You know when you love something so much that the idea of actually doing it makes you worry? I think we’ve all been there to be honest, and I am no stranger to feeling anxious about what people think. I had always loved the wartime and post-war styles of the 40s, 50s and early 60s. However I never really had to confidence to even try dressing that way. Many people feel the same, and this advice can be used with decade or style of clothing that you love. I’ve written some tips on how to dress vintage, to give you the confidence to live in the style you love.
The vintage or retro look comes with a lot of misconceptions. Many people think they’re aren’t whatever enough to be able to pull it off. Others are worried they’ll be looked at or be out of place. Some feel unhappy with their look because they feel it isn’t “period accurate”, or not all “true vintage”. It’s likely that you feel a combination of these, but you can dress vintage, or have a touch of vintage in your look. And, I will guarantee you, that if people are looking it is because you look simply wonderful – and they are in awe of your loveliness.
We all have those bleh days where nothing seems to go right or we feel unlike ourselves, but hopefully my tips on how to dress vintage will give you the confidence in yourself to try. We all deserve to feel good in our skins and by wearing clothing that you truly love is a pretty good place to start.
1) Decide if you want to do authentic vintage or vintage inspired fashion.
Authentic vintage (where you wear top to toe vintage) and vintage inspired fashion (where you adapt and mix vintage with modern clothing) is for many, including me, this is the two main ways of wearing vintage.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, no matter what anyone says. Whichever you choose, knowing the basics from my other blog posts will help you find the right look.
2) Dress for your personality, not because you think it’s right
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is only one way to dress for each decade. As with today, each person would have liked different styles and ways to dress
Think about your favourite look that isn’t vintage. Chances are it will have a particular ‘feel’ to it that you can transfer over into its equivalent vintage look. From tomboy to girlie girl, artistic to sensible it’s likely there is a vintage equivalent to you.
A good place to start is by finding real photography for the decade you’re interested in on Pinterest and pin the ones that grab you as something you would wear in real life.
3) Avoid nude stockings with black seams
There is a reason why this colourway of stockings is frequently thought of as racy. Yes, women would occasionally wear these but usually they would wear nude stockings with nude seams. Many brands have some lovely stockings in a nude on nude, with several different skintones available from What Katie Did.
Stockings should add to the overall aesthetic of your look, and not scream above everything else that “I’m wearing seamed stockings”. People may not realise your stockings have seams, but they will just look right. After all, to avoid looking costumy and unnatural you want to think about all the components for your look in its entirity and not as a group of items that are “correct”. You want harmony, simplicity and effortless to be your guide.
4) Select a statement piece
Choose your outfit carefully and keep in mind what’d you’d like to do the talking. Is it your vibrant print dress? Is it your statement brooch? Your hat? Your shoes?
I love a bit of colour and a bold print, but the key, for me at least, is to choose one or two items to be the statement of my outfit and to choose other items that complement and support those. This will help to keep your look more casual and authentic – whether you have chosen to stick to true vintage items or not.
When in doubt, oversimplify – it can be super chic (look at Audrey Hepburn!). Sometimes your statement can be a scarlet red lip.
5) Make it livable and practical
When trying on new clothing (or new to you anyway) think about how you feel when you are dressed? Do you feel yourself or like you’re wearing fancy dress? Are you confident or self-conscious?
The right clothing can make you feel like you can take on the world – so pay attention to how you feel. This really is to do with who you are and how practical the clothes are you are getting. The aim with a vintage wardrobe is to fill it with clothing that makes you more you. Not to pretend to be someone else.
It’s really important to be comfortable. I rarely wear strapless dresses and tops because I end up fiddling with them more than paying attention to what I’m doing. If you notice something like this happening to you, have a think about how you can fix the problem. It could be a set of insoles, a hat pin or even the right shade of lipstick that doesn’t go everywhere (a problem for me as a serial snacker!). Find pieces that fit your lifestyle and personality and pay attention to your gut feelings.
6) Find a flattering hairstyle
Like clothing, there are no rules when it comes to vintage hairstyling and you can choose whatever you like. It’s simple in essence but can become complicated sometimes too. It’s okay to find something you like and can easily execute and stick to that style or variations of it.
If you become overwhelmed by how perfect some bloggers, Instagrammers and classic movie stars look, then get some inspiration from photographs of real people. Not everyone would have perfectly polished victory rolls or curls, and its okay if your hair isn’t perfect too.
7) Go easy on the makeup
Whilst I do love the dramatic pin-up look of cat-eye liner and a strong red lip, sometimes there is a need for something a little more casual. If you wanted a more realistic day to day look then stand by the old rule – pick a focus, lips or eyes. Red lips + simple eyes. Bold eyes + simple lips. I usually use a little powder and blush but you can use a full face or nothing on the skin.
You don’t even have to have a bold red lip if you don’t want to. Softer and more natural shades were also used and help to keep your look sweet and easier to wear.
8) Wear clothing that fits well
My next piece of advice should just be a general rule of thumb and isn’t just applicable for those of us with a vintage taste. Ignore the size label in your clothing and buy items that fit correctly. Often, this is one thing that will make you look like you’ve raided the costume box.
If you notice a lot of wrinkles and the fabric is stretching at the seams then the clothing item is probably too small. If it droops and hangs off you then its too big. Larger items can be tailored to fit you, but bear this in mind when purchasing if you will be using a tailor.
You can also avoid fitting problems by making your own clothes. This is something I have been doing more of recently and it’s very enjoyable!
9) Highlight your good points
We all have things we aren’t keen on when it comes to our bodies and appearance. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, focus on what you do like about yourself. In fact, think about what you LOVE about you…
Tiny waist? Wear styles that nip in to emphasise it. Love your décolleté? Wear flattering necklines like boat necks. Long legs suit cigarette pants and knee length skirts, with pretty hair benefitting from a well placed flower or a lovely hat!
I could easily go on, but my point is – underplay the parts you don’t like, and draw attention to the ones you love.
10) Be Confident
Once you’ve decided on what to wear and your look then be confident and embrace it. Don’t mess with your outfit in every mirror, just hold your head high and be proud of who you are. I used to be one of the more anxious people out there when it came to what I was wearing so I always try to think of every person looking as thinking positive things. This way I don’t feel self-conscious when out and about. Over time it really has gotten easier and I don’t notice the stares as much. Often we assume that we are getting looks from others because we look strange when in fact it’s more than likely because you look fabulous and interesting.
You may get comments. I have had a few with the most common asking “why are you so dressed up?” My favourite response is to simply reply that I enjoy wearing vintage clothing and my entire wardrobe is this way. I don’t believe in saving things for “best” and like to dress my best every single day.
I hope this article has helped to inspire you and provide some wisdom that I’ve learned when dressing vintage. The main thing is to be happy. as with anything, people are going to look at you. But it took me a long time to realise but people don’t care as much as you think they do. In fact, they may be looking because they find you an inspiration. Be you, and your people will find you.
Do you dress vintage everyday? Let me know if you have some tips in the comments.