How to wear vintage Patterns--and not look like you stepped out of 1955 (Simplicity 1123)

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Rachel for the Maker Style podcast. (It was so fun, y'all!) Several of the questions she had for me for about my modern-vintage style--how I got into vintage, how I adapt a lot of very 50s/60s patterns for everyday wear in 2017... I can't wait for y'all to hear the podcast, but in the meantime I thought I'd share an example and a few tips for mixing modern and vintage style. Sometimes I want to dress up and pull out my fullest petticoat, and other times I just want to go to work or brunch or the farmer's market. If your vintage style tends towards the latter, here are my top three tips for achieving a perfect mix of retro and modern.

1. Fabric choice: If you want a very authentic look, it makes sense to pick an authentic-looking fabric: an oversized floral for a full-skirted 50s look or a ditsy print for a 40s feedsack-style dress. On the other hand, pick a modern-looking textile and you'll look like your clothes belong in 2017, not 1957. This elegant mid-50s dress pattern is paired with practical chambray--a classic textile, but one in which this pattern wouldn't have been traditionally sewn. The illustration on this pattern's envelope (Simplicity 1123 from 1955) shows it in a floral stripe, and if I copied that, I would look very vintage-y at best, and at worst, like I wrapped myself in my childhood bedroom's Laura Ashley curtains. Not cute! Chambray lets the interesting pleated surplice bodice shine, while dressing down a slightly-fancy silhouette. Next time I make this (and there will be a next time, this is like, the best pattern ever) I plan to do it in a seersucker that is possibly slightly more period-appropriate, and will result in a girly, preppy, more vintage-looking dress. It would also be cool in a graphic black and white stripe!

2. Accessories: I try to mix modern and vintage not only in my clothes, but in my styling as well! You might have noticed that I'm wearing practically the same combination of pieces as my pink floral dress post last week--full-skirted dress, modestly-heeled shoes, a straw bag; it's a bit of a uniform of mine in the spring and summer!--but this combination seems much more fresh and modern than last week. In addition to the updated fabric choice, I've picked some more of-the-moment accessories like my Bosom Buddy bag and these amazing tassel earrings from designer Hart Hagerty (c/o). Tassels and statement earrings are both quite popular right now, so even though oversized earrings were big (literally and figuratively) in the 60s, they feel very cool and trendy today, and these are so cute with the knot on top! Apparently they are very durable too, which I was nervous about since they look so delicate, but she recommends them for festivals and says you can throw them in your bag and have them still spring back to life. Hart is based out of Charleston, SC, one of my favorite weekend trips... I've been itching to get down there this spring, it's so beautiful and there's so many cute boutiques and independent designers downtown, not to mention amazing food (and the most beautiful ceiling ever).

3. Hair and makeup: These finishing touches, separate from your outfit itself, can really make or break an look! Think of the rockabilly girl wearing white keds, jeans and a tee shirt. She may not be wearing a particularly retro outfit, but she looks undeniably "retro" simply because of her cool victory roll hairstyle, red lips, and cat eye liner. The opposite is true as well! I typically wear a cat eye liner for a vintage touch, but don't go overboard on the hair (partially because I'm too lazy), just wearing it down and either strait or slightly curled, or in a high bun or ponytail.

I hope this makes wearing vintage a little less intimidating! I feel like there's a lot of bloggers who seem to be 100% vintage, 100% of the time, and while I love that, it's not particularly practical for many women's lifestyles... but don't let that scare you away from sewing vintage patterns! If I've piqued your interested in sewing vintage, why not sign up for Vintage Pledge 2017 (you can pledge to make just one vintage pattern if you want!) and enter my etsy giveaway here to fund your first pattern purchase! Have you signed up for Vintage Pledge yet? What are you pledging? In my opinion, everyone should pledge to make at least one vintage pattern this year... no excuses!!


ps: and if you want a whole tutorial to ease in with, why not try my skirt sewing class? at the end of the class you'll have a skirt that's exactly like the one on this dress, which you can mix and match with different bodices no problem!

allie J.

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  1. I absolutely adore this. Very well done! As far as sourcing vintage patterns, what is your strategy for finding them? I have found that it is tough to find the RIGHT pattern, since the inventory is low and they were for such a narrow range of sizes (vs today's that include a wide swath of sizes).

    1. Hey Erin! I just wrote a post on how I buy my vintage patterns recently: I buy mine on etsy, and I usually search by the bust size and decade-- "vintage pattern dress 32 60s" for example. if you have something super specific in mind (or a particular pattern) it can me really tough but if you're looking more generally there are usually lots of options!

  2. I love the way the relaxed fit of the bodice works with the chambray, it gives it that perfect mix of modern and retro!

  3. Beautiful! I want to make a chambray dress of some kind myself. I think this combination of modern fabric/vintage pattern works well!



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