1950s 1960s 1970s Clothes Women's Clothes

Vintage Dresses

There is something about a vintage dress that never fades. I don’t mean the colour of course, I mean the style. The fashions that were oh-so-chic in their day maintain the same sense of class and sophistication today. Modern designers constantly revisit the popular styles of yesteryear and more and more of us find ourselves drawn into little vintage boutiques in the search of these retro treasures.

Flapper dresses
Flapper dresses

The embers of the vintage revival were reignited by Camden beauties such as Kate Moss. The forever-youthful supermodel seemed to feel a kinship with the style that aged as flawlessly as she did, realising that any dress you find in a vintage store is unlikely to be worn by anyone else. It’s simply the fastest way to a bespoke wardrobe.

But if you’re a newcomer to vintage dresswear, it’s sometimes a little confusing. So many eras, so many fashions. It’s not easy to know what to look out for. There are a few classic styles and silhouette types that make the most beautiful stand-out items. So, let’s dive in and take a tour of the most recognised and important vintage dress styles.

The flapper dress/1920s shift

This class creates a slim silhouette and incorporates beautiful beading, precious fabrics and longer length layered hems. All about the flapper dress.

The A-line dress

A-lines cling to the waist and fall into a fuller skirt. They are great for hiding fuller hips. A classic style that recurs through the decades.

The rock and roll swing dress

Rock'n'Roll swing dress
Rock’n’Roll swing dresses

Think full-circle skirts and fitted bodices, a strong silhouette that emphasises a woman’s shape, oozing femininity.

The maxi dress

This was a 1970s favourite. Loose fitting, floor sweeping and unspeakably bohemian. Whether it has thin straps or long sleeves, the maxi is a summer staple.

The sheath dress

The sheath is a fitted slinky style that makes the perfect evening gown. The sheath style has been associated with most decades, with skirt lengths and sleeve details adding variation.

Sheath dresses
Sheath dresses

The shift dress

This is a 1960s classic. The straight cut doesn’t cling to the body, but the short hemline adds a touch of glamour. Great for girls who want to flaunt their pins but may be a little body-conscious.

The wiggle dress

The wiggle is the ultimate 1940s/50s secretary style dress – typified by Marilyn Monroe’s look. Fitted, sexy and uber feminine it radiates vintage charm. The wiggle dress is fitted right through, usually ends at the knees with the skirt being equally as tight.

The shirt dress

Popular through the 1930s to the 1960s in various guises though usually features central button fastenings, a belted waist, a fuller skirt and a crisp collar. There is a playfully feminine feel to this twist on a classic man’s shirt.

Vintage Pucci shirt dress
Vintage Pucci shirt dress

Top Vintage Styles

  • Flapper dress
  • Swing dress
  • Maxi dress
  • Sheath dress
  • Wiggle dress
  • Shift dress
  • Shirt dress
1950s 1960s Clothes Vintage Women's Clothes

Vintage Clothes

Vintage clothes – adventures in imagination

Wearing vintage is grown-up dressing up. It links us to our childhoods. Remember those halycon girlhood days, in and out of the dressing up box, matching shoes (far too big), with scarves, scarves with gloves, gloves with hats? Trying out different make-up styles from the teeny magazines?

Wearing vintage conjures up the same kind of excitement. It’s about trying on another life, for size. Fancy feeling as sexy as 50s pin-up girl? Or want to find out what the Land Girl from the Second World War might have felt like? With vintage, we can inhabit a different life for a day, then move onto another one. Be a film star today, and a factory girl tomorrow.

The clothesmaker’s art

One of the unexpected joys of vintage clothes is in the practical skills of repairs and alterations. Most of us are part of a generation where skills such as seamstressing and sewing were not handed down from our mothers and grandmothers. And probably weren’t taught at school. So, many women today are going out to the high street, or going online, to learn these incredibly useful and absorbing skills.

Knowing how to take in, let out, repair zips and buttons and even patch, are skills that a new generation of stylish women is keen to learn. Learning the art of altering and repairing vintage clothes is about much more than retro-fashion. There’s a practical element to it – these days few of us can afford to throw out great clothes. There’s even (dare I suggest?) a spiritual dimension – learning the basic skills of dressmaking link us to previous generations like no history book ever could. These are creative and absorbing skills, requiring patience, attention to detail and perseverance. The opposite of our day-to-day experience.

Women who wear vintage

Women who love vintage are people with imagination. They won’t succumb to the latest high-street trends. They value great design, excellence in manufacture, and longevity. They aren’t interested in our wasteful culture based on discarding our wardrobes once a year.

Women who love vintage don’t need catwalk-model figures and looks either. They look amazing because their clothes have a unique style, tailor-made for the individual woman. They know how to make the best of their figures – their busts, waists and legs, no matter what the size. They attract admiring looks on the high street because their style says something about them beyond where they choose to shop.

What kind of vintage clothes shopper are you?

Maybe, like me, when you visit a new town the first thing you do is find out where all the charity shops are. Maybe you are a specialist vintage shopaholic, seeking out the best vintage shops in the big cities of Britain. Maybe you’re a charity-shop devotee, hungry for the latest stock. Maybe you’re an online browser, continually searching for that elusive bargain.

I won’t deny that vintage clothes shopping takes time. The best things in life are not free, and when it comes to vintage, clothes might be very cheap in money-terms, but may take a substantial slice of time to find.

A shopping trip that ends empty-handed is disheartening but sometimes it’s the right thing. Women who love vintage won’t spend their money on useless clothes that they’ll never wear. They are not the creators of wardrobes full of unworn brand new clothes. On the contrary, they are the women who recycle the unwanted wardrobes of lesser (although maybe richer) women. Whom do we admire more?

Successfully buying and wearing vintage clothes means becoming something of a connoisseur. After a few missteps, on entering a shop, or visiting a vintage website, you’ll become alert to the key bargains to be had. You’ll understand the different fabrics, you’ll recognise the top designer labels. You’ll be knowledgeable about the clothes-making process. Modern clothes made in sweatshop factories far away will seem like an anathema to you. It all takes time, but the rewards are great.

Vintage clothes-shopping is an act of the imagination. A dream, fulfilled. A life beyond the workaday mundane. Vintage makes a statement about the kind of person you are and the kind of world you would like to live in – a world that is at once stylish, individual and at the same time cares about the past and cares about the future. Dressing-up was never so much fun.

Style is all about finding something new and fresh to wear. Styles quickly go out of fashion but as soon as you know it, they’re back in again – fashion, like life, goes in circles. But invariable, “new” high street styles are actually vintage looks given a modern twist. Take the polka dot dress. First emerged in the 50s, reinvented in the 60s. Part of Top Shop’s latest range today. All the latest designers are continually plagiarising fashion’s back-catalogue for ideas to contemporise. They find the best cuts, the best materials – they cherry-pick what worked from the decades of amazing styles.

Top Shop polka dot dress from their latest range
Top Shop polka dot dress from their latest range


1940s factory girl
1940s factory girl
Classic white sunglasses and bobbed hair
Classic white sunglasses and bobbed hair
Rediscovering dressmaking skills
Rediscovering dressmaking skills