Friday, February 5, 2010

Guest Post: Vintage for Everyday Wear

Readers, do I have a treat for you! The lovely Sal of Already Pretty is one of my absolute favorite style bloggers. The woman knows how to put together an outfit - plus she's brilliant. So I was thrilled when she agreed to do this guest post on styling vintage items for day-to-day looks. Enjoy!
Although I love the things I love with undeniable passion, I’ve come to accept that, at heart, I’m a bit of a dabbler. I mean I’m pretty durned dedicated to blogging, biking, and collecting gorgeous shoes, but there are countless other things that I have tried, tired of, and abandoned: Playing guitar, studying animal behavior, knitting, Pilates, and the list goes on. So, while I have the utmost respect for people who chose an interest, immerse themselves in that interest, and become proficient or absorbed, I seldom do that myself.

It follows, then, that while I have the utmost respect for women who dedicate themselves to a particular era or style of dress (See Casey, Solanah, and Fleur de Guerre for some amazing inspiration), I could never do so myself. I’m a confirmed dabbler, and although I adore vintage pieces, I will always dabble in vintage.

So when Gertie asked me to craft a post that shares some practical fashion tips with a vintage twist, I knew that - even as a dabbler - I was well equipped to do THAT! My definition of “vintage” is pretty loose, but I’m not sure that matters much anyhow. These strategies could be applied to any unusual garment or accessory, vintage or otherwise. And, of course, I’d love to hear how you all work vintage pieces into everyday dress, especially if you don’t style yourselves
strictly in one era.

The Vintage Centerpiece

Although your vintage items don't have to be the center of attention in your outfits, they certainly can be. And if you gravitate toward showier vintage pieces, you’ll find that they lend themselves naturally to being funky focal points. I’ve got a bright red polyester shirt with thousands of tiny dachshunds printed on it, and I can’t imagine making it fight with anything equally eye-catching. Pairing it with a white tee and some denim works perfectly, but anything more complex simply doesn’t work. Allowing a single, distinctive vintage piece to be the showstopper in an ensemble is a fun and easy way to make borderline-outrageous items more wearable.

The Vintage Accent

Vintage accessories can lend modern ensembles a throwback flair. Whether it’s jewelry, scarves, belts, or hats, including an accent from a bygone era can help make a good outfit great. A scarf with a bright, psychedelic paisley print needn’t be paired with a hippie-themed ensemble. It’ll perk up a pant suit, peeking out of your shirt collar. It’ll add interest to a solid-colored shift. It’ll look amazing tied in your hair with a simple tee and jeans. When utilizing a vintage accent, choosing accompanying garments and accessories that are as era-neutral as possible creates balance.

The Vintage Mash-up

Mixing a decidedly vintage piece with equally interesting but sleek and modern ones is a great way to push your creativity. The vintage item is downplayed a bit, but still adds spice to the ensemble. I’ve worn a decidedly 80s, shoulder-pad-laden, zebra-print sweaterdress with a super trendy pair of studded gladiator heels to great effect. Pulling in of-the-moment pieces when you wear your vintage creates a pleasing mixture of eras and styles. I feel like this technique takes a bit more daring, but trust your instincts: If you think you’ve worked up a killer combo of 50s flair and present-day fashion, go for it.

The Vintage Undercover Agent

Since many vintage items are simple and pared-down, they can often pass for new. Although this may seem to defeat the purpose of buying vintage, I don’t believe it does. Many vintage garments are of fantastically high quality, and endure beautifully for decades, which means that they provide affordable options for wardrobe staples! And even if your 50s shirtdress looks just like the ones that The Gap is hawking this season, it’s fun to know that you’re sporting the real deal. I gravitate toward both undeniably weird vintage and unerringly classic vintage, and enjoy wearing both equally, but for different reasons. Don’t limit yourself to pieces that SCREAM “vintage.” Those classic, workhorse pieces will serve you well, too.

Some of these tips may seem a little self-explanatory, but I find that when I talk to women about vintage dressing they often feel it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. I’ve never dressed in head-to-toe vintage pieces, and wouldn’t have the foggiest notion of what to do with period-accurate undergarments. But I still consider myself a vintage lover, even as a mere dabbler, because I employ these strategies to make the most of my retro pieces.

Do you employ any of these techniques to work your vintage into daily wear? What else do you do to keep those pieces in rotation? Anyone out there prefer period-accurate dressing? If so, do you ever break your era up with modern garb? What’s your favorite way to make the most of
your vintage pieces?


  1. Eek, '80s stuff is considered vintage? I have clothing from the '80s that I still wear, lol. My mom always said fashions run in 30-year cycles, and she seems to be right. In high school, I used to wear her plaid pleated skirts (from the '40s) with those bump-toe saddle shoes that were popular in the early '70s, and one of my cardigans turned backwards so the buttons ran down the back. Egads, now I'm really dating myself! ;-)

  2. Gertie: What great guests you're bringing to your blog. I'm a fan of Sal from WAY back. Sally: I love how you speak here about the idea of bringing vintage accents into outfits. That's what I do in order to recognize the beauty of vintage without seeming too much of a retro construct (also a fun look, but not one that suits me).

  3. This is exactly how I approach my wearing of vintage pieces. Great article.

  4. These are some good basic tips for using vintage items that can work with a contemporary silhouette. I think a sheath dress or pencil skirt is a good place to start with mixing in vintage because it's so common across eras.


    My struggle is working my blatantly vintage/retro full skirts and dresses in to my normal wardrobe. The 1950's full skirted silhouette really suits my pear shape best. I love the swish, but it is so different from the current silhouette that it really defies mixing.

    I've tried mixing with current jackets and or more casual shoes and it always screams "TRYING TOO HARD" and I default back to a cardigan and some ladylike shoes. Then I am torn between feeling too prim for my life and loving my swishy dress. AARRGGHHH!

  5. Thanks Sal and Gertie for this fantastic post! :D I always love reading what words of styling wisdom Sal has to offer. ;) Great tips, Sal!

    One of the reasons I gravitate so much towards the late 30s through the 40s is that the silhouettes are still very easy to integrate into my modern wear. Yep, I do have stuff in my closet that is decidedly 21st century! ;) lol. I like adding one or two vintage pieces sometimes to otherwise modern outfits; maybe in the shoes I choose, or the skirt shape, or even something as simple as my accessories! Vintage in the everyday is all about an eye for detail and proportion, imho.

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  6. This article is really interesting food for thought - there are so many people who love vintage and unusual styles and pieces, but don't want to look, well, odd. I suppose I've just accepted that I like looking odd!

    Over the past couple years, I've found myself gravitating more and more toward a New Look, 50s aesthetic - but being tall and busty, buying vintage clothes doesn't generally work for me. So I buy RTW that fits the look I'm going for (often lines that are geared toward conservative middle-aged women or office wear), make what I can, and work the accessories.

    For me it's less about being true to an era than it is having a cohesive aesthetic. And compulsively matching, because I'm silly like that. (I can be spotted at great distance thanks to my usual winter uniform of long white wool/cashmere coat, red beret or hat, red scarf, red gloves, and red satchel.) Ultimately, I dress this way because I love pretty clothes, and this particular aesthetic/period is flatting on me - I can't pull of, say, twenties, to save my life. Ditto the baggy tunics and skinny jeans of contemporary fashion.

    And oh: I absolutely love tea-length skirts! But then, I dislike the look of my knees, and I'm very tall and leggy, so that helps - plus I feel like the length of my skirts helps to balance out how top heavy I can feel, with broad shoulders and copious bosom. Aesthetics - all about balance, right?

    Also, Gertie, I adore your blog. I discovered it a few days ago and got seriously behind in my assigned reading because I was busy reading, well, all your posts. Brilliant!

  7. Another great post! Very helpful tips on mixing vintage and modern, love it!
    How I use my vintage pieces depends a lot on the situation. I love going fully period at times, when there's a swing dance night, or having a shopping day on town with a cup of coffee at the towns café from the 1920s. However, to work I can't really be so... colourful. I work in a reception, and even though we don't wear suits or a uniform, a full vintage garb wouldn't really be suitable. I prefer using vintage/vintage style skirts to work, and some days a vintage inspired jumper/cardigan. It wouldn't work with a 50s full circle skirt, but a wiggle skirt or a 40s A-line is perfect! So, although I love the full period look, on a everyday basis I mix vintage and modern.
    Thanks for a great post!

  8. Sal's blog shows tons of great outfits that just happen to have vintage pieces. Like a friend of mine who's in her 50s and seems to have a bottomless closet of fabulous one-offs, they make it look so damn easy!

    I generally indulge my admiration for vintage styles with costume jewelry and the occasional purse. Though I do like to play around with wearing "regular" ole clothes in retro color combinations--a deep red blouse under a teal sweater, rose beige with grey, etc. Hmmm, and I do wear a lot of wedges. Maybe that counts, ha.

    I really like the visual diversity someone doing full-on vintage adds to the landscape, but I just gravitate towards streamlined skirts and jackets with a vaguely-to-strong vintage vibe. [Lots of straight skirts with a deep flounce at the hem and highly seamed jackets....]

    I find keeping the silhouette fairly close to the body helps me stay in my preferred blend in/stand out zone. That's also what works on my body, however!


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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