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!)

Vintage Mystery #1: The Navy Pinstripe Dress

See more detail shots in the Vintage Mysteries Flickr album.

Full shot of the vintage navy pinstripe dress, untied at the neckline.

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.

Sherbet label on vintage dress

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.

RN search results for Shebet

RN search results for Shebet

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.

Shoulder detail

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

51 Responses to “Vintage Mystery #1: Sherbet navy pinstripe dress”
  1. innamazing says:

    Beautiful. I love vintage. It’s mystery is so captivating. I wrote a post about the ‘vintage craze’ who knows, maybe you’ll like it, although I took a different perspective, since ‘vintage’ is a concept that can be applied to many different things. And finally, to wrap up, every true fashionista is a vintage lover.

    • natfee says:

      Innamazing, yes, I totally agree- every true fashionista is a vintage lover! I’ll have to check out your post, thanks for reading & commenting!

  2. nicoleottrey says:

    I think your dress is very similiar to dresses I made in the late 70’s with the tucks on the sleeves rather than gathering and those big tucks on the bodice almost covering the shoulder seam. This was a time of looking book to previous decades for inspiration including the 30’s and 40’s. It would have been belted in. Some would have worn a wide belt in red , others a conservative narrow matching belt.

    • natfee says:

      Thanks, Nicoleottrey – I wondered if it might be a reproduction piece. The belt is indeed narrow and matching (same navy color.) Thanks for the great info!

  3. kollshi17 says:

    thank you

  4. Kristi says:

    Wow! Fascinating! And I thought I was the only person out there who does exactly what you attempted – to ferociously hunt down the age of my vintage pieces.

    Two things: Did you try Googling around to see when fabric bow ties were a popular accoutrement on dresses? And is it possible the RN label was separate from the manufacturer label, and was cut away from the dress?

    By what I can tell, the dress looks late ’50s – *very* early ’60s to me.

    Can’t wait to see what you find out!

    • natfee says:

      Thanks, Kristi! I try to be a ferocious hunter but I don’t always succeed – perhaps I’m a vintage hunter-in-training. Good tip about the fabric bow – I’ll have to search for that. About the RN number: I looked over the dress seams and I didn’t see any place where the RN label might have been cut away, but it’s definitely worth a second look. Thanks for commenting!

  5. No idea but just wanted to congratulate you on writing such a charming piece. The material of the dress is really lovely too!

  6. Floyda Foley says:

    It still a mystery! Great post…

  7. Wow, how cool. Best of luck, wish I could help. I bought my bridal tiara at an antique shop for $14 and have always wondered when it was made. I am afraid I will be disappointed so I find it best to stay in my illusion. I hope you get an answer!

    • natfee says:

      Thanks for reading, thisfloridalife! $14 for your bridal tiara sounds like a great bargain! I’d love to see a picture if you have one. I don’t blame you for wanting to hang on to the mystery of it, sometimes it’s more fun that way 😉

  8. belleatisuto says:

    The style seems a lot like it’s from the late 30’s to the 40’s, the schoolgirl’s frock. Whoever owned this must have taken very good care of the fabric. The cloth resembles calico or muslin, maybe not so much the muslin, because it seems pretty course. I don’t know much.

    • natfee says:

      Thanks for the fabric info, belleatisuto! Yes, I was very surprised of the great condition of the dress – no matter how old it is, it’s in really good condition. I’m going to research your suggestions for calico and muslin and let you know if I find any more clues about the fabric. Thanks again!

  9. i wish i had good thrift stores around me! i live in FL and they are absolutely horrible 😦 Do you mind checking out my fashion blog? your feedback would be super helpful
    Thanks !!

    • natfee says:

      I feel your pain, candelacouture! My co-author Katie lived in Florida for about six months during an internship and said Florida is not great for thrifting (which is so sad! Think of all the vintage possibilities!) She was excited to come back to central Illinois for thrift stores! Good luck with your fashion blog, I’ll definitely check it out 🙂

  10. My guess from the description is early 1960s. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear! 1940s-50s wouldn’t have such a boxy cut; shift dresses with were popular in the 60s. Also the font on the tag and how it’s attached look like a lot of 60s stuff I’ve seen. The seams and buttons just look too finished and manufactured to be older than that to me. The material is probably a polyester blend of some kind, which is sometimes misleading and feels a little stiff like wool. Thanks for distracting me and making me geek out about this! Good investigating and pictures too. Another good resource is the Vintage Fashion Guild. They are way nerdier than me. Keep ’em coming!

    • natfee says:

      Thanks for the great detailed info, A-Hem Vintage! Sounds like you really know your stuff. Your logic about the cut, manufacturing, and material makes a lot of sense – thank you *SO* much for sharing! I’d love your expert eye on future Vintage Mystery posts 🙂

  11. I think it’s adorable and I’d like to see it on somebody.

    It looks American made – that’s OLD.

  12. E.S.Z. says:

    I think you need to do more research.”Sherbet Originals” did produce women’s clothing.See “etsy” website for some examples and labels.Contact “Sherbet Originals”- they might be able to help ; maybe with old catalogues.Goodluck!

    • natfee says:

      Thanks for commenting, ESZ – yes, I *do* need to do more research, haha! 🙂 Good tip on the Etsy search, I’ll see if I can come up with anything. Thanks!

  13. Bridget says:

    The inside part of the back neck is called the facing. Good luck in your search.

  14. Wow, I really like this idea! Buying vintage clothing at thrift stores has become a new passion for me, but now I am intrigued to find out when it all comes from. Also, Sammy Davis is awesome and if you send her an email she might help you out (:

    • natfee says:

      Thanks, eggswithketchup! I am sort of new to buying vintage from thrift stores too – I’d love to see if you figure out any “vintage mysteries” of your own. And I’m such a *huge* Sammy D fan! I might have to send her an email and get her opinion too 🙂 Thanks!

  15. Have you tried Vintage Fashion Guild?

  16. Also, I’m not sure if it shows up when not in digital, but there is a name printed below the Sherbet label. It looks like P CORNEL…..

    • natfee says:

      Nice catch! You have sharp eyes!! Yes, when I bought the dress, there was a name written in marker that was P CORNELL but I was surprised to see that it mostly washed away. I tried searching for people in my area with that last name, perhaps to get any clues about the original owner, but no luck. Thanks for reading & commenting!

  17. Very cool post! The ‘vintage mysteries’ idea is great! Sorry, I am no help to your identification process. I will look forward to seeing other pieces you come across though.

    • natfee says:

      Thanks for the sweet comment, RejoiceForTheDay! I hope you’ll check out my upcoming mysteries – maybe you’ll have a clue for one of those! 🙂

  18. I love the mystery of vintage clothes too! Sadly I haven’t found a good way to identify my finds other than Googling the crap out of it. I love the funky labels on the clothes because even if it turns out to not be worth much it’s still so pretty!

    • natfee says:

      thefunkyjunkie, I LOVE this comment! Haha! Yes, my knowledge doesn’t go much deeper than googling the crap out my vintage clothes – but usually it works better with more information on labels and tags. You’re right – even though most of my vintage clothes are probably not worth much, I still love the history, look, and the fun labels. Thanks for reading & commenting!

  19. Alyssa says:

    Uhmmm, not the typical dress that I would want to wear but it sure is worth keeping. Nice story, though. And yes, the fabric seems scratchy base on the photos.

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    • natfee says:

      Thanks for commenting, Alyssa – actually, it’s not a dress I would typically pick up either (I tend to go for less boxy cuts – they look better on me) but it was just too good to pass up this time 🙂

  20. Vintage clothing has become the passion of the people! it brought a good season to wear vintage clothes!

  21. this is a cool idea! i’ve never thought to do any research on my very few vintage finds. i also weirdly enjoy that photo of a button haha.

    • natfee says:

      Aww, thanks, littlecitybot! I’m glad you like the series idea – I’ve got a few more queued up, hopefully a little less mysterious than this one. And I’m so glad you appreciate the button photo!! haha 🙂

  22. beatlebird says:

    I sense a new TV program in the works (a la ‘History Detectives’ – great show, BTW) – featuring ‘mystery’ vintage clothing and its history!

    And yes, Florida is not ultimate thrifting country – unfortunately. Believe me, I try.

  23. Mohamed says:

    Superb post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Kudos!

  24. Ronilev says:

    I have a dress by Sherbert Originals which I would date to the 1960s, it is beige linen with a metal zip and a-line with feature pleats and buttons on drop waist.

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