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Women's Vintage Dresses

With nostalgia driving every aspect of popular culture right now, it's no surprise that vintage dress style is taking off. But shopping for a vintage dress can be confusing, and shopping for vintage online, where you can't assess quality or fit in person, is even trickier. Here's what you need to know if you're looking to add a vintage fashion piece to your closet.

What is the difference between vintage, retro, and secondhand?

  • To classify as vintage, a dress must be at least 20-25 years old.
  • Retro clothing is newly manufactured but made in a vintage style and appears as if it comes from a previous era. A retro dress may look like a vintage dress; it may be made in a print that was popular in the '50s, like a polka dot, or in a silhouette that we associate strongly with past decades, like a '40s-style swing dress or a '70s-style maxi dress. Note that a retro dress was not made in the style period it emulates.
  • Secondhand means an item of clothing that has been worn before. Most vintage clothes are secondhand, but not all secondhand clothes are vintage - a two-year-old jacket you might find in a thrift shop is secondhand but not vintage.

What are some styles of vintage dress?

  • Swing dresses were popular in the '40s and share a name with the swing dance and swing music fad that was big at the time. A swing dress is most commonly a cotton day dress but can also be a silk cocktail dress. What identifies a swing dress is its flared knee-length circle skirt, which makes it ideal for dancing. The neckline is often a sweetheart, halter, or jewel, and sleeve length varies - a swing dress may have a long sleeve, a short sleeve, a cap sleeve, or a completely sleeveless design. This type of vintage dress is often made in a floral or polka-dot print.
  • A-line dresses were popular in the '60s and '70s and are named after the shape of their skirt, which flares out at an angle like a capital letter "A." An A-line dress can be a cotton day dress or a cocktail dress and is often made in the psychedelic floral or Hawaiian prints that were popular in the era of tiki kitsch. The A-line or flare dress may have a knee-length hem but more often features a sky-high hemline meant to be paired with go-go boots. The neckline is often high, and the sleeve length may be long or short. An A-line dress may have a nipped-in waist, a shirtwaist, or a more tent-like silhouette.
  • Wiggle dresses are a staple of the early '60s - think Joan in "Mad Men." This iconic vintage dress style features a form-fitting cut and a knee-length or tea-length hem. Wiggle dresses are most often sleeveless or have a short sleeve.
  • Maxi dresses were big in the bohemian wave of the '70s. Often found in a romantic floral print or a cotton crochet, maxi dresses feature a floor-length skirt and often have a long sleeve, particularly a funnel or bell sleeve. The maxi dress is particularly popular in current fashion trends.
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