Monday, January 11, 2010

Beware of Fraudulent Label Switching

I am going to make some people angry with this post, but as an honest and knowledgeable dealer of vintage clothing, I need to make my readers aware of an issue that has been bothering me for quite awhile. The fraudulent practice of sewing vintage or designer labels into clothing that has no label or replacing a less desirable label with a better known one is, unfortunately, becoming more prevalent. Now, don't get me wrong. There are lots and lots of honest and trustworthy sellers of vintage clothing out there. But before you buy, it is wise to know who you are buying from, what to expect and what to look for.

It is important to note that a seller who is offering a garment with suspected label switching may not be the culprit. There is a lot of buying and selling amongst vintage and used clothing dealers that goes on behind the scenes in this industry. There are also many, many sellers who have jumped into this industry because it is "fun". Those sellers may not have the education and experience to recognize when a label has been switched, and may be offering a garment for sale thinking it is the real thing.

Where do dishonest dealers come up with the labels they sew into clothing? Easy. It is not uncommon to see lots like the one above offered for sale on eBay, and these lots often sell for good money. This one sold for about $35 several months ago. There is lots of clothing at thrift stores that is ugly or out of style, but many of those garments bear a desirable label. Labels can be removed from a damaged garment and sewn into an undamaged one. Disreputable dealers will remove designer labels from scarves, hats, gloves, lingerie, and men's ties, then sew them into vintage clothing to pass a garment off as a high end or designer one.

This is a label from a Schiaparelli hat. It was sewn into a skirt that was not designed by Schiaparelli. The skirt sold on eBay for over $650 to an unsuspecting buyer.

This Valentino Jeans label was sewn into a brocade evening gown which was being offered on eBay for several hundred dollars.

So how do you protect yourself? The best way is to learn about what to look for. Here are some tips and common blunders to watch out for. NOTE: These are general guidelines, and will not apply to all garments all the time.

1. First and formost, if a seller is listing a garment as a designer piece, they should always show the label. If a picture of the label is not included in the listing, ask (demand) to see it before you buy. And if they do show the label, but the image is cropped so you can't see the edges, ask for another photo.

2. In general, the label on a vintage designer garment that predates the 1980s will be sewn in by hand with thread that matches the label color. There are notable exceptions, (Grenelle Estevez and Ceil Chapman labels were sewn by machine along the edge of the zipper in the 40s and 50s) but hand stitching and matching thread are the first things I look for.

This Christian Dior label looks questionable because it is sewn in by machine with black thread. Research shows that this is a Dior scarf label, but this photo was taken from an auction for a vintage coat.

3. Newer designer labels are often sewn in by machine, but you would be wise to know how each designer attaches their labels to their garments.

This Carmen Marc Valvo label was removed from one garment, and sewn into another. You can see the original needle holes and white thread at the sides of the label. The label was then sewn into a garment with black thread across the top - a garment that was not by Carmen Marc Valvo.

4. While some modern high-end designer labels are still sewn in by hand, many have gone to machine sewn labels as a cost and time saving measure. However, those labels will be sewn neatly and with care.

You can see the original white threads at the corners that were used to hand sew this label into a Chanel garment. The label was removed and sewn into a different garment with black machine stitching.

5. If a label is sewn in by machine, it will be neatly done, and again, the thread color will generally match the label.

Messy and uneven machine stitching is not found in designer garments.

6. In general, the size of the label will be in proportion to the size and weight of the garment. Accessories like scarves and ties will have small labels. Coats bear larger labels.

This tiny Molyneux label (probably from a scarf) was sewn into a coat.

7. Educate yourself about where a particular designer places his labels. Estevez usually put his labels at the back waist of his dresses in the 1960s. Norman Norell labels are usually found hand sewn to the center back seam of the skirt. Know what to expect and question any label that is not in the usual spot.

This Oscar de la Renta label from the 60s or 70s belongs at the back neck of the dress and should be sewn in by hand. Here it is sewn by machine into a side seam. It even looks like the seller has used the label twice!

8. Modern zig-zag stitches do not belong in a vintage garment.

A label sewn in with zig-zag stitching on a 1950s dress? No way.

9. Know the general styles that designers made. For instance, designer Ben Zuckerman only made suits and coats, never party dresses or lingerie.

Sometime in the late 1950s, Lilli Ann started sewing their labels in with zig-zag stitches in white thread along the sides of the label. This label has been sewn in by hand at the 4 corners with matching thread, but you can see the impressions in the label from the original machine sewn zig-zag stitching. This suit label was very cleverly sewn in to a 1950s party dress - a style that was never made by Lilli Ann.

These are general guidelines, but may not be true in all cases. There are times when stitching that doesn't appear original is fine. Most department stores and boutiques offered in-house alterations up until the late 1960s. Often times, when a garment was altered, the original label had to be removed and sewn back in by the store's seamstress. Or, perhaps the owner of the garment removed the label to get through customs without paying duty and then sewed it back in at home. I'm not saying that all labels that don't have original stitching are fraudulent. But it is in your best interest to be aware and take care.

All of the label images shown above are actual photos from clothing items that were offered for sale on eBay and Etsy over the last year. Remember, I am NOT saying that all sellers are dishonest. I am NOT saying fraudulent label switching is limited to eBay and Etsy. I am simply advising you to be careful and to look closely before you buy.