Playing Fashion Detective: Chronicling a Vintage Garment

Look carefully just below the ad text and you’ll see the Woolmark®. When Pendleton created this ad in the fall of 1964, the Woolmark was very new, having been launched that year. Knowing about this symbol can come in handy when trying to figure out when that tweed jacket you picked up at the local Goodwill was actually made. A vintage friend was telling about a jacket she had. She was pretty well convinced that it was from the 1940s – until she found a little Woolmark tag. Knowing that the symbol did not exist in the ’40s led her to the conclusion that her jacket was a very good 1970s representation of 1940s style.

Woolmark is not a brand label; it is a label originally issued by the International Wool Secretariat to identify various quality wool products. The mark was designed by an Italian graphic artist, Francesco Saroglia, and was first used in 1964 to indicate that the garment is made from 100% pure new wool. It can be found on garments from Australia, the US, most of Europe and Japan.

I poked through some vintage 1964 magazines while thinking about what could have led to the creation of this mark. For some time, chemical companies like DuPont had been working to develop new synthetic fibers. By 1964, DuPont’s Dacron® and Orlon®, American Cyanamid’s Creslan®, Fiber Industries’ Celanese® and Kodak’s Kodel® were all major players in the fibers industry, as well as major advertisers in fashion magazines. It goes to reason that it must have been a time of panic for the manufacturers of natural fiber products. I’m guessing that the Woolmark was the wool industry’s way of trying to “brand” itself to better compete with the synthetics. Pendleton was one of the first US companies to use the Woolmark, and they even put it on their label. It’s a handy shorthand for indentifying a Pendleton product as being from 1964 or later.

photography by Amanda Legare

Pendleton ad from 1973

Synthetic fabrics continued to be popular, of course, but moving into the 1970s, the Woolmark was used even more often. And then I suppose they figured, if we can’t lick them, we’ll join them, because in 1971 the Woolblend mark was introduced. A garment with this label is made from fabric that is wool mixed with another – usually synthetic – fiber.

1973 Sakowitz ad

1973 American Wool Council and Calvin Klein ad

Today, there are a variety of marks. The Woolmark still indicates 100% pure wool content, the Woolmark Blend logo indicates 50% – 99% wool content, and the Woolblend logo (introduced in 1999) shows a wool content of 30% – 49%. You can see them all at the AWI site.

These marks are now administered by the Woolmark company, and not all garments that contain wool will have the Woolmark, as it is a licensed logo that makers must apply and pay to use.

Woolmark from a pair of recent Ralph Lauren slacks.

text by Lizzie Bramlett
(This article originally appeared on The Vintage Traveler)

7 thoughts on “Playing Fashion Detective: Chronicling a Vintage Garment

  1. Awesome post! I really enjoy this from a graphic design perspective. I like how there are variations to the symbol to indicate different blends.

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