The vintage femme style or retro style is a fashion aesthetic that involves the use of clothing, accessories, and other items to create nostalgic outfits that are usually from the 20th century. Many categorize vintage as pre 1960 and retro as post 1960.
Those who wear this style may stick to a particular era with an entire outfit consisting of certain styles. It has also become incredibly popular and trendy for people to simply add a few vintage elements to their outfits, allowing them to have a vintage vibe while keeping their appearances generally modern.
If you are not a slave to fashion trends and want a unique style that is completely your own, vintage femme is for you. If you describe your style as “creative, expressive, and unique” or “feminine, girly, and retro,” vintage femme fashion style is your style personality. Vintage femme fashion is the perfect way to achieve your style goals if you want to stand out from the crowd.
In this article, you’ll learn how to embrace vintage femme fashion and assemble the perfect wardrobe to make a fashion-forward statement. We’ll discuss the key components of vintage femme fashion and provide tips on how to pull together a perfect outfit, all while being conscious of your personal style and budget.
What Is the Vintage Femme Style?
The vintage femme fashion style is rooted in the dominant fashion trends from the 1920s to the 1950s but vintage style can include fashion from the 1960s to 1980s. The women’s fashion of the earlier era was characterized by delicate, feminine styles that emphasized the silhouette. It included form-fitting dresses, high-waisted skirts, and other apparel made from luxurious fabrics like satin and silk. The 1950s saw some particularly iconic feminine looks such as the hourglass figure and the “New Look” silhouette that was popularized by Christian Dior.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the vintage femme style started to be associated with nostalgia or a desire to revisit classic fashion. This led to a rise in vintage and vintage-inspired clothing stores in the 1980s and 1990s among high-end and fast-fashion brands. Eventually, the vintage femme look was revived and became accessible to a newer generation of fashionistas.
Today, vintage femme clothing remains a popular and timeless style that blends classic elegance with femininity. Fashionistas continue to incorporate vintage or vintage-inspired femme clothing in their wardrobe. This includes tea-length dresses, statement accessories, and other iconic elements of vintage femme fashion. The timeless beauty and fashion of previous generations are thus going through a renewal and rebirth.
As textile designer Celia Birtwell said, “Nothing is new, really.”
Wearing vintage is also sustainable and an earth conscious practice. Wearing vintage pieces keeps them from heading to a landfill and leaving a huge carbon footprint on the earth.
Celebrities who wear vintage femme style
It’s not uncommon to see a celebritie don a vintage piece instead of a new gown for an awards show or event. Pink wore vintage Bob Mackie to the 2022 American Music Awards and Alexa Chung wore a vintage dress to an art museum.
Noteworthy Elements and Characteristics of Vintage Femme Clothing
If you’re looking to add a touch of vintage femme fashion to your personal style, there are certain things you should look for. Here are some noteworthy elements and characteristics of vintage femme clothing to help you find the right pieces:
Dropped waist lines and calf length hemlines emerged in the 20s, followed by sleeveless styles and even shorter hemlines in the 30s. Narrow pleated skirts were popular as were simple lines.
Figure-hugging and flattering silhouettes with an emphasis on femininity characterized the 1940s and 50s. Vintage femme clothing is designed to accentuate the curves of the body. Form-fitting tops, high-waisted skirts and dresses, and cinched waists are hallmarks of this style’s silhouettes.
Variety of fabric
The vintage femme style features a juxtaposition of fabrics used in general clothing and outerwear. Delicate fabrics such as silk, lace, and satin were often used for women’s clothing. Meanwhile, heavier materials like tweed and wool were used for outerwear, creating a balance of textures and materials.
Prints and patterns
Fun prints are incredibly iconic in vintage femme clothing. Floral prints, polka dots, and stripes were all popular choices as were more abstract designs that added a pop of color to garments.
Vintage garments are often made with soft colors such as cream, pastel, rose, and powder blue. Bolder colors such as red and green are also used as accents and to add drama.
Interesting details such as lace accents, bows, buttons, and ruffles enhance the femininity of vintage femme fashion, creating a sophisticated and delicate look. Embellishments enhance the luxurious aspect of vintage femme and often include florals and other feminine themes.
Elegant accessories and footwear
Vintage femme fashion emphasizes timeless beauty, femininity, and elegance together with accessories that reflected them. Pearl necklaces, hats, gloves, brooches, and stud earrings are all popular accessories in vintage fashion. Wide belts were instrumental in creating a small waist look for the 50s. Scarves were popular accessories as well. Functional and stylish footwear such as T-strap pumps, delicate heels, and ankle strap sandals are part of the style’s popular footwear choices.
During the 40s and 50s one just simply did not leave the house without ALL accessories- hat, gloves and handbags. Must have accessories in the 20s and 30s were lots of jewelry and faux fur.
Generally, vintage femme fashion is characterized by femininity, elegance, and timeless sophistication. Its silhouettes, materials, accessories, and footwear reflect these qualities, resulting in an enduring aesthetic that is beloved by many fashion enthusiasts.
What Should I Wear for a Vintage Femme Style?
If you’re looking to embrace this style, it can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. How you style vintage outfits may depend on the era you wish to depict. To help you get started, here are some basic ideas on what you can wear:
- A-line skirts. A high-waisted A-line skirt or dress with a playful print such as polka dots or floral is a style staple. You don’t have to wear prints if you don’t want to, but the overall A-line silhouette is definitely an iconic look.
- Shift dress. If you want to blend comfort and style, a simple shift dress will work. A plain shift dress in a solid color such as green or red can be paired with a pretty cardigan for a simple, comfortable, and elegant vintage femme look.
- Blouse with details. Depending on your personal preference, you can opt for a pretty blouse with ruffles, bows, lace, buttons, and other details which can be easily paired with pants or skirts.
- Cardigan. A soft-colored cardigan with a well-fitted silhouette can be a versatile clothing item for all kinds of vintage femme outfits. Pair it with a blouse or dress.
- Trousers. Though typically associated with skirts and dresses, vintage femme fashion also includes high-waisted trousers with tailored fits. You can dress them up or down depending on the occasion. Trousers became acceptabel in the 1940s.
- Accessories and footwear – A pearl necklace is a staple if you’re looking to create vintage femme looks as it adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to any outfit. You can also opt for other accessories such as gloves, hats, and brooches. As for footwear, a pair of Mary Janes can be a great option.
Dressing in vintage femme styles can be really fun. Play with colors, mix and match prints, accessorize as much as you like, and invest in quality pieces. Just don’t forget to have fun with it!
Hair and Makeup
If you truly want to nail a vintage femme look, try styling your hair in finger waves or pin curls. Victory rolls were popular in the 40s when women went to work and needed to keep their hair out of the way.For a fun fifties look, style your bangs in a pompadour or rock a beehive to reminisce the 60s. Simple one length hair cuts work well for creating vintage hairstyles.
Make up went from more to less and back again, depending on the era. A red lip will work perfectly for the earlier decades.
Vintage Femme Style Outfits
Need some ideas on how to come up with vintage femme-style outfits? Here are a few clothing combinations to explore:
A-line skirt and blouse
An iconic combo, you can pair a high-waisted A-line skirt with a feminine blouse. This full swing skirt from Modcloth features a fun pattern of pink and black moths, pink flowers, and skulls on a green background. Pair it up with tie neck blouse. Add a cardigan for a staple vintage femme outfit. Your cardigan can be a modern piece and still be reminiscent of the classic vintage look. Complete the look with black T-strap pumps and a gold and faux pearl stud earring.
Trousers and a blouse
A pair of modern high-waisted, tailored trousers complemented by a ruffled or lacy blouse can create an interesting balance of fun and sophistication. Bring on the fun with this floral print blouse. You can further personalize the look with different accessories. Finish with an oxford pump.
Skirt and blazer
If you’re going for a slightly professional look, a midi pencil skirt in tweed with a blazer can look amazing. Adding a brooch to the blazer’s lapel along with formal ankle-strap shoes can be a stylish way to finish off this outfit. This outfit was put together with modern pieces that have vintage femme vibes.
Final Thoughts: Where to Shop for Vintage Femme Clothing?
You can find a variety of vintage femme-style pieces, from dresses and skirts to tops and accessories, all over the internet. ModCloth, Unique Vintage, Anthropologie, and Reformation are great places to start if you’re in the United States. International stores that ship to America also include Beyond Retro, Rokit, and ASOS Marketplace. Check out ChicWish as well for vintage inspired pieces.
Look for one of a kind vintage pieces at Etsy. The best places for finding true vintage clothing and accessories will be thrift shops and consignment stores. Look for labels like
- Suzy Perrette
- Laura Ashley (without the blue circle)
- Thea Porter
- Bill Gibb
- Frank Usher
Learn more about vintage fashion at the Vintage Fashion Guild.
If you’re looking to transform your look with the vintage femme aesthetic, you’re all set! Just remember that you can incorporate vintage-inspired pieces into all kinds of outfits so you don’t always have to go all out with head-to-toe vintage femme fashion!