbet Frocks.
I tried searching for “Sherbet Frocks Inc” in quotes, and I found only one listing from a seller. These are the details:
“Beautiful vintage teen dress from the 1950′s that is new with original Belks Department Store tags. The design is Sherbet Frocks Inc. It is 100% cotton and made in the United States. The dress is a teen size 12.”
Perhaps my dress is related to this dress? A search for Belk’s Department Store did not yield any clues besides it is a popular department store chain in the South. I don’t have any evidence that my dress was definitively sold there. I have a strong feeling that my dress was made by Sherbet Frocks Inc., but I don’t have evidence for that either. Since this garment doesn’t have any identifying tags besides the maker’s label, I’m going to have to look for other construction clues.
Seams can be a big indicator of a vintage date. My seams most closely match the pinked seams – but there are a couple of serged seams. Most of the seams look like they were pinked, but some of the crispness of has frayed away, leaving a sort of raggedy-looking toothy pattern. I can’t make out the stitching on the hem, but it looks invisible from the outside. The only serged seam is on the scoop part along the back of the neck, on the inside of the dress (I am not sure what this is called.)
I could try the Bakelite test on the buttons. I’ll update this post with any results I get. The dress did come with a skinny belt (not pictured – perhaps in an update) Could that give me some clues? I’m not even sure what the fabric is made of – it feels a little scratchy like it could be a lightweight wool, but I would need to do some testing for confirmation.
I have a strong feeling that this is an early ’50s dress, due to the lack of RN number or any other labels. Originally, I thought it could even be 1940s but I worry that estimate might be too old. The solemn color, big shoulder silhouette, ascot neckline, conservative feel, and lack of the “New Look” full-skirted silhouettes that became popular in the ’50s – that speaks 1940s to me.
I am completely stuck. Consider this my SOS to the vintage community: I need your help to identify this vintage piece! Do you have a clue that I missed? Please leave a comment and share your vintage knowledge (remember, it helps everyone!) or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.