Thursday, November 17, 2011

Building a Vintage Wardrobe: Blouses & Sweaters

Following up from the first Building a Vintage Wardrobe instalment on skirts and trousers, today we're going to address the question of what to wear with them.

Blouses and sweaters are everyday essentials for a vintage look. A simple blouse will go with all your skirts, for a variety of looks. Equally, simple knitwear is useful year-round: Button-up wool cardigans can be worn either over dresses and blouses, or as a pullover.

Unfortunately, original vintage blouses and sweaters can be hard to find - I guess they so often got worn to death! For this reason we often have to rely on thrifted or high street modern clothing, but it can be difficult figuring out which styles look the most 'vintage'. This guide will hopefully define what to look for when seeking out vintage-appropriate styles on the high street.

Blouse Collars

When it comes to blouses, Peter Pan collar, notched or convertible (can be worn open at the neck or buttoned up) collar, pussy bow tie neck and shawl collar are all vintage-y. The examples below are mostly from the 1940s-50s, since for styles any earlier than that you'll pretty much need to look at 'official' vintage repro, or sew your own.

Knitwear Necklines

In knitwear, the most typical neckline in the 30s-60s was jewel neck (very high, round neck); the lower round necklines you usually see in modern knitwear isn't very vintage-looking. But there were other necklines available - square neck, collared styles, tie-neck, slash neck and V-neck sweaters all appear in the Sears catalogues between the 30s and 50s (more pictures in my cold weather vintage post). In the 1950s very wide or even off-the-shoulder necklines were popular for summer and eveningwear.

Sleeve Styles

In both knitwear and blouses, puff sleeves were popular in the late 30s and early 40s, while the 50s favoured sloping shoulders so Raglan and Dolman styles were common. Note the difference between 30s/40s puff sleeves, which are puffed at the shoulder and narrow at the hem, contrasting to 50s puff sleeves, which are gathered at the cuff. Regular set-in sleeves are fairly universal, and ubiquitous today.


If you remember back to my History of Synthetics series, you can gauge the vintage-ness of the main synthetic fibres. For example, nylon has been around since the 1940s, so if I see a wool/nylon blend sweater, I consider it reasonably 'authentic'. Acrylic and polyester became commercially available in the early 50s and were both wildly popular, so it's not necessarily 'un-vintage' to buy an acrylic sweater or polycotton blouse.


  1. Excellent and most useful post. Blouses and knit sweaters are the hardest pieces for me to come by. Do you know of any good online sources for such items, either vintage or (good quality) reproductions?

  2. I could only direct you to ebay and etsy - you may have to dig through high priced vintage, but those are the best places to find a bargain online.

    As to repro, I've heard good things about Heyday! clothing, and Tara Starlet also seems popular, but most reproduction is more expensive than original, and often in poly/blend fabrics or acrylic for knits.

    xx Charlotte

  3. I got a lovely cream cotton blouse from Monsoon that is very similar to the middle one on the bottom row of the blouse photos. As for knitwear, some wool shops have people who can knit them for you, worth asking! X X

  4. I find that knits marketed at older women (who would have grown used to a certain neckline in the 50s and 60s)- such as Bonmarche- can be useful for finding cheap 'repro'.

    Most of my vintage look cardies come from such shops/charity shops.

    I like a roll neck, but it needs to have more shape to the sleeves and bust than a modern one (and no ribbing) to look good in a 50s/60s 'beatnick'/arty type look.

  5. These are all helpful tips that I will have to try out. Thank you all for your advice!

  6. This post is great! I've been struggling looking for vintage style blouses for ages, especially as I really don't like synthetic materials, but I found a lovely silk pussy-bow blouse last week which I am quite sure I shall wear lots of with circle skirts! I thought of you yesterday as I dressed up in a vintage dress for school for children in need wearing it with my petticoat- for some reason it made me think of your wonderful telephone skirt! I just wondered if you'd know what era it is(posted about it!)- I haven't got a clue! When I bought it from a vintage shop it didn't say the era and I stupidly didn't ask the shop keeper!

    Hope you are well! :)

  7. Hi Charlotte! Thanks yes that was the dress! I'll deinitely read the post and try to work it out! Thanks for the advice! x


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Related Posts with Thumbnails