Like a lot of women, I admire the style icons of the past –Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Billie Holiday, Jane Russell, Monroe and Bardot. But though I have long preferred pre-loved furniture and decor, I never quite embraced the fashions of old. Mostly this was because, at six foot tall, nothing authentically vintage ever seemed to fit me, and I had little idea of how to translate those lovely looks of the past into a modern life. Pandora English and her great aunt Celia wear vintage fashion throughout my novels. You could say I’ve always liked the idea of vintage but I didn’t personally wear it.
This holiday season I re-watched some old black and white classics, saw those curve-loving fashions on the screen (Thank you, Marilyn Monroe), and something clicked. Like so many women, I was over clothes that pinched into my rounded hips instead of skimming over them. I was over jeans that were cut so low that the simple act of sitting down was fraught. After 2 years I was over wondering if my pre-baby clothes would suit me again, and I realised that I was happy with my curvier body but not the way most clothing fit me. In short, it was time for a change of wardrobe and I knew I was not going to find what I was looking for in the usual fashion magazines.
I gave the ever-changing trends a miss and searched out clothing suited to curvier proportions. I got rid of the old, uncomfortable low-cut jeans that caused bulges and unwanted flashes of flesh, and started embracing high-waisted looks. I began to snap up curve-friendly pencil skirts and Mad Men-style dresses. I discovered vintage blogs like Diary of a Vintage Girl and Vixen Vintage. I learned about the wonders of cinch belts, bobby pins, scarves and red lipstick. And I found my interest in 20th century history well and truly rekindled, tracing world events through radical changes to fashion – from the women’s movement and the end of restrictive corsetry, to World War II ration fashion, to swing dresses and greaser looks of the 50s, the first era when young people distinguished themselves from their elders with their own fashion ‘tribes’.
Soon I stopped worrying about whether I would ever fit my old things and I found that I didn’t want to.
What I also discovered, in addition to an interesting refresher on modern history, was that there are a whole host of modern designers embracing women’s curves, from XS to XXL. You only need to know where to look. A lot of my downtime this holiday season was spent researching retro blogs and curve-friendly looks so you don’t have to.
Here are my current picks:
– Slim fitting cardigans are a great staple for any retro look. For great cardigans to wear over dresses, or belted with high waisted skirts or jeans, try Jacqui E’s range of button-up cardigans with polka dots or cute bow details (You may want to order one size smaller than your usual size to get the right fit to wear it belted). Alternatively, try the leopard print cardigans at Wheels and Dollbaby, who specialise in 50s inspired pin ups looks. (I also love their sexy, cropped motorcycle jacket.)
– For authentic high-waisted jeans try Freddies of Pinewood. But a word of warning: Their jeans are cut from real 40s and 50s patterns, so they are very high waisted by modern standards, if you aren’t used to the look. Measure yourself carefully to ensure the right fit. For instance, I am 1 or 2 sizes smaller in vintage jeans because the higher waist sits where I am smaller, rather than across the hips where I am widest. I love their red pedal pushers. The fab Route 66 carry their range in Australia.
– For beautiful 50s reproduction pencil dresses and swing dresses try Vivien of Holloway. Their dresses are faux boned for a comfortable, vintage, curvy shape. Vivien’s sister, the Australian agent for the brand, resides in Melbourne. Measure yourself carefully to ensure the right fit, as their designs are not standard sizes. They also carry great cinch belts and hair flowers to finish your retro look.
– For perfect WWII reproduction ration fashion, tea dresses and modest 40s chic, try Hey Day.
– For work looks, check out Jacqui E’s curve-friendly, knee-length dresses and pencil skirts. Try their simple dresses with skinny belts for a 40s flair or wider cinch belts for a more 1950s vibe. (* Disclaimer: I model for Jacqui E so I know their brand well and their pieces take up a lot of my wardrobe.)
– For a range of vintage looks grouped by decade and ranging from extra small to extra-extra large, try ModCloth.
– Try your local OP shop for great pre-loved pieces. As a tall lady, I struggle with a lot of the tiny vintage originals, but there are alway gems to be found, particularly when it comes to scarves, bags and other accessories. (Ops shops are where a lot of my old clothes end up, too. I hope they find good homes.)
– For authentically retro under things, (think bullets bras and waist cinchers) you can’t beat What Katie Did. Their famous bullet bra may be a touch too pointy for some retro-loving ladies, but I find their cone bra is a perfect medium – supportive, comfortable, and with a less extreme profile. I wear it whenever I want an authentic 40’s or 50’s shape under belted cardigans, pussy bow blouses, T-shirts or boat neck wiggle dresses. The bullet or cone bra style, which is very supportive and has no underwire, was hugely popular for decades. In my view the ‘perky’ – and often slimming – effect of these bras is vastly underrated in today’s cleavage obsessed world of uncomfortable underwire push up bras. As Caresse Crosby, the young inventor of the bra explained, it is ‘so efficient that it may be worn by persons engaged in violent exercise…’
What I love about many of these designers is not only their curve-loving clothes but the range and size of the models they use to show them off. It’s about time more modern designers showed their wares on a greater range of sizes and ages.
Whether, like me, you are tired of the unforgiving fit of so much modern fashion, or you are just looking for a way to inject a little more old world glamour into your life, I hope you have enjoyed the links above.
If you are an experienced vintage lover, please share your tips, links and favourite looks below. I look forward to delving further into the world of vintage and 40s and 50s inspired style.
Go on, embrace your curves.
Image at top: Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, circa 1953.
Images above: Some of my new vintage inspired favourites. From left to right: Navy polka dot pencil dress from Vivien of Holloway, Audrey dress from Glamour Bunny and polka dot cardigan and black pencil skirt from Jacqui E.