Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Three vintage style myths that need busting

What red lipstick? What waist?
Think you can't have a vintage look because it doesn't suit you? Think again! While there are some strong style elements that a lot of vintage lovers share, you don't have to follow the herd in order to have a retro look.

Myth 1: You have to wear red lipstick 
Red was popular in the past, but it hasn’t always been the only option available. Think of the gorgeous corals worn in the 1950s, or the pale, matte lips of the 1960s mods. If red’s not your colour, don’t worry. Try to track down lipstick adverts from your favourite decade and choose something appropriate that also suits you.

Famous arguments against: Revlon Stormy Pink, Revlon Love that Pink, Revlon Hot Coral (all 1950s colours still available today!), Max Factor California Pink-a-Pades, Biba brown, blue, green...

Myth 2: You need to be extremely curvy 
This one really gets my goat, as I have an apple body type. Every time someone starts dragging up the ‘vintage figure’ myth, and claiming that women in the past had pronounced hourglass figures, I feel like they are telling me I’m not allowed to like this stuff because my body isn’t good enough. Well, bobbins to that! It’s not even true!

A lot of people into vintage do favour a 1940s and 1950s look, and the latter decade in particular did place a great emphasis on a tiny waist - on having curves. Some garments came with built-in cinchers to pull in a thick middle and padding to bulk out hips and busts, and if you’re not naturally curvy but do love the look, you can use foundation garments to alter your silhouette.

However, those aren’t the only decades. In the 1930s, slim was in, with a figure that gently undulated rather than having extreme curves being fashionable. And in the 1920s and 1960s, curves were pretty much out of favour altogether. Okay, those were both decades when people were keen to be very thin, but I know from experience that 20s and 60s styles are actually pretty forgiving on thick-waisted figures as they skim the middle.

Famous arguments against: Louise Brooks, Colleen Moore, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Audrey Hepburn, Mia Farrow, The Duchess of Windsor, Nancy Cunard

Myth 3: You need to be extremely pale 
I’m not sure where this particular myth came from, but I suspect, like our other two myths, it’s got its roots in those wonderful 1950s photos of Dovima, Suzy Parker, Dorian Leigh and their like. Yes, they were mostly a perfect porcelain in their photos (and had red lipstick and tiny wasp waists), but not everyone was, and not everyone wanted to be. In the book Milton’s Marilyn, photographer Milton Greene’s wife recalls how Milton had to fight to ensure Marilyn was pale for the film Bus Stop because she was playing the part of a girl who worked all night and slept all day; the studio had wanted her to be more tanned.

If you want a tan, that’s your choice – fake is safer than the real thing, but you already know that. And if you’re naturally dark-skinned, revel in it!

Famous (natural and tanned) arguments against: Coco Chanel, Ursula Andress, Dorothy Dandridge, Cary Grant, Brigitte Bardot, Lena Horne, Liz Taylor in her later years, Pam Grier, Josephine Baker, pretty much everyone who was famous in the 1970s apart from Bowie...

Sometimes it can seem as though everyone’s following each other, wearing the same lipstick, putting in the same victory rolls, buying the same brand of shoes, and if you like those things and they suit you, go for it. But if they don’t work for you, there’s still a whole lot of vintage that will. A lot of people who love into vintage did so because they liked being able to buy unique clothes and develop their own look, so enjoy your own uniqueness!


  1. The vintage scene does seem chockablock with the same looks and these seem to me to be the 'correct' ones, as though it's a uniform of acceptance. I've seen that there is definitely a favoured shade of red lipstick which I do not buy, though I am a slave to red. As for hair, I went to something classed as a vintage festival last year and the place was rife with the exact same hair styles given by the same in residence 'salon' - victory rolls; I couldn't do one to be honest, I opt for the same up do as I have for years. I certainly don't buy the favoured shoes as frankly I can't afford them and that goes for all the lauded repro brands. Perhaps this is why I'm not in the in crowd ;)

  2. Have to say, the shoe prices of some makes stagger me too. Have seen some I liked the look of, but most likely would be too narrow, then I clocked the price and nearly collapsed!

    To quote Fleetwood Mac, go your own way.

  3. As I get more into a vintage look I kind of think about my crazy curly hair and bicep muscles and then remember that I'm myself no matter what I wear. I wear red lipstick because I like it, not because the decade of my clothes "requires" it. (I don't wear the popular red, though, because it's too expensive) As for shoes - lately there have been so many cute wedges at Kmart and Walmart lately that I have to drag myself away from that section. I've been trying to combine steampunk and vintage into one cohesive look, too - mid-century purists will faint, but I love gears!

    I really enjoy your blog. I'm getting ready to try out some of the perfumes you've talked about in the older posts. Thanks for the work you put into it!