Friday, January 17, 2014

Thrifting Tips 5: Wearing Vintage

Wearing vintage shouldn't be intimidating. Fashion recycles looks and silhouettes from the past all the time, which means that a lot of vintage pieces can be reinterpreted very easily into a modern wardrobe without looking like a costume.

So for my final post about thrifting tips I'll tell you what I know about wearing vintage.

1. Mix it up with modern pieces. 
    This is my favourite way to wear vintage. It instantly updates an old piece. I would say my wardrobe is 15% new clothing, 50% thrifted (including vintage and non-vintage clothing) and 35% vintage store bought (from online or in brick and mortar shops) and my style is an eclectic mix of all these items.
    The trick to wrapping your head around mixing vintage clothing with modern is to take the vintage pieces out of context. By that I mean, don't think of that dress being from the 40's - or whatever era it hails from - just let it be a dress. Focus on the cut and colour when pairing it with other pieces, not the era it's from and what it would have looked like in an outfit then.

    The dress below is a good example of this. It's a mid-to-late 50's wool sheath dress. If you think about this dress in context, you might only wear it with a belt, a great pair of earrings and some sexy heels, but paired with this modern cropped cardigan, a statement stretch belt and some eye catching accessories like the thrifted, 80's, oversized, faux pearl necklace, vintage raccoon fur hat and 50's spectator pumps this dress gets a unique update and looks totally modern. Granted, this may not be a look everyone wants to pull off, but imagine it without the fur hat and it's actually a very business appropriate outfit. In the end, vintage or not, a black dress is a black dress.

    This is a really modern look peppered with a few vintage pieces - the 80's leather motorcycle jacket, the navy 40's suede box purse and the 60's gold leather belt. Everything else here is modern. 

2. Don't be afraid to wear pieces from different eras in the same outfit.     
    The easiest way to have your outfit confused for wearing a costume when wearing vintage is to replicate a look from a particular era or year from head to toe. Granted, there are many vintage enthusiasts out there who proudly rock this kind of look every day and I think that's amazing. I often look to those folks for sartorial inspiration. However, wearing vintage this way is not for everyone.
    The beauty of fashion "norms" in this day and age is that there literally are no rules. Take a look at any street style fashion blog and you'll see what I mean. Never in history has fashion been so free and open to interpretation.
    Most of the vintage clothing I wear came from a time in history where there were strict social rules about how men and women should dress. I am exhilarated at the thought of taking these pieces and wearing them in a whole new way - giving them a second life. Take risks with your wardrobe. Be bold. Wear what thrills you and don't let what you think something should look like affect how you want to wear it.

    The outfit below is an excellent example of mixing eras, as well as taking vintage "out of context".
    This late 30's, early 40's novelty print day dress would have never been worn out of the house to dinner or for a special occasion (I have worn it on two such occasions!). It would also have been buttoned up right to the collar and never worn unbuttoned as I have worn it here with my slip peeking out - how scandalous! I've paired it with a 60's does 20's brown straw cloche hat, a cluster of 50's enamel flower brooches and a hot pink 80's clutch. The belt and the shoes are both modern.
    This outfit works on so many levels, even though all of the pieces are from different eras and - in theory - shouldn't go together. What makes it all work here is colour continuity. The dress and the colour pink - found in the clutch and even in a few of the flowers on the brooches - are the main focus, with brown as a supporting player. If there were too many colours at play in this outfit the disparate pieces may not talk to each other as well and read as whole.

    This outfit is another great example of mixing eras. The dress is a late 50's floor length bridesmaids dress which I hemmed to a more wearable length. I'm wearing a 70's velvet blazer over it with a cluster of 50's rhinestone brooches and a 40's leather satchel purse. All of the other accessories are modern. This outfit follows the same colour theory as the last outfit: Purple is the main focus (the shoes and tights are both purple, but it's hard to see in this photo) and black and white are the supporting players. 

2. Play with opposites.
    One trick to wearing vintage without looking overdressed is to play with opposites. Pair that feminine 30's dress with a leather studded belt and some gladiator sandals. Wear an over-the-top feathery 40's tilt hat with a plain t-shirt, a great pair of jeans and some killer heels.

    Or match something super casual with something super dressy like the outfit below. The denim jacket knocks the formal factor of this 60's chiffon dress down a few notches. Now imagine this outfit with a killer pair of lace up boots and you've knocked it down even more making this seemingly special occasion dress totally wearable for not-so-special occasions. A leather jacket would do the trick here too.
3. It's ok for your look to have a "vintage vibe".     
    Another way to wear vintage is to interpret an era. Most of us vintage lovers replicate the feel and silhouette of the era we love instead of duplicating it in minute detail from head to toe.
    Mixing actual vintage and vintage appropriate clothing is an excellent way to give your look a "vintage vibe" (the amazing term 'vintage appropriate' has been borrowed from Jessica over at Chronically Vintage. It refers to a garment which appears as though it could have come from the past, but which is actually modern and unintentionally happens to be wonderfully old school looking. Click here for more info about vintage appropriate clothing. And click here for her guide on buying vintage appropriate clothing.).
    Take what you learned about silhouette and era specific details in clothing that you learned in yesterday's post and use them as a guide for interpreting vintage and non-vintage items into an outfit with a retro feel.
     Here is an example of one of my outfits that has a definite 50's vibe to it. The dress, shoes and sunglasses are modern (vintage appropriate - if you will), but definitely have retro flavour. The belt is an 80's stretch belt, but since the 80's drew inspiration from the 50's this belt feels right at home here. The necklace is 70's. The purse is the only genuine 50's item in this look.
    See what I mean about a "vintage vibe"? This look doesn't quite look straight out of the 50's, but has enough of a 50's feel that we interpret it as vintage or retro when we see it.

    This is one of my all time favourite outfits. It has serious vintage flavour, but doesn't scream one decade or another. My hair and makeup are serious contributors to the vintage feel of this look - which I will address in more detail at the end of this post. But its's the combination of classic looking/vintage appropriate pieces worn together - the white sweater with neck bow, the micro dot high waisted shorts, t-strap pumps - that give this outfit a vintage vibe. 

    This is another 50's interpretation with more vintage pieces this time. The dress is 50's and so it the hat, but I'm wearing it like a 30's/40's tilt hat instead of straight on the way it was originally meant to be worn. The clutch is modern with a retro feel. What really keeps this outfit from looking too costume-y is the modern shoes. I love pairing a modern shoe with a vintage dress - it's a sure-fire way to bring a vintage look into the 21st century. 

4. Pick a focal point.
    If mixing eras seems a bit daunting to you in the beginning I would suggest starting with one standout piece as the focal point of your outfit.

    The nautical flavour of this outfit was inspired by and is centred around the purse. The rest of the outfit is fairly simple. Once again, I've kept the colour palette to a few choice hues - red, white and blue (are you noticing a trend yet?). A white t-shirt would have also been a great choice here, but I went classic red and white stripes instead.

    Accessories don't have to be the focal point of an outfit. Here, the vintage pleated skirt is the focal point. Everything else has been left simple so the skirt can be the star in this look. 
5. If all else fails, just wear vintage accessories. 
    If you are still finding yourself intimidated by wearing vintage start with accessories. Not only are they devoid of the usual sizing issues that can arise when buying vintage clothing, but can be found fairly easily and inexpensively in thrift shops and online.
    I personally, have a penchant for vintage brooches of any kind, but I also love hats and small purses and clutches.

    For more inspiration on wearing vintage accessories check out this post from a few years ago: 5 Ways to Add a Vintage Touch to Modern Basics

    Here are a selection of close-ups of a modern outfit with vintage accessories. The hat is 60's, the blue necklace is 30's/40's and the metal work butterfly brooch is 40's. I also wore a vintage handbag with this outfit which is not shown here. For a look at the complete outfit click the link below the picture.

    What I've written here are simply my tips for incorporating vintage into your own closet. The bottom line is: shop for whatever you love and wear it with your modern wardrobe. The beauty of buying vintage is that more often than not what you've found is unique and the next girl won't be wearing the same thing as you because yours hails from another era.

Bonus: A note on vintage hair and makeup.
    Wearing vintage doesn't mean you have to master the art of pin curling. It also doesn't mean you have to wear red lipstick every day. But don't discount the way that hair and makeup can affect the way an outfit looks. I like to use the way I style my hair to counter balance or compliment a vintage outfit in one way or another.

     For example: if I am wearing a particularly girly, very vintage looking outfit and don't want to look to dressed up I leave my hair straight, or put it up in a high bun. The outfit below could have looked much dressier with curled hair and red lips.

    On the other hand, if I'm wearing a modern outfit or a t-shirt and jeans with vintage accessories I might curl my hair and wear some red lipstick to help give my outfit a vintage vibe. You can see here how my vintage styled 'do influences how you perceive the outfit below - even with the modern knee high boots.

   Or if I want to be totally glammed out I curl my hair and wear red lips with my vintage. It's a foolproof way to look put together and classy.

   Experiment with your hair and makeup and see how it affects what you are wearing - vintage or not. 

For more inspiration on wearing vintage check out my Pintrest boards:
Retro Modern Style, Vintage Inspired Fall/Winter Fashion & Vintage Inspired Spring/Summer Fashion 

So there it is! Practically everything I know about thrifting. If you have questions about something I didn't cover this week please contact me and ask me! Or, if you have a thrifting tip that I didn't cover please include it in the comments below.

Check out the rest of this series:



  1. Flat out excellent advice that (for the most part at least) can be so easily applied to vintage shopping across the board (online, auctions, flea markets, yard sales, etc), not only thrift stores. This would be an excellent "wearing vintage 101" for anyone who was new to the world of yesteryear fashion to read, while also being a highly enjoyable experience for seasoned veterans as well, who will no doubt be able to relate to and agree with your sagely, helpful advice. Much hat doffing going on over her in your direction for the incredible job you did on this whole series.

    ♥ Jessica

    *PS* Thank you wholeheartedly for including some of my posts in today's final installment in this top-notch series. I'm delighted to know that you're a fan of term "vintage appropriate" as well. ♥

  2. Absolutely fantastic series! I really enjoyed all of them but in particular this one since I am pretty sure I follow almost everything you wrote about! completely random but I guess I starting following your blog later one after you cut your bangs, your hair looks lovely right now btw, but the short and curled hair in the outfit on the chair is just fabulous!

  3. really enjoyed the series! thanks so much for taking the time to write these detailed posts

  4. this is really good! I agree with what you said about most vintage wearers like having the silhouette without duplicating (or in my mind) tying yourself down to one era. Not that that's a bad thing, but its fun to mix it up. Love your style and your hair.

  5. Great series, and I wanted to thank you for them. I'm glad I found your blog and hope to see your new posts some time in the future!
    I love the approach to dressing up when things from different eras are mixed together, including the contemporary clothes. I think it really makes our outfits unique and also dynamic, alive! xxx


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