Thursday, October 27, 2011

{Vintage For Beginners} So you want to do vintage?

From My Vintage Vogue

When I invited readers to submit their questions (ages ago!) I had a couple of requests for advice for girls just starting out in vintage and wanting to build some vintage style into their wardrobe. So now I've finally got around to tackling the question, and put together a series of posts concentrating on Vintage For Beginners. Posts over the next couple of weeks will include advice on building a vintage wardrobe, an overview of 20th century styles, and identifying and dating vintage clothing, but please let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like to see me address!

Let's get started

To begin with, it might help to define why you want to start wearing vintage. Is it because you admire the glamour of past fashions and want to incorporate some of that into your everyday life? Perhaps you want to mix vintage pieces with modern to create a unique look. Or do you admire those who dress head-to-toe in vintage every day, but are not sure where to start? Even if you just want to be able to say "what, this? Oh, it's vintage," this week will hopefully give you some pointers on how to get started.

Adding vintage touches to your everyday style

For the true vintage beginner, it may be best to start small. Vintage accessories can look great with pretty much anything. Whether it's an armful of bakelite bangles, a 1950s rhinestone brooch, a hat, or a 1940s handbag, little vintage touches are a great way to get some instant fabulous into your outfit.

Step it up a notch

If you're ready to step it up, you could start incorporating some vintage garments into your regular wardrobe to give it some edge. If you want to wear vintage and still look "of the moment", take note of what the current trends are and seek out similar items in vintage stores.

Take inspiration from hip, vintage-wearing celebrities like Sienna Miller, Agyness Deyn, Alexa Chung, Kate Moss, Chloe Sevigny, Rachel Bilson (the list is long!), and experiment with mixing vintage with modern elements: layer a "Mad Men" sheath dress with a slouchy cardigan and tights to de-formalise (yes that's a word!) it; team a lace trimmed Peter Pan collar blouse with skinny jeans; wear a giant arran sweater with tweed cuffed shorts and over-the-knee socks; or a 50s beaded cardigan with a flirty mini skirt and patterned tights. To be honest I'm struggling to write this section because I have no idea about modern fashion. But you get the picture!

Above, Rachel Bilson and Casey of Elegant Musings combine vintage with modern for a look that's so 'now'.

Modern with a vintage twist

Which brings us to more familiar (to me) territory. If you like the look of vintage styles but don't want to go all-out, you might choose to go down a route of a vintage/modern style, that is, modern pieces - or a mix of vintage and modern - worn with a retro tone.

A lot of modern clothing can be styled up for a vintage look, with the added benefits of being affordable, available in all sizes (if you buy high street), and easy to care for. I often wear an outfit which, though composed (almost) entirely of modern elements, has a definite retro bent.

If dressing conservatively for the office is a concern, the two outfits above are both pleasingly vintage and perfectly wearable in a modern setting. Items like pencil skirts, demure blouses, and simple fitted cardigans are your wardrobe basics.

Total immersion vintage

Do you yearn to go all-out vintage but aren't sure where to start? We'll cover the topic of building a vintage starter wardrobe later in the week, but in the meantime, if you're just starting out it might be worth figuring out which fashion eras best suit you. Of course, as with anything, rules are made to be broken, and most things can be made to work if you love them.

Solanah of Vintage Vixen does 1940s · Me in a 1950s look

Even here, you can choose whether to go vintage purist or play fast and loose with styles; to wear only vintage, or mix it with vintage repro and modern, thrifted finds. Some ladies favour a specific period, but while I admire the likes of the Vintage Baroness and Lauren of Wearing History for their dedication to the 1930s, there's so much gorgeousness out there you needn't confine yourself to a particular era. You can be forties one day and sixties the next. You can even mix and match different eras for a unique look. In vintage, there are no rules.

Continue reading:
» 20th Century Fashion Eras
» Dating Vintage Clothes
» Building a Vintage Wardrobe


  1. This is a great post. I'm looking forward to the 'building a vintage wardrobe' one.

    I think I fall in the two middle categories. I seem to naturally be drawn to buying of modern dresses that nod towards the 50's or 60s, but I also have one 'real (reproduction) 50s dress and a few vintage ones from the 60s or 70s. I tend to style those with more modern accessories, because I usually feel slightly awkward trying to pull off the complete vintage look.

  2. I have worn second hand clothes all my life, I prefer it, for lots of reasons, that doesn't mean I won't buy new if I like it. I just love clothes, but I have to say, I don't like fashion, if you see what I mean.
    I am quite happy to go the whole hog, you're looking at the Edwardian Lady here! Don't care what anyone thinks, if I feel like it I'll do it.

  3. Fantastic post, thanks so much for sharing this information! I love other people's vintage looks/clothes, but I haven't the first clue what to look for and I'll be following these posts eagerly!

  4. I really like your collection of vintage brooches. I lately found one that looks like your ivory rose, but mine is made from amber and it's for a necklace. I wear it with an olive green velvet ribbon. Your blog is lovely and this post is very helpful for vintage beginners.
    Love and kisses
    Miss Maple

  5. Really helpful post. I am def in the third cat - not new to vintage but was struggling to see where I fit in. You have helped me to realise where, thank you!

  6. Lovely post! And thanks so much for the mention :)

  7. Such a great post!
    So great to have someone else put down in words what my style is!
    I am so glad to finally have a defined style! :)
    That is a combination of modern with a vintage twist and total immersion.
    Thanks, Susanne

  8. Brilliant Charlotte! What a great post! If you could talk about hair as well that would be great- I am rubbish at stylising my hair in any way what so ever!
    Oh and I saw your comment on bright young twins- there's a place in Penge that does swing dance each week (south London) or in Holborn on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there's somewhere near Marble Arch on a Wednesday- they usually teach a cycle of 10 lessons beginner, then 10 weeks of intermediate etc so you learn different steps each week- if like me you can't make a regular committment, this proves a little problematic! But check out the London swing dance society website for specific details.
    Oh and you rotate, so you don't dance with your own partner that much during the class, it's to make sure everyone gets to try it with different people as that's the way people learn different lindy-moves apparently!

  9. What a lovely post! I love how you used real people as examples. I agree with Kezzie, we need a Vintage Hair for Beginners post!

  10. What a great post. I'd love to add more vintage to my everyday clothing and will be following along with interest. I've always loved vintage styles but haven't worn them for fear of looking like I'm stuck in a time warp. I'm absolutely loving the vintage/modern mix and am only just beginning to try styling with some vintage items :)

  11. What a great post! Informative and encouraging, thank you! Oh... those brooches... they are perfection! x

  12. Fantastic post - I would say there is a 3rd route, one which I have had for years...basically I don't go for a decade's 'look' (either with repro or vintage) but I have a real interest - and collection- of vintage stuff. I use my vintage items in combinations and create my own style, for example a 50s style blouse with 70s jeans and converse, or an 80s party dress made delicate with 50s accessories.

    I find sometimes people assume it's a 'journey' from mix-and-match to era faithful, and for many it isn't. For example, in most antique/retro homes, you have a mixture of eras in one room - I'm the same with my wardrobe. If anything, I was more period-faithful in my early years because there were rules to adhere to - now I go my own way, using vintage as I use vintage items in my home.

  13. Charlotte, this is a wonderful post. It has really stuck with me since I read it yesterday. I love how inclusive it is of people with all levels of interest in vintage. A love for vintage can be whatever you want it to be, and your tips are great advice for people looking for a place to start. Well done and much appreciated.

  14. What a great post! Thank you so much for the inspiration. I am looking forward for more!...

  15. Still a great post- it's so helpful when people encourage you into the Vintage world even if you only wear HIgh Street made-to-look-like or Vintage Repro (like me!) Thanks for including us all! x


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