On the surface, much as with the question of how we take photos, the answer to this query seems like the kind of thing I could answer in a mere sentence or two, but as with so much in life, a bit of thought quickly reveals that there is, in fact, more to the process than what lurks on the surface and I'm happy to share what goes into the vintage looks you see here each week with all of you.
To begin with, like many people in our wonderful sphere, I have certain decades - namely the 1940s and 50s - that I most commonly dress in the styles of. These are the decades that not only fill my heart with immeasurable joy, but which (typically speaking) work best for my body type (short and curvy like a mountain pass). I have been endlessly smitten with the fashions of these two decades since I was the youngest of lasses, and knew in my heart of hearts as a child that I would grow up and wear the styles of this twenty year span, ages before I'd ever found out that other people were into vintage fashion, too.
This isn't, of course, to say that I don't enjoy fashions from other decades (which, on occasion, I may also wear an outfit from as well), it's just that this is my favourite era from a sartorial standpoint and thus I've centered the bulk of my wardrobe around this timeframe. As a result, most of the pieces on the hangers in my closet and the drawers in my dresser either hail from, or are designed to look as though they could have easily come from, the 1940s and 50s.
I mention this point because I think that in order to help facilitate the process of easily putting together outfits you love on a regular basis, it helps a great deal if you know which decade - or decades - you adore and want to dress from (a point which I discussed in more detail here), in order to build up a wardrobe of pieces that compliment one another in the sense that they are all from (or look the part of being from) the same era.
On top of knowing which decades work best for me, I'm also quick to acknowledge the fact that I'm the type of gal who loves a variety of different styles - a point I explored at length back in 2012 in the post How Many Personalities Does Your Wardrobe Have?, in which I highlighted some of the particular styles (such as ultra girly-girl and preppy) that set my heart aflutter year after year without fail.
Knowing then, which decades and styles I adore most, I've worked diligently throughout my adult life to put together a wardrobe the is rich in these kinds of pieces. While not every single garment in my closet is from (or made to look as though it could be) the 1940s and 50s, the vast majority are. Like many of us, my wardrobe is an enjoyable blend of genuine vintage, vintage appropriate, and vintage reproduction pieces, a good number of which I've tried to coordinate fairly well with one another.
This isn't to say that my closet looks like a super matchy-matchy capsule collection, it certainly doesn't (my tastes are far too eclectic for that to ever happen), but there is a general sense of cohesiveness that flows throughout each skirt, sock, bead and beret, and which I believe goes a long way towards my ability to put together outfits I love to wear with a good deal of ease.
Each of us is a different point in terms of how complete or incomplete our respective wardrobe is, and like most folks, there are still some gaps in mine (vintage trousers, I'm looking at you!), but I do have most of my bases - and basics - covered, which also aids in cutting down on the dreaded "I have nothing to wear" feeling that we've all been hit with many a time as we stood in front our well stocked closets.
Speaking of closets, mine is very small (you can technically walk into it, but you'll only get to take about five steps before you hit the back wall) and every last millimeter of space has been put to use (the same goes for all of my dresser drawers), but (humbly) very well organized. I sort all of my garments by type (skirts, dresses, short sleeved blouses, long sleeved blouses, cardigans, jeans, etc) and then further by colour, so that it looks like there are numerous rainbows bursting forth on the racks in there. Ditto for anything houses in a drawer or under-the-bed plastic garment storage container, as well as my accessories (save for brooches, which are arranged by subject matter).
As you may be picking up on, I'm big on creating an efficient, fun workflow when it comes to my wardrobe because I find that having a place for everything and everything in its place means that I don't have to waste time hunting for an item I need when I'm getting dressed. I can throw open the closet door, and know that my beige skirt is where its supposed to be and that I'll find a blue sweater sandwiched between the green and purple ones. Easy-peasy. No undo hunting, no "hmmm, do I actually own a red belt?" moments, and no time lost picking out the pieces I want in a flash.
But Jess, I hear you saying, how to you go about deciding what to partner with what - and how do you coordinate all of it? I'm glad you, like Anthea, asked, and am getting to that point right this very moment.
Colour. Yep, good old, find it nearly everywhere, colour is the secret behind how I put my vintage outfits together. I love colour with all my might. This doesn't necessarily mean that I go about looking as flashy as Carmen Miranda 24/7, but more often than not, I wear multiple colours in each ensemble I don and find that doing so can really help a look appear well put together.
I've always been smitten with colour - its power when it comes to influencing our mood or stirring up certain memories or associations is fascinating, and the ways in which different hues can be married together in the same look is a never-ending source of inspiration for me. There isn't a single colour I don't like at least a few shades of, and in the case of most garments and accessories, I've intentionally worked hard at trying to create a broad spectrum of different coloured pieces so that I can continually view my wardrobe as an artist's palette.
Much as a painter reaches for certain colours that he or she loves time and time again, so too do I have beloved favourite shades, but I try not to pigeonhole myself too much, because doing so can quickly lead to (overly frequent) outfit repetition and boredom.
Much as my closet itself is far from huge, I do not have a massive wardrobe, but because it's filled with so many different colours - partnered with some great basics like pencil skirts, shirtwaist dresses, blazers, gloves, hats and shoes in timeless neutrals - it gives the appearance of being larger than it is, because I can continually come up with so many fun new combinations of differently hued garments.
There's an old expression that typically goes along the lines of "I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else", and this is certainly true for me too, but I don't necessarily begin getting dressed with the same garment in mind each day. Far from it actually. I constantly start with different pieces and accessories when it comes to putting together a look.
I've kicked off outfits with something as small as a pair of earrings or a pair of tights – doesn’t always have to begin with the largest item they’re going to sport. I'm typically struck by a certain mood each day, as we all are, and this plays into what I want to wear for a given day, as does where I might be going/what I'll be doing throughout the course of said day. Once I know those things, I usually feel pulled towards one or more items in my wardrobe, and build up from there.
I'll let you in on another secret behind how I compose my outfits: the rule of thirds. Yes, that very same rule of thirds which you may be familiar with if you work in (or have an interest in) areas such as photography, art, or graphic design. Though I don't interpret the concept as literally in my wardrobe as I would if I was taking a photograph, I do try to keep portion in mind when I'm getting dressed.
This shines through in two main ways. For starters it means that I (often) like to balance out the proportions of the colours that I use. Commonly I start with one, two or three base colours (for example, in the outfit above, I began with dark purple and black), and then inject one or more colours into my look via my accessories or perhaps another garment, such as a cardigan or scarf, which plays a supporting role, but doesn't steal the show, so to speak. In the case of this particular outfit, grey (gloves and tights) were the supporting colour. Because grey both a natural and very close to black on the colour wheel, it compliments this ensemble, without seeming garish or out of place.
The second way in which proportion comes into play for me is that I like to keep the general scope of my outfits well balanced in terms of how the pieces fit. For example, I'm not overly keen on baggy or super tight fitting clothing generally speaking, and if I do wear a garment that falls into either camp, I will almost always keep the rest of my outfit on the opposite side of things (for example, a slouchy shirt with form fitting capri pants or a curve hugging pencil skirt). On a 5'2" frame like mine, this is especially important, so as to not give the illusion of knocking further inches off of my height.
Speaking of frames, mine is far from perfect, but it's the only one I've got and I've learned from trial and error over the years, that some things work a whole lot better for it than others. By and large, I've tried to filter out those that don't work (no matter how much I may love them in principle) and to fill my closet with garments that I feel comfortable and confident in when I slip them on (here again, doing so helps speed up the process of getting dressed, because it usually means you're less likely to have to try on three or four - or more - similar items to find one that, if you're lucky, you're satisfied with).
Once colour and portion have been sorted, it's time for the finishing touches - these are not to be taken lightly, they can make or break a look, and have the potential to elevate it from merely nice to seriously specular. I love accessories - they're the delicious cherries on just about every ensemble I don, and at times, may even (intentionally) be the main dish themselves.
You've probably heard the expression before that you should always take off one accessory before you leave the house. While this can ring true sometimes, generally speaking, I don't pay it much heed at all. If one dresses with purpose and care, you'll likely know when enough is enough, so to speak, while putting your outfit together; there's no need to risk disrupting the balance you're created at the very last minute.
The types and colours of accessories you opt for will depend a lot on what your focal garments (i.e., skirts, blouses, sweaters, dresses) are and where you'll be going that day. Some people like to keep theirs on the understated side of things - perhaps a classic pair of gloves and a sophisticated brooch or a timeless strand of cream pearls. Others might add on some bangle bracelets, a vintage scarf on their head or some eye-catching earrings, and others still feel nearly naked if they're not decked out in accessories from head to bejeweled toe. There's rarely a right or wrong here, it's simply a matter of how many accessories you enjoy wearing at any given time.
Personally, I tend to opt for a medium number, and am never without at least a couple (say, earrings and a few bangles or a brooch and gloves). As a general rule, if the colours (and/or patterns) of your outfit are bold, loud or eye-catching, you'll want to tone down the volume on your accessories (stick with smaller pieces in supporting, rather than competing or contrasting colours. Matching like to like is also a good approach here, as in the case of the vividly hued outfit pictured above.
On the one hand this outfit might seem a little plain if each piece was examined separately, but the primary colours, small pattern of the shirt, and variety of hues at work here, help it add up to cohesive, youthful, lovely (if I may say so myself) ensemble that is anything but boring. Here, I started with a navy blue pencil skirt, red patterned shirt (the shirt has tiny cherries on it), and green cardigan (as there is a little bit of green in the shirt's pattern).
Three bold colours are often plenty, so instead of introducing more, I kept my accessories in the same palette. Red wrist length gloves, a red handbag, red and white shoes, a small red cherry brooch, a simple white headband (there's also white in the shirt), and bangles in colours from the main outfit creates a harmonious flow and a well put together over all look.
Opting for three key colours in an outfit is an approach I take often (I also use it in my crafting, such as when I'm making scrapbook pages, cards or jewelry) and which I highly recommend to one and all as well.
It often helps to start with one or two neutrals (such as black, brown, grey, beige, taupe, navy blue, denim, cream or white) so as to ground the look, then pick any two (or more) colours that you feel partner well both with that neutral and with each other. Of course it's possible to put together an outfit using fewer or more colours, but three is a really good starting place and one that I begin with more days than not.
Let's take a look at another outfit (this was actually the one that Anthea commented on with her question, so it seems extra fitting to include it in this post). At first glance, what jumps out at you most in this photo? Is it the energetic, charming floral print dress with its rainbow of hues? The lilac belt, the red handbag, the stack of different coloured bangle bracelets, the red shrug, or something else? Because the pattern on this dress was eye-catching, I knew that I was going to want to stick to solid coloured accessories in colours that pulled directly from the frock itself.
Having a plethora to pull from, I did just that, but created a second key focal point, the colour red. It appears in the pattern, then says hello again via the shrug, purse, hair flowers and one of the bangles. White, the background colour of the dress was also repeated here via the gloves and shoes, to help tone down the punchy palette a little, but still keep the look fresh and summery, as it should be given the warm, sunny day it was worn on. There are a lot of colours at work here, but none of them are dominating the show completely. They flow well together and work in harmony to create a look that, while bright, is not overpowering.
What about the opposite side of the spectrum, I hear you saying, what about outfits that are more low key and toned down? You bet - I love colour, but I don't go as "all out" with it everyday as in the case of the last outfit by any means, but that doesn't mean that you'll see me in head to toe black very often either. Even when my outfit is on the less vibrant side of things, I'll still usually include at least a couple of different colours, as well as visual interest via the types of fabrics I choice (think of the sheen of velvet or the nubby landscape of tweed, for example, and how they compare to a flatter material such as linen or cotton).
As a whole, whether you enjoy bright, medium, or soft shades (or tend to live in neutrals), colour is a pivotal and highly important factor in the success of an outfit. Of course a LBD or classic solid coloured suit can be fantastic unto itself, but even there, you'll likely find your look comes more alive if you include a little colour via your accessories. It can be as simple as silver or gold jewelry or as a elaborate as a vintage hat with seven different colours on it.
Working in a similar tonal range (for example, in the outfit above, the three key colours are all from the same tonal family), aiming for complimentary colours, or contrasts that still look harmonious are all great ways to put together a look - no matter your favourite decades or styles - that is bound to make you smile when see your own reflection.
Keep the overall time period you're dressing from in mind, too (though, of course, there's nothing wrong with mixing decades/styles in the same outfit), as well as the portions (and fit) of your garments, and you'll be well on the road to knocking out ensemble after ensemble that you absolutely love.
There are few greater compliments to a person's style than being asked how you put together your outfits, and I want to take a moment to sincerely thank Anthea for her question, as well as the other folks who have said similar things to me over the years. I dress from the heart in a way that brings me joy. I follow certain general guidelines of style, but am not afraid to break the rules. I honour the decades I love, but never hesitate to put my own spin on them, and above all else, I never wear anything that I don't, at least in the moment, completely love.
I encourage you to do the same - to experiment, embrace colour, and put together the sort of outfits you love seeing on others yourself. There's no magic or mystery to it, just a little bravery, a well thought out wardrobe, and a handful or two of great accessories - plus your own unique fashion sense, which, after all, is ultimately what is most likely to inspire someone else to take a style cue from you when they see how wonderfully you're dressed.