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How to wear vintage (without looking like an extra from Mad Men)
Let’s dive into a lesson I learned the hard way. I love vintage clothing and was lucky enough to inherit some beautiful pieces in addition to shopping vintage stores, sewing from vintage patterns, and buying vintage-inspired clothing from J. Peterman in my younger days.
It’s taken a lot of trial and error to work vintage pieces into my wardrobe seamlessly. My style has gradually become more timeless/classic than ‘vintage.’ In my late thirties, I’m reaching for a low-key striped shirtdress and not a shirtdress with white cuffs and oversized self-fabric buttons.
Vintage clothes can make it easy to look like you’ve inadvertently donned a Betty Draper costume. I’m all for Betty Draper vibes, but I don’t think looking like you’ve teleported straight from the 1960s is very chic. It’s cutesy, and if you’re over 25, that’s not the way you want to go.
1. Don’t wear 100% vintage
This might sound obvious. Just wait until you find a lovely vintage dress and immediately get sucked into complementing it with vintage shoes, a hat, gloves, your grandmother’s clip-on earrings (ow), and a bold red lip. Don’t do it. In 100% vintage, you will 100% look like it’s Halloween.
Wear two vintage items at a time, max. Try modern/classic jewelry with a vintage dress and shoes. Wear neutral makeup, a tweed skirt suit from this century, and a vintage coat and hat. When in doubt, keep it simple and toned down.
2. Buy vintage pieces that are timeless
I get a lot of targeted ads from a brand that specializes in vintage-inspired dresses. The dress I clicked to get on their ad bot’s radar was a navy sheath. The ad bot now wants me to look like a Pan Am air hostess from 1964. Do you get these ads, too? Just add a jaunty hat and a yellow ‘flight wings’ pin, and you’re ready for takeoff.
In my late twenties, I admit, I wore a felt circle skirt. Like, a poodle skirt, guys. With a cat appliquéd on it instead of a poodle. This and the above are not timeless pieces nor even advisable ones. Choose pieces with subtle detailing that nods to styles past - a wool coat with a Peter Pan collar, a monochrome shirtdress or one with a simple pattern like stripes.
3. Tweak vintage pieces as needed
Your tailor is invaluable if you’re trying to work vintage pieces into your wardrobe. People were built differently back in the midcentury - we’re taller and longer on average in 2023. Sizing has also changed tremendously, and let’s face it, even modern women’s vanity sizing is a hot mess at best. Not only will your tailor be able to give your vintage pieces a better and more comfortable fit, they can also make tweaks to keep the piece from screaming ‘I am Donna Reed’s understudy.’ From replacing gigantic buttons to updating the lines, there’s a lot that can be done to help work a vintage piece into a modern wardrobe.
4. Be careful accessorizing
This ties into my first point about not wearing 100% vintage. Looking ‘too vintage’ is all in the accessories. Saying ‘don’t wear a crinoline’ seems like a given, except who did that in 2014? This blogger right here.
Gloves are a fun vintage touch. I inherited a large collection that I rarely wear. Even in my felt circle skirt and crinoline days, I was careful about the gloves. I think they work for very formal events (opera-length satin gloves), for religious services on major holidays (wrist-length white gloves), and depending on your overall look and venue, maybe for Derby Day.
Vintage jewelry can also be tricky to pull off - I wrote about my vintage jewelry collection over the summer. Less is more here, especially if you’re like me and go wild by not wearing pearl studs that day. So many vintage pieces are enormous by my small and unobtrusive jewelry standards. Wearing a loud vintage necklace with matching earrings is too much, especially if you’re fine-boned.
My first Style Profile Guest, Mariah, has amazing vintage-inspired style that never looks like she teleported from the 1960s - hop over to that post to read more tips! Do you wear vintage clothing? Did you ever accidentally rock a Donna Reed look? Let me know!