Building my vintage wardrobe

No, nothing to do with flatpacks. I’ve worn bits of vintage for years, but really started making the transition to a more vintage-styled wardrobe last year, and I’ve been mulling over my progress of late. Most of my older pieces were special-occasion items like 1950s dresses, and the bias-cut 30s number I wore to get married. There’s no dress code at work, but I thought full-skirted navy net with sequins might raise a few eyebrows, so some outfit renewal had to be done.

Luckily I’ve never been an especially showy dresser, even in my gothiest of goth days, so I had quite a lot of very classic garments in plain black. Even when it wasn’t vintage-shaped, much of it would fade into the background behind more distinctive pieces. What I had could be added to, rather than cast aside. (Radical changes always strike me as quite odd, as well as being rather pricy.)

I’m too chubby to have a really good choice of authentic vintage garments nowadays, so in building my wardrobe buying ‘can pass’ items from charity shops and making more eyecatching items myself have been my easiest choices. Charity shop skirts seem a particularly rich source of wardrobe builders, whether you’re looking for a 1940s A-line or a pleated jobbie to go with a 1950s-style top. For some reason I find it easier to find good-quality skirts than anything else; I got a fab calf-length dark pink/grey tartan one recently.

Good quality tops are much harder to find, and good-quality vintage looking tops don’t come up at all round my way. I have been wondering if it’s because, in many outfits, tops have the most detail, and so they are more obviously in or out of fashion, so people renew their tops more frequently. Because of this, I’ve picked up my needles and knitted myself a jumper. Roaring success. Stylish, and comfy enough that it gets me out of my long-sleeved jersey tops AND it doesn’t go unworn for ages because I’ve washed it and can’t be bothered to iron it. Many more will follow, especially once I’ve mastered the dark art of resizing sleeveheads.

For a chubby woman shopping for accessories is great. I’ve never found a handbag, perfume or brooch that didn’t fit! Costume jewellery is great for a quick shopping fix , but I’ve found shoes and handbags are a bit costly and that side of things is developing more slowly. I’ve stuck to plain black for shoes so they’ll work with as many garments as possible.

So, what’s next? I don’t feel a pressing need for more skirts – they will turn up in charity shops. I have more jumpers planned as things are still lacking in the top department. I’m mulling over a handbag I saw in Vintage to Vogue in Bath. Summer dresses are my bugbear, as the high street ones are too short and the Tara Starlet ones are gorgeous but too small, but Heyday and Puttin’ on the Ritz both do really nice ones (the Fleur Wrap and the Tea at the Pavilion respectively).

How did your vintage wardrobe develop? I’d love to know your hints for building one, especially identifying and filling in gaps.

Image: a jumper I'm planning on knitting from Knit With Norbury, once I've wrapped my head around resizing armholes. On the subject of jumpers, Susan Crawford has just put up a post about a smashing little knit that I fell in love with when I saw it at Clothes Show Live. I'm not really a 50s gal, but they did some cracking designs back then!


  1. "I’ve never found a handbag, perfume or brooch that didn’t fit!" Isn't that the truth! Ha ha!

    Like you - I am not the slimmest of women, but I have learnt to try and make the most of what I have got. I find eBay an ENDLESS source of decent dresses, that fit well and are the right lengeth (i can NEVER spell that word right!) And as for tops - there are some lovely retro bits on the high street at the moment.

    Or - perhaps just something plain that you can pin on of your glorious brooches to?

  2. I can't say I've ever had a plan, I just buy things I love. I agree it can be hard to find vintage tops, I am quite envious of you girls who can knit.

  3. Landgirl, I've never tried eBay. I ought to, it just looks horribly complicated.

  4. I misread the first line as 'nothing to do with flapjacks'! Can you tell I missed breakfast??

    I am hardly a small person myself so yes genuine vintage can be a problem, I'm just generally too big for it. I'm not slim and I'm far too tall for many things I see.

    I buy a lot on Ebay too. I find that not being afraid of getting the sewing kit out and altering something is the best attitude to take when clothes shopping too.

  5. Ahem Mrs stop referring to yourself as chubby. We don't care what size you are :-) Ruth Jones looked fab the other night as Hattie, so there are things out there for the more than stick insect, we just have to be patient. And where is a picture of you in your wedding dress?? I NEED to see it!!

    I would like more vintage stuff too, and am off to some charity shops tomorrow for a good scour.

    And one more thing, do you take knitting orders?? I would love a jumper like that! xx

  6. Lady Cherry, I don't mind being chubby. :D As long as my body keeps doing the stuff I enjoy, it can be whatever size it is.

    I don't take knitting orders as the mo because I'm a slow knitter, and then freelance work gets in the way - I do knitting design for Simply Knitting and review work for SFX at weekends, so I rarely get time to knit much else! I've promised myself no knitting freelance between now and Waltz on the Wye so I can make myself the top I want to wear.

    HOWEVER, when I am in a position to do it and have worked out how to resize the top, I will let you know :) I'll experiment on one for myself first as I think short rows should do the trick for adding extra inches at the bust, but I'll need to work out how to fit them in around the lace pattern. (Cue much swearing, ripping back and frustration...)


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