Reader mail: Is vintage couture too quirky or dated to be conservative?

Today’s reader mail has to do with a more vintage style — appropriate given this morning’s TPS!

I love to dress vintage couture in the classic colors (black, gray, navy). The quality is unquestioned (chanel, valentino, armani, donna karan). Thing is – how to ensure I don’t appear “quirky” or “dated” or “over the top” – while being distinctive. Does it mean I need to strip myself of all embellishments? I’m guessing no double-cs … but … No camellia? No armani lapel rosettes?

Interesting question, and we’re curious to hear what the readers have to say.  For our $.02, no, you don’t have to strip yourself of embellishments.  BUT, you do have to assess whether every outfit looks like you’re just stopping by work before you go on stage at the local theater.  It shouldn’t look like you’re in a costume, in other words.  Rosettes and camellias wouldn’t make anyone think that — vintage hats or gloves are another issue.  You might also want to think about “balancing” your entire look so that it’s not head-to-toe vintage — which may also help you maintain a consistent style from day to day.  For example:  one day, wear vintage shoes and slightly vintage-inspired makeup with a modern dress; the next day, wear modern shoes and neutral makeup with a vintage suit.  Everything should be part of your consideration: makeup, hair, shoes, outfit, accessories, bag.

Readers, what are your thoughts?


  1. I think as long as it doesn’t look like a costume, it’s fine. After all, what’s more conservative?

  2. I agree with the author-balancing the vintage with the modern is the way to go.

  3. lawdiva108 :

    Any suggestions on where to purchase vintage clothing, are there certain online sites that are reputable? I started watching Mad Men and am obsessed with the clothes!

  4. Anne Vohl :

    Vintage couture will always look bad in the workplace – and many other places as well. Vintage couture is more of a “hobby” and should not be inflicted on others. The whole point of fashion is the “nowness” of it, and trying to anticipate the next look is the cleverness of looking good. That is why looking stylish used to be called looking “smart”. it takes brains.

    • Just playing devil’s advocate here, but: doesn’t it change things a little bit when the vintage style comes back in vogue? I’m not arguing that every bit of vintage couture attire fits the bill, but certainly some of could, I would think.

      I really know nothing about vintage couture, but I do know that I have a couple of “really old” articles of my mom’s clothing that I wear to work. The first thing that comes to mind is a fitted cream colored turtleneck sweater. I don’t think that anyone can even tell that it’s old because it looks similar to the styles that you might find on the rack today. Maybe this blending-in misses the point of dressing vintage in the first place? I guess all I’m saying is that: the mere fact that something is vintage does not make it something that is “inflicted on others”. Surely it’s a more item-to-item evaluation?

  5. Can’t wait for fitted bodice/flared skirt dresses to hit the racks. Hope they include sleeves once in a while, with a not-too-full skirt, for work. But I do worry about the stage-costumey look, good analogy, C. Maybe wearing it to work would have to wait until it had been on the street for a while.

  6. falnfenix :

    lawdiva – consignment and second-hand shops are THE way to go for true vintage.

    for vintage inspired, try sites like reVamp and Vintage Martini. there are a ton of sites out there, though.

  7. I like dresses with fuller skirts and slimmer tops a la Mad Men, but I always think of them as my 1950s housewife dresses — not the look I’m going for at work — and I’m not nearly creative enough to wear any of the other vintage-y looks in ways that would pass muster in my office.

  8. I worked with a young attorney who was obsessed with the Audrey Hepburn look. She always wore dark colored sheath dresses (impeccably tailored) and a strand of pearls or other minimal jewelry. That was several years ago and I still admire that look on young and older women. I don’t know if the Audrey Hepburn look is vintage, but it certainly was classy, elegant and understated.

  9. Issue-spotting FAIL. Vintage clothing is not the same as vintage couture. You see little if any couture on Mad Men.

  10. Having worn modern made vintage stuff of the Mad Men era much of it isn’t work appropriate. Getting into a car gracefully in petticoats (even slim ones) is a challenge. You take up far more space on the subway/ferry/bus too. To pull the slim skirt version off, you really need the appropriate undergarments – either a girdle or modern version like Spanx (unless you work out enough to have that flat tummy). Vintage stuff was really designed to be worn over heavy duty undies to look good.

    That said, they did have have fuller skirts cut in a way that is attractive without petticoats; you just don’t see much of them on Mad Men (save Peggy in Season 1).

    As for me, I have a strict non-vintage policy at work. I make historical costumes as a hobby, and am very strict to make sure it doesn’t bleed over to work. But as an engineer being over girly is something to be avoided.

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