There’s something about a vintage-inspired dress from a bygone era that’s just so fun. Whether you’re going for that pinup girl style or want something that looks like a cool structured suit dress from the 1940s, vintage fashion will always have a place in our hearts. And if you’re thinking about adding a few vintage pieces to your wardrobe, we’ve got some great recommendations that won’t require heading to your local thrift store or an estate sale. Check out these amazing vintage dresses.
Buying Guide for the Best Vintage Dresses
Why buy a vintage dress?
Some people buy vintage dresses because they’re heading to a themed event like a swing dance, and they want to look the part. And then there are some people who genuinely enjoy dressing like they’re from a bygone era. Whichever camp you fall into, vintage dresses—or rather vintage-inspired dresses—still have a place within modern fashion. While you can buy authentic vintage dresses, this can be expensive depending on the quality of the materials and the current state of the dress. Thankfully, there are plenty of brands that cater to recreating timeless looks from previous decades.
What should you consider when shopping for a vintage dress?
- The Era: While a lot of people automatically picture the 1930s through the 1950s when they hear the phrase “vintage dress,” this isn’t entirely accurate. Although those decades would qualify, technically, anything more than a decade old could qualify as vintage. So, clothing that mimics popular styles from the 1970s, 1980s, and even the 1990s could also fall under this category.
- Fit: Once you’ve decided which era you’re targeting, dress shopping becomes pretty standard. So, think about whether you want a fitted dress, one that’s a sheath (very popular for the 1920s), or a fit and flare style. Consider what you plan to do while wearing the dress and try to pick an option that allows for the most movement depending on those goals.
- Neckline: Depending on the era and the general style you’re looking to create, necklines can vary widely. While you can opt for high-neck or low-cut dresses, popular options (depending on the era) can range from v-neck to boat neck and more.
- Material: These days, you can find vintage-inspired clothing that’s made with modern goals in mind. This means you can get fitted dresses made from stretchy or more breathable materials for added comfort. However, if your budget allows, you can still opt for traditional materials that would have been used during the era.
- Undergarments: This tends to be an issue specifically if you’re looking at buying dresses pulled from the late 1940s through the 1950s. In particular, if you’re trying to be accurate to the era, swing dresses will require petticoats to recreate the fuller skirts. However, the dresses can be worn without petticoats if you prefer.
Are vintage dresses expensive?
If you’re buying authentic vintage dresses that were made during a specific period, they can be pricey. But this will still depend on the quality of the materials, as well as if the dress is in good condition. However, you can find affordable vintage-inspired dresses made in modern times that won’t break the bank but will let you channel a time now passed.
Our Picks for the Best Vintage Dresses
Pros: If you’re trying to focus on comfort, you can’t go wrong with a prairie dress. This modern twist on the classic prairie dress features soft puff sleeves that you can shorten if you prefer and a low square neckline and back. Choose from a wide range of colors and note that it’s partially lined throughout the skirt for modesty.
Cons: Vintage purists will feel like this isn’t quite accurate enough to qualify as a true prairie dress. Also note that this dress is not made from stretch material, even though it features a gathered design throughout the bodice.
Bottom Line: If you’re easing into the vintage fashion world, this is a great starter option that’s still firmly rooted in the modern age. But the lack of stretch may be an issue for some.
Pros: If you’ve browsed the vintage fashion world long enough, you’re familiar with Grace Karin. They’re a brand that’s made a name for themselves with vintage-inspired clothing made from modern stretchy fabrics. This ’50s-inspired pencil dress is a perfect example. Available in a wide range of prints and solid options, it features a nipped waist, cap sleeves, and a notched collar neckline.
Cons: As is common with many online retailers, don’t be surprised that you might have to size up when shopping from this brand. While this dress is intended to fit close to the body, you’ll want to go up a size for comfort.
Bottom Line: You can’t go wrong with Grace Karin if you’re yearning for a vintage-inspired dress. Just be sure to go up a size from your true size so that you can close the zipper.
Pros: For those who want a dress that offers plenty of movement with the elegance of a vintage dress, this classic 1950s swing dress is a solid option. Featuring a tie-front design, 3/4 sleeve length, and a knee-length skirt, this is a solid option that can easily work for swing dances, cocktail parties, and everything in between. To really sell the look, you’ll want to get a petticoat to show off that full skirt.
Cons: We did note that some shoppers expressed that the fabric was scratchy and heavy, which might not make it ideal for a night of intense dancing. Others mentioned that the arms could be a bit tight as well.
Bottom Line: A full skirt and a fun wrap front v-neck design make this a solid choice for that 1950s full-skirted dress. Just note that the scratchy fabric might make some people pause before adding it to their shopping cart.
Pros: There are some terms that are pretty common when you’re shopping for vintage 1950s-style dresses. And one such word is “rockabilly.” It almost always refers to early ’50s style and isn’t just limited to full skirt styles like this fun boatneck capped sleeve dress. With a wide selection of prints and solid colors to choose from and a cute bow detail at the waist, this is a cute addition to any retro wardrobe collection.
Cons: If you want the full skirt effect as shown in the product images, you’ll need to invest in a petticoat which is sold separately. Others noted that the dress has a tendency to run small, so you’ll want to size up for comfort.
Bottom Line: This fun boatneck cap-sleeved swing dress is a great option that comes in a wide range of colors and prints. But just know you’ll need a petticoat for that full skirt look, and you might want to go up a size.
Pros: If you’re looking for a vintage-inspired dress that can also work in everyday life, then this fun sleeveless boatneck tea dress from Grace Karin is a strong contender. It comes with a belt, and even if you choose not to invest in a petticoat, the dress still looks fantastic on.
Cons: If you’re going for that full skirt effect, you’ll need to buy a petticoat. Likewise, it’s a good idea to go up one size, as this brand tends to run small.
Bottom Line: Once again, Grace Karin is a popular choice for vintage-inspired clothing, and this dress won’t disappoint. You’ll just need to buy a petticoat if you want a full skirt effect.
Vintage looks aren’t going anywhere any time soon. And our quick selection of styles is proof of that. Whether you’re all about the 1950s or are interested in exploring fashion from other eras, there’s something for everyone.