Modern retro: How to create a signature vintage style

First published: 28-08-2015

Modern retro: How to create a signature vintage style

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Fashion trends come and go, but looking stylish is always in vogue. Nowadays, many people look to the past to find inspiration, combining retro style with modern pieces to create a signature look.

We'll take you through five decades of fashion (from the 1910s to the 1950s), looking at some of the most significant trends that can translate to the 21st century. Whatever your preferences, there's sure to be something you can incorporate into your wardrobe.

1910s: The Downton Era

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Downton Abbey has done wonders in reviving the 1910s style, from dress suits to ball gowns.

Ladies typically wore a lot of lace, often with full-length skirts and high necks. To modernise this look, pair a lacy, high-necked blouse with a short skater skirt or high-waisted shorts. Alternatively, a long skirt will look pretty paired with a crop top.

As for hair, it was all about the chignon; elegant up-dos were very much in fashion, especially ones that could fit under a hat!

Gents were often seen in suits, and it was around WWI that the lounge suit became as popular as the dress suit. Styles became more casual and the pinstripe ruled all. Bowties were an excellent addition, and these are easy to translate to the modern day.

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Pinstripe suits are still very much in vogue, so pair a very slim pinstripe with a white shirt, and brightly-coloured bowtie for a modern spin on the Downton charm. A pocket watch will be the perfect finishing touch, particularly one with Roman Numerals and a delicate design.

1920s: The Golden Age

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In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, "the parties were bigger, the morals were looser, and the liquor was cheaper": the Twenties were definitely roaring.

A fringed dress can be paired with gladiator heels to give it a more modern edge. If you'd rather keep things subtle, leave the fringing to just your top or skirt, and keep whatever else you wear quite plain. An art deco sequinned vest will also look amazing paired with jeans and pumps.

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Where your hair is concerned, a feathered, lacy or beaded headpiece will instantly give any outfit a vintage flair. To reflect the 20s decadence, pick an ornate watch with a splash of colour.

For the men, the waistcoat was in its glory in the 20s, along with braces and more vibrantly-patterned bowties. A white shirt with rolled up sleeves will balance out a pair of braces, and team them up with jeans to ground the look in the 2010s.

Brogue shoes were a staple for men in the 20s, and are a great way to bring a retro feel to any outfit, whether you're at work, a wedding, or out to the shops. For inspiration, look no further than Jay Gatsby - no fictional man ever dressed better.

1930s: Not so depressing for fashion

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While the world suffered from financial worries and the threat of war, skirts became longer and fuller, and clothes generally became more structured.

Suits for men were designed to enhance the shoulders, with a sculpted, padded appearance. Suit jackets were popularly double-breasted, and trousers were wide-legged, worn much higher at the waist. Many styles from the 1910s and 20s persisted, with pinstripes still the reigning champion.

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A defining feature of the 30s were Fedora hats; think the big stars of film noir for inspiration! This is a small but very retro accessory that will finish off a smart outfit, along with a petite leather wrist watch.

For ladies, fur was very popular, often on coat collars. Pinched in waists were starting to make an appearance, and the skirts hovered somewhere between the knee and the ankle.

Polka dots were a big deal, so a structured tea dress in a polka print will pay homage to this style. Pair with a denim jacket and pumps to make it a bit more modern. Alternatively, pick a very 30s ruffled blouse and wear it with high-waisted trousers.

1940s: From here to modernity

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War raged again, and as gender equality started to rear its head, ladies began to explore a wider range of options when it came to clothes. Land Girls paved the way for ladies' shirts, trousers, and even jumpsuits, and these styles  are still popular today.

Dungarees with a roll-sleeved shirt will instantly evoke the Land Girl look; bring this to the 21st century by picking ones with short legs, rather than long.

Victory rolls alone can be enough to transform any outfit into a retro statement. Try them with contrasting items, like leather jackets or anything sequinned, to mix and match styles.

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For the men, only one hairstyle would do: a slick side-parting. Popular both during and after the war, use this for instant vintage charm, along with an aviator watch to complete the post-war look.

As for suits, these were cut much straighter, and trousers crept higher and higher up men's waists. Sweater vests were seen more frequently, and while many fashions remained much the same as before, a big change was around the corner…

1950s: Hollywood glamour

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A revolution in fashion took place somewhere around December 31st 1949; when the 50s arrived, things changed forever.

A leather jacket with jeans is an instant 50s outfit, especially with a plain t-shirt. Think Marlon Brando in The Wild One or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause - the slim-fit or rolled up jeans, the timeless white T-shirt, and the endless grease in their hair. Frank Sinatra was still King of Style, so a suit, slim-fit tie, and a Fedora hat will still evoke a wonderfully 50s charm.

Speaking of men's hair, it got much longer on top after WWII, aiming for that devil-may-care, tousled look that Elvis Presley deified.

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For ladies, full circle skirts and button-down blouses look incredibly 50s. Where your hair is concerned go for curls - the 50s saw women literally letting their hair down. To finish the look off beautifully, tie a headscarf around your do. A gold watch with a delicate metal bracelet will give you a glamorous, Old Hollywood edge to complete your style.

Alternatively, try cropped jeans with a shirt to rock the look that Marilyn made so famous. The 1950s style was made to flatter every curve, so embrace the high-waisted skirts and figure-hugging dresses to create a wonderfully retro style.

Whatever era you're looking to evoke, there are so many ways to give your outfit a vintage edge. Whether you're wearing a full retro outfit, or just looking for one accessory to give the nod to a bygone era, you have plenty of options to create that perfect signature vintage look.


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