Reader Request: Modern Vintage

How to style vintage clothes

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion tells me:

OK, you asked for it. I’d love to see you post about incorporating vintage clothing into a stylish wardrobe.

Well, m’dear, I may have asked for it, but YOU’RE gonna get it! I love this request, especially as I think many of us fear attempting incorporation of vintage pieces into our modern, chic wardrobes. We think, “Polyester florals and ratty fringe, gold braid trim and heavy velvet? Not for me, thanks.”

But, obviously, vintage isn’t just the mondo-kitsch pieces. Vintage items can be crisp and clean as well as fun and funky, and you can make them a part of your daily wear without transforming yourself into a retro-throwback. (Of course, if you want to go that route, check out Solanah and Fleur de Guerre for some amazing inspiration. Actually, you should probably check them all out, just for the eye-candy.)

Vintage is …

So, first off, what IS vintage? Depends who you ask, I’ve found, and I’m sure some purists will balk at my definition. But if you’re asking me, vintage is clothing from at least two eras ago. So, for instance, I think of 90s style as the most recent previous era, which means that 80s clothing is now vintage by my standards. (Frightening, I know.) Anything older than 80s also qualifies too, of course.

Vintage as …

Vintage clothing can be found online, at vintage specialty retailers, at regular thrift stores, on eBay, just about everywhere. And as it comes from a wide variety of eras, it can suit a wide variety of tastes. If you’re interested in incorporating some pieces into your wardrobe, start investigating several avenues of acquisition and see what strikes your fancy. Unless you’re hoping to create a very consistent retro look, I recommend eyeing items from all eras. I mean, why limit yourself? My only word of warning: Sizing can be VERY tricky. If you’re going to buy vintage online, learn to measure your body and demand lots of accurate garment specs from the seller.

Vintage clothing, shoes, and accessories can fill many roles in your wardrobe, so let’s explore a few!

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 some of the showier pieces, they lend themselves naturally to being funky focal points. Keep the rest of your outfit modern and basic.

The Vintage Accent

Vintage accessories give modern ensembles throwback flair. Whether its jewelry, scarves, belts, or hats, including an accent from a bygone era can help make a good outfit great.

The skirt and blouse were both manufactured within the past ten years, although both were thrifted and both look slightly old-fashioned. The belt, on the other hand, is a gorgeous and decidedly vintage piece. Without it, the outfit would be flowy and romantic. With it, I’ve got a funky cowgirl edge.

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.

This yellow and white silk houndstooth blazer from a friend’s Etsy shop is a super retro item, but putting it with a fitted white tee, high-waisted skirt, chain belt, and bright modern pumps tone down its kitsch value.

The Vintage Undercover Agent

As I mentioned above, many vintage items are pared-down and sleek, and can pass for new. Although this may seem to defeat the purpose of buying vintage, it really doesn’t. Many vintage garments are of fantastically high quality and endure beautifully for decades, which means that they provide affordable options for wardrobe staples.

This pink sheath is incredibly plain and basic-looking, but it’s a color that I’m MAD about and a shape that suits my figure. It also happens to be a vintage dress from the 1960s. But you’d never know it, would ya? Especially when I pair it with my crazy purple plastic Melissa shoes!

Use Vintage to Your Advantage

Don’t feel like vintage pieces require any special knowledge, lifestyle, or specific fashionability for effective implementation. Vintage items can be incorporated into any wardrobe and utilized for any purpose imaginable!

Top image courtesy Rumors

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

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31 Responses to “Reader Request: Modern Vintage”

  1. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion

    Well done! In my opinion, one of the best things about vintage is the high quality of construction you'll get at a fraction of what you would pay for similar quality today. I'm often amazed at the attention to detail in little day dresses from the 50's or in the ingenious seaming of deceptively simple sheaths from the 60's. You just don't find quality like that today. Thank you, Sal!

  2. Rosie Unknown

    great post! I have a whole bunch of vintage costume jewelry, and I love wearing it with all my modern clothes.

  3. K.Line

    Great post! I wear vintage all the time and mostly, people can't tell. They just think it's very unique and not "trendy". I LOVE you in that houndstooth jacket. It's perfect. And you look so 70's rocker glam in the long skirt and shirt combo. Lovely.

  4. issa

    oh that first look is my absolute favorite!!

    i'm a big fan of vintage looks.. i just love watching Mad Men for all the fashion!

  5. Sharon Rose

    Hi there-I do love a piece of vintage and have from 50s-80s in my wardrobe too! A great post, I love the 70s skirt your co-worker gave you, its gorgeous!

  6. Sheila

    I love incorporating vintage into my outfits! I have tons of vintage jewelry, and have gradually been picking up vintage clothing when I see pieces that are just right.

    You are totally right about mixing them with modern stuff – otherwise you look too costumey.

  7. jen larsen

    You know, I love these posts because I dig your advice and your insight, but I love them MORE because we get to look at pretty you and your awesome outfits. Yay!

  8. cindy lou

    i enjoy vintage clothing so much! i don't really have much that i wear as i am plus size and it is difficult to find. i have a sigrid olson eyelet blouse that is older, and i have a few pieces of vintage jewelry that i love. the treasures i do have in my closet are some real 1940's dresses and suits that were given to me by my great-aunt back when i was in college and could still wear that size. they had belonged to her sister who was a fashion writer for our local newspaper. they are FABULOUS! the styling and wool and silk fabrics are such that you just don't find in today's clothing. if i was still that size, i would totally be wearing them.

  9. WendyB

    I love that you got that velvet skirt from the original owner. My favorite kind of vintage!

  10. Nadine

    What a nice entry again :). I love how you always give so many good advices.

  11. Darrah

    I think I'm more likely to go for the "vintage accent." It's easy, and adorable. Plus, there are no sizing issues with vintage accessories — unless they're gloves. I don't know how women had such small hands back in the day! So unfair to tease me…

  12. fleur_delicious

    I like a slightly boho, slightly librarian-ish look, and what vintage pieces I have are cherished parts of my wardrobe. I value vintage, as others have said, for its superior construction (especially as I alter a lot of my vintage pieces, so it's nice that the garments don't just fall APART as you start to rip seams or change hemlines – also, vintage usually has bigger seam allowances, so you have more wiggle room, literally!) and superior quality fabrics, that also won't fall apart as you carefully deconstruct and reconstruct a garment. I also have to give a huge shout-out to the uniqueness factor; I love having something that is really and truly "me" (hence, the altering), and that is a bit different. I always seem to find more unusual and interesting textures, prints, and details like trim in vintage pieces – and that really makes a piece something I'll hold on to!

  13. Casey

    Great post, Sal! 🙂 (Thanks for the link shout-out too! 😉 I definitely love wearing a variety of vintage items from every era; sometimes I wear outfits that are very "retro-throwback" and other times I find it's more appropriate to the situation to just mix vintage with my modern stuff (like jeans). Yesterday I wore a really beautiful 30s pajama top (the most gorgeous shade of pink!), over a modern tank top and my jeans (rolled up a la 1950s; I rarely wear jeans unrolled!). Paired with a handbag I made, it was a great mix of modern and vintage and appropriate for the day's events. 🙂

    Even though I've worn vintage for many years, I never tire of it. I am constantly looking for new goodies to add to my collection and refining what I already own. It's definitely one of those categories of clothing that can go a long way to add a bit of artsy flair to any gal's wardrobe!

  14. Lorena

    This was interesting…
    I look for vintage, I appreciate the craftmanship that went into each item.
    Some vintage item's "construction" for basic pieces seem sooo "couture" compared to today´s garments.
    I love vintage dresses and vintage gold pieces – what I like the most is the uniqueness, that I will not look like anybody else, it´s a sense of being set apart from the crowd.

  15. Skye

    This is such a good primer for the vintage newbie – I don't think I've seen it approached from this angle before (it's usually the "How to do vintage" from head to fifties toe story that you see).

    I started with "vintage" before I had other clothes so had to learn to do this in reverse – how to work new clothes back into the mix!

    The fashion mantra that came through as I hit adulthood was "Designer + high street/chainstore + basics + vintage", and that's how lots of my outfits essentially evolve.

  16. Melissa

    I'm plus sized and have never been able to find vintage clothes that I like that also fit me. So I've settled with vintage jewelry. I love it – it glams up whatever I wear.

  17. vintagepetals

    I love this post! I'm a vintage seller/lover myself, and I hate when people see vintage items as simply "fun" clothes. Vintage clothes are great for everyday looks, sure, but some of my prettiest, dressiest outfits are stunning vintage pieces. Thanks for pulling this all together in one great post!

  18. pretty face

    I've seen thse photos before, but I still love them all so much – definitely a round-up of my favourite Sal ensebles. Which just goes to show how fabulously you incorporate vintage into your wardrobe, no?

  19. Clare

    I've actually never been a huge "vintage-is-awesome" person. I love things that are cheap and high quality, which is why thrifting rocks, and why vintage was great for a long time. The problem I'm finding now is that vintage is cool. Cooler than new stuff. Which means it can be hard to find truly vintage pieces that are cheap. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't scour the Goodwill racks for a gorgeous vintage find!:)

  20. puddin

    My daughter always says my grandmother and me taught her the interest in quote"vintage" but she in return is teaching me a lot about fabric, trim, and all things couture vintage.It is so nice you gals (and guys) have these blogs. Must say however, I don't see much about vintage menswear.

  21. Anonymous

    i wish i owned vintage stuff but i dont even know where i could find a store around where i live

  22. Diana

    Wonderful Vintage 101 post. Right now I only have vintage accessories, but I'm hoping to add some clothes to the mix too before too long.

  23. Patty Ann

    I realllllly like this post! I have lots of vintage since I raid my mom's closet all the time, but I'm not too sure how to incorporate it!! I just found your blog, and I love all the tips you post! Would you like to exchange links?

  24. Melony at Whimsy Daisy!

    What a great post! Full of good information and advice. I like how you have defined your style with the mixing and matching. The shirt with the doxies is so cute. I like the vintage clothes that bring a smile to my face with something whimsical! Very fun.

  25. African-American Brides

    This is my favorite of all your posts. 🙂 I'm like K.Line. I love vintage and just refuse to keep it in the closet. I wear my pieces to work all the time, but I'm sure my co-workers don't know it because of the way I blend them in. Lacey vintage blouses look especially great right now under tailored military-style blazers. Keep up your fantastic work! 🙂