9 Ways to Style Vintage (Without It Looking Costumey or Like Fancy Dress)

You CAN wear vintage without it looking costumey or fancy dress! Here's 9 ways to style vintage pieces
I think a lot of people shy away from vintage because they don’t want to risk looking like they’re in costume or are on the way to a fancy dress party. Don’t get me wrong, I love a full-on vintage look (I wrote a post about my favourite vintage-style bloggers and couldn’t be more of a Dita Von Teese fan if I tried) – if it suits your personality and your lifestyle, then I say you should absolutely go for it 100%.

If you’re more like me, however, and love vintage but don’t want to do the stepped-out-of-a-time-machine look, I think there’s a simple rule to wearing and styling vintage to make it look modern and less ‘costumey’:


For example, if you’re wearing a 1970s shirt with a bold pattern and long collars, don’t wear your hair long and straight with a centre parting, or with wide, flared jeans, or with knee-high platform boots. In contrast, DO go for the long straight hair with a 1950s prom dress. That hairstyle is so unlike how they wore their hair in the 50s that you’ll avoid the full-on vintage look altogether. I’ve put together a collection of some of my favourite outfits where I’ve mixed and matched vintage and modern to give you an idea of how I’ve tried to avoid that costumey look.

Let me know what you think, and also: Are you a vintage fan? Do you own any vintage pieces that you just don’t know how to style? Let me know in the comments!

Vintage 1950s shirt, white blazer & leopard skinnies

1. 1950s silk shirt

Styled with a white blazer and leopard print skinnies (original post)
Although this 50s shirt was a very bold pattern (and a very typical print of that decade), I didn’t shy away from some pattern mixing but went for what will probably become ‘the’ print of this decade – leopard print – in skinny jeans. I could have gone for cropped Capri pants and flats, but that would have made it very 1950s/Grace Kelly all over. I was purposely trying to make it look as non-vintage as possible.

Vintage Black and Mustard Polka Dot Dress

2. 1970s/80s polka dot dress

Neck refashioned. Styled with contrasting bold belt and matching camisole (original post)
This is probably my favourite vintage dress. I changed the neckline to make it more modern because where it crosses over (if you look closely you’ll see it’s a wrapover style), it came right up to the neck and made it very matronly. I simply unbuttoned the two sides and tucked them under to create a v-neck which straight away made it look less 80s. By adding a bold contrasting belt and matching camisole it doesn’t actually look vintage (meaning old fashioned) at all.

Floral dress & ruffled cardigan

3. 1980s floral dress

Styled with a ruffled cardigan and white trilby (original post)
Another dress, but this time a floral one that I wore with a very modern ruffled cardigan. The summery white trilby is another piece that’s not very 80s either – and the same goes for my hair which is what (like the leopard print) is going to become typical of this decade.

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Vintage tapestry coat, red brogues

4. 1960s tapestry coat

Styled with grey skinnies and bold brogues (original post)
I was loaned this stunning coat to wear to LFW, and when a piece is this bold you don’t need much else. Again, skinnies are the perfect bottoms to contrast with vintage tops, and boldly coloured brogues won’t add to the 60s look. I know my hair is a little on the 60s side with the wide hairband, but I think I got away with it.

Vintage patterned blouse, loose blue trousers

5. 1980s floral blouse

Styled with collar tips and loose peg leg trousers (original post)
I like adding statement jewellery to vintage shirts and blouses, and simple pearl collar tips were a nice addition to this (much-worn) favourite blouse of mine. The loose trousers and strappy sandals were the modern contrasts and stopped the blouse going into frump territory.

Layered tanks, vintage skirt and tennis shoes #summer #style

6. 1980s pleated nautical print skirt

Styled with layered tanks and tennis shoes (original post)
I’ve worn this vintage pleated skirt so many times, and I’m surprised I’ve found so many ways to style it. For this outfit I added a sporty element – layered tanks and white tennis shoes – to what is essentially a very ladylike piece… is there anything more ladylike or feminine than a pleated midi skirt??

London Fashion Week look: Vintage shirt with statement necklace, trench and skinnies

7. 1970s landscape print shirt

Styled with a statement necklace, trench coat and plain black skinnies (original post)
My first-ever London Fashion Week outfit…! I was determined to wear vintage so the 1970s shirt with cheesy landscape print and massively long collars was my number one choice. Again, skinnies are the perfect contrast to a 70s shirt, and by the time I’d added a statement necklace, a trench coat (timeless and of no decade, by the way) and curled my hair, the screaming 70s-ness of it had long subsided.

Vintage 1940s wrap dress with wide belt

8. 1940s wrapover robe

Refashioned into a dress and styled with a deep belt and white skinnies (original post)
The oldest vintage piece I’ve ever worn, this was actually a long 1940s wrapover robe with long sleeves, not a dress, that was on loan to me. I styled it as if I had shortened it, which is what I would have done had it been mine to keep. Unless you’ve got a true designer piece worth thousands I don’t think you need to hesitate to alter vintage clothes, so make them suit you with alterations. The pattern is so gorgeous and so 1940s, but a deep belt with massive buckles and a chunky necklace make it look anything but. The modern dress-over-trousers look that I’m so fond of worked really well here. It’s so far from a vintage look but the fact that it’s actually a 60 year-old robe makes it all the more special.

Vintage patchwork bag, chinos, gingham and denim

9. 1970s patchwork knitting bag

Styled with light wash denim and chinos (original post)
If you’re still not convinced about wearing a vintage clothes, why not dip your toe in the water and go for a vintage accessory instead? They don’t have to be expensive – this vintage knitting bag cost me all of about £10 from eBay – but it’s so reminiscent of my childhood that I had to have it. The light wash denim jacket with chinos and strappy wedges were far removed from the boho look anything patchwork conjures up in my mind, but the gingham shirt is a subtle tie-in.
Catherine x
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P.S. Like this post? You might also enjoy my Top Tips for Buying Vintage on eBay!

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  1. 10 April 2015 / 2:16 pm

    Great post – I have worn vintage since I was 15 I am now 50 – I run a vintage events and styling company company and go ot a lot of events that I wear "full on period" style but my everyday wardrobe is a mix of high street, designer and always a vintage piece.

    I am on mission of "vintage for everyone everyday" at the end of the day they are just clothes and can be worn for any ocassion and part of the everyday wardrobe – so thank you for posting and encouraging people to wear vintage.

    • 12 April 2015 / 10:13 pm

      Aww that's a really nice comment – thank you Karen! I've always been fascinated by vintage since I was young too… not sure what sparked it but I'm sure falling in love with Audrey Hepburn and lots of other 50s movie stars when I was under 10 had something to do with it ;))

  2. 1 April 2015 / 1:57 pm

    Great post, I read every word! I love vintage clothes and buy them. But I have the same goal, to mix them with modern and wear them. Thanks for the tips!

    • 1 April 2015 / 9:10 pm

      You're most welcome, Nikki – and thank you for your kind words! x

  3. 31 March 2015 / 3:52 pm

    I absolutely love that first outfit. The blue, leopard print trousers are just gorgeous. And those shoes you've paired with them are incredible! Also, that 1970s landscape shirt is lovely x

    • 1 April 2015 / 9:09 pm

      I still love that first outfit too!! And the landscape shirt is a (literally) old favourite… thanks Gareth :))

  4. 29 March 2015 / 3:28 pm

    Catherine, you are so talented! Couldn't you make a book? Anyway, I NEED a tapestry coat – now! Thank you for this awesome post. It's so packed with inspiring ideas, you should be paid for it.

    • 29 March 2015 / 4:00 pm

      Aww thank you so much Kaffesoester – that's such a sweet thing to say!! Maybe I will.. watch this space, hehe ;))

  5. 29 March 2015 / 1:32 pm

    3, 6, 7 and 8. I thought I had seen all your post, but no, I did miss a few, like 8 (very nice!) 7 and 8 are fighting in my head for first place.

    • 29 March 2015 / 3:58 pm

      I do like 8 as well (the 40s rbe) as well, Greetje… such a gorgeous pattern :)) Thanks hun x

    • 1 April 2015 / 9:45 am

      It is also your styling of it: the bold necklace which picks up the colour of the bold belt. Very nice styling.

  6. 28 March 2015 / 11:29 pm

    I love a bit of vintage, I always try to mix it with current pieces though like this

    • 29 March 2015 / 3:56 pm

      I love the fact that you'd never be wearing the same as anyone else when you style it like that, Lauren…!

  7. 28 March 2015 / 2:47 pm

    I'm going to my first vintage boutique today! I found this post just in time. I love the tip of not going full on in one decade. I didn't think I would by anything today because of the exact reason you listed, looking like I'm in a costume. Your looks are amazing and very inspiring! Love the last one, the 40s robe.


    • 29 March 2015 / 3:42 pm

      Oooh Karen you'll love it :))) Hopefully you'll find something you love – there are always things that don't scream vintage. Thank you for your lovely comment! x

  8. 27 March 2015 / 6:03 pm

    Beautiful recap 🙂

  9. 27 March 2015 / 12:14 pm

    I'm crazy for the 40's wrap-robe, and that fab tapestry coat! You look stunning in all the vintage pieces, natch. xox

    • 27 March 2015 / 5:48 pm

      The robe has the *most* perfect print dontcha think, Patti?! Thank you thank you xx

    • 27 March 2015 / 5:47 pm

      Aww thanks so much Bogi, so glad you like them!

    • 27 March 2015 / 5:47 pm

      I too love the 70s trend that's in for this year!! Thanks so much Ana x

  10. 26 March 2015 / 7:34 pm

    I love the way you take vintage and style it in a way that is unique to you and your personal style. It's inspiring and I hope it encourages other people to try vintage. Great post Hun 🙂

    Take care,
    Daniella xox

    • 27 March 2015 / 4:59 pm

      Awww thank you so much Daniella, that's a great compliment :))

  11. 26 March 2015 / 6:31 pm

    Hi Catherine, I would just so love to have a browse through your wardrobe (s – probably plural, no?!) You must have so much fun dressing up ( that is what we do, isn't is, playing dress up for grownups, at least that's the part I enjoy the most!) I love a good vintage addition to my outfit, exactly subdued by contemporary clothes. I've not shopped for vintage much in the last years (hmmm, small children!) but I have plans to start visiting Rotterdam's finest vintage shops very soon again. And you just gave me a couple of good examples of how items can be styled! Thanks, Irmin

    • 27 March 2015 / 4:58 pm

      Hmm yes how did you guess about the wardrobes plural, Irmin (not to mention the rack of coats and the fact that shoes are EVERYWHERE…!!!!!!) And like you I haven't bought anything vintage in a little while either, though I'm sure if I went back on eBay I'd just end up buying three dresses at a time which is what normally happens :/

  12. 26 March 2015 / 5:28 pm

    I am a huge fan of vintage and wear it often, along with thrifted or secondhand items. I just posted a look yesterday with a 1940's plaid blazer with angled pockets. It is divine. No one makes clothing like that anymore. I've styled it modern. The only hint that it is vintage is the superb tailoring.

    I really love the blouses you featured. It is hard to believe that first one is from the 50's. Great find!


    • 27 March 2015 / 4:55 pm

      Sounds like you're a girl after my own heart, Suzanne!

  13. 26 March 2015 / 4:43 pm

    I love the 1960s coat.

    I own lots of vintage, I try to wear some every day, even if it's just a scarf or brooch. Other days I do all out vintage, hair, make up the lot. I'm a chameleon though, I like my look to change from day to day.

    • 27 March 2015 / 4:04 pm

      The coat's a beauty, isn't it Louise?! I love the fact that you do full-on vintage. I so admire anyone who can pull it off :))

  14. 26 March 2015 / 4:18 pm

    This is amazing, not one piece actually screams vintage and just looks like a totally new outfit. Some very great tips. Sadly this article just makes me hate the fact that I have done so many closet cleanouts because I would have had some pretty amazing vintage pieces

    • 27 March 2015 / 4:03 pm

      Oh no Linda, I'm so sorry!! (hehe) I'm glad they don't scream vintage, it was the purpose of the post so it's worked, yay! I often think back to the 70s and 80s and remember specific pieces my mum and sister used to own and so wish they'd kept them!!

  15. 26 March 2015 / 4:15 pm

    Wow, it really is amazing how updated all of these are, and the way you've styled them I would have guessed the blouse in look 1 was from the 80's and the one from the eighties in look 5 looks more fifties to me(!) based on print guessing- just shows how it's all relative! I really like what you've done with the 80's nautical skirt in look 6 because it's a print that would scare me but you've made it look modern with the simple styling. I love look 1 though, so bold and daring and completely works! 🙂 Fabulous post, vintage does scare me sometimes and this makes it seem much more workable thanks 🙂 x

    • 27 March 2015 / 4:01 pm

      You're most welcome, Steff – so glad you liked them, thank you! It's funny what you say about getting decades mixed up… the 1950s blouse (when you see the close up shot in the original post) is soooooo 50s. It reminds me of really old prints of paintings my parents used to have in the house when I was little (or was it my aunt…?) and they were most definitely 50s ;))

  16. 26 March 2015 / 4:06 pm

    Recently I discovered also vintage pieces for me and therefore I'm really helpful for your tips and inspiratons as you know obviously how to style vintage pieces perfectly!
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

    • 27 March 2015 / 3:58 pm

      Aw hun that's really nice of you, thank you!

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