Updated: Feb 1, 2020
The term vintage dresses can mean different things to different people and changes as time goes by. A general view is that a vintage dress is either a dress or a style that is between twenty and one hundred years old and any older than this are classed as antique. This means that the period covered moves as the years go by but currently, would include items from the 1920s right through to the mid 1990s.
Vintage dresses can be bought second hand or occasionally unworn but these tend to be very expensive and are more collectors’ items than wearable fashion. Therefore, modern recreations based on these dresses are an alternative way forward – they give the style and look of the period chosen without the larger price tag.
The other reason people choose recreations over real vintage pieces is the sizing issue. Dress sizes have changed considerably since the 1920s and up until the 1970s, plus sizes were practically unknown. A 1970s medium dress would now be equivalent to an XS size so this greatly limits the number of people who can wear them.
1920s Dresses from the 1920s were most memorable for the flapper look – a functional dress that flattened the bust line. Straight line chemise were also popular as were low waisted dresses that had fullness in the hemline to allow for new dances such as the Charleston. Shift-type dresses emerged mid-decade while by the end of the period, dresses were worn with straight bodies and collars. Knife pleated skirts were common with the hem around 1 inch below the knee. Embellishment with beads, rhinestones or fringes were common as was use of satin or velvet.
1930 – 1945 The fun attitudes of the 1920s were damped by the Great Depression in the 1930s but the biggest influence on fashion in this period was American cinema. The Scarlet O’Hara look from Gone with the Wind was amongst the most copied dress and brought in full skirts worn over crinolines. Paris designer Elsa Schiaparelli is the one credited with the major changes in the period; using synthetic fabrics, simple dresses with bold colour accents and tailored evening gowns that had matching jackets. She also introduced zippers and shocking pink to clothing.
1960s The 1960s were a time of great trends such as the mods and rockers. Dresses went from the elegance of styles worn by American First Lady Jackie Kennedy to the simple geometric patterns on shift dresses and full-skirted evening gowns. Following the introductions of the mini skirt by Mary Quant, A-line dresses were popular. Later in the decade, the hippie look began to take hold with styles inspired from cultures around the world.
1980s The 1980s were a period of expensive looking dresses and plenty of accessories. Shiny materials were common as well large faux-gold earrings and pearl necklaces. Dresses were covered with sequins, diamante and rhinestones while colours were bright and bold. Dresses were often finished with wide or thin belts. The other major influence were the America soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty where dresses featuring shoulder pads were introduced.