27 May, 2014

How to Wear Retro Vintage Clothes Without Looking Like You're Wearing Costumes

Fashion history is art history, and art is a reflection of society. Something as simple as a dress can say so much about the era it comes from.

Like many of you, I can appreciate a vintage dress or two, but I also don't want to look as though I am in a high school play, or a historical drama. One of the most difficult things to do with vintage, or retro style fashion is to create a harmony between the past and the present.

Of course, the immediate response is usually, "We should wear whatever we want to! Who cares about what other people think?"

But, this has nothing to do with caring about what other people think, and everything to do with how to incorporate the retro and modern pieces that we love together. I like to add a little bit of dramatic flair to my daily ensembles, and of course, I would want others to notice the vintage touches. However, I also do not want to feel out of place.

Read on to see how I modernize each piece, while still stay true to their spirit. Remember to pair each decade's look with my guide: Lips of the Decades!

Regardless which fashionable decade is your favorite, the following principles can be applied to it when it comes to dressing retro-modern:

  • Have only one retro-inspired piece of clothing on at a time, two at most.
  • Wear modern accessories, but make sure that they make up a cohesive look.
  • Contrast is everything! Mix softness with ruggedness; structured lines with loose; conservative with a bit of playfulness.
  • The main retro piece of clothing is the focal point; everything else is there to complement it, not compete with it.
  • Most importantly: Remember that you are wearing your clothes, not your clothes wearing you!
Now, watch the above principles in action, as applied to each decade below:

 The 1910s: While the aesthetics of the Edwardian Era was not as ornate as the previous -- the Victorian, it still was quite dramatic with lace, velvet, pleats, and ruching. I have combined this black soft structured Edwardian-style blazer with deep navy skinny jeans, and burnt-brown leather ankle boots. The blazer is from Victorian Trading Co., and the boots are Frye from Zappos.

The 1920s: The 1920s fashion style took a great departure from the previous decades, and brought women's fashion into the modern time. The drop-waist, boyish dresses mimicked the modern, Art Deco buildings. Yet, touches of femininity were still present. I have paired the drop-waist dress below from Victorian Trading Co. with modern flat leather sandals, and a structured leather saddle bag. As you can see here, despite being modern accessories, they do make up a cohesive collection when combined with the dress. Both the saddle bag and brown sandals are from Zappos.

The 1930s: After the stock market crash of 1929, the party came to an end. The 1930s silhouette brought back the natural waist line, but due to scarcity of materials and resources, the dresses were still slim-lined and were not as extravagant as those of the decades that came after. To modernize the 1930s look, I paired this sweet powder-blue dress from Mod Cloth with a structured gray Rebecca Minkoff Mini-Affair bag, because the style lends a "harder" look to balance the demure appearance of the dress, and gray-brown Frye ballet flats. Both the bag and ballet flats are from Zappos.

1940s: With World War II going on, and rationing in place, the dresses of the 1940s were still not as voluminous as the ones of the 1950s. However, inspired by women in the work force, women's fashion began to have more traditionally masculine fashion elements, such as the collars and the cuffed sleeves, as shown in the red dress below. Combined with buttons, belt loops, and pleats, the dress clearly has touches of men's tailoring. To avoid making this beautiful dress look frumpy, I have combined it with a pair of white Michael Kors sandals, and a nylon-and-leather saddle bag. The dress is from Mod Cloth, while the sandals and saddle bag are from Zappos.

1950s: With World War II a distant memory, and a booming economy, the 1950s silhouette became more elaborate as the decade wore on. It was also the first time that teenager fashion had its own category; prior to this, teenage girls aspired to look like their mothers, while teenage boys wanted to look like their fathers.

One of the most iconic fashion item of the decade, and immensely popular with teenage girls, was the circle skirt, which I have featured below. To add some playfulness to its conservative appearance, I have combined it with a sweetheart neckline tube top from Forever 21, wide leather belt from Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford studded sunglasses, and black Seychelles sandals.

Mid-1960s: The 1960s brought on many social changes, and many people wanted to break away from the conservatism of the past. While the decade was a tumultuous one, with the wars in South East Asia, and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it also brought on so many beautiful changes, such as the success of the Civil Rights Movement, and an end to Anti-Miscegenation Laws (laws that did not allow people of different races to marry or live together).

The fashion of the 1960s also showed a shift in societal changes, with the early to the mid-1960s being all about rebelling against what was old. The dresses and skirts were shorter than ever, the bikini more revealing, and makeup was more about self-expressions instead of solely about impressing members of the opposite sex. 

To modernize this Mod-style (a movement that began in England) dress while still respecting its spirit, I have paired it with black leather Dolce Vita sandals with warm toned accents to provide some contrast, and a cool-toned Lesportsac cross-body bag. The sandals and bag are from Zappos.

Late 1960s:  The late 1960s brought on the popularity and acceptance of Eastern spirituality and mysticism; people were more likely to explore and discover that there was a world beyond Western standards and Christianity. Those who had always felt that didn't fit in with mainstream American societal ideals or religious standards, for example, could now explore what else was out there, with hopes that they could find a world where they felt belonged.

The fashion of the latter part of the 1960s was definitely reflective of society of the time. It left behind the structured silhouette that was popular in the earlier part of the decade, and embraced a looser approach. The approach was softer, more "natural" with the incorporation of designs from other parts of the world, as if to say "I am open to changes."

To keep the white cotton dress below from looking as though I have just arrived from 1969 Woodstock, I have paired it with white canvas shoes with asterisk designs, and a coral-pink canvas and leather bag. The dress, shoes, and bag are from Mod Cloth.

The 1970s: The 1970s brought on so many different fashion trends -- Disco-inspired (lots of polyester!) and colorful women's business suits, but I want to talk about my favorite: the Neo-Victorian/Prairie Revival style!

The Prairie Revival style had an "old world" approach, with gingham and calico print fabrics. Think Little House on the Prairie. This look was popular with daily casual clothing, while the Neo-Victorian (satin, puffed sleeves, laces pearls, cameos, etc.) was more present in bridal fashion.

A very iconic Prairie Revival look of the 1970s is the long, sleeveless dress with floral printed fabric, accented with cotton lace. To contrast with the softness, I am pairing the dress with the studded Rebecca Minkoff Affair bag, and leather-lace-ankle boots. The leather-and-lace look of the boots balance out the dress and the bag. You may purchase the dress at Mod Cloth, and the bag and boots at Zappos.

What is your favorite fashion decade?
Feel free to leave the link to your blog with your answer!


  1. very informative post! I'm not into fashion but it's interesting to see the different trends through the ages :)

    Anita @ AllThingsAnita

  2. This is a fantastic post with great styling tips. I appreciate the time you spent compiling this information. You have a fan.


    1. Awww, that's so sweet of you! Thank you for the compliment. <3

  3. Fabulous post! I love vintage style dresses...the 1960's black and white mini dress is my fav. Great tips on incorporating vintage with modern accessories. I enjoyed reading this.

    Keisha xo

  4. I love the different vintage trends... Stunning !!


    1. I love to look at them all and see how styles change over the years. :-) Thanks, Lynette, for stopping by!

  5. I like the 1950s and the 1970s fashion trends the best.


  6. I love the late-60's dress. It is so me! And I think you picked the right shoes every time :)
    Would you like to check out my blog?

    1. Awww, thanks for stopping by! Of course, I'll visit your blog! :-)

  7. My favourite decade is definitely the roaring twenties. xx


Thank you so much for sharing your opinion. I take the time to read all comments, and respond to questions. Feel free to leave a blog link with your comments, but please don't simply spam with just links and nothing else. Thanks!

© Copyright. Chic and Alluring