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  • Heather Rafool

Your Guide to Vintage Style

Updated: Jun 8, 2018

Have you ever asked yourself, what is vintage style? There are many elements of vintage style, logos, design, and fashion trends. Here's your decades vintage style guide.


Keyword(s): vintage style; vintage fashion style, vintage fashion guide, vintage-style, what is vintage style, vintage clothing guide #Fashion #Vintage #Retro #Style

Is the fabulous jacket you found at the thrift store vintage style? Or, is it simply used clothing?

People use the terms Vintage, Retro (retrospective) and Thrift interchangeably.

But there's a difference. Vintage by definition refers to garments made in a previous era. Retro and "vintage style" means the clothing is new but copies an older style.

True vintage fashion is clothing, shoes, and accessories that are at least 20 to 30 years old.

Vintage refers to something older that's not yet antique. Antique items are over 100 years old. Right now, the most popular vintage items are from the 1950s to 1980s.

Want to know more about vintage fashion?

Keep reading to learn which pieces are worth your money, and which aren't. We'll explain fashion eras so you can identify the real deal in vintage garments.

What is Vintage Fashion?

If you're interested in buying vintage fashion pieces, you need to know how to tell it apart from plain old preowned clothes.

Vintage is special. It's a piece of clothing that's fashionable and relevant despite its age. It may have historical or cultural significance. Or, it may have an interesting provenance. Provenance is the history of ownership. A dress worn by a famous person, or crafted by a renown designer is more valuable.

When shopping for vintage clothing, remember this:

  • Antique clothes were custom made.

  • Early 20th century clothes were custom made or mass produced.

  • Mid-century clothes were custom or union made.

  • Clothing made in the mid-80s or later was outsourced for cheap production abroad.

Look at the way the garment craftsmanship for clues about its age. The quality and production method will help you date it. A dress made before 1965 will have metal zippers and side-snap closures. Clothing with union labels and pinked seams are from the same time.

Your First Vintage Purchase

Novice vintage fashion hunters do best with timeless pieces. Beaded cardigans from the 50s are classic vintage style. So is a little black dress from 1960. A vintage handbag is a great first time buy.

The bottom line is to pick items that reflect your personal style. Start by incorporating one or two vintage pieces into your wardrobe. Choose something you'll wear often and enjoy.

Items from the 1960s on can blend well with a contemporary style. If you reach too far back in time, you risk looking like you're wearing a costume.

Next, let's do a quick review of the fashion eras.

Fashion Era Highlights

Although the most popular vintage items are from the 1960s and later, we include earlier eras. A style is a style, after all.

The 1920s

The 1920s brought us the Flappers and their social fashions. The iconic flapper dress was popular in fabrics, such as beaded chiffon, lace, velvet, and lame. Women often wore the beaded dresses over a slip dress. Fringe was popular because it moved when the wearer danced.

The 1930s

Fashion became more feminine in the 1930s thanks to designers like Coco Chanel.

Chanel created softer shapes, ending the boyish silhouettes of the 1920s. Many dresses featured exaggerated shoulders to create a smaller, more feminine waist. Hemlines fell to mid-calf, and evening gowns returned to floor length. Prints became popular.

The 1940s

Fashion in the 1940s became cost-conscious due to World War II. The government asked designers not to use extra fabric, materials, and trims. Clothing took on a simpler style.

Pants and wide leg trousers became fashionable in the 1940s. Women wore blue jeans while working on war efforts. Dresses had wide shoulder pads and full skirts hitting below the knee.

The 1950s

Post-war fashion returned to French haute couture. Christian Dior influenced the new look for women with soft, ultra-feminine fashions. The 1950s are also known for fun-loving teen fashion like poodle skirts and saddle shoes. Don't forget the cool cats in their leather jackets and jeans.

The 1960s

Style and attitude in the 1960s began with conservative tailored suits and pearls. Mini skirts and easy free-flowing clothing in energetic colors and patterns soon followed.

The 1970s

The 70s was the decade that made tie-dye, maxi skirts, and band tee shirts fashionable. Bring on the bell bottoms, peasant blouses, and colorful leisure suits. It was an anything-goes decade where hot pants, jumpsuits, and ponchos co-existed.

Should You Buy Vintage or New?

An authentic vintage garment or accessory can be expensive. In fact, it can cost more than a brand new item.

Why? Most likely because it's made better than it's modern counterpart.

A 1960 Chanel suit is a vintage piece with fine craftsmanship. It's quality handwork and detail make it more durable than a contemporary suit. It's also unique.

If you want one-of-a-kind, top-quality vintage pieces, expect to pay more. But, do your research so you spend your money on authentic items. Learn how to spot condition issues. Is the fabric in good shape, or will it deteriorate before you get to wear the piece?

Find out which designers are desirable. Visit high-end vintage shops to see what's sold there. Get advice from other collectors.

Do you want the piece for personal use, or to sell it for a profit?

Create Your Own Vintage Style

The popularity of vintage means more options for fashionistas than authentic vintage clothing.

SE Apparel tee shirts let you celebrate the past with iconic vintage designs. Choose from our affordable selection of quality shirts that pay homage to the past. Or, create your own custom tee shirt to celebrate a club, radio station or television show.

SE Apparel specializes in screen printing, embroidery, logo design and more. We're your one-stop shop for that retro style tee at an affordable price! Pick your vintage, and we'll help you create it.

Visit SE Apparel today for a free quote. Put our 70+ years of screen printing experience to work on your next apparel project. We look forward to creating with you.

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