Hate the way modern fashions treat your curves? Go retro.

I recently re-watched some old black and white classics, saw those beautiful hourglass figures and high-waisted jeans, and something clicked. It was time for me to embrace more curve-friendly fashions.

By Tara Moss

Feb 2, 2013

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.

Until now.

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 lovely retro ‘wiggle’ dresses, try Glamour Bunny. The gorgeous Dita Von Teese is a fan of their sexy vintage looks.

– 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.

x Tara

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.



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  1. Simone

    I love vintage too and also prefer modern vintage. 2 labels love are Retrospec’d and Doll Deluxe. I’m pretty sure Doll Deluxe sells to Wheels and Doll baby and Retrospec’d have a shop on the south end of King St, Newtown, Sydney. They make 50’s style jeans, dresses, skirts, knitwear and have accessories and fab print 50’s style nighties and pyjamas. They both have websites, you should check them out as I’m sure they can make to order as well!

  2. Sally

    Great blog, Tara!

    I’m short at 5′ 1 & 7/8″and curvy. I’m on the large side now at a 16 but have been as small as a size 6 as an adult. Getting clothes to fit off the rack has always been a problem, regardless of my actual size.

    Consequently I’ve found quite a few places to buy clothes to fit curvy figures already. Both old stayers and new retro fashions that I’ve been delighted about (thank you to the writers of Mad Men). You’ve added a few for for me, so thank you!

    JacquiE has been one of my stayers for years and other places that I love that I didn’t notice you mention include David Lawrence, Pinup Girl Clothing and Pinup Boutique; also Jeans West (though they’re not retro, they have ranges of different shaped jeans including a curve embracer range, which fits me in a 14, whereas in the other shapes even the 16 won’t fit).

    I hope this helps you in your quest or someone else reading this blog. Given what you said about the support of the bullet bra, it’s slimming shape and the authenticity of the look, I’m trying to work up the courage to buy one at present. 😉

  3. Sally

    Also, Teer Wade does a fabulous blog about fashion for curvy women at: http://www.curvestokill.com/ There are plenty of ideas there.

  4. LiteraryMinded

    Welcome to the club, Tara! I watched Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at Melbourne’s art deco movie house The Astor the other night and just (re)marvelled at the curves & clothes. My favourite vintage store in Melbourne is Frocks & Slacks. I’d highly recommend it to you & your readers. The owner sources from New York & she is *wonderful* at knowing what will suit each body. I also love visiting op shops (there’s a huge one in St Kilda where I’ve found some great stuff. I’ve also found some bargains (handmade & genuine vintage) on Etsy.

  5. LiteraryMinded

    Oops, typing on my phone & made a few boo boos. Also wanted to say you look fabulous! Love the polka dots.

  6. Renee Ballard

    Oh praise be Jesus you did this post!

    I only recently discovered that it was the jeans’ fault and not mine for muffin top. To think I’ve been hating myself when it’s designers making ill-fitting clothes; the relief is palpable.

    And fabulous call on the pointy bra, I’m a dd cup and I’ve been wearing a contour bra for years, but I’ve just noticed its making me look like I have boulders for breasts! I’m so getting the cone bra now.

    Again, fab post, thanks 🙂

  7. Tara Moss

    Thank you everyone for the wonderful recommendations. The next time I am in Sydney or Melbourne I will know which shops to drop into. (Frocks & Slacks…thanks LiteraryMinded. Retrospec’d, thanks Simone!) And great blog recommendation, Sally. I’ll check the online shop you recommend, Emma. Thanks.

    PS All the online shops I have mentioned above have good shipping prices and returns policies, too. I’ve avoided listing anyone who charges large to ship to Aus.

    Renee, I have finally ceased wondering why I had an ‘extra’ part above my hip bones that wouldn’t fit women’s clothing properly. No more! Muffin top be gone. And cone/bullet bras have been a revelation. I am busty, like you, and they work wonderfully. Be warned, retro bras come high on the chest compared to all those standard cleavage heavy bras we see now (they sit high like a lot of sports bras) so they don’t work under lower necklines. Any time I wear a medium to high neckline, it’s cone bra time for me now. It’s a good all-day, super supportive, flattering and slimming bra on me. No more ‘mono-boob’ look under clothing. No more underwire.

    My friend at The Daily Knicker also just recommended What Katie Did’s ‘Lulu’ bra, so I may try that one, too: http://thedailyknicker.tumblr.com/post/21262639845/lulu-retro-styled-bra-brief-and-6-strap. Plus, Atomic Redhead does a Bullet Bra Revue here: http://atomicredhead.com/tag/bullet-bra/ so you may find some of her recommendations helpful. They all sit differently and look different on different women (My figure shows the bras quite differently than in her pics), but she is very thorough and her finds may help some of you. I can do a follow-up post if anyone is interested.

    Watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes again, I noticed there are amazing figure hugging outfits in every scene and not one speck of cleavage. Bullet/cone bras were built into every dress for overall body shape and curve (not cleavage): http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-UvUydcTN5vE/UKkSgkZviII/AAAAAAAAAFA/4juu0bUBCnE/s1600/Gentlemen+Prefer+Blondes+2.jpg


    Best wishes,

  8. Sally

    I caved a little and ordered a cone bra. If I want to go more extreme with my DDs I’ll try a bullet bra but I wussed out or it thus far. I am very much looking forward to having more defined breasts. DDs as a shelf on a body < 5' 2" really can seem extreme.

    I also found some fabulous swing trousers on one of the sites you recommended. I've been looking for wide legged pants for a long while, so again thank you!

    Now I'm going to have to check out Frocks & Slacks. They're new to me.

    I'm loving the responses to this blog as much as the blog itself. 🙂

  9. Kate

    I love shopping in the Dangerfield section at Myer (or online): http://shop.dangerfield.com.au/girls/.

    Beautiful vintage inspired clothing and gorgeous fabric prints. 🙂

  10. Tara Moss

    Hi Sally and Renee,
    I’ve had a few requests online to show the cone bra shape under clothes, so I just added a profile pic at the bottom of the blog. I hope you enjoy the WKD cone bra as much as I do.
    Happy shopping
    x Tara

  11. Jessiebean AKA Thrifty Mama

    I love vintage style fashion and have found it’s my way of staying feminine whilst mothering(should be easy being feminine and mothering right? try wearing heels, having painted nails and styling your hair with small people gumming you up with their leavings!) Opshops and Modcloth are two of my favourites. I will try a vintage style bra when minime has weaned…great, relevant post by the way Tara!

  12. Tara Moss

    Hi Thrifty Mama, I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. My daughter is always stealing the flowers from my hair these days. Every flower she sees is now greeted as ‘Mama!’. Thankfully the cone bra is safe for breastfeeding mums because it is super supportive and comfy and has no dreaded underwire. Mind you, it would be absolutely impossible to feed your child while actually wearing one! Hence it is usually for those moments when there is no milk on the menu, so to speak…
    Happy stylin’
    Best wishes, Tara

  13. KSB

    Another vote for Pinup Girl Clothing here too, very flattering good quality repro vintage styles that will last forever, ships very quickly to Aust. I have found also.

  14. Holly

    Good morning Tara, fantastic blog!!! I love it.
    I too am a lover of vintage, retro and reproduction clothing.
    I was totally sick of going shopping and never being able to find a thing to suit my shape, being short with a curvier shape.
    I feel all women should embrace their curves instead of trying to cover them up.
    A couple of years ago I found this brilliant little boutique in Newcastle. “Miskonduct Klothing” She started as an online store http://www.miskonduct.com and now has this gorgeous shop in an old art gallery. It’s divine!!! I like taking my mum there, she’s nearly 80 and just loves the experience. After our shopping spree we have a coffee in their little cafe. It’s so sweet.
    Now when I need an outfit I don’t bother with the general stores I go straight there, or look online.
    Emma stocks so many brands there’s always something that suits.
    I especially love Retrospec’d, Pinup Couture and my all time favourite Bernie Dexter.
    But one thing I must say ladies, when you go in to try on your outfits always wear good underwear. Not necessarily the expensive suck in types but full briefs. It certainly helps if your trying a wiggle dress. The girls there are always so helpful. I fell in love with my first visit. Now I think I’m addicted.
    Ladies go for what suits your figure, not what’s necessarily “in fashion” and guaranteed the compliments will start flowing in. It has certainly been a huge confidence boost for me 🙂
    Thanks again Tara for this wonderful blog!!!!

  15. Harlow

    Really great post, you make so many good points! I personally just find modern fashion unforgiving regardless of what size you are. I am petite but curvy and never found modern looks to be flattering on me. I just felt ugly in every single thing that I wore! It gave me horrible body issues and self esteem. One thing that really annoyed me about modern trends was how SHORT all of the dresses were! I kept coming across 50s style dresses but the hem only came up to above my knee. Now as a 22 year old woman and not a 12 year old girl, I did not find that flattering on me.

    I too discovered vintage styles through blogs like Vixen Vintage, and an Australian blog, Super Kawaii Mama. I have never felt better about myself now that I wear 50s and 60s looks that celebrate curves. Before I started dressing vintage I was struggling with an eating disorder because I felt that the only way modern styles would be flattering on me was if I starved myself to an Australian 6. Dressing vintage has really changed my life, my relationship with food and how I feel about myself.

    I wear a lot of repro brands like Trashy Diva, Bernie Dexter, PUG and many more and made a blog to curate my expanding repro wardrobe. These days I get all of my fashion inspiration from vintage blogs that celebrate different body types and no longer cry over my salad after reading Vogue!

    If you like Freddies of Pinewood and other repro brands, I highly recommend MisKonduct Klothing. They stock a good range of Freddies of Pinewood and other repro, all in a wide range of sizes and the service is top notch.

  16. Alex

    Hey Tara,
    As a regular op-shopper, I can sincerely attest to the longevity of Jacqui E clothing. I have sometimes been lucky enough to find their beautiful 50s style polished cotton skirts and the majority show hardly any wear. Just another point in their favour!

  17. Meg

    My go-to movie for ogling gorgeous 50’s clothing is How to Marry a Millionaire. Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe star as three models in New York trying to catch a rich man – so adorable, and the clothes are spectacular.

  18. Tara Moss

    Thanks Rachel for your comment. I’m sorry it mysteriously ended up in the auto Spam filter. It has now been retrieved! (Glad I checked) x

  19. Belinda

    A brilliant post Tara. High waisties are back, thank goodness. I love to tuck in a t-shirt to accentuate my ‘smaller asset’ rather than have everything line up or hang with the hips and thighs. I make a lot of my own clothes or rework vintage stuff from charity shops just so the clothes fit. I love the ‘story’ my clothes tell… Of an era, of a rescue and even of technology… They just don’t make fabric or zips the same these days!

  20. Lauren

    Bettie Page clothing (from LA) is completely amazing. Also Retrospecd and Faster Pussycat, who have stores online and IRL in Newtown, Sydney, and Melbourne. I now only wear vintage and reproduction vintage clothing and have been for two years. Never been happier 🙂

  21. Patricia

    Hi Tara,
    I love your blog, I agree vintage clothing really suits the curvier figure. There’s a great little shop in Katoomba that caters for size 6 to size 22 which also does online. They even custom make.

  22. lotitagirl

    I’m loving all this ! I wish they made swimsuits now that looked like that It’s been so hot here this weekend, I just want to lounge on the beach with a book too

  23. Sarah

    May I recommend http://www.inspiredinsanity.com.au? They stock punk/goth/kustomkulture as well as vintage, but I have fallen in love with the UK brand Hell Bunny – they have gorgeous sassy dresses, with plenty of comfy stretch panels built in, and they make plus sizes, so they really embrace curves!

  24. Matt

    You should definitely check http://thefedoralounge.com/, if you’ve not been there already. It is a forum devoted to this sort of thing.

    I wonder what those dames of the 40s and 50s would say to women today that can’t find clothes that fit. Would they ask you why you don’t simply make your own?

  25. Honey

    I have to say I agree with KL Joy. http://www.marquisdesade.com.au has create 2 of the most figure enhancing corset pieces just for me. I feel so awesome when I wear them and I always get great compliments.

    I have started wearing my underbust corset over a lovely skirt wth a white or cream blouse underneath and a little cardigan or tailored jacket over the top. it is power dressing at its best.

    thanks Marie for creating something that helps me feel special.

  26. Stacy

    I found these amazing vintage high waist bikinis with really cute polka dot patterns at:

    I find they really show off my curves and hide the bits I don’t want to show! It makes me feel glamourous and confident at the beach because I don’t have to cover up. They have free shipping too 🙂

  27. Melissa

    Hi Tara,

    Love you inspiration!
    I was wondering if you have any Bernie Dexter dresses? I have the Paris Juicy Orange one and it is divine. However I am a tad stuck into which petticoat to wear underneath? I’m 5ft and have been told to go with a short style. That was helpful , but not in ways of brands for style, comfort etc. I was hoping if you could help please?
    Thank you Melissa.

  28. Aron

    I love old pictures! The past gives many interesting tips to create a new


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