Having trouble dating G.A. Dunn & Co. vests

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Vintage Fashion Q & A' started by UAVLauren, Jun 2, 2014.

  1. UAVLauren

    UAVLauren Registered Guest

    I have two, red plaid vests with the same labels (picture attached). At first glance, I assumed they were from the 70s, but I've been doing extensive research on the label and can't find an exact match anywhere. Not to mention, most clothing from G.A. Dunn & Co. seemed to have been hats and jackets, so finding even a vest has been tricky. It looks like the company started in Birmingham, UK in the 1880s and closed in the 1990s and only made menswear. One of the labels - the "main" one - says the vest or the company was on Piccadilly Circus in London, but another tag says "Dress McDonald, Made in Scotland" (pictured). So, not only am I confused as to when the vest was made but also where.

    What do you all think?

    (Note: I did look up the company in the label resource section and it was not listed)

    The pictures show both vests. The vests share the exact same two labels.

    Attached Files:

  2. Leonardo da Vintage

    Leonardo da Vintage Administrator Staff Member

    I suspect that Dress McDonald, refers to the tartan fabric, and GA Dunn, to the maker of the waistcoat.

    The waistcoats are quite timeless though some may be able to help date them based on style, but I do think that looks like an earlier Dunn label. Labels that say GA Dunn & Co (the founders initials) tend to be earlier than those just say Dunn & Co. Someone on the fedora lounge boards speculates that the intials were phased out gradually after the founders death in 1939/40. Certainly by the 1960s, Dunn & Co was the established brand and I don't think you would still see the GA intials on labels by then, and so your waistcoats are almost certainly earlier than 1960.

    It would be a good company to add to the label resource.
  3. Leonardo da Vintage

    Leonardo da Vintage Administrator Staff Member

    By the way if you want to look for similar items, you will need to search for waistcoat rather than vest. In Britain we call them waistcoats, and that's where the majority will be. On UK Ebay there are many Dunn & Co waistcoats.
  4. Leonardo da Vintage

    Leonardo da Vintage Administrator Staff Member

    I realise "dress McDonald" is the name of the tartan pattern, rather than the maker. Are you sure both of those labels say exactly the same thing?
  5. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Made in Scotland may well refer only to the fabric manufacture, not the construction of the waistcoat itself.
  6. cmpollack

    cmpollack Trade Member

    I've had a few similar vests, with lots of buttons and pockets. Mine were tattersall and meant for hunting, as your may also have been. There are pics of two below, from 1928 and 1940. I also have a 1930s one in my shop that has little brass buttons like yours.

    Can you show pictures of the backs and interiors, both of which might provide dating clues? Also, check inside the (lower) pockets and on the back of the martingale (belt in back), because the vests were tailored for a specific customer there may be a date written in.

    Attached Files:

  7. Pinkcoke

    Pinkcoke Trade Member

    I think they were made by Dress McDonald in Scotland and retailed by GA Dunn, who, according to previous employees, did sell garments made by other established brands/manufacturers. (Some coats/macs for example were made by Dannimac).
    It doesn't make sense for me that the made in Scotland label would be just for the fabric without specifying such, and being sewn across the lining too. I would suggest Dress McDonald was a specialist Scottish wear tailor. This would account for the same label in both styles of tartan waistcoat.
    While this style might be for hunting elsewhere, I believe the tartan weave, at this time, was more for formal and occasion wear in Britain.

    I am also interested in this because I have a GA Dunn waistcoat of my own, with a slightly different label. All I had been able to determine was that it is no later than 1960s. I don't know if the longer back is significant. The buckle has two prongs that piece the martengale.
  8. Leonardo da Vintage

    Leonardo da Vintage Administrator Staff Member

    I have to disagree, "Dress McDonald" is the name of a tartan, so it seems unlikely/too much of a concidence that it would also be the name of a manufacturer. You can read about 'dress tartans' here.


    I think it was made by Dunn, from 'dress McDonald tartan', that was made in Scotland.

    My only confusion is how two different tartans could be labelled with same name, which is why as asked the OP to check that both labels are indeed completely identical. However, there are many variations of tartans from the same clan, and there have been changes over time to the patterns as well. You sometimes see very different tartans given the same name, by different manufacturers. So even if those labels are identical, I'm still sure they refer to the kind of tartan.

    This "dress McDonald tartan", according to one tartan supplier


    This from another


    This is 'muted dress McDonald'

  9. Pinkcoke

    Pinkcoke Trade Member

    But why is it being labelled when it's not a brand in itself?
  10. Leonardo da Vintage

    Leonardo da Vintage Administrator Staff Member

    To identify the tartan, and show that it was made in Scotland, I think.
  11. Circa Vintage

    Circa Vintage Trade Member

    Yes, I agree with you ladies: the tartan belongs to the clan McDonald, one of the largest Scottish clans and hence, amongst the most popular tartans.

    Queen Victoria during her Scottish phase in the 19th century popularised a lot of tartans and they brought in different types - so there are several types of McDonald tartan. The most popular tartans are the "Ancient" (original), "Hunting" and "Dress" which was for formal occasions like weddings. In modern times it's the "Dress" tartan that is generally used, as it's usually the most colourful. The "Ancients" are muted colours, as they're from the natural dyes that were available in their areas.

    I worked for a season as a tour guide in Duart Castle, on the Isle of Mull. Duart is the stronghold of the clan Maclean so I read up on the history. My uniform was a navy blazer with a kilt of the Maclean Hunting tartan.

    UAVLauren, your waistcoat looks like it could be '50s - can you identify the lining fabric? It reads like nylon on my monitor but I think it's more likely to be cotton or rayon. The fabric will help determine the age.

  12. sewingmachinegirl

    sewingmachinegirl Administrator

  13. Pinkcoke

    Pinkcoke Trade Member

    Just a note I've moved this to the Public Q&A, as a more appropriate location :)
    Leonardo da Vintage likes this.
  14. Leonardo da Vintage

    Leonardo da Vintage Administrator Staff Member

    I looked into tartans a great deal a few years ago, after discovering my grandmother claimed to be part of the Graham of Montrose clan. We don't know if this is actually true. Her surname was Graham, but whether she truly had a claim to that particular clan or whether it was just a romantic affectation on my grandma's part, my mother was never sure.

    But if it's a romantic affectation, it's one that's been in my family for generations now, so I'm sticking with it :)

    It's important to remember that clan tartans as we see them today, are a relatively recent thing. Although the clans are centuries old, and tartan itself is centuries old, the association of particular tartans with particular clans was mostly invented in 19th Century by the romantics, and encouraged by the weavers. Or, according to some sources, at least significantly embellished, exagerated and re-invented then, from a few near-forgotten older traditions. In older times, the colours used would have been governed by the availability of natural dye materials in geographical areas, but not necessarily associated with a particular family name.

    This is 'my' tartan. I have a scarf in the Ancient version, but one day I'd like to have a mini kilt, or a skirt, or even get some fabric and have something made. I like the blues and greens.
    Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 09.33.45.png
  15. Pinkcoke

    Pinkcoke Trade Member

    Ruth I have this 29" long pencil skirt for sale, does it count as Montrose without the white stripe?

    For some reason I have a collection of tartan kilts/skirts, but the sheer number of pattern variations puts me off trying to identify them!
  16. Leonardo da Vintage

    Leonardo da Vintage Administrator Staff Member

    That's nice, but it's not Graham of Montrose, which is not a common tartan. I will almost certainly have to order something specially. There are quite a few Scottish companies who will make skirt and women's kilts to order in various tartans.

    I can't quite tell the colours, but yours could be a version of black watch tartan, which is a common one.
  17. UAVLauren

    UAVLauren Registered Guest

    Sorry to have disappeared! I am so grateful for all of your comments here! They're getting me very excited for what I may have in my collection. The waistcoats do in fact have both labels, so maybe possible variations of the McDonald tartan?

    Currently, I only have a photo of the backs of them as they are in my warehouse right now. Seems a bit strange to me though that neither has a belt in back. As far as the fabric goes, because I'm not able to study it closer, I'm not sure whether its a nylon or rayon, but I'll find out and get back to you about that.

    Attached Files:

  18. Pinkcoke

    Pinkcoke Trade Member

    Perhaps because they were worn as the final layer garment, without a jacket, and therefore the back was also on view?
  19. cmpollack

    cmpollack Trade Member

    Between the lack of martingale and the silky (synthetic) back, I'd guess that these are at the newer end of the range during which that Dunn label was used... 50s/60s?
  20. cmpollack

    cmpollack Trade Member

    Not sure that's the reason, Melanie--the vests in 70s 3 piece suits often don't have a back belt.

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