When I say I love vintage, I mean that not only do I use vintage accessories (such as bags, scarves and jewelry), but I actually wear the pieces I manage to find in good condition along with my regular clothes.
Finding quality vintage can be a bit of a challenge. First of all, not all of it is good in sartorial terms. For example, the 1960's gave us some amazing suits and coats, but they also brought forth the psychedelic prints and floral muu-muus. The 1980's were horrible altogether, producing garments that were not only too... everything (too big shoulders, too short skirts, too synthetic, too big sleeves, etc.) but also virtually indestrictible. Some of those can be rescued by some clever tailoring, but it might be more work than one is prepared to take on.
My favorite decade is the 1950's. Not that I miss the bullet-proof bras and all that boning and steel and super-perfect hair and "Father Knows Best". But I do love the "new look" dresses meant to show off the classic female hourgrlass shape, as well as the oh-so-ladylike suits. There is also a plethora of vintage evening wear out there - it is probably the largest category among the sellers - and with some careful research you can walk away with some amazing steals.
This 1950's walking suit was recently featured in one of my outfit-of-the-day blogs. As many of my favorite finds, it came from eBay. In addition to the pieces shown in the photo, I have also worn this suit with boots and a larger-brimmed winter hat, as well as the skirt separately with a fancier blouse and dress pumps.
A word of caution on the suit's design - depending on height, the skirt might hit you at the widest portion of your calf, making your legs look chunky. Consider shortening it to land just under the knee - that length is very forgiving to most legs. The jacket is fairy short - in fact, it's this close to being considered a cropped jacket - so, consider wearing some "elongating" accessories. I picked the colorful scarf with prominent stripes to avoid further shortening my already-short torso.
This fabulous suit is currently offered by one of the classiest vintage sellers on eBay Red House Vintage. As many of this seller's offerings are, this one is of a very wearable size and excellent quality. Many vintage suit jackets have narrow sleeves, making it uncomfortable to move your arms. This piece doesn't have that problem - the sleeves are very generously cut. I also love the nipped-in cut of the jacket bringing a touch of femininity to the otherwise very structured outfit. I would seriously consider it myself, but all of Red House Vintage offerings initiate some very spirited bidding, and I don't think I can get into a bidding war right at the moment. If you are up to it, however, definitely peruse the store and see what catches your eye - something is bound to.
Getting into a 1950's or 1960's office wear is a two-person operation more often then not - the dresses are cut to figure, but can be rather snug, so some assistance is needed when it comes to zippers and little hooks and buttons in the back. Such trifling inconveniences, however, should not discourage a lady of fashion, especially considering that many of the dresses are superbly constructed and made of high-quality fabrics.
eBay's Pinup Dresses is very much about variety. The store keepers are brave enough to display a classic 1980's hideousness (velvet, taffeta, ruffles and butt bow) next to an exquisite little bit of perfection like this one. This dress may appear stodgy, but with the right shoes and jewelry it will easily take you from the day at the office to cocktails afterward. Throw in some pearls for a classic look, or read Sally McGraw's Necklaces and Necklines and watch her fabulous video on layering jewelry to work in some contemporary pieces - this dress is a perfect backdrop!
I am very fortunate to have an elderly friend who loves me enough to bestow upon me some of the incredible pieces from her late 1950's - early 1960's collection. Marie was quite a dish in her day and a very discriminating dresser - a quality, which I am only too hapy to reap the benefits of. Here is one of Marie's gems and I absolutely adore it. This dress is superbly comfortable in addition to being classy and high-quality. Worn here with a contemporary gold-tone horse pin and Target's Mossimo shoes.
Coats and jackets
As I mentioned earlier, the one thing to look out for when considering a vintage coat or jacket is the arm holes. Quite a few otherwise perfectly-proportioned pieces have rather tight sleeves. That said, it is not as if you'll be participating in a gymnastics competition while wearing that coat, so as long as you can drive and open doors comfortably, you should be ok.
I honestly cannot remember, which of my favorite sellers I bought this 1960's coat from. Sadly, I had to shorten it since then, because I had the misfortune of standing in front of a heater while wearing it, and the fabtic got badly singed. No biggie - I still love it and it went to Paris with me last November. My favorite details are the pockets and the contrast stitching. I was very fortunate to find a good set of buttons for it (some of the original ones were missing and the rest were too boring anyway), and together these little touches give an interesting and sophisticated look to a very basic beige coat.
Here is another example of the fine old-fashioned jacket making offered by Red House Vintage. This jacket is definitely on a dressy side, but I think it can be done with nice dark denim and boots. And the gorgeous color is certain to make you pop in a sea of little black dresses at a cocktai party.
Ahh... The gauze... The chiffon... The corset bodices... The voluminous skirts... The floating scarves... Love that stuff. That said, one must be careful when picking out an evening gown. You want a color that works best for you, a cut that emphasizes the best features of your figure and hides the ones you'd rather not reveal, and a size that allows you to be comfortable and leaves enough room for appropriate undergarments. If you are a smallish woman, like myself, make sure that it is you wearing the dress and not the other way around. Do not be mislead by the old fib that "all formal wear is uncomfortabl, so you might as well just wear whatever". It's not true. You can look gorgeous and be comfortable and have a great time.
Black is a popular evening color and I wear it myself, but consider exploring other hues as well. This week, Violet's Vintage Closet features one of a handful of 1980's dress that is actually slick and classy. There is some sparkle, yes, but not so much as to cause permanent corneal damage. The shade of red is subdued and sophisticated. There is, of course, the slit - that part is kind of hard to miss, so think carefully as to how far you want to push your daring envelope.
In the late 18th and most of 19th century pale pink was considered the most sophisticated color for a young woman's ball gown. A couple of years ago I decided to apply this rule of sartorial wisdom and wore this pink 1950's gown with beading and ivory lace to a large gala combined with my Swarovski Crystal necklace, a rhinestons hair barette, and pale ankle-strap shoes with rhinestone buckles. I think it all came together very well, and besides it was great fun to be one of maybe five women there who weren't wearing black.
...Not that it is impossible to be stunning in black. If the color works for you and doesn't make you look too pale and washed-out, there are many fabulous and unique vintage options out there. If I had to pick, I would go with something like this black beauty from Red House Vintage. The straps are wide enough to provide plenty of support and to keep from sliding off all the time. The overall cut is super-feminine and the flowing scarf give it a positively regal touch.
Much as I love eBay and antique stores that also sell vintage clothes, the are not without issues. The garment you like may not be available in your size or be too worn to be restored for practical wearability. With eBay, there is also the wait till the end of an auction and the risk of being outbid at the last moment. These are very valid concerns that can be addressed by working with sellers, whose clothing collections are largely vintage-inspired. Of course, this reduces your chances of snagging a truly incredible deal. However, most good vintage costs more anyway and you'll have the added benefit of having a garment that comes in your size and will last you longer. Below is the list of vintage-inspired clothing sellers:
Mod Cloth (big thanks to Sally McGraw of Already Pretty for mentioning these two in her blog)
Medieval to Modern
Finding the right details to enhance your vintage outfit is fairly easy. Let's split them into groups first: jewelry, bags, shoes, hose, and hats. The first two can be had for less both on the Internet and in antique shops. In my recent article on bags, I mentioned eBay as one of my tried-and-true sources as well as a few sellers who sell gorgeous vintage reproduction bags.
In addition to some fantastic antique jewelry retailers, there are also quite a few that sell 19th century-inspired pieces in a wide range of prices, including Victorian Trading, Recollections and Medieval to Modern.
Finding good hats is a bit more challenging. Not only is it a matter of finding the right style, but it would also be best if you could try them on. I would say - go to places like Ross and TJ Max. They do have a surprisingly good selection of classy hats with a bit of that old-fashioned flair.
Call me an absolutist, but I honestly think that fishnets and patterned hose are the only way to go with vintage wear. If it has to be plain hose - make it sheer: none of that opaque shiny stuff. But otherwise, I do love how patterned hose adds a bit of edge to those prim suits and dresses. Cutesy Girl is not the most sophisticated of places, but they are inexpensive and have quite a few interesting hosiery choices. For a pop of color and some cool patterns, check out We Love Colors.
Shoes... Shoes are probably the toughest when trying to coordinate with vintage pieces. The basic black pump does work, but it also gets a bit boring. The true vintage shoes are hard to find in the right size and in good condition. Consider checking with Newport News - quite a few of their shoes include vintage-inspired details. In all honesty, a great pair of shoes might pop up in the most unexpected place. Look for classic shapes (oxford pumps work almost universally), combined materials (like leather and suede, or regular and patent leather), and old-fashioned textures (like tweed).
Images courtesy Red House Vintage, Pinup Dresses, Maria K., Violet's Vintage Closet, Trashy Diva, Medieval to Modern, Newport News