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What is Vintage Style? How to Find Your Best Decade

Hello Vintage Lovers!

Do you love the idea of wearing vintage clothing, but have no idea which decade you’d look best in? 

I’ll give you some simple tips so that you’ll know which decade is your best decade and your best look, so that you can go out and find your own unique style. I’m Ren, and I’ve been teaching the history of fashion for 15 years, but I’ve been collecting and wearing vintage fashion and accessories for 30 years. I have a passion for it and I really enjoy sharing that passion with others.

So let’s get right into the steps that can help you find your authentic vintage style. But first of all, what is vintage and how does it differ from retro?

Technically vintage is really clothing and accessories that are at least 50 years old, but now those guidelines have been pretty much relaxed. However, retro is probably considered more like 15 to 20 years old. So it’s not as strict as it used to be, but I like to think of vintage as much older than the eighties or the nineties. I’m a little older, so of course something from the fifties is true vintage to me, whereas something from the 80s is much more recent in my eyes. It depends on your age and it depends just on your personal preference.

Step 1

Look at images of clothing from different decades just to see what resonates with you. If you find yourself more attracted to the 1920s silhouette, for example, or more attracted to the 1950s hourglass silhouette, then you want to pay attention to that, because wearing vintage clothing needs to reflect who you are and what you feel best in.

Photo of a woman in a blue dress standing in a room with wooden flooring and a cabinet

Step 2

What is your body type? 

Certain decades favor certain body types. Keep in mind that in the past, shapewear was very important in terms of providing the basic guidelines of a silhouette of a particular period. So corsets, girdles and all kinds of different shapewear were used to be able to achieve that silhouette, no matter what your body type happened to be. But if you don’t want to go through that now in this day and age, it’s best to find something that really feels good on your own body, depending on your body type.

The four main body types are pretty much:

  • Rectangle, 
  • Triangle (or inverted triangle), 
  • Hourglass, and a 
  • Rounder shape. 

Some women are a combination of these shapes. It’s not cut and dried, but most of the time there’s a dominant silhouette and most women know what that is for themselves. If you are a rectangular silhouette, meaning you don’t have a really defined waist or hips, the ’20s silhouette might work very well for you because that was a very boyish shape, in the sense that curves were not shown. 

On the other hand, if you have more of an hourglass, voluptuous shape, then the ’50s silhouette would look great on you. Think Joan Holloway from Mad Men, if that’s a show with which you’re familiar. She definitely wore the shapewear to make that silhouette look appropriate on her body type. And you can do the same. If you’re already wearing vintage, let me know in the comments below which decades you prefer. I tend to like the forties because the style was so tailored and that works for me. But I also love the silhouettes of the 1950s.

Diagram of 4 women's body types
Woman wearing vintage clothing

Step 3

Think about what you like to surround yourself with. Some women not only like to wear vintage clothing, but also like to surround themselves with vintage style furniture, artwork, et cetera. So really take a look at that too, and that’ll give you a better idea of which decade might be appropriate for you.

Mid century modern living room

Step 4

Look in magazines and other sources of current fashion and decide which styles you like best. Everything’s been done before. It’s just a modern version of another decade. So think of it that way and, because we can mix elements now, it’s a lot more fun to mix true vintage pieces or vintage-inspired pieces with more modern clothing and accessories. This is something to have fun with and not to be too serious about. 

Modern fashion will help you decide for yourself what you tend to be drawn to the most, and that will help you when you select your vintage clothing as well.

Step 5

Visit a vintage store or scroll through the pages of Etsy and eBay to see what styles resonate with you there. I recommend starting out with true vintage shopping rather than trying thrifting in the beginning, until you really are familiar with what true vintage clothing looks like and which decades you’d most like to try. 

It’ll be a lot easier if you look at the true vintage in the beginning until you get more comfortable with it. However, eventually, you’ll be able to find vintage-inspired pieces that may not be true vintage, but that look and give the vibe of vintage, and you can find those in thrift stores for very little money. Once you really get into this, you’ll see what I mean.

So, get out there and give vintage style a try!!

My best to you always,


Check out my YouTube video on this topic: