April 21, 2016

Vintage at Work: Modern Gal, Modern Workplace, Retro Style

If you have vintage style (no matter the decade you adore) the question has inevitably arisen: can I, should I, wear vintage style to work? For some the question is easily solved by a creative or inclusive workplace where vintage style isn't a problem, or better yet perhaps you are self employed and don't have to worry about such things! For the rest of us, of the corporate, retail, service, uniformed or what-have-you verity, the quandary of how to incorporate vintage style into one's work-wear becomes more difficult!

As for some personal background on this issue, I have definitely worn vintage style to work, and I have definitely dressed way down/normal/boring for work before. When I worked at Banana Republic as a sales associate (up until last November) I would often wear my vintage dresses or pencil skirts to work as the dress code favored more polished and professional styling. I would never wear my hats or heels to work, as the hats would not met dress code and heels would have killed me after standing for hours on end with no reprieve. I wore my usual wardrobe but I definitely toned down the overall vintage/fully authentic look via accessories (or lack thereof) so I wouldn't draw too much attention to myself from customers out here in suburbia. Some days I went in more retro than others, and in general I got a nice response from both my fellow staff and customers. 

More recently I have been working as a seamstress at a lovely swimwear/costume company (and goodness do I love my job now!). This means I am sitting behind a sewing machine for nearly the entire day (I know, it rules) in what is essentially a "factory"-ish setting. Wearing fitted dresses or my usual pencil skirts just isn't practical or comfortable for sitting and sewing all day. The environment is very relaxed when it comes to dress code, I mean we don't have one to my knowledge, so I went through an adjustment period where I dressed very casually and entirely for comfort. However, I felt like I was missing the fun of wearing vintage styles at my "day job" and so I began thinking of how I could incorporate more vintage styling into my work wardrobe. 

Hopefully some of these ideas and tips will help you towards merging your vintage wardrobe and your work wear together too!

Now working in what is essentially a factory, albeit a sparkly (due to a lot of shimmering foiled spandex fabrics!) and fun sewing production studio kind of factory, I have of course looked at a lot of 1940's factory workers a la Rosie the Riveter. The buttoned down shirts and no nonsense jeans or slacks are certainly both vintage and work appropriate but just don't feel "me" as I tend to lean towards the more feminine side of vintage. Still though the look isn't exactly right for me, it is a great iconic vintage look and if you do work somewhere with a uniform the styling tips from these ladies like a great headscarf and red lips are worth noting!

Speaking of slacks, don't forget they were certainly a part of the mid-century gal's wardrobe too. I think the key to slacks coming off as vintage looking is the style and fit. From 40's wide leg trousers to skinny 50's cigarette pants, notice the high waist remains as a marker of the retro look. Keep things from looking 80's by adding other mid-century style cues like red lips and more era specific hair styling. 

The classic secretary look is classic for a reason, even if the idea that a woman's place in office is only as a secretary has gone the way of the dodo (thankfully). Of course there is nothing wrong with being a secretary, and believe me I'd be going full Joan Holloway with jewel toned dresses if I held any sort of office position! The gals above prove how perfect a twinset remains for the office, just keep the waists nipped in to avoid that boxy 90's look, unless that's what you're going for! A classic sweater and neutral skirt can look totally vintage or super modern depending on the way you wear them and are great building blocks of any wardrobe including one for work.

Then there are the suits, if you are a professional who needs to wear a suit to work I can't reason why vintage suiting wouldn't work in a modern office. They still sell classic skirt suits inspired or derived from mid-century styles today and it's because the look is as timeless as it is authoritative and chic. 

Other options for separates include classic blouses of course. I have had good luck finding silk button down blouses at my favorite thrift store but again most modern professional clothing shops still sell similarly classic styles that fit into a vintage inspired work wardrobe perfectly. 

Another great option for when you need to be comfortable at work but still want to have vintage flair and look polished are knit dresses. While amazing examples like the dress above are quite rare and therefore very expensive, you can take the general idea and run with it. I recently bought two different simple black knit dresses to wear to work. With a red lip and my hair curled even these more modern dresses make me feel more put together and stylish while I sit at my machine.

Then there is the make-up. Even if you get no say over your clothing (darn uniforms!) I hope you at least get to wear the vintage gal staple of a red lip. I think the hardest hurdle for me personally in wearing my red lips to work is laziness, I don't want to have to check and see if I have lipstick on my teeth throughout the day at work, I don't want to have to reapply after lunch, stupid little things like that! But you know what? I feel more me, I feel better about my day when I have my red lips on. It can be hard when you are getting up early everyday to put on your vintage face, be it winged eyeliner or lipstick, but it is worth it in the end! Plus no matter what you wear to work, the ensemble automatically reads more vintage when your make-up is done in a retro way!

Then there is the hair-styling quandary. How vintage of a hairstyle is too vintage for work? Hopefully no style is truly out of reach, but some work places may not like tall Betty Grable hair which really is a shame. Nothing beats a headscarf for keeping your hair out of your face and looking vintage without having to spend hours on victory rolls in the wee hours of the morning. I myself am in the market more more solid colored scarves for just this purpose! The other great thing about rocking your vintage hair to work is that if you master a wet set it will last you more than one day making getting ready in the morning a total breeze on day 2. I cut my hair recently with the expressed purpose of styling it more vintage for work by sleeping in curlers a few nights a week. Simply wearing your hair curled makes any ensemble read more retro without more effort than ten minutes  spent with a curling iron. Again it's about determining how much time you want to spend in the morning, or evening if you are going to set your hair. I you can perfect one go to vintage style and then devote yourself to making that little extra effort in the morning you will love the extra boost rocking your vintage look gives you during your work day!

I hope some of this was inspiring or helpful! I am still working on creating a more vintage inspired work wardrobe myself and I would love to hear how all of you incorporate vintage into your work wardrobe! What are your best tips?


  1. I have been thinking about how to encorporate a little more vintage into my work wear. Fantastic tips!

  2. Seriously fantastic advice and images. Thank you for this bevy of great vintage workwear tips and images. Those pretty twinsets really caught my eye. Jewelry can be a terrific way to weave some vintage into almost any work look. From classic pearls to pretty mid-century earrings to a cute novelty, there are relatively few work environments where one can't find at least a small number of vintage jewelry pieces that would meet a given dress code.

    Big hugs & happy Friday wishes,
    ♥ Jessica

    1. Well to be fair, I found most of these awesome images from your pinterest boards! Your pinterest is such an amazing resource <3 Thank you as ever Jessica :)

  3. You have some great tips here and lots of outfit ideas. I'm lucky to be able to wear what I like to work as long as I look neat and tidy. If I worked in an office I would be channelling Joan all the way too!


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