The Classic Vintage Dress Trends and History

The search for the classic vintage dress is as exciting as it is rewarding. Vintage dresses have a rich history behind each piece and offer a unique look that stands out from modern dresses. If you want to find the prefect vintage dress, use the following guide to help you find your prefect dress:

What to look for:

When shopping for a vintage dress from any era, it is important to know what to look for. Many vintage shops sell “inspirational” vintage clothing that is not truly vintage wear. These styles do not truly reflect the styles of the decade. To avoid these pitfalls, it is important to know the hallmarks of each decade’s dresses so you can make informed choices when selecting vintage dresses. Use the following guide to help place garments in each decade:

  1. 1940: Vintage dresses from 1940 are hard to find in most vintage shops. The silhouette of 1940s day dresses boasted just below the knee lengths, prominent shoulders, high necklines, nipped waists, and full skirts. Some dresses from 1940 even had pleated skirts, similar to a school girl skirt of today. Evening gowns were floor length and full, but often the shoulders were uncovered. Sweetheart necklines were very popular in the 1940s.
  2. 1950: By the 1950s, dresses started to loose some of the severity present in 1940s styles. In the 50s, the focus was on flattering, feminine shapes. Day dresses had large, flared skirts, often work with a crinoline underneath to add extra flair. The upper part of the dresses was fitted, and necklines were still high. Many day dresses included belts to emphasize the waist even more. 1950s evening gowns were similar to 1940s gowns, but skirts were even fuller. Necklines were slightly lower, and capped sleeves and off-the-shoulder gowns were popular.
  3. 1960: In the 1960’s, dress styles began to change. Day dresses shortened to above the knee. While some skirts still had full skirts, straight skirts became popular. Dress bodices loosened, providing a more androgynous look. Evening gown skirts offered larger length variety, with both floor-length and knee-length styles. The fullness of the 1950s was replaced by straighter styles that hugged curves or flowed loosely around the body.
  4. 1970: The 1970s brought another drastic shift in dress styling. Day dresses in the 1970s offered looser styles in the waist and hip area. Skirt lengths varied from mini-skirts to mid-calf. The blousy look was popular for sleeves in day dresses and evening gowns alike. Evening gowns varied in length from mid-calf to floor-length. The 1970s saw the return of sleeves to evening wear.
  5. 1980: Perhaps there is no greater change between decades than between the 1970s and 1980s. While styles in the 1970s were still largely feminine, the 1980s brought a complete shift in clothing styles. Day dresses were short, and had androgynous aspects, such as dark buttons and plain sleeves. Puffed sleeves were also popular in the 1980s, both for day dresses and evening gowns. Evening gowns were shorted to knee length or above. Excessive shirring, bows, and ruffles decorated 1980s evening wear.

Once you have determined the correct decade for your dress, give the garment a quality inspection. The dress should have no holes, stains, or pulled seams. If the dress has flaws, it may still be wearable, but it will require alteration before you can wear it. Inspect the material itself to ensure it will hold up through multiple wears. Some vintage fabrics are thin and will tear if used like a modern piece of clothing.

Where to shop:

Shopping for vintage dresses can be a challenge. Many thrift stores only sell clothing from the past 10 years, making it difficult to find older styles. Many vintage shops do not sell real vintage pieces either, which can make the process even more challenging. Larger cities will have a higher chance of offering vintage stores that actually sell real clothing from past decades. Some of these shops are quite expensive, so be prepared for the cost before you shop. You can also shop for vintage dresses online, but you will have to know your exact measurements before placing any order, since most vintage items are non-returnable.

Help with vintage sizing:

Not all vintage garments fit like modern garments. Sizes vary by decade, and size inconsistencies are common. If you shop for vintage dresses in person, try on every garment before purchase to ensure a good fit. Make sure you can sit in the dress and breathe comfortably without straining any seams or buttons. When shopping online, take careful note of the garments measurements versus your own for the best fit possible.

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