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Dressing Vintage: 10 Simple Tips to Avoid Looking Costumey

Hi there!

I’m very thankful for your comments on my outfit posts.  I was pondering last night, in retrospect of some sweet comments, what sort of things I do in order to avoid looking too costumey when wearing vintage or vintage inspired clothing.

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Casey of Casey Maura

There’s a lot of misconception out there on vintage or retro style. Many people think they can’t pull it off.  Others are afraid they’ll look out of place, or draw too much attention to themselves.  And still others are unhappy with their total look because they feel too much like they’re in fancy dress or costume.

We all have those random days when things don’t come together quite as well as we had hoped, but here’s some simple tips from me on how to not look costumey when wearing vintage or vintage inspired clothing.

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Me wearing a vintage 1940’s suit

1) Decide if you want to do authentic vintage fashion (a head to toe period look) or vintage inspired fashion (adapting or mixing vintage with everyday clothing).  

For me, those are the top two ways I see vintage fashion worn.  There’s no right or wrong answer here- it’s all up to you and what you want to do with your look.  If you’re going for head to toe period- it’s time to dig into those original period sources.  If you’re going for a vintage inspired look, let overall aesthetic be your guide.

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Katherine of The Fashionable Past, Ginger of Scene in the Past, and I at Costume College a few years ago. 

2)  Dress for Your Personality, Not Because You Think It’s “Right”

In the way you’ve dressed previously, what have been your favorite looks?  Chances are, if your past style sense had a general “feel” to it, you can find an equivalent in vintage fashion.  Are you a tomboy?  A girly girl?  Avante Garde artist?  Sensible and practical?  A career woman?  Well, regardless of what your lifestyle is, chances are there’s a vintage equivalent to you.  1920’s girls didn’t all wear fringe, 1930s girls didn’t all wear bias cut gowns, and 1950’s girls didn’t all wear poodle skirts.  So go poke around online (I suggest pinterest), and if one look grabs you instantly as something you would wear in real life, add it to your pin board.  There’s no real “right” or “wrong” way to dress in an era, because there were so many different styles in every single decade.  In fact, old magazines suggested you dress by “type”, just like fashion magazines of today.

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Me wearing 1930’s style last summer.

3)  Avoid nude stockings with black seams.

There’s a reason you find these at somewhat racy lingerie stores.  Yes, they did very occasionally wear them, but, if you must wear stockings, search out nude ones with nude seams.  You don’t need to scream to the world “Look!  I’m wearing seamed stockings!” because they’re so contrasted in tone.  There should be a sort of overall aesthetic to your look, and perhaps people won’t even realize you’re wearing seamed stockings if they’re nude on nude, but it will just look *right*.  After all, you want to evoke a look in entirety, not break up the eye to a bunch of randomly “correct” details.  Harmony, simplicity, and natural looks.  Which brings me to…

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Casey of Casey Maura– a woman of exceptional style.

4)  Select a statement piece

What’s going to speak the most out of the outfit you’re wearing?  Is it your dress print?  Your crazy novelty pin?  Your bakelite bangles? Your crazy hat?  I’m ALL for crazy, loud, and novelty print.  But the thing that keeps you from looking costumey is picking ONE statement thing.  Maybe two.  But certainly not more than three.  For example- crazy hat, crazy brooch, solid dress- works.  Crazy hat, crazy print dress, crazy brooch- doesn’t work in general (sure, there are the rare exemptions).  If in doubt, keep it simple.  Sometimes red lipstick is enough of a statement in itself.

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Me at a living history event in San Diego.  I’m wearing trousers, a comfy blouse, flat shoes, and sunglasses, because I knew I was going to be active that day.

5)  Make it Livable

How do you feel when you’re wearing your outfit?  Do you feel like yourself, or do you feel like you’re charading as someone else?  Are you self conscious, or are you confident?  Our clothes can do amazing things for us.  But they can also make us feel out of sorts.  I think a lot of this comes down to practicality.  For example- I can’t clomp around in 3″ heels.  Ok, so I can for a VERY short time.  But i’m a klutz, and chances are I’ll trip over myself.  I would have to consciously watch my step and make sure I’m not going to trip/fall/make a general spectacle of myself.  If you’re thinking about a single article of your clothing more than you are what you’re doing or enjoying the company you’re with, it’s time to re-think that choice.  Sometimes it’s as simple as adding insoles or heel grips to a shoe, or holding a hat in place with a hat pin, or finding a lipstick that doesn’t go all over the place when you eat (and how do we always get it either on our chin or on our teeth?  Ok, maybe it’s just me).  But your style should appear conscious but effortless, and part of that is finding pieces that fit in with you and your lifestyle.

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My friend, Katherine Brookes, always has impeccable vintage style.

6)  Find Flattering Hairstyle

It should be simple in essence, but sometimes it’s not.  One you’ve got one you’ve found that works for you and your face shape, you’re good to go.  It’s ok to do it over and over, or variations on that hairstyle, if it works.  Like clothing, there’s no “right way” to do hair for any given time period.  Check out photos of real people if you’re intimidated by the super polished looks you see other bloggers, or movie stars, wear.  Not everyone needs to have perfectly polished victory rolls to have vintage style.  And if you’ve got a flat spot, just add a hair flower or hair ornament, or hat.  People will think it’s intentional.  Really.  Just keep in mind pointer #3 when you look at the overall look.

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My friend, Simone (of The Wardrobe Mistress on Etsy).  Photo by Gordon Ayres

7)  With Makeup- Easy Does It

Some people can pull off the super dramatic makeup or pin-up style. I can’t.  If you also can’t, I’m here to tell you there’s hope for us.  Go by the old standby- pick what’s the focus- lips or eyes.  Red lips, simple eyes.  Bold eyes, simple lips.  You don’t need concealer + foundation + powder, unless that’s what you normally do.  My old standby for makeup is red lips, nude eyes with medium brown crease, and maybe eyeliner if I’m feeling adventurous.  And if you aren’t comfortable with red lips, that’s totally ok!  There were a variety or red, pink, and corals that were worn through many different vintage decade.  I often wear a lip stain instead of a lipstick, even when doing daily vintage inspired looks, and you know what?  It totally works.

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Beth of V is for Vintage.  Always expertly fitted, always tasteful in accessories.

8)  Select Clothing That Fits Well

This is probably not something that comes up too often on style tips, but one of the big things that makes something look more costumey than like clothing is the fit.  If you see sets of wrinkles going across any part of your body, it’s probably too tight.  If it doesn’t hug your curves or if it droops, it’s probably too loose.  Find something in the middle and the fit is just right.  There’s not much we can do about too tight, so if you’re faced with the choice ALWAYS get the one that’s a little too big.  You can either take it in yourself, or go to a tailor and get it altered to fit you perfectly.  It is an extra step and sometimes an extra expense, but it’s SO worth it to have clothing that fits you just right.  If you’re not sure where to find a place that does alterations, ask a local dry cleaner or do a search for alterations in your area.  And if it’s vintage, make sure you tell them to not cut out the extra fabric that’s there after the seams or hems are taken in- there may be a time you want to let it out later!

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Me, pretending to be fancy.

9)  Embrace Your Good Points

We all have things we don’t like about our appearance or body type, but instead of festering about that, why not turn that around to something positive?  What’s something you LOVE about the way you look?  Do you have a tiny waist?  Emphasize it!  Great décolleté?  Wear more boat necks.  Long legs?  You can look tall and elegant in trousers and knee length skirts.  Pretty hair?  Add ornaments some pretty comb or flowers to your hear, or wear hats that really make everyone look at your hair.  Love the color of your eyes?  Wear colors close to your face that bring out that color.  Underplay the points you don’t like, emphasize the ones you do like.  And if someone pays you a compliment, don’t tell them what you don’t like about yourself or your look- just kindly say “thank you!” and give them a big smile 🙂

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Me at the Huntington Gardens

10)  Be Confident

Once you’ve selected your look for the day, embrace it.  Don’t fuss in every mirror.  Don’t wonder if people are looking at you.  If people compliment you, give them big smile, look them in the eye, and thank them.  If they ask you funny questions “Are you in a play?”,  or ask a question or make a comment on your style, just be kind back and tell them you just like to wear vintage styles.  Most people are just curious, and some may even want to take up the look themselves!  Don’t take every notice as something negative.  Feel good about your choice, and just keep on enjoying your life.  Confidence and happiness are contagious 🙂

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Beth and Chris Grover, modeling for my Kickstarter that’s up right now for my first clothing collection.  Check it out!

Do you have any vintage style tips?  Let me know in the comments!

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