Last July, in celebration of the fact that I was born in the 1980s and that my birthday was the very next day, we took a look at 29 Things I Love About The 1980s. Today we're going to spend a few minutes focusing on another.
Generally speaking, vintage clothing is classified into three main camps: authentic vintage (that is to say, pieces that were produced during several decades ago), vintage reproduction (modern pieces which have been modeled in the style of, or created using original patterns for, vintage garments), and vintage appropriate clothes (modern pieces that, though not intentionally designed to be repro garments, are so classic or in keeping with the styles of a certain era, that they can be effectively incorporated into one's vintage wardrobe).
There is another category however, and it's one that a fair number of us vintage loving lasses avail of: 1980s does 1940s or 50s clothes.
This is a bit of a simplification of this category, as one can sometimes, for example, find 1970s does 1940s dresses, 1990s does 1930s dresses, and so on, but generally speaking, it was the 1980s - with its passion for some of the iconic styles and ageless tailoring of the mid-twentieth century that means you're most likely to unearth 1980s garments that very much look as though they could have been from the 1940s and 50s.
In a way, these pieces can be viewed as a type of vintage repro clothing, though few were actually made using yesteryear patterns or with that goal in mind. No, the wave of nostalgia that washed across the world (especially North America) for the forties and fifties during the exciting eighties is at the heart of these pieces, which though not always dead ringers for the clothes they were made to resemble, can be woven with great success into many a modern woman's vintage wardrobe.
Up until very recently, with notable exceptions made for certain famous designer brands (such as Laura Ashley), most 1980s does vintage garments could be had for a song (or nearly so), because they were seen more as being 80s styles than they were forties or fifties one. Over the past couple of years, online in particular, however I've noticed a sharp increase in the price of such garments, as their popularity has spread amongst the vintage fashion world.
That said, it's still often easier to find a great deal on mid-century inspired piece from the 1980s than it is on a similar garment from the 40s or 50s, and as a long time shopper (and wearer) of this category of clothing I cannot begin to encourage you enough to give it a spin yourself, too.
While there's nothing like the real deal when it comes to vintage. 1980s garments have a lot of advantages to them which one should not be too quick to dismiss out of hand. For starters, they're often sturdier (having existed for far fewer years) then some mid-century vintage pieces, frequently cost less, and are commonly made of materials that are a snap to launder.
Another point in their favour, as LandGirl 1980 discussed in her excellent post on this subject last year, is that they can often work splendidly if you don't have the kind of measurements that tend to jive well with pieces from your favourite mid-century decade(s).
Those who are new to world of vintage fashion and/or haven't had a lot of experience with 1980s garments, may wonder how to tell pieces from the eighties apart from those of earlier decades. Some very good signs that you're dealing with a later piece (by which I mean, not a garment from the 30s, 40s, 50s, or early 60s, but instead one from the 80s) are as follows:
-The fabric is polyester (which was invented in 1941), a poly blend, or another synthetic material that was not yet invented or in wide spread use during the mid-century.
-The fabric feels (and/or looks newer). Many vintage fabrics has a distinct quality, weight, texture and/or sheen to them which diminished or was seen less commonly amongst mass produced items of clothing as the decades wore on. If you have experience with handling and/or wearing 1940s or 50s garments, you'll likely be able to tell a 1950s cotton or a 1940s rayon, for example, apart from its 1980s counterpart simply based on how it feels in your hands (often the newer material will be thinner, for starters).
-The seams aren't finished or they're finished with a simple zigzag or similar stitch. While many earlier garments had finished seams, not all (including some handmade pieces) did, unlike those of the 1980s which almost always had finished seams (unless leaving them unfinished was part of the garment's design). By the same token, does the fabric on the seams have serging (which, though around in the 50s, wasn't nearly as common as it's become in more recent decades), or was the material pinked? If it was cut with pinking sheers, instead of being serged, you may have an older garment on your hands.
-The logo on the tag is more modern looking and/or there's a garment tag with washing. For more on dating vintage labels, I'm a big fan of this post from Sammy Davis Vintage on the topic.
-Garment size: As discussed here in a post here about vintage clothing sizes back in January, the numbers one finds on vintage clothes sizes have generally gotten smaller over the years. If a garment has a tag that says size 16, but it looks (and fits) more like a modern day size six, it's most likely from the 1930-50s. However, if it says size 10 or 12 but looks/fits more like a six, you're very likely dealing with a piece from the 1970s through the start of the 90s. There are no hard and fast rules about how much sizing has changed over the decades, but if you start (or already own) clothing from the 80s, you'll likely soon be able to determine which size, or sizes, from that decade fit you best and can then keep an eye out for such while on the prowl for your vintage inspired 80s pieces.
-The brand name stated on the tag is one that had yet to be formed during the 40s or 50s (for example, Ralph Lauren, was founded in 1967, so if you were holding, for example, a sweater from that brand, you could safely say at the very least that it’s impossible for it to be from the 1950s). The Vintage Fashion Guild has a stellar directory of vintage fashion labels which can be extremely helpful in dating a garment, so long as you have a label in place still.
-The zipper is plastic, not metal (this however, is not always a telltale sign because it's always possible to have a vintage garment whose original zipper was replaced with a more modern one at a later date). As well, zippers in garments from the earlier decades often tended to be sturdier, heavier and have larger “teeth” than those of more recent years.
-What shape and size are the pockets? As well, whereabouts on the garment are they placed? Pockets on the 1940s and 50s skirts and dresses were often generously sized and sometimes slanted; as well, it's not uncommon on such pieces to only have one pocket (frequently on the hip or front of the thigh), whereas 1980s styles commonly had smaller (slash or hidden) pockets on skirts and dresses, and larger pockets on one or both of the chest.
-How vivid are the colours? While it's certainly possible to find vintage pieces that are just about as vibrant today as the day they were first made, and conversely, 1980s pieces that have faded a great deal over the years (especially if they've been washed many times), how bright, crisp and fresh the colours do, or do not look, can sometimes help indicate if a garment is more recent or not.
-A dress (or skirt, or other type of garment) has an elastic waist. Though one does occasionally find elastic waistbands in mid-century clothes, they are much, much more common of those from the 1970s onward (especially those which allow for several inches of expansion).
-The over all look of the piece. Though this is something that will come with experience more than anything, if you've been wearing and/or studying vintage fashions for some time, you'll likely have developed an eye and ingrained sense of what era a piece is from. A huge part of the appeal of 1980s does 40s and 50s pieces is the striking resemblance they bear to their earlier counterpoints, however upon closer scrutiny, one can often tell - through the detailing, cut of the garment, hem length, and all the other points previous stated here - if a piece is in fact newer or older.
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Case in point, let's take a peak at the following two similar red shirtwaist dresses (both from etsy listings), the first of which is from the 1950s, the second from the 1980s.
The dress doesn't have too much in the way of structured lines to it, but the overall cut is relatively figure hugging (especially the top half), and the sleeves hit (depending on one's arm length) right above/at elbow length. Both of these elements are common of shirtwaist dresses of the era.
The material is 100% wool, which certainly many vintage dresses were made of too, however label reveals that it's from Liz Clairborne (a popular ladies wear brand that was founded in 1976) and that's a size 6 petite (while petite garments existed in the 40s and 50s, a size 6 for an adult would have been nearly unheard, as most brands - and do keep in mind that the size of the garments were smaller than what we associate with these numbers today - started their lines at a size 9, 10, 10 or 12).
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Though some are quick to turn up their noses at 1980s throwback pieces, there's zero reason for this kind of snobbery, or to view them as being any less worthy of a place in your vintage wardrobe as a genuine vintage garment, well made repro piece, or vintage appropriate item of clothing, the later of which "1980s does" items can certainly be viewed as in a roundabout way.
I have numerous 1980s (and a couple 70s) does 1940s and 50s dresses (and other garments) in my closet, spanning from classic shirtwaists (which were wildly popular during the eighties and can often be found still at local thrift and secondhand shop - not to mention potentially in the closest of some of your female relatives, if they held onto their eighties garb) to a slinky purple jersey number (seen here) that is just about the most comfortable garment I've ever owned.
Below are four photos from past outfit posts, all of which feature a great 1980s does 40s or 50s dress at their heart (note: while dresses are certainly one of the most common 1980s throwback pieces, virtually any type of garment, from swimsuits to blue jeans, can be found in this vast category).
On top of the points already discussed above, some of the other reasons why I really like many mid-century inspired fashions from the decade of my birth include the cute patterns (from charming novelty prints to tropical florals), fact that they're still relatively easy to find both online and off, and that I don't generally worry as much when I'm wearing them that I might accidentally rip, soil or stain my clothes as I go about my day.
In fact, if I know that I'm going to be someplace, say, where little kids, pets, lots of dirt, or the potential for grease are present, I'll very often opt for an 1980s garment over a genuine vintage (or pricey repro) piece, because - even if I love it dearly - I won't be quite as heartbroken if, goodness forbid, something unpleasant does befall it (especially because I’ll likely be able to launder it heavily without having to worry about accidentally doing further damage to the piece in the cleaning process).
As the years roll onward and prices continue to skyrocket across the vintage spectrum (not to mention the number of genuine vintage pieces on the market dwindles), I suspect that the popularity of 1980s does 40s and 50s pieces will only continue to grow, as more and more yesteryear fashion loving lasses develop a fondness for this category of clothing and the many benefits it can offer anyone's vintage wardrobe.
If you've not already done so, I urge you to consider picking up a great "80s does" piece or two for yourself. Style them with genuine mid-century accessories (and/or other articles of clothing), your usual old school inspired hair and make-up, and see for yourself just how lovely and vintage appropriate many of these pieces can truly be.