If you’re like most people starting out in the vintage fashion world, the following scenario probably sounds familiar:
You watch a few YouTube videos from vintage style gurus and get inspired to develop your own vintage style, so you start searching online to gather ideas, at which point you get all revved up to hit your local thrift stores and consignment shops to achieve those looks.
After spending hours picking through items which seem promising, and trying them on (or not. Be honest!) You get home and put it all together and about 10-12 selfies later, you realize that realistically only 30-40% of what you purchased actually achieved the look you were going for, while the other 60-70% looked awful.
But why? You might ask. You dove in head first without doing a bit more research. Welcome to the vicious vintage cycle. The good news is that you’re not alone; even seasoned vets from time to time slip up and allow their fantasies to override their reality. Let this 5 step guide help you out the next time you go digging!
Five steps towards finding the perfect vintage silhouette
Step one: Finding YOUR Silhouette…..realistically.
With the thrill of building a vintage wardrobe of your dreams, it’s easy to get caught up in the habit of collecting whatever catches your eye, but the real question is, does it fit you?
I ADORE Elizabeth Taylor and want so desperately to wear just about everything she had ever worn, but my 5’7 willowy frame is no comparison to Liz’s 5’1 petite and curvaceous body; instead, I’m more of an Audrey Hepburn—long legs, long arms, and slim. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I realized a few years into my vintage fashion journey, that I needed to be realistic about what suits my frame, best.
Finding a vintage silhouette that compliments you both in frame and style will showcase your look without looking awkward or out of place and searching for what suits you best, is not as daunting as it might seem at first. Here’s what I do to make this process easier:
1. TYPE In an online search engine, “Fashion of the (era) / OR type in “style icons of the (era)”
2. FIND a style icon with a similar body type to you, “Click” on the images of them that attract you most
3. SAVE the images to a photo gallery, or if you have a Pinterest account, pin them there.
4. PAY ATTENTION: After you’ve collected images, begin paying attention to the names of the “cut/design” clothes they wore (i.e., cowl neck, basque waisted, A-line ), it will help you specifically find that item on a site such as Etsy.
And that’s it! It’s really that simple!
Step two: Understanding fabric and sizing
Most fabrics manufactured before the 1970s won’t be very stretchy. Anything made before this period of time is bound to be stiff. Vintage sizes also tend to run a size or two smaller than modern day garments. Since body types vary from era to era, aim for one size larger or one to two sizes smaller depending on your frame. Knowing your exact measurements will also help you choose a more accurate fit.
Step three: Brush up on your knowledge of vintage fashion terminology
This one is particularly important for those of you who purchase vintage online. Knowing what to call specific styles and patterns, can help you narrow down your search; it’ll also save you loads of time!
Whenever I look up online how to call a particular style, I find an image of Hollywood actresses who were known for wearing that style. I then click on their picture and refer to the description of the image. Often, the image will provide the name of the style in the description box.
Step four: Which part of your body do you want to accentuate?
So now you’ve managed to find a vintage silhouette(s) most suitable for you, but you begin noticing that although the people wearing those silhouettes match your body type, the outfit isn’t your style; this is because we all highlight parts of our body differently.
Take one of my older sisters and me for example; we have similar body types, but she prefers to accentuate her bust area, whereas I prefer to accentuate my waist. Just because an outfit you find matches your body type doesn’t mean you need to settle for it if you don’t like it. If you don’t like it; you don’t like it; there will always be alternatives.
A dress like the above might be a staple piece
for its era and body type, but it doesn’t flatter
my slim frame.
I opted for another staple piece
of the same era; one which would
which gives me the illusion of curves
with a more geometric pattern and
doesn’t elongate my already long
STEP FIVE: CHOOSE “STAPLE” PIECES
A great way to represent a look from an era is to identify and select pieces for which that era was known. Check out my other post on how to get started on building a vintage wardrobe for more information on this. Whether it be a fur (or faux fur!) jacket with strong shoulders popularized in the 1940s, or a boat neck sweater mostly worn in the 50s, after you’ve identified which style best compliments your shape, start adding it to your wardrobe.
So the next time you find yourself hastily setting out and grabbing anything and everything you can that will put you on your way to a vintage wardrobe, take a moment to stop. Set aside some time. And do a bit of research first.
Finding a vintage silhouette that flatters your frame will make you feel good wearing it and chances are the next time you fill your shopping cart with vintage goodies, that only 30-40% pile that suited you, in the beginning, will grow to be a 100% perfect match.