[50s costume from Amazon, yours for the low price of $35.95!]
Have you ever noticed how often people use the words "retro" and "costume-y" in conjunction with each other? It's a classic Project Runway proclamation: the judges are always thrilled when a contestant manages to make something that is vintage-inspired without looking like a costume, as though that were some superhuman feat. I'm of two minds on this matter. Sure, retro can look costume-y. But can't any iconic style, whether it's Western or Boho Chic or Hip Hop? What is it about vintage that makes it get singled out?
On a basic level, I agree that there is such a thing as retro looking costume-y. Exhibit A: I give you McCall's 6101, a costume.
And I also certainly agree that there are cliched signifiers of vintage that can make a retro ensemble look somewhat artificial and must be used sparingly: like cherry prints and gingham. (And yes, I love both of those things.) Then there's a commercialized form of retro, like in the way Hot Topic is a commercialized form of punk. Exhibit B:
But I think people forget how truly modern and enduring some vintage looks can be, whether it's an Audrey Hepburn black sheath or Katherine Hepburn trousers. I think perhaps what people are reacting to when they call something costume-y is a lack of that timelessness. Let's face it, some things just haven't passed the test of time, and I think poodle skirts are probably at the top of that list.
Personally, I've never really worried about this issue in my own style and I think the way I've managed to avoid the cheesy costume-y look is to modernize the fit of my garments to a certain extent, as well as too stay away from anything that screams packaged retro, like plastic cherry print wedges. (Ugh.) But hell, if someone wants to dress like the leading lady in her own private production of Bye Bye Birdie, who am I to judge? (Well, okay, I might judge just a little.)
What about you? What qualities do you think make something look like a costume? Do you worry about your own retro clothes looking costume-y? Do you consciously try to avoid it? Do you think the word is overused in relationship to retro looks? Do tell!