Building the Perfect Vintage Wardrobe: Phase One

Since I became more active in posting about my Vintage wardrobe swap, I’ve received a lot of questions about the process; people often ask what I did, how I did it, and what I think the essentials are- and they are all really great questions. I wish that I had someone to answer them for me when I was working out how to go about it, so I thought I would give it a go myself!

Like with everything else on my blog, this is written from my own experience and opinion. Though a lot of these same tips are applicable to a wardrobe swap of any type, some tips might not be applicable to your own style (once you find it), or budget- and that’s totally fine! Hopefully, however, this will help to give you a rough idea of what you need (or even want) to do in order to get your wardrobe fully changed over to your dream one, whatever it is!

Building the Perfect Vintage Wardrobe

Step One: Pick an Era!

Most Vintage and Retro Enthusiasts have a favorite decade- or three. We can’t help it. We just do. So start by picking one yourself; do you like the 1920’s? The 50’s? Maybe even the 90’s (my birth decade is considered Vintage now. How scary is that?!).

Now, if you have more than one that’s fine. It’s certainly not a requirement that you pick only one and never deviate from it. Keep in mind, however, that what we like in theory does’t always end up being what we like in practice. So as a complete newcomer to Vintage fashion, I do recommend that you pick a single Era- or a single decade block- to start with.

Why? Because it has its benefits: For one, when you are first starting out and have no idea what you want (only knowing what is visually interesting to you), picking a single era can really help the process. For another, identifying individual trends and picking the ones you visually enjoy the most is much easier when you’re only focusing on a single era.

This in turn allows you an opportunity to explore those trends without feeling overwhelmed or bogged down by the amount of already overwhelming amount of information that’s out there. It also limits the money you spend on items that you may or may not end up wearing in the end- whether because you didn’t like them, or for other reasons. Additionally, if you don’t end up liking the style then you don’t have a complete wardrobe that you need to overhaul again when you do finally find an era that you really enjoy.

Step Two: Research, Research, Research!

Whether you solely buy authentic Vintage items, or decide to go the way of Reproduction, or you decide that modern’s the whole way to go (or even do a mismash like I do)? Research should absolutely be a priority when you are first starting out.

Great places to look include Vintage clothing catalogs, sewing patterns, and advertisements. Others include vintage photographs, and movies from the era of your interest. Not all of these will offer a great representation of what the average person looked like, but they are wonderful sources through which to research authentic trends.

The great part is? They’re more easily available than you’d think! Some Vintage bloggers regularly post photos from their own collections of these items, and online historical databases and library catalogs exist as well- such as the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Catalog, and the Hesburgh Libraries’ database of resources and tips for finding historical images online. Google, however, can be a bit washy in terms of image searches. But if you know what to look for, and where to look, there is a wealth of free information out there from which to draw your research.

Step Three: Identify your era’s trends and pick a few!

Trends themselves are multifaceted and amazingly complicated- but simple– things. They generally tend to appear throughout an entire decade block, giving the decade a unique style that easily distinguishes it from its counterparts. That being said, decade blocks aren’t made up of single trends. Multiple trends may appear within a single era; you have Culture, Counterculture, and so many other things working in tandem and influencing one another in various ways.

Take, for instance, the 1950’s. In the 1950’s alone- like with any other era- there were several individual trend groups. These trends changed drastically throughout the Decade depending on what aspect of the Culture or Countercultures you were following or immersed in; you have the 1950’s Bombshell and Hollywood Glamour, the 1950’s Housewife, Greaser and Beatnik culture, and so many more.

Like with deciding on a single era, whittling your era’s trends down to one or two that interest you helps immensely in exploring without being overwhelmed=- and continues to help in budgeting for your new style.

Step Four: Know your Era’s history and trend foundations.

Knowing the history of the era can greatly help you in so many ways that it’s a shame that more people aren’t interested in the history of fashion. This is because fashion isn’t an island; trends are impacted by a large range of factors ranging from a country’s socioeconomic and political climates, to new technological advancements, and more. Knowing what affected the trends can greatly help you to trace them- and make modern adjustments as needed when purchasing items.

So say you decide that you want to look specifically at items from the 1940’s- or the “WWII Era”. WWII began in 1939, sure. But WWII era trends really have their foundation in a number of sociopolitical things associated with the war; the three main influencers were Patriotism heavily encouraged via government propaganda, the movement of Women into Male dominated industry professions, and wartime Rationing that lasted well after the war ended.

Each of these things impacted trends very differently throughout the 1940’s. However, what impacted them the most was the limited civilian availability of various items; rationing was instituted in most Allied countries during WWII and affected everything from food, to clothes, to gas, soap, and more. This led to a much simpler fashion style during that era because the materials simply weren’t available or were available in very limited quantities to the public.

Step Five: Learn how to follow trend timelines!

However, since trends tend to take time to form- as well as time to die out? There may be significant overlap between the decades. And given the 5 year average rate at which prior trends can be seen to carry over into the next decade, you can generally tend to find items up to that point. If you are really lucky, you can sometimes find clothing in that specific trend even up to 5 years prior to the time that trend became mainstream.

In terms of the 1940’s: What the rationed items were, and (more importantly) when the rationing was lifted in what country, greatly impacts the availability and dating of the styles. For instance, in the US, rationing began in 1942 and was lifted officially in the US in 1946. In the UK, however, it began in 1940 and wasn’t lifted until 1954. But because the rationing began and ended at different periods in different countries, it’s safe to say that you can search from approximately 1935 at earliest, to the mid 1950’s.

Using an example from another era, take a look at the 1920’s as well. 1920’s fashion really started to emerge as early as the 1910’s- most notably 1916. In these years you can still see quite a trend holdover from the Victorian Era (which ended in 1902), but for the most part the silhouettes and cuts which were popularized in the 1920’s can be seen  emerging very easily as early as 1910.

Knowing this fact and being able to follow trend timelines greatly opens up the number of clothing options and style which are available to you when you finally decide on a decade. As a result, you don’t have to feel quite so boxed into a decade and have a bit more freedom of style.Signature Blue


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