Clothing Labels: What are They?

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

They can be smooth and scratchy, woven and printed, big and small, thick and thin, colorful and neutral. There are no requirements on the size or quantity of labels that each of our pieces of clothing has sewn or printed in or on it. What is required is the information on these labels is legible and accurate. The United States Federal Trade Commission, or the FTC, is a federal agency with a mission to, “ enhance informed consumer choice.” To assist them, and us, they have developed rules and very specific requirements for particular information that the makers of clothing being sold in the US market must provide to us by means of labeling requirements. In 1960, Congress passed the first Textile Fiber Products Identification Act (TFPIA), amended several times, to standardize the labeling.

The company responsible for handling all of the requirements of product creation through marketing and distributing is identified as the manufacturer. They would design and order the labels to have them available to sew onto or into the clothing when it is being put together. It is up to the manufacturer if they want to be identified by a name or a number. Businesses can use a registered identification number (RN) in place of a company name on the required label.

For example, let’s consider a T shirt made by the fictitious company, Gorilla T’s and how their clothing labels are legally following the 4 TFPIA rulings:

Manufacturer Identification — Gorilla T’s is the full name by which the company does business, basically pays all of the bills related to the fabric, labels, cutting and sewing, the making of the clothing. Gorilla T’s is also the name that appears on the label. The company does not want to use an RN number as they want to create a brand, an identifying feeling and value for the T shirts that they are manufacturing.

Country of Origin — Gorilla T’s has it’s T shirts cut and sewn/made in Mumbai, where the owners family runs a sewing factory. Mumbai is considered the country of origin.

Fiber Content — The brand Gorilla T’s has a set a marketing standard for using fabrics that are less harmful to the environment. The shirts are made from a fabric that is 60% bamboo, 38% recycled cotton and 2% other. These names refer to the what is termed the fiber, the content or weight of the fiber is listed in descending order, most to least, and it is legal to list 5% or less as other if the fiber is not known.

Care Instructions — It is actually the fiber content that Gorilla T’s uses in its shirts that determines how it should be cared for. The specific words to use are determined by the Care Labeling of Textile Wearing Apparel Act.

Now, if you look at a label, you may think that something is missing in that list of requirements. Yes, take off your jacket or your pants, or look into your closet or drawer, what is on most labels but is not one of the 4 requirements. What is often the first point of information that you look at in your clothing? If you proclaimed, size, you are correct! There is no requirement that the size be listed, this is more of a convenience for you and for the retailer, reseller, renter.

Ah, do I hear someone found a label with a lot of information in a language that they cannot read? While not a FTC requirement, it is suggested as a good business practice in our global economy to have your prospective customer be able to read their clothing label(s). Hence, the practice of multi-language labeling, a method to target the customers in whatever region of the world the manufacturer anticipates selling the clothing.

There are NO requirements as to quantity of labels that disclose the four required items of information. They may all appear on one, two, three, four or more labels. Or, there may be no label as all of the required information is printed directly on the garment. As we already sleuthed out, other non-required information, such as the size or multiple languages, may appear on the label(s), but must not detract from the required information.

As you look closer at your labels you will notice that some are sewn flat, all the way around the edges, while others are folded in half and sewn into a neck, while others are a long white slippery feeling material printed on both sides and sewn into a side seam. The requirement is that the information, printed on the garment or on one or more labels must be readily accessible for reading, there is no design specification as the color, fabric, size or other specifications.

Hangtags are the paper, fabric or cardboard tags of various shapes, sizes, dimensions and quantity that are attached with a string, a safety pin or a plastic to most clothing. These are not monitored, and need to be thought of as marketing tools, a method for brands to explain more to you the buyer about their products. A hangtag may list the fiber content, care instructions or any other information of the manufacturers choosing. Often there is a reference number, termed the style number, and always the retail cost.

There are other labels that have and will continue to be sewn into our garments. Generally these consist of logos that support the manufacturers inclusion in an organization or their meeting of standards of a certification. The purpose of the labels is to create an awareness and an understanding to the clothing purchaser and wearer of the processes that the clothing has met and the manufacturer has followed. Sometimes this may reflect in the price of the clothing, an increase, required to fund the costs of meeting the standard.

A historical label with much tradition is that of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). This label and its’ variation, are a proud representation of one of the largest labor unions to represent workers in the women’s garment (clothing) industry in the United States and Canada. It can be found sewn into garments manufactured from the 1920–1990’s. One reason for the decline of the ILGWU labels, was manufacturing of clothing began to move, “off shore” to India, China and other regions of the world where there were no minimum wages, and it was cheaper to make. Hence less clothing was Made in USA, and there was less need for garment workers.

The Fair Trade Certified seal and label has being supported since 2011 by clothing manufacturers to display to the customer that rigorous social, environmental and economic standards are being met in the making of the clothing ( This is a certification process between approved certifiers, manufacturers and the suppliers that they work with, across global communities of people. This is also a certification process for the materials being used in the clothing. Look for this label in clothing manufactured by Madewell, Patagonia, Prana, Athleta, Pact.

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the leading textile processing and manufacturing standard for organic fibers, which started in 2006. It stipulates organic farming as well as environmentally and socially responsible textile processing requirements that must be met for certification approved by approved certifiers. One of two logos can be used on a label only by certified entities whose textiles are made from at least 95% or at least 70% certified organic natural fibers.

Ok, the time is now for your interaction…. Yes!

  • Please grab a friend, a partner, a child, a parent, or go yourself AND
  • Pull out your clothing, look into the neck line or waistline or the side seam AND
  • Uncover the most interesting labels, the labels you are most curious about AND
  • Locate 3–5 pieces of clothing and the labels that really make you think, AND EITHER
  • Grab your cellphone and take photos of what your find, and save these OR
  • Grab a pen or pencil, turn to the Glossary section of this book, in the back, and draw them.

AND you ask, why do you need to do this? To get in touch with the choices that you have made about what your wear and decide if these choices represent the socially responsible person that you are.

Connie Ulasewicz, Ph.D. collaborates through, in research, writing, speaking & consulting about the circular clothing & textile economy.