Wearing vintage clothing has never been so popular as it is today; with nearly a hundred years of style to choose from, there is a vintage look for everyone. Head to your local thrift shop or go ‘shopping’ in your grandmother’s closet. Soon enough, you’ll be creating perfect ensembles of modern and retro inspired clothing that will have all the local fashionistas swooning.
Understanding Vintage Basics
Choose items from a variety of eras. Vintage clothing, although there is no firm definition, is generally acknowledged as any clothing or accessory that was made in the 1980’s or earlier. Therefore, there is a huge selection of clothes to choose from in the ‘vintage’ category. Although it may be normal to gravitate towards one particular era, try mixing up your wardrobe with a variety of clothing periods. Wearing pieces that are all from the same era can make it look like you are in costume, rather than like you have a love for vintage.
The 1900’s were known for voluminous lace gowns, corsets, and collared tops.
The 1910’s brought about the trench coat and lace-up boots for women.
The 1920’s were famous for flapper and slip dresses in addition to glamorous beaded fascinators.
The 1930’s made wide brimmed hats and fur collars popular.
The 1940’s are known for cigarette-style pants, pastel sweaters, and halter tops.
The 1950’s made circle and poodle skirts, leather jackets, and unitards popular.
The 1960’s were known for bringing bell bottom jeans, paisley shirts, and peace signs into fashion.
The 1970’s brought denim and neutral tones into the spotlight, alongside pantsuits and leg warmers.
The 1980’s were famous for neon colors, shoulder pads, frilly and lacy tops, and tunics with leggings.
Mix and match vintage with modern. Although there are a select few people who can pull off an entirely vintage outfit, in order to keep your look chic rather than costume-y, it is important to keep your outfit about 50/50 modern and vintage. An easy way to think about it is: if you’re wearing a vintage top, throw on a pair of skinny jeans or modern pants. Vintage bottoms? Add a current shirt or sweater to balance the look. Dresses can be made more modern with the addition of modern accessories and hair styles.
Dressing in vintage doesn’t always have to be big pieces; wear a vintage scarf or piece of jewelry with an entirely modern outfit if you want.
When you get more comfortable in vintage, you may want to add more and more of it to your ensembles.
Avoid wearing vintage in poor condition. Just because a piece is vintage, doesn’t mean that it’s in good condition (or style) to wear. If your vintage piece has any visible damage including stains, tears, or missing parts, it should be avoided until brought to a tailor or seamstress. Have all your vintage pieces dry-cleaned prior to wearing, as they often come with smells and wrinkles that are hard to get out on your own at home. The same applies for wearing vintage pieces that are clearly not your size.
Consider buying vintage-inspired pieces. Although not nearly as earth-friendly and story-filled, there are many stores that offer a selection of vintage-inspired but modern-made clothing pieces. These are a great alternative to true vintage, as you don’t have to worry so much about damaging them, they come in perfect condition, and they are already in a size guaranteed to fit you.
Choose a few vintage tops. Vintage shirts from nearly any era are the easiest way to step into the world of wearing vintage. Shirts and sweaters are relatively low-maintenance, and pair with any modern bottoms. Presently, it is very popular to pair a vintage top with skinny jeans and booties, alongside any other accessories you may want to add. You can also add a vintage cardigan or sweater to nearly any modern outfit without looking out-dated.
If you’re new to vintage, stay away from tops in the 70’s and 80’s, as these are still recent enough to look out of fashion if worn incorrectly.
You can easily buy a shirt or sweater that is too large and wear it with tight bottoms or a wide belt to make it look more flattering.
Look for flattering vintage skirts. Vintage skirts generally fall into two categories: full length/maxi, or knee length/midi. Up until the 80’s/90’s, skirts weren’t socially appropriate unless worn at the knee or below. In order to compensate for this length, make sure to wear a shirt that is clearly from 2000 or later. That being said, there is a huge variety of flattering vintage skirts on the market. Try styles like the circle skirt or an A-line skirt with tulle. Skirts are also easy to wear, as they don’t take much tailoring in order to be made to fit well.
Vintage skirts in any neutral tone (black, gray, brown, tan, and olive) are a great addition to your wardrobe.
Try on a few pairs of pants for size. Vintage pants can be difficult to find, as sizing for pants has changed dramatically over the last century. Depending on how far back the pants were made, they may not even have a ‘size’ that we would recognize. However, if you are able to try on a few pairs and find some that fit, don’t hesitate at adding them to your closet! Try pairing vintage pants with a modern band tee or oversized knit sweater. Additionally, try tucking a lacy top or screen-printed tank for a bit of modern flare.
Look for perfect vintage dresses. Vintage dresses are fun to wear, for the main reason that there is such huge selection of well-fitting dresses available for purchase. Be on the lookout for dresses that can be easily accessorized to be made modern in appearance. This means that dresses with lots of embellishment and adornments can look too costume-y for regular wear. Dresses that are solid color, a mild print, or in good quality fabric can be put with boots/flats/sandals, a cute beanie or wide-brimmed hat, and a few pieces of modern jewelry.
Try adding vintage hats and scarves to your outfits. Not ready to take the full-outfit plunge yet? It’s easy to add a small vintage piece, like a scarf or a hat, to a totally modern outfit. Look for vintage turban hats and wide-brim hats (currently in style) to add to your favorite modern outfit. Silk scarves can be worn around the neck, or wrapped up to create a retro-inspired headband. Just be sure that these are in good condition when you buy them, because they cannot be easily (or cheaply) fixed or cleaned.
Keep an eye out for awesome vintage jewelry. Jewelry almost never goes out of style, so you can wear pieces of vintage jewelry without anyone knowing the difference. Look for big statement necklaces, bold bangles, and clip-on earrings for your outfits. Keep in mind that you don’t want your jewelry to be in competition, so only wear a single piece of bold jewelry at a time.
Don’t forget about the shoes! Vintage shoes are one of the oft-overlooked pieces of vintage that can totally transform an outfit. The difficulty with vintage shoes, is finding a pair in good enough condition that they’ll be worth the purchase. Look for classic styles like lace-up boots and oxford flats (men’s or women’s!) to add to any modern outfit in your closet. When in doubt, stick to neutral tones in quality leather for a look that never goes out of style.
Look in local thrift stores for great deals on vintage; antique and vintage shops often sell the things they find at thrift stores but at a much higher price.
Not sure if a piece of vintage looks classy or costume-y? Bring a friend along and ask their opinion.
How to Shop for Vintage Clothing
How to Wear Modern Vintage
How to Dress Retro (for girls)
How to Look and Dress Retro Style
How to Get the Vintage Look
How to Make Clothes Look Vintage and Worn
How to Find Vintage Clothing
How to Buy Cheap Vintage Clothes
Sources and Citations
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