Getting Started, Wardrobe Staples?

Discussion in 'The Powder Room' started by Viola, Jan 17, 2008.

  1. Viola

    Viola Call Me a Cab

    NSW, AUS
    Hi, ladies.

    I must shamefully admit that for a person with as many posts as I have on the FL, I have very little in the way of an actual vintage-style wardrobe. I came for decor and, "flavor" originally.

    For those getting started, particularly on a tight budget, what would you say are the staples, the absolute backbone pieces you can accessorize into a bunch of different looks? I mean everyone might love a cherry print halter-dress... but it isn't going to do a lot of different looks, you know?

    For instance, my eye is out now for pencil, circle, and A-line skirts. What about tops, cardigans and twin-sets? I don't really know. What kind of necklines should I be looking for? I most love '40s and '50s but staples of any vintage look could be posted here under the thought there must be SOME other girl out there as clueless as me. :)
  2. NoirDame

    NoirDame One of the Regulars


    What era are you going for?

    Personally, for me (going for a forties look), I would consider blouses to be a staple. Also, a line skirts, high-waisted Hollywood waist pants are on my list, too. Comfortable shoes like a wedge or loafer also. garments.
  3. Miss Brill

    Miss Brill One Too Many

    on the edge of propriety
    Most beauty books say to spend most of your clothes budget on everyday clothes--for work or school & avoid one-purpose outfits, like evening gowns, and to buy better accessories because "cheap" ones cheapen the look of your outfit. As far as what pieces to buy, I'd say make a list of what you wear the most now & try to duplicate/replace the pieces with vintage (exchange a new sweater with a vintage sweater, etc. ). The old "wardrobe staples" lists would say buy a suit, and a blouse to go with, an extra skirt, a dress, a dressy coat, and something for evening, but I don't wear anything like that, I wear jeans or pants, and have 1/2 dozen coats, and some skirts and a suit I don't wear.
  4. Laughing Magpie

    Laughing Magpie One of the Regulars

    A major consideration for me (at least for the staples) is whether I can wash it - I don't mind hand washing and hanging or laying flat to dry. Drycleaning costs get crazy if I'm doing it on everyday things.

    I am sort of brave with handwashing - most knitwear, some silk, velveteen and cottons - I'll do them. So long as it isn't lined or very tailored, like jackets.

    That said, there're no items in my wardrobe that have gotten more compliments and 'bang for my buck' than vintage suits and jackets. They are so easy to work into a modern wardrobe too. And I'll gladly pay professionals to clean them.

    Have fun!
  5. Viola

    Viola Call Me a Cab

    NSW, AUS
    '40s and '50s mainly but... I don't have enough of any kind of look to be flat-out married to a particular era. It has to work on a short girl with a chest, though, so I find a lot of flapper-stuff, no matter how adorable, is right out.
  6. Cherry_Bombb

    Cherry_Bombb A-List Customer

    Philadelphia, PA
    Foundation garments are a must! As well as a pair of black shoes and a pair of brown shoes. If you have those, you can match just about everything.

    I think that dresses that can be easily translated from day to evening by putting on a cardigan or a shrug or adding a hat are also good staples. And if you can translate the colors from season to season, you'll get even more wear out of them.
  7. fernande

    fernande Vendor

    New York
    You know, Only recently did I do a complete "overhaul" of my vintage wardrobe, I've been wearing vintage for 13 years- often I think it happens to us girls, because if you want to wear vintage- (and not inspired- but more on that later)
    Its harder to accumulate due to its rarity and/or size availability, sometimes it takes you longer to accumulate your "7 easy pieces" ( to steal an idea from the legendary Donna Karan)

    I'm extremely busy and on the go- and I found that even though I have more vintage that I know what to do with- (both for my personal use and for my job- I do wardrobe/fashion styling) that often I had way too many etheral chiffon flapper dresses and Rita Hayworth "Gilda" gowns- (all extremely awesome, but not really practical in terms of a) everyday wear B) my modern busy life, running around NYC!- I had to do an overhaul and fill in a great deal of gaps- for me, sometimes I had trouble just buying the basic cardigan or flats, because I was saving up for some sequined, velvet dream dress- I slowly figured out that I can't dress like its new years eve every day (well I guess you could.....) I'd have to get some basics-and stop buying these intense gowns (though I think every gal should have one real "showstopper"- more on that later)

    These are the things, I find, personally I wear all the time.

    you can source this stuff both old and new, especially with how many designers are doing vintage inspired looks across the board, its easier now-Since I'm more into true vintage (at least with clothing choices) the focus is more on The Real McCoy than, repros) (perhaps someone who's really into vintage repro could post their own comprehensive thread....)

    My listings here is sort of aimed at giving you some ideas for things to search for on Ebay- its such a great resource for all of us worldwide to find great stuff. I've put quotations over things you can directly search on ebay if you aren't familiar with what I'm talking about or just want to give it a go in your search.

    My "7 easy pieces" (though definitely more than 7 because I list multiple styles/colors- but just as a guide) are:
    (there is a lot of black here- as I'm a new yorker, we love black!)

    1) a somewhat plain (yet simple and wonderful), but sharp angled black "film noir style dress" from the late 40s, that falls just below my knee- I can layer this, wear it alone, even wear a pair of ballet flats, or dress it up with heels and pearls. I love this style because there is not a great deal of ornamentation, its more about the line, and the angles at which the fabric is cut and draped. Often these have a peplum.

    2) A "black 50s cocktail dress" or "Sheath Dress" shorter in length this offers another option and can be altered with shoes, sweaters and accessories.
    This is great if its got some mesh or lace in the collar area
    very Audrey Hepburn, very timeless.

    3) a trio of good vintage shoes- a 40s platform, a 30s lace up oxford, and a 50's spike/kitten heel.
    Vintage shoes are getting harder and harder to find in good condition (at least in my size- 8 1/2) , and I am really picky on the quality and style of my shoes. (I'm doing my own line of vintage reproduction shoes, so I'm extra finicky)
    A pair of lower 1940's platforms in black suede are a great basic, I think to get the best deal, you need to search ebay, and search and search (otherwise on most sites they are going to run you well over $100.00)
    I have both the lower version (which is about 3 inches) and the sky high "carmen miranda" style- but- i wear the 3 inchers more. and the black suede goes with everything-(I even like it more than the glossy black ones I have-)
    even though almost all of these styles are peep toe or open toe, that is okay, because you can wear interesting tights and stockings.

    b) "30's Lace up Oxfords with a small heel are awesome, not only are they really practical, but since often these shoes were for old ladies (ie the term "granny shoes) or WWII nurses, they are super comfy. This is also a huge trend in the mainstream. These look great with denim and your dresses. Mostly found in black- but sometimes you can luck out and get a pair in deep brown or burgundy- also great staples and super comfy.

    c) "50s stiletto spikes"-I have found two amazing pair of 1950s alligator or croc pumps on Ebay in black and brown. (for payless shoes prices!)
    They are sexy and sophisticated, and anything in an exotic leather is luxurious and immediately luxes up whatever you're wearing denim or a dress.

    Now if you aren't into shoes with heel, you can adjust to a wedgie or some cute flats. - I've seen very cute wedges from lines like Aerosoles, for good prices and in a vintage feel. Obviously black and brown are good shades if you are just starting out,
    but I always say that every woman should have at least one pair of red shoes.

    3) "30s or 40s cold rayon dress". In constant rotation for me, is 2 dresses- one is a mid 1940s "swing length" dress. It falls just a tish above my knee, is cut comfortably and is in a great floral print. The other is a navy and white polka dot dress from the 30s that is slightly longer. One dress I splurged and bought from Dorthea's Closet (it was $189.00) and one I got on ebay for $10.00-
    In terms of rayon/silk, you cannot beat the real thing.
    Trashy Diva ( does some great repros in prints, and from my own personal experience the sizing is good, she covers most sizes from uber tiny to voluptuous ladies. Her dresses are around $250.00 though- but they are nice and made well.

    4) One black/red/white cashmere cardigan and one "fun" cardigan.
    This is where I'd definitely recommend ebay- I've found some amazzzzing cardis for $30 and under, that would have cost hundreds in stores. I wear my black and red ones all the time, with jeans, over my dresses.
    my "fun" cardigan is a truly whimsical white one with fun beaded embroidery.

    5) "Pendelton Wool 49'er jacket". (you can search that on ebay) Very nice layering piece in cool old 40's plaids and flannel. I have one in red plaid and one in blue plaid. These are forgiving to the figure, and comfy.

    6) "Short 1940's car coat in wool or gab".
    although I have tons of swing style, princess style, fur trimmed, trapeze cut-you name it, I've got it vintage coats- The one I consistently throw on when I'm running out the door is a simple and fantastic wool boucle' (this is wool that is kind of bumpy/nubby) very "Joan Crawford esque" short coat with a single big button up top at the collar. I find that this gives me a vintage-fied look even when I'm wearing jeans and a tshirt and running to the gym.

    7) a cool hat. this is totally up to you, but I find when I'm working with clients who want to wear a vintage hat, but don't know where to start- usually a cloche' works the best- its not too overwhelming and definitely adds to your look. mine is black with a satin band, I wear it all the time.

    okay I have *10* things!

    8) A vintage purse or clutch. for me, its an alligator kelly bag. Its not big enough for my oodles of annoying stuff, so I carry a victorian doctor's bag" tote for my other things. This is one area where to be really "vintage", its hard- women just didn't carry as much stuff around as we do now!

    9) The "showstopper dress" I mentioned this earlier in my post, though I'd say its not essential, but truly life affirming, when you "fall in love with a dress". (ha- that sounds really funny, but I'm sure many of you gals can relate to this) This might be your biggest splurge, your most stressful ebay purchase, as you can really find some amazing examples golden era fashion for a fraction of what they would cost you in a vintage boutique or @ a show or expo. I am a big fan of classic chiffons, velvets, and sequined appliques- and I lean towards 30s and 40s pieces for my big purchases, this will be a fun one, and you'll treasure it (and probably want to wear it to next years QM event!)

    10) foundation garments- I have them, I would say, they aren't totally essential for me, and if you are new to vintage, some of the nipping and tucking they do, might be uncomfortable, but they do make a helluva difference in how clothes fit. There is a whole thread on this, but I think one girdle with garter straps would do, to start.

    It may seem like this stuff might be out of your budget, but honestly, some of my essential pieces, I bought for under $20.00.
    I would also suggest if you're starting slow, and funds are small, is assemble one smashing look at a time- plan it from your dress to your shoes, to your cardi- that way- at least you have one cute outfit to where to any event where you want to envoke your glamourous "vintage" look.

    back in my college days I was a personal shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys- although the ladies who shopped there were usually not on any sort of "budget" (can we say $8,000 Chanel suit?)- it was fun to help someone put together their looks based on their lifestyles and personality.

    Everyone is different. I'm a dress girl. maybe you're not.
    maybe I should have put "40's blouses" or "rockabilly western shirt" (also two great "essential" things to any vintage gal's wardrobe.
    you can also pair a cool vintage shirt with a pair of dark denim jeans (that can be found anywhere) sometimes its good to mix, and usually you can find a cool vintage shirt for $15.00 or less on the bay.

    I think there are tons of fabulous gals who have great vintage style here on FL- I love looking at the "show us your purchases" thread- theres lot of personal style inspiration there- and you can see, especially on ebay you can get some GREAT bargains on "vintage vixen basics".

  8. Lady Day

    Lady Day I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Crummy town, USA
    Basic oxfords that fit (darted or no) can go a long way. A pair of loafers or two, or three...

    Some nice sweaters that sit at your waist are great too. Thats the veggie meat and potatoes of my wardrobe.

  9. Joie DeVive

    Joie DeVive One Too Many

    What you want as basics really does depend a little on what look you are going for. You've already said that you are drawn towards the 40s and 50s. There are a lot of looks encompassed in that category.

    If you are a student, you probably want to go with a "younger" look, with more casual stuff. For that, I would be looking for high waisted pants and jeans, pencil, a-line and full skirts, sweater sets, blouses, and accessories. Blouses would be fitted, but can have many different collar types. Peter-pan and traditional oxford are pretty common right now. You would be safe going with saddle shoes, oxfords, keds, as well as flats and heels for this look.

    If you are at a point in your life where you have more of a business career, you might be happier with the "more grown up" look for those times. That would call for suits, blouses, skirts, and dresses. The pieces are similar, but the fabrics tend to be nicer, and the look is even more polished. For this look, you would probably be looking more for heeled oxfords or pumps.

    To maximize your dollars, thrift stores are a great way to go. Smaller towns and smaller stores seem to have better selections of actual vintage, but vintage looking stuff can often be found in most of them. Small "junk shop" type antique stores sometimes have great deals on jewelery and accessories.
    I've had a lot of luck with reproductions at my local Ross. I'll give you that shopping there can be a snipe hunt, but I have home with three cotton vintage inspired dresses this summer for less than $20 a piece. I've also gotten some vintage inspired blouses and sweaters there, and seen some patent leather in their shoes, bags and belts. Target has had some good pieces too. Just make sure they are "finished". I've seen some ruffled blouses over there that haven't had the edges sewn, so they will fray. I dig through the sale racks at many stores for retro looking pieces. The clearance prices are pretty good right now.

    I hope that helps!!:)

  10. Miss Neecerie

    Miss Neecerie I'll Lock Up

    The land of Sinatra, Hoboken

    oh trust me..

    I am -just- as clueless and unwardrobed!

    I have dresses that I wear to events....but I could not put together a 'vintagey' outfit for every day of the save my life.

    I would say...separates are the way to go...skirts and twin-sets are ideal to start with, as even if they arn't -exactly- the right cut, they are still classic and thus 'old fashioned' looking
  11. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Simple cotton day dresses can be very versatile for everyday wear if you're selective in the colors and prints you choose. Accessorize them with cardigans in complementary colors for a casual look, or you can throw a nice vintage jacket over them for something a bit dressier.

    It's a good idea, too, to stick to small, conservative prints rather than big bold novelty prints. A few of the latter can be fun if you end up building a big wardrobe, but if your wardrobe starts out small, the big loud prints get tiresome once folks have seen them a few times.

    Shoes? I love my sensible brown oxfords and my sensible black oxfords -- 1 1/2 inch heel, sturdy leather, and wicked comfortable to wear when I'm on my feet all day. Saddles and loafers are also good for sports/casual wear.
  12. Snookie

    Snookie Practically Family

    Los Angeles Area
    A good black skirt and a good black cardigan. To wear together or with other things. Can be a nice conservative outfit or can balance out a brighter piece.

    Decent skirts and dresses are hard to find at retail stores, I'd stick to thrift/vintage stores for those.

    I find great tops and sweaters at Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, though. The main things I try to avoid are necklines that are too low and sleeves that are too short. For a 50's look, though, sleeveless tops were very popular. Sometimes I find plastic "bakelite" accessories at those places, too.

    One of the key things is to train your eye by looking at old catalogs, so when you come across something you know whether you should grab it or reject it. I know I say this all the time, but if you don't want to spend the money for the Sear's catalog books, check your library. I think they're very common for libraries to carry.
  13. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Viola, it's been a long time since I was just starting out, but I prefer to have a small wardrobe because of cost and space.

    One suggestion I haven't seen on this thread is color. Get your staples in colors that coordinate with one another and that you love and that people compliment you on. Certain colors (especially men's suiting colors) also stand the test of time better than, say, mustard or lime green. I'd get offbeat colors only if I could coordinate them and looked terrific in them.

    Another suggestion: get the best you can afford. Cheap clothes are a false economy. They'll soon look shabby and need mending, and cheap shoes look and feel cheap from the get-go.
  14. Clara Noir

    Clara Noir Familiar Face

    Old South Wales (UK)
    For really really starting off, a round neck cardigan and a string of pearls or a brooch, even with blue (not navy or stonewash) jeans can look vintage enough to fool people. Most of my cardigans are from granny shops, not real vintage. That and curls.

    Then branch out into skirts if where you live is warm enough. Dresses look a bit dressy sometimes. Sorry I can't describe it better.:p

    Don't ask me about shoes. Everyday shoes for me are metallic Doc Martens...It's where my look falls apart unless I'm going out.
  15. Viola

    Viola Call Me a Cab

    NSW, AUS
    You ladies are great.

    My start was sweaters (because who doesn't love sweaters) and jewelry, but now I can start putting together more of a total look. Huge help in this thread; I'm copying-and-pasting to a Word file as I put together a list. Otherwise I end up buying just lockets and hats and stuff like that when I'm at the vintage store. Or tchotchkes, my one true weakness! I go to the thrift store all "I need a skirt" and I walk out with a vase. I'm a person who needs lists.

    I don't have to worry about things to wear to the office, (uniforms solve that) but I do need stuff that isn't evening gowns that I can wear around the neighborhood and to functions where people think a cardigan and cotton floral knee-length skirt is "all dressed up."

    What are especially '40s or '50s colors/shades of colors? I don't have a lot of color pics to get a good feel from yet.

    I know I look good in black, light-through-dark green, red, and yellow. I can't wear pink or lavender no matter how cute the outfit, and I rarely look as good in brown as I wish I did.
  16. Cherry_Bombb

    Cherry_Bombb A-List Customer

    Philadelphia, PA
  17. Miss Dottie

    Miss Dottie Practically Family

    San Francisco
    I just came across this thead and the advice here is quite sound!

    I understand Viola--I still don't wear all that much vintage clothes, but every now and then certain things can really help get that "vintage vibe" that can say a lot.

    I started too incorporating vintage into my style with vintage cardigans. Very easy to start collecting.

    And another nice addition to the list of items would be a pair of wide-legged pants. A lot of designers are coming out with that style. Heck--my favorite pair of wide-legged pants come from Old Navy, so they are out there.

    Good luck, Viola! And we hope to see pix of your fine "new" wardrobe soon!
  18. ShooShooBaby

    ShooShooBaby One Too Many

    portland, oregon

    my favorite item for a 40s look is an A-line skirt! modern, original, 70's double-knit-polyester... i have a bunch of them. i think the easiest way is to look for things you can incorporate in your everyday look. if you dress super-casual now, you might be more apt to wear wide-leg pants or vintage dungarees than jump straight into pumps-and-hose-wearing on a daily basis. i personally thing wool sailor pants are a GREAT place to start. no matter how cold or wet i'm feeling, i can still get myself to wear them! a pendleton 49er jacket is a fantastic piece as well! and of course i'll give a shoutout to remix wedgies, since i think the shoes and the company are fantastic :)
  19. Miss Brill

    Miss Brill One Too Many

    on the edge of propriety
    Can we pin this thread?

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.