Recently, I was shopping at Sephora when two teenagers stopped me. They both smiled nervously as if rethinking their approach, but barreled through their nervousness to compliment me on my outfit. I was wearing a 1930’s-era plaid gray suit paired with a white blouse, a black ribbon tied in a bow, black high heels, and black bobby pins to secure my ginger curls from my face. I thanked them, to which one sighed, “I wish I could dress up like that, all vintage.” The other nodded and said, “But I wouldn’t know where to start, you know? Like, where do you get your clothes? I bet they’re a lot, right?” Their words and their questions struck a chord in me, and I decided then and there to write this article as a way to respond to them and anyone else who wants to dress up… but doesn’t know where to begin.
When I was a kid, I loved dressing up. If you were to flip through my mother’s lovingly extensive photo albums, you would see evidence of my claim…
When I was a kid, I loved dressing up. If you were to flip through my mother’s lovingly extensive photo albums, you would see evidence of my claim: overalls in every shade and every textile, barrettes emblazoned with my name in lavender block letters, leopard print winged sunglasses, denim jackets with custom paint detail (courtesy of my father’s artistic skill), and a certain sunflower bucket hat that I wore until it had no petals left.
Why did I love dressing up? Because it was fun! Each piece of clothing was different in pattern, in color, and in touch. It was as if my wardrobe had superpowers: when I wore them, they gave me confidence, courage, and a way to physically and visually express myself. As former children yourselves, I’m sure you can relate to that blissful feeling of creativity and freedom.
But let me ask you a question: when did you stop dressing up? And why?
Personally speaking, it was the one-two-three punch of social pressure, bullying, and puberty. My clothes suddenly had new superpowers: they acted as camouflage, as a shield against ridicule, and as cloaks of invisibility to allow me to slink through halls unnoticed. Instead of a wild variation of pattern, color, and touch, my new outfits were monochromatic and shapeless; if it blended in with my classmates’ choices, it was going to hang on my body. I was dreadfully uncomfortable in my skin because I was being shaped by my peers, and that translated to what I wore. As a result, I lost sight of being fun, being different, and, ultimately, being myself.
I was dreadfully uncomfortable in my skin because I was being shaped by my peers, and that translated to what I wore. As a result, I lost sight of being fun, being different, and, ultimately, being myself.
However, this dark age ended when I learned about Edith Head. Rising to acclaim and fame in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Head’s costume designs and artistic vision had film stars, studios, and directors vying for her exquisite expertise in tailoring, accessorization, and color. Throughout her fifty year career, Head designed costumes for almost a hundred projects, authored several books on fashion, won eight Academy Awards, and earned the deserved title of “The Dress Doctor.”
I was in desperate need for a wake-up call and check-up in my condition, and when I saw her work in Roman Holiday, Rear Window, and Sunset Boulevard for the first time in high school, I got exactly what I needed. I distinctly remember gazing at Audrey Hepburn’s baby bangs, high-waisted skirt, and striped silken scarf fastened at her neck and mentally sighing: I wish I could dress like that. Upon seeing Grace Kelly unclip the netting from her white fascinator that matched her impeccable pearls, I realized: I can dress like that! And when Gloria Swanson iconically stared wide-eyed into the camera draped in silver and sparkle, I concluded: I will dress like that!
And in that moment, The Dress Doctor had cured me. Out went the clothes that obstructed and obscured me; in came the Goodwill treasures, the fashion that felt more gold than old, and the glorious secondhand steals that gave me salvation instead of sadness. Dressing myself felt fun again, and through that zing of positivity, I was able to sculpt my own sense of personal style. Through my outfits, I gained a creative outlet, one that brought back what I had lost.
Through my outfits, I gained a creative outlet, one that brought back what I had lost.
Now, years later, I’ve only gained momentum. I dress the way I want to dress, which I describe as if Miss Frizzle had taken makeup lessons from Marilyn Monroe and was given a starring role in Wes Anderson’s next cinematic smash. It’s a delightful and detail-oriented blend of vibrant and vintage that fits me like a glove. Every morning when I click my closet light on, I am instantly filled with a caffeine-like jolt of super-powered energy: faced with my assemblage of ensembles, I know I am ready to rocket sky-high and conquer whatever comes my way.
If you are reading this article and have constructed your own personal style that makes you feel invincible, then congratulations! I hope you continue to grow through your fashion. However, if you would like to inject your closet with some color and classic silhouettes, I’m here to tell you that they’re within your reach. Vintage fashion is not as elusive, exclusive, or as expensive as people think, and if you are looking to make a change, I’ll leave you with a list of my personal period-inspired favorites and the immortal words of The Dress Doctor herself: “Building a proper wardrobe is like building a home. Indeed, you should think of it as building a home, because it is something you are going to live in.”
When I was first searching for vintage-inspired garments, Unique Vintage and Modcloth served as my introduction to this wonderful world. Both websites have representation from different eras, a range of prices, and both national and international brands to peruse through. Unique Vintage entices with fashion collections inspired by Disneyland and Barbie, as well as collaborations with guest designers like Micheline Pitt (a glamorous pinup, artist, and entrepreneur) and Janie Bryant (the award-winning head costume designer for AMC’s iconic Mad Men). Modcloth appeals for its casual and comfy approach, using cotton and linen fabrics to construct everyday wear with a distinct vintage vibe. Additionally, a new favorite of mine is Retrolicious, a company from which I bought a black-and-white dinosaur-printed dress that一 wait for it一GLOWS IN THE DARK. All three of these companies have victoriously crafted vintage fashion for the everyday individual, and if you were to click on the links below, you are in for a lot of fun.
Treat Yo Self
As I dove deeper into vintage fashion, I came across Bernie Dexter, Pinup Girl Clothing, and Trashy Diva. I took the plunge and was not disappointed: these three outstanding companies make absolutely stunning pieces that are engineered to hug your shape, highlight your assets, and bring your confidence to the light. I love how Bernie Dexter’s dresses have hidden zippers, POCKETS, and fabrics that are just as soft as they are stunning (sunset orange printed with different dog breeds, a light blue peppered with popcorn and 3D glasses, etc). If you find a pair of curve-embracing cigarette pants or a Betty and Veronica-inspired scoop-neck sweater from Pinup Girl Clothing, you receive 10% off on all your future orders and rack up loyalty points. At Trashy Diva, the designers choose a fabric and create several different pieces from it (coats, dresses, boleros, etc), showcasing versatility and style. The quality, thought, and consideration is definitely strong with these three!
While Bow and Crossbones volleys between subtle and sublime with their lightweight brooches, bracelets, and earrings, Luxulite is as if Betsey Johnson and Carmen Miranda teamed up to create a jewelry company. Both companies do a splendid job of combining color and class, and their products are strongly constructed and do not bend under pressure.
If you are looking for a solid heel, sturdy material, and a flash of leopard print sole, Bettie Page Shoes are a must-have. I swear by their array of Mary Janes and slingbacks because they cushion your feet and have the most satisfactory boss-bitch click-clack when you sashay across a room. You can also search them up on Amazon for a lower price than on their official website. I vouch for B.A.I.T Footwear as wellー I am particularly in love with their high-heeled saddle shoes that have red-and-white polka-dot insoles, fine detail, and a rainbow of colors to choose from!