A Vintage Vibe

What is old is new again. This statement has never been truer for fashion than it is today. Fashion trends are cyclical. They come into fashion, phase out, then may come back years later. When these fashions return, they are always slightly different, expressing a uniqueness of the era. For example, the slip dress of the 1920s came back into fashion in the 1990s. The difference was that in the 90s it was see-through.

Television shows such as Happy Days and Mad Men influenced fashion with a resurgence of feminine dresses and red lipstick. In the late 1950s, television programs played with the idea of people living in space colonies or on the moon. These futuristic cities required modern clothing for ease of jetting in and out of space-cars. Neon-colored, form-fitting spandex suits were predicted to be the uniform of the future. These space-age suits would be appropriate for any activity and perfect for a fast-paced lifestyle. Thank goodness that was a false fashion forecast. Interesting tidbit – with all the progressive projections of our future lifestyle, Jane Jetson, (in ‘The Jetsons,’ an animated sitcom of the early 1960s whose TV family lived in a futuristic world), was not a CEO for a major corporation, she was a fashion-obsessed homemaker.

In the 1960s, Mary Tyler Moore shocked America by wearing slim trousers on the sitcom, ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show.’ Now, these pants have a snugger fit and are referred to as “skinny jeans.” The original Capri pant had a wide leg and ended at the anklebone. Today, any cropped pant, including pedal pushers and clam diggers, are generically labeled as “capris.”

Remember the funky prints found in parachute pants during the 1980s? Bet you thought you would never wear them again. However, those crazy designs are back, this time in the form of leggings. Even the ultra-dependable blue jean changes – the waistline moves up then down, the pant leg goes from wide to straight, then back around again.
Becky Cody, Professor of Apparel and Interior Merchandising at Mars Hill University, explains how innovative materials affect fashion. “Vintage garments often appear different because the textile is different. Sometimes the style comes back the same, but the characteristics look different since the textiles are updated. Designers always use the newest fabric available.” An example is the 100% cotton denim fabric used for blue jeans since 1871. In 1978, designer Peter Golding created and launched a new sexy, tight jean using stretch denim fabric from Japan. By adding Lycra(r) or Spandex(r) to cotton denim, jeans became more form fitting while also being more comfortable. These new jeans were referred to as “designer” jeans in the 1980s; now they are simply called, “stretch jeans.”

18948253 – vintage dress background for design

The retro trend coincides with a renewed interest in the preservation of historic buildings and towns, as well as the popularity of collecting antique furniture, dishes, and other relics. Seeking out used clothing is a fairly recent phenomenon. The reasons include: a nostalgic yearning for a past that seems more wonderful and manageable, imagining the secret stories old clothing holds, the excellent quality of construction, and wearing one-of-a-kind pieces. However, the main reason vintage clothing is so popular is that we are not limited to what is in current fashion.

Fashion tells a unique story by revealing the characteristics of the era. Past fashion trends have been influenced by designers in other countries, war-time, victory, a free-spirit mindset, and the return to domestic values. An overview of fashion trends follows:
1900s – Voluminous lace gowns, corsets, high necklines
1910s – Fur stoles with matching muffs, hobble skirts, lace-up boots
1920s – Loose-fitting flapper or slip dresses, shorter skirts, dropped waists, extensive beading
1930s – Longer hemlines, natural waistlines, bias cut dresses made with synthetic fabrics
1940s – Victory suits, nipped-in waists, peplums, shorter skirts, big hats
1950s – Ultra feminine clothing, crinolines, girdles, full skirts, gloves, hats, matching mother/daughter outfits
1960s – Baby doll dresses, shifts, psychedelic colors, bell bottom jeans, “wiggle dresses,” paper dresses, paisley and bold geometric prints, mini skirts
1970s – All-denim outfits, pantsuits, masculine silhouettes, “hot-pants,” earth tones, platform shoes, leg warmers, bow blouses
1980s – Neon colors, large shoulder pads, power suits, dance wear and undergarments worn in public
1990s – T-shirts, turtlenecks, oversized sweaters, slouch socks, scrunchies, ballet flats, jelly shoes

Taking elements of fashion from the past and making the overall look appear modern is the trendiest way to wear vintage clothing. To avoid looking costume-y, it’s best to wear only one signature piece at a time. Wearing a pussy-bow blouse with a straight skirt may look like you are on the set of Working Girl. The same blouse with a pair of skinny jeans will look chic. Unless you are a dancing queen, neon colors, large shoulder pads, and a plunging neckline are going to scream Saturday Night Fever. You can create a conservative, feminine look without channeling Jackie O when you pair a modest pink dress with a pair of fringe booties.

There is a fine line between “vintage” and “out-of-fashion.” Unless it is a classic piece, wearing something you have in your closet from eight years ago may look odd rather than chic. Vintage clothing takes time to become “vintage-worthy.” You may also consider buying vintage-inspired pieces. While they appear retro, they’re new, so they look and smell fresh. If you can sew, there are many vintage-inspired patterns available. Whether you shop at a vintage boutique, consignment or thrift store, check the garment carefully for holes, stains, and other signs of wear. Understand that vintage sizing is different from sizing of today. You’ll need to try on the garment to know if it fits. You may find that you wear every size from 2 to 14.

56391731 – young caucasian woman in retro floral summer dress over blue background.

To look your best when wearing vintage clothing, it is important to wear appropriate foundation pieces. If the waistline of your skirt sits at your waist, high-waisted underwear should be worn. Otherwise, lines and bulges will be visible. A tight secretary dress may require a body shaper or long-line bra to smooth out your middle. In the past, ladies were careful to maintain good posture. Their undergarments helped them hold in and sit straight. Proper undergarments will also help you feel the character of the garment you are wearing. In the book ‘The Fashion File,’ Janie Bryant explains that as the costume designer for Mad Men, she had to convince the actresses that their not-always-comfortable undergarments were just as important for the character as the outerwear. However, after a few episodes, they realized the impact undergarments have. Wearing a crinoline or slip will also give your dress the polished, finished look sought after in years past.

There is no need to feel stuck in a fashion rut. Wearing vintage clothing offers us the opportunity to freely express our individuality. No matter your style, there are vintage pieces to fit your personality. Once you have selected a vintage ensemble, don’t be afraid to go out and show the world. Get funny looks? I bet those people just wish they also had the courage to wear the styles and clothes that gave them confidence and contentment. Have fun and enjoy dressing up.


Style Expert, JeanAnn Taylor can be reached at jeananntaylor119@gmail.com

JeanAnn Taylor
Written by JeanAnn Taylor