May 13, 2016

Tips for an More Authentic Vintage Look

Authentic is a strangely loaded word in the vintage community. People use it for its actual purpose to signify authentic vintage or antique pieces of clothing, but also occasionally as a way to put other people down (style not "authentic" enough). Some people wear a 1920's dress with a 1960's wicker handbag, and though perhaps both items are indeed "authentic" vintage the overall look isn't period accurate and some would call the resulting look in-authentic. Then again someone could wear a petticoat, full skirted 50's dress, gloves, hat... the whole shebang and someone will say the look isn't authentic because some of the pieces are repro. I don't know why some people are picky haters, but some people just are. I've talked about this attitude before in this post.

Why would you want to create a more authentic vintage ensemble? Maybe for a living history or reenactment style event, perhaps you are doing the costumes for a play, maybe you are just a fanatical vintage lover with an eye for detail ;)

Of course the other thing to consider when talking about creating an authentic vintage look is what feels authentic to modern eyes and what is accurate to the period you are representing. Did every woman in the 1940's wear gloves with every outfit? Some people would say yes of course, gloves are an essential part of an authentic look, but then why are there old photos of ladies out and about with no gloves on?

Out and about with no gloves! Quelle suprise! And no HATS! It's almost like people and fashion models are not the same thing.
So of course these little tips for an authentic look are to be taken with a pinch of salt. These are little things that can help make your look seem more authentic to the average eye, even if bare legs and no gloves can be just as accurate!

So my first tip is of course, about gloves. The right accessories can really help sell a vintage look. Gloves are less de rigueur with a cotton summer dress and sandals as they are with a nice wool suit. Gloves can really help complete an outfit, and most certainly were an essential part of a woman's wardrobe even if she didn't wear them with every single ensemble. Plus gloves are fun, you can add pops of unexpected color or glamour with a great pair of gloves!

The other big accessory for an authentic look are stockings. We tend to go bare legged these days except for in the coldest of weather, but ladies of the past wore stockings! Nothing says vintage like seams up the back of your legs, and it's also just subtly sexy to be honest. I tend to go for the seamed look tights and hose rather than the more ahem- Authentic (tm) actual stockings and garter belt combination. When you are going for a period accurate look, stockings are an easy way to add that layer of authenticity to an ensemble.

Speaking of period accurate looks, that is my next tip for an authentic look- keep everything in the same decade. Not actually from the same decade, as some 1980's dresses are practically seam for stitch 1940's reproductions. I mean keep one decade in mind for all the aspects of your ensemble. When dressing for fun go ahead and wear the 20's dress with the 60's bag, when dressing to look authentic take a different approach. How do you know which style of bag works best with your 1940's suit? Research, research, research! Plus it is downright fun to spend hours on Pinterest pouring over vintage photographs. No one knows everything about vintage style when they just start out, we all start from somewhere and have to build up our vintage "eye" as it were. 

Another vintage accessory that really lends itself to a more authentic style look are hats. Again, for the most impact do a little research, what style of hat would have been worn with a summer dress versus a formal suit? Perhaps a scarf tied in a turban would suit the outfit more, or a flower hair comb? People used to adorn their head, and nothing gets more "whoa!" looks out there in 2016 than an epic vintage hat!

As for other accessories, it was more common for jewelry to be won in matched sets than it is now. These days it is considered a bit old fashioned for your jewelry and accessories to be "matchy-matchy" but it is that old fashioned look we vintage gals are going for! I found a good way to find matching earrings for a favorite brooch or vice versa is to search my metal tone (silver) and brand (monet, trifari, avon...) on Etsy. I have completed or expanded several sets this way! Also matching your handbag to your shoes, your scarf to your belt, those sort of things can really pull an ensemble together.

The next tip might seem a bit obvious, but do your hair and make-up to suit the decade you are going for. You may notice in my 1920's style outfit posts I make adjustments in my usual make-up -- I don't wing out my eyeliner for one, and I usually draw my eyebrows out a bit longer at the ends. I'll try and draw my lipstick so my lips look a bit smaller for that Clara Bow look. For my everyday make-up I usually have winged eyeliner and red lipstick which definitely convey a "vintage" sort of look, but when I am dressing towards a certain era, I try and mimic the way make-up would have been worn at that time. Again, research is your friend and old glamour shots of Hollywood stars often provide good make-up and hair inspiration.

It can be hard to master vintage hair-styling, but making an effort to at least try and keep your hair styled in a decade specific way goes a long way toward achieving an authentic look. Mostly this involves curling your hair, be it with rag curlers, pin curls overnight, or with hot rollers, curling irons etc. Not every woman wore her hair in victory rolls everyday, there are definitely more casual but authentic hairstyles out there :)

In addition to stockings, another layer to consider for a truly authentic look are your undergarments! You heard me, I said it. A bullet bra changes one's silhouette in a rather dramatic way! This is an area I have been trying to work on in my own wardrobe and it is remarkable the difference a more vintage style bra can make in achieving an authentic look. Lauren of American Duchess did a post about 18th century stays recently with a great before and after style photo of an 18th century look worn with and without stays/other period undergarments and the difference was really interesting! The same principle applies to vintage style as well, the right undergarments will give a more period correct look plain and simple. Look into what undergarments of the desired decade looked like and try and find modern equivalents for the most authentic silhouette!

My last tip is in line with keeping everything within the same decade, and it is to avoid visibly anachronistic details. Visible zippers before the 30's can be iffy, a modern shoulder bag with a 1920's dress seems strange, and some polyesters just look, well, very polyester. One of the best things about wearing vintage style today is having a smart phone tucked into your plasticflex clutch, but when going for an accurate look try and keep most modern advances to a minimum ;)

Again I really don't want it to seem like I am gatekeeping in this post at all, these tips are merely for those trying to achieve a more authentic look and in no way do I mean to suggest an authentic look is better in any way that a vintage inspired style! I wear victory rolls with my modern skinny jeans to work all the time, I don't think an authentic look is essential to calling your style vintage! I'd also love to hear your tips for styling a more authentic look, so please share any you have below :) Happy styling!


  1. My friend, you are missing out with the garters! I find, personally, that I can't wear most tights/pantyhose all day without intense abdominal cramps. (Also I got a badonkadonk. 26" waist, 42" hips. It doesn't fit well.) But, I have some modern garterbelts that wind up doing a low rise thing when actually attached to stockings and are super crazy comfy.

    But what's that? Stockings are expensive? I mostly wear knitted tights that I chopped the tops off of. :-P They roll a little, but not when clipped in!

    (I'll also wear OOP knitted garters so long as my skirt's long enough. I find they sometimes slip a little more throughout the day, but it's an easy addition to make to getting dressed if I've already got enough layers that putting on a garter belt is a pain.)

    Adding my two cents to your very thorough post!


    1. I just like the ease of tights, I'm lazy ha ha :)

  2. Super post Bianca. I rarely go head to toe in one decade these days, I have much more fun mixing things up, but if I'm going to a specific event e.g. a 1940s weekend, I make a bit of extra effort to keep it all era appropriate. x

    1. Thank you Porcelina! Mixing things up is definitely fun, and more the norm for everyday :)

  3. Fantastic post and topic. I've raised it before, too, and so admire when it surfaces, because I think we all need to try and quash vintage elitism in the bud big time. For every reason that exists in terms of why a person can be all the more "authentic looking" there's probably 100 or more why some folks can't (or simply don't wan to take that route) to the same degree. I've had the occasional negative remark, for example, regarding my hair not looking "fancy" or "vintage" enough, but what those folks don't realize is that I'm wearing a wig (with very limited styling abilities) because I don't have my real hair anymore. Snap judgement (which you did not make here at all and I'm not implying such in the slightest) hurt us all and should never be jumped to, because we don't know why a person is opting (or needing) to look the way that they do. Many might be as "authentic" in that very moment as they reasonably can be and that's 100% a-okay. Hmm, can you tell this is an area that I have strong feelings about? :)

    Back to your post itself. Terrific points and ideas. There's nothing in the world wrong with providing helpful advice for those striving to be as authentic as possible and I don't feel like you were gatekeeping here in the slightest. Quite the opposite, you acknowledged that not everyone is/wants/can be uber authentic all the time (or at all) and gave very realistic circumstances as to when and why one might aim for sure.

    Wonderful work, dear Bianca!

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you Jessica! There really is just no reason for elitism in the vintage community and it makes me so irritated when I do (even if rarely) see it. Whether people have different challenges achieving an authentic period look or just don't want to really shouldn't matter or be judged by other people! Such a petty thing for people to be concerned about.

  4. Great tips for those times when you wish to be as authentic as possible and fun ideas to add to outfits on those days you just wish to mix and match as you please!


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