Whether you scour thrift stores and vintage boutiques for original items, or prefer the clean crisp feel of reproductions, there is something immensely satisfying about collecting vintage dresses.
In this post we’re going to look at vintage dresses; in the 20th Century, bridal and bridesmaid dresses, prom dresses, and vintage evening dresses. A vintage style dress can be defined as one of two things – an actual dress from a bygone era, or a dress cut from vintage fabric in the style of said bygone era.
Vintage Dresses of the 20th Century
The most popular decades for those dedicated to vintage are the Flying Forties, the Nifty Fifties, and the Swinging Sixties, although in very recent years the seventies and eighties have made brief comebacks.
Here is a quick guide to some characteristic styles of the twentieth century. Further on in this post we’ll look at prom, bridal, and bridesmaid’s dresses.
Women of the roaring twenties desired straight up and down boyish figures, and dresses of the period were designed to hide curves rather than flaunt them. That does not mean that 1920s styles are unfeminine, however. Pastel colours, feathers, fringes and trims all serve to soften the ruler-straight lines.
To find a genuine vintage dress from this far back you will need either a lot of money or a lot of luck, but there are some wonderful reproductions around, as well as modern styles drawing on the ‘flapper’ look.
As well as a return to more form-fitting shapes and lower hemlines, the 1930s also saw the birth of manmade fabrics like nylon, viscose and rayon, plus the zipper. Shoulders were padded and broadened, and flowing butterfly sleeves also accentuated the upper body.
In Europe, wartime austerity and clothes rationing meant that minimising the amount of fabric used was a major concern and ‘make do and mend’ was the watchword. That didn’t mean that women stopped caring about fashion, of course.
The shirt dress is a classic 1940s design: practical, comfortable and stylish. For dressier occasions, the peplum is another characteristic feature of vintage dresses from the 1940s: and bang on trend for the early and mid 2010s as well!
The 1950s saw the rise of rockabilly music, and with it, rockabilly fashion. From show-stopping circle dresses, filled out with layered net petticoats; to sexy wiggle dresses that accentuate every curve, it’s no wonder that the 1950s are a favourite with fans of vintage clothing.
The Swinging Sixties went through three dress fashions in one decade! At the start of the 60s, every woman wanted to be Jackie Kennedy, and shift dresses with boxy jackets were de rigeur. Then with the advent of the Mods and the Rockers came a fashion diversity.
Mod girls liked sleeveless A-line shift dresses and miniskirts worn with anoraks and white boots, while Rocker girls liked leather jackets and denim skirts. By the late sixties the micro-mini skirt had emerged – dresses and skirts worn above mid-thigh.
By the late 60s hemlines had once again fallen, and the hippie look was in – long flowing dresses at ankle length worn with sandals or bare feet.
From the mini, to the maxi; from figure-hugging shift dresses, to comfortable flowing waves of fabric: the 1970s is rather unfairly known as the ‘decade taste forgot’. In fact, there is a lot to be said for the shapes, styles and especially the characteristic print fabrics of the 1970s.
Vintage dresses from this period are still widely available, and modern items drawing on the same styles can be found all over the place.
Neon colours, ruffled skirts, puffy sleeves, big shoulder pads. And although harking back to previous eras has been something that’s happened throughout history, some would say that this was the decade where the concept of ‘retro’ really took off, perhaps because the characteristic styles of the decade left something to be desired.
Vintage Prom Dresses
Women who want to create a big impression when they turn up to a special event should check out the range of vintage prom dresses that are available. It is possible to choose between classic creations that originated in the 1920s and 1930s or sexy figure hugging numbers from the 1950s and 1960s. Create the style of your favourite classic film characters by donning a vintage dress and showing some film star chic.
Every woman knows that when shopping for prom dresses picking out the perfect dress is an extremely important decision. There is a lot to consider, such as whether you should choose a short or long dress. Of course, the colour of the dress is also important as well as the style. Do you dare to bare your shoulders by opting for a strapless or halter style dress, or is it better to stick to tradition and cover up as much as possible?
While you may want to select a dress in your favourite colour, it is important to make sure that it will go with you skin tone and not stick out like a sore thumb. Skin tones are usually characterised by season, namely spring, summer, autumn or winter. For example, people who have a winter skin tone will look best in colours such as black, dark blue and red, while people who have a summer complexion look great in pastel colours.
Of course, you will also need to consider your body shape when searching for the perfect dress. Full figured people look great in full skirted dresses, while people with an hourglass shape may want to show their curves by wearing a figure hugging dress.
Of course, a vintage prom dress can be worn to a wide range of different types of events, not just a prom. There is a huge selection of styles of vintage prom dress to choose from, ranging from sexy little black cocktail dresses to full skirted dresses that are sure to capture to attention of everyone at your chosen event. These dresses are ideal for occasions such as themed weddings, cocktails parties, formal events and fancy dress parties.
Vintage prom dresses come in all shapes and sizes and can be picked up quite cheaply if you know where to look. Most dresses can be altered so that they fit like a glove, and these classic creations have been well preserved so that they look as new as they they did on the day that they were originally created. So let your fun loving side shine out by picking out the perfect prom-style dress.
Vintage Wedding Dresses
For many women, a wedding dress is the most important piece of clothing they will ever wear and own. It is the centre piece of the most important day of their lives – the symbol of all their romantic hopes and dreams. They will love in it, marry in it, laugh in it and cry in it. One day they may pass it down to their own daughter on her wedding day. It’s hardly any wonder that women spend so much time, money and effort in the search to find the perfect wedding dress.
More and more women are turning to vintage wedding dresses to provide the ultimate in glamour for their big day. It’s not difficult to see why: vintage wedding dresses epitomise a kind of effortless, cinematic glamour that is little more than a fantasy to the average 21st century woman, as she negotiates the stresses and strains of modern day living.
A vintage wedding dress provides a moment of true escapism, a chance to slip into something that represents another time – one encapsulated by black and white photographs and soft focus glimpses into a bygone era of mystery, romance and classic glamour. It’s every woman’s chance to feel like Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe or Lauren Bacall – at least for one day.
One of the best things about second hand vintage wedding dresses is that even the priciest numbers tend to be kinder to the bridal budget than couture. Many vintage boutiques have a dedicated wedding section, but there are also good bargains to be had online and in the classified sections of newspapers.
Most women, even those who don’t have a tendency to hoard, keep their wedding dresses. Ask around the members of your family – you never know what treasures are lurking in the trunk at the back of the attic.
There is also a range of eras and styles from which to choose. Antique lace is a popular choice for brides looking for a dress that makes a statement and offers understated but unforgettable glamour. A 1920s dress – typically slinky silk, dropped waist and beaded detail – is perfect for an art deco themed wedding party, while a delicate 1940s-style lace wedding dress injects effortless chic into proceedings.
Mix and match your needs between high or low necks, silk or satin, long or short sleeves, and create a look that is smart, sexy, timeless and – most importantly – individual.
Whether it’s an original vintage wedding dress, or a vintage inspired design, vintage is one of the hottest bridal trends of recent years.
Vintage Bridesmaid Dresses
Vintage bridesmaid dresses are big business. With more and more brides forgoing the basic strapless gown for a design that conveys a more romantic and nostalgic vision, it is natural that they will want their bridesmaids to match the look.
Vintage covers a range of modern eras and was traditionally used to describe second hand clothing. However, the overlap between what is considered vintage and antique is sometimes blurred, and vintage is now often used to refer to new garments in vintage styles.
So which era? Victorian style dresses were elegant, refined and layered, but also somewhat restrictive. Corsets are part of achieving an hourglass look, and crinoline petticoats or bustles worn underneath a dress give a full shape. Laced ankle boots and cameos complete the look.
The Late Edwardian 1910’s featured longer corsets, slimmer skirts, higher waistlines and tighter forearm sleeves. A classic element of this time was the bretelle, a band rising from the waist to the shoulder on each side. These were often heavily laced or otherwise decorated.
In the roaring 1920’s women chose to wear dresses that were more fun, feminine and free and less restrictive than their predecessors. Waistlines dropped and bodices were left relatively unshaped to follow the natural curves of the female body. The 1930’s are famed for their glamour and glitz, with Hollywood proving a rising influence.
However this was also a time of austerity and long skirts, narrow waists and bias cut dresses featured. 1940’s dresses were a continuation of more modest times, and a vintage bridesmaid dress of this time is likely to display neutral colours, an understated style and long or short-sleeved sleeves.
Then came the 1950’s, and dresses of this decade are all about full, twirly skirts and chiffon, taffeta and tulle lace. Strapless dresses feature in this decade in a way they haven’t before. 1960’s dresses were about chic simplicity, and those of the 1970’s carried romantic and ethereal tones, with soft gauze, embroidery and high waistbands ribboned with silk or lace. The 1980’s are now considered vintage, and popular styles of this era featured high necklines, mandarin collars, puffed sleeves and richly decorated bodices.
The bride choosing her vintage bridesmaid dress has a rich variety of styles and eras from which to select the perfect outfits. Vintage bridesmaid dresses are available at specialist bridal shops or online, with both new and individually sourced secondhand gowns available. Vintage dresses are professionally cleaned and restored to their former glory, and can be altered to fit just like new dresses.
Vintage Evening Dresses
There’s that date in your diary and it’s looming. Whether it’s a swanky dinner, work party or wedding, you need a killer dress. You want to look and feel your absolute darnedest. But where to start? A vintage evening dress is a sure-fire bet for super-hot glam. When it comes to glad-rags, nothing quite tops retro.
Vintage style includes fashion spanning many decades, styles, cuts and trends. So there’s an abundance of vintage evening dresses to choose from. So much so, it can be a puzzle where to start. But rest assured, there is your perfect dress out there, wherever your evening takes you.
Here are some ideas.
Channel that decadent decade of dropped waists and make The Great Gatsby the theme of your evening. Twenties fashion is very much in. Flapper dresses in pastel shades, particularly pink, peach and oyster grey, are vogue right now.
The look is pretty and boyish, with peals, lace and beading detail to make you sparkle while you mingle. Twenties is the perfect style for capturing a laid back but glitzy evening look. Also, keep an eye out for Art Deco designs and fun fringing.
For the epitome of fitted feminine, tap into fifties vintage. Evoke that sunny, kitsch, girly vibe with A-line prom designs, perfect for flaunting curves, or empire lines for baby doll cute. Fifties vintage evening dresses might be halterneck or strapless, often brightly coloured and patterned; floral and polka dot giving an instant fifties hit.
For ladylike demure, opt for cocktail style fitted dresses, the peplum dress is a this-season must. As are collared designs such as broad and peter pan collars, and bow-fronted designs for that sweet, retro charm. Ribbon details, embroidery and 3D frills are all fifties-fan essentials.
There is no quintessential vintage evening dress. Or rather, there are many! But if you struggle to pick from a decade, how about opting for timeless classic. Strapless dresses are an eveningwear and vintage staples. Opt for the classic LBD or perhaps a metallic shade or bold stripe patterning. Focus on texture, from satin to lace, sheer layered, frilled and tiered fabrics.
What vintage fashion has above other trends is that ability to transport us back to a time gone by. Vintage is laden not just with style but with association, nostalgia and a delightful, intangible romance.
With vintage, you get to dress up as the lady, movie starlet or dance hall darling you were born too late to be. Whatever era you choose, vintage makes for a magical evening.