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Vintage Style at 50 plus

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Maybe you’ve always been attracted to fashion finds from eras past. Maybe you’re just tired of the cookie-cutter, poorly made pieces available at your local mall. Either way, you might be wondering: “Can I pull off vintage clothes when I’m a certain vintage myself?” The answer is yes—as long as you apply a bit of forethought now. Here’s a guide to acquiring an eminently wearable vintage wardrobe sure to make you look chic, unique and not at all anachronistic.

Favor style over sentiment. So you rocked tight jeans, polyester shirts and platforms shoes during your 1970s glory days. That doesn’t mean you should wear them now. Trying to recapture your fashion past can leave you looking silly. Maintain your memories in a photo album and seek out the era that best suits your body, milieu and lifestyle today.

Celebrate your shape. Just as you do with contemporary clothes, purchase vintage that flatters your figure. The cinched waists and full skirts of the ‘50s make the most womanly curves, while the padded shoulders of a ‘40s jacket can add style stature up top. That doesn’t mean you need avoid an era you’ve literally outgrown. If, say, the ‘60s silhouette of miniskirts and slim-cut sheaths no longer fits your form, indulge in accessories: a pillbox hat or small, boxy handbag hits that early ‘60s Mad Men note while op art earrings or a swingy shoulder bag evokes the decade’s latter vibe.

Don’t go head to toe. Resist the temptation to outfit yourself entirely in vintage. Wear all-of-an-era you’ll be ready for a costume party, while mixing decades dicey—very few vintage mavens finesse this successfully. So partner that ‘70s suede wrap skirt with a simple sweater and boots that were born yesterday or toss a wool ‘50s swing coat over your contemporary dress or tapered trousers-and-blouse combo. The trick is to err on the side of classic—clean lines and quality fabrics—while getting that distinctive vintage kick from a pattern, color or texture that was all the rage in days gone by.

Shop Conscientiously. Although vintage garments were made back when quality mattered (that’s why they’ve endured), a lot of wear and tear can occur over the course of 30, 40, 50 years. To shun the shabby (which on you is never chic), check vintage items carefully before purchase, ensuring that seams are tightly sewn and there are no holes, rips or stains (pay particular attention to underarms). Pay the same attention to fit: No matter how much you love a piece, it won’t look right if it’s too tight, too loose or too short. It’s easy enough to be meticulous in a brick-and-mortar store or flea market, but since so much vintage shopping is a matter of e-commerce now (try sites like Etsy, Ruby Lane and of course eBay), study the photos, note the measurements (never go by size—Marilyn Monroe wore an old-school 12!) and ask the seller questions if you’re in doubt.

An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an avid collector of lovely things from eras past—read her musings at http://www.vintagevirna.blogspot.com/




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