To wear vintage is to stand out from the crowd and develop a unique sartorial style. By shopping for vintage, we are buying out of the disposable fast fashion economy.

Buying and dressing in vintage are fast becoming popular as an ethical, fashionable and stylish choice.

Buying vintage is also an inexpensive way to acquire high-quality designer pieces for your wardrobe. You can find fabulous vintage pieces in thrift shops, markets, specialist vintage stores and online – and sometimes, in our own wardrobes!

For more hints and tips, see Madeleine’s piece on thrift shopping.

But this begs the question…

How do we incorporate vintage pieces into our everyday wardrobes?

Many of us dread the question: “are you going to a fancy dress party?”

Vintage fashion has a reputation for bold patterns, unseasonable colours, and the scent of mothballs. But this need not be the case!

For Stylish Academics, wearing vintage is a fabulous way of shopping ethically and adding some unique style to your casual and work wardrobes.

Vintage garments can be worn for teaching, conferences, graduations and any and every social occasion!    

Stylish Academic Fashion Editor Madeleine Seys shares some advice for incorporating fabulous vintage pieces into your everyday wardrobe (and ridding them of the dreaded smell of mothballs!)

#1 Embrace the style!

The most obvious way of wearing vintage is to completely embrace the aesthetic!

Many lovers of vintage relish this, collecting coordinating garments, accessories and personal stylising to create an entire vintage look; the Pinup style is one such example.

Some people favour a style or period of fashion, while others have wardrobes that resemble a fashion timeline.

Recreating a vintage look may be as outrageous or retrained. The 1970s are fabulous for their bold colours and patterns and lightweight fabrics; 1970s pieces for all genders are readily available in vintage stores and are so easy to wear and care for. 1980s’ fashion is also popular, and power suits make awesome workwear for the stylish academic! My wardrobe contains pieces from the late 1940s through to the 1990s. Sometimes I wear entirely vintage outfits; other days I contrast a vintage with other styles.     

#2 Pare/pair it down!

The easiest way to incorporate vintage fashion in your day-to-day wardrobe is to pare it down by pairing one piece with a new ensemble.

A 1970s’ shirt looks great with a suit, or with jeans and a jacket – adding a certain hint of vintage flair without looking like you have stepped off the set of That ‘70s Show.

The same principle applies to a vintage blazer or coat worn with a plain skirt or trousers and t-shirt.

Dresses can be pared down with a simple and plain pair of shoes. Likewise, vintage trousers, skirts or suits are easily elegant with a plain shirt.

A vintage tie or scarf adds a pop of colour and character to a basic outfit.

When pairing a vintage piece with newer garments in your wardrobe, experiment with contrasting patterns with plainer garments, or alternatively, with pattern or colour blocking.

Contrasting different textures is also a great way to wear vintage – leather and velvet, silk and denim, flannel and satin, faux fur with viyella.

Contrast is also a way of celebrating your vintage pieces and making them stand out.  

#3 Contrast it!

If your style runs more to the eclectic than the restrained, contrast your vintage pieces with each other, or with newer pieces.

Pair a 1960s swing dress with a pair of sneakers or combat boots. How about a tweed suit with a 1980s’ band t-shirt? The pattern of a 1970s’ shirt or jumper contrasts well with classic black wool.

Try wearing a velvet vest open over a plain shirt. A twin-set loses its association with demure femininity when worn with a leather skirt.

A mid-twentieth-century cape is the perfect – and perfectly warm – outer layer for any ensemble!

An oversized jumper looks great with slim-fitting trousers.

The silhouettes of the 1940s and 1970s complement each other perfectly, likewise the 1960s and 1990s.

A 1980s bomber jacket looks great over a simple shift dress, or a wool pea coat and denim cut-offs. 

The possibilities are only limited by your bravery and your imagination!       

#4 Alter the style!

There are simple ways that you can alter vintage or second-hand garments to make them more wearable. Removing shoulder pads, replacing or removing buttons or simply dying a garment are easy ways of altering the style of a vintage piece.

Dying is an excellent solution for a faded garment – but be careful that you choose the right kind of dye for the fibre.

More substantial alternations to the shape, fit and style of a piece can be done by an experienced home sewer or a tailor.  

But be careful, a substantial, ill-judged or botched alteration or dye job can irrevocably damage a vintage garment and significantly lower its value.

If a piece requires significant alteration to suit your body and your style, ask yourself, is it truly for you? Maybe put it back or pass it on, and let it live out is fabulous vintage life with someone else.   

#5 Re-examine classic pieces!

Our own wardrobes can be a great source of vintage inspiration. Regularly return to your favourite pieces and experiment with new ways of styling them!

And finally, to rid your fabulous vintage piece of the smell of moth balls, seal it in a plastic bag with an open box of bicarbonate of soda for a day or so. The soda will absorb the smell.

Whatever approach you take, incorporating vintage pieces is a great way to bring character and style to your work and casual wardrobes, and to shop ethically.


Dr. Madeleine C. Seys is a lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide where she teaches pre-twentieth-century literature, popular culture, and fashion. She has a reputation as a stylish and somewhat eccentric academic, with a collection of outrageous jackets, well-cut suits, and unusual jewelry. She is also the Fashion Editor at Stylish Academic.