How to wear vintage all year round

22nd February 2022
Kathyrn Spencer

Unlike passing trends, it’s safe to say that vintage – with its classic time-tested looks – never goes out of style. Just hop onto Instagram where you’ll be greeted by more than 11 million mentions of #vintagefashion (and that’s before we even get into homewares!). What’s more, opting for vintage pieces can be great value, if you look hard enough, scouring for pre-loved pieces is kinder to the planet, and if you’re lucky you may get a charming backstory too.

But how does one wear vintage all year round? Adding flourishes of vintage to your existing wardrobe is one way to celebrate yesteryear. Here are some trusty tips for making the most out of your next vintage rummage…


Know your true measurements

Whether trawling online or in person, keep your vital body statistics (bust, chest, waist, inside leg etc.) to hand. Remember that vintage sizes generally run small and good online sellers will list the measurements of the piece, not the size.

Vintage historian and seller Liz Eggleston of Liz Eggleston Vintage advises: “Size is probably the number one issue for people choosing vintage. Ignore vintage size labels. Buy tape measures, one for home and one for your bag for shopping use, in case you can't try pieces on.”

Margaret Wilds of Denisebrain Vintage and president of the Vintage Fashion Guild, recommends that garment measurements should be slightly bigger than actual body size: “The wearing ease should be 1.5–2.5-inches at the bust/chest, 0.75–1-inch at the waist and 2–3 inches at the hip.

“If a 1950s dress has a bust/hip measure that works, but it’s too tight at the waist, choose another with a waist that fits and get it altered. Alterations were routine in the past.”

Layer up when necessary

During colder months, keeping warm in your vintage attire is essential. “Sport a wrap, cape, shawl, real or faux fur stole over the top of your vintage winter coat,” suggests Canadian blogger Jessica of “Layer thick tights, long johns (for men) or leggings underneath your trousers and long skirts and dresses.” Men’s vintage winter coats are often warm and of high quality, so consider tailoring if you find one you like.


Know your fabric

As with any style, choosing the right threads to suit the season is imperative. While delicate ensembles will see you through summer, you’ll need to consider how to dress for the cooler seasons. “Vintage fabric is one of the best things about vintage fashion: often luxury materials are used that are sought after and expensive,” notes Circa Vintage. Think silk (an all-weather winner), satin, 1940s rayon crepe, cashmere and velvet for starters.

In summer, natural fabrics such as linen, silk or cotton keep you cool in linen and don’t forget a vintage straw sunhat to boot. Think of a 1950s Horrocks printed cotton dress as favoured by the Queen, or a Brigitte Bardot gingham sundress – cover with a lightweight shawl or shrug in cotton, satin or crochet for when the sun goes down.

Wool and tweed tailored jackets or suits from the 1940s and ’50s for both sexes are smart and warm in cooler months. Layer over a vintage faux fur stole or a man's cashmere scarf and top it off with a cosy wool trilby.

Be prepared to do your research 

Discovering online and local charity shops, local thrift stores, vintage fairs and shops, eBay and Etsy accounts is all part of the joy of vintage shopping. 

Liz says: “It's definitely harder to find things in charity shops these days, but with patience and confidence you can still find things. Don't rule out looking in more expensive places, I've found some amazing pieces in some very high-end vintage shops where they got slightly overlooked. Always look inside a garment. Vintage labels can be in the weirdest places!”

Unlike shopping the latest season, vintage shopping can be more time-consuming, particularly if you’re after something very specific. “If you love the thrill of the hunt, prowl away! I warn that pre-1980s vintage is getting rarer and rarer. Purchasing online has its challenges, but it opens up a huge marketplace. I also support good, responsible, ethical and helpful sellers,” says Margaret. 


Seek out inspiration

Follow like-minded vintage-lovers on social media for seasonal ideas, whether an established vintage seller on Facebook, Instagram or Etsy, or an enthusiast who provides fantastic styling tips or inspiration.

After some wise words from the Goodwood Revival pros, then join the 1,500 like-minded members on the private Goodwood Fashion Facebook group. A brilliant source of intel, all year round (and particularly in the lead up to Revival!). You may also be able to bag some bargains as some members like to trade there, too.

Shop out of season  

Keep a look out for pieces throughout the year, for instance, a winter garment might sell for less in the summer.

Liz Eggleston advises: “Shop off-season, shop outside of busy times, shop regularly and try not to lose heart if you're not finding things. You can't find what's not there, but it might be there in a couple of days.”

She also suggests checking your finds thoroughly: “If possible, turn a garment inside out and look it over – there might be some concealed damage or extensive alterations, which could affect its value. I also always tell people to look in a mix of vintage shops, including high end ones because you will learn lots about fashion history and about fastenings, fabrics and finishing.”


Consider mixing vintage with your current wardrobe

The Goodwood Revival sees guests embracing top-to-toe vintage attire, but how achievable is this every day?

“I don’t think there is one best way to wear vintage day-to-day, but most vintage wearers prefer to mix vintage into their modern wardrobe, or to mix vintage eras,” says Margaret. 

Liz agrees: “I'm pretty loose with styles and eras when dressing, I'm usually in second-hand from top-to-toe, but very rarely fully one era or another. The whole joy of vintage is pleasure in the individual items I find and want to wear.”

Kathryn Cheston of Back to the Couture Vintage suggests “carrying a vintage handbag to create a talking point all year round” – just be warned that many vintage bags aren’t particularly spacious.

Remember that every piece tells a story 

By its very name, vintage has a history and a story to tell and by wearing it, you're part of that history.

Vintage dealer Elizabeth Grosvenor of Vintage@Chi is a Goodwood Revival regular: “It’s not just about selling, it’s the human touch I like about vintage. People offering [to pass] family clothes onto me, lovely suits or an Isle of Man TT uniform that belonged to their father, or a lady whose grandmother had a wardrobe of 1940s designer clothes from just before the fall of Singapore. They all want the clothes to go to good homes and be worn again by someone who will treasure them.”

Wearing vintage is like “holding hands across the generations”, says Margaret. We couldn’t agree more.

Plan your visit to this year’s Revival here and for more vintage intel, take a look at our piece on nine vintage styling tips.

Photography by Dominic James and Toby Adamson.

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