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The Knowledge: Dawn O’ Porter on how to make vintage fashion work for you

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Dawn O' Porter: "There’s nothing better than wearing a 1970s maxidress in the summer"

Dawn O’ Porter: “There’s nothing better than wearing a 1970s maxidress in the summer” Photo: GETTY

Buy clothes you love
Vintage is timeless and if you give it a go you will rarely get bored with your wardrobe. I think a lot of people spend money on clothes they don’t love, and there is a throwaway culture that encourages us to change our look every six months. Vintage fashion is about creating a sense of style that is different to everyone else and buying pieces that you want to keep forever. Be unique and invest in quality.

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Get to know your tailor
Don’t disregard an item just because it’s not the right size or shape – buy it and alter it to fit. Use your imagination: if you find a dress in a fantastic pattern but completely the wrong size, perhaps it could be transformed into a skirt or a blouse. If a brilliant shirt has a rip or stain on the arm, could it work sleeveless? I can tack a hem if I need to, but for construction work I take my garments to the tailor, who is the man in my local dry-cleaner’s. It’s worth spending an extra £8 to £15 on making the piece fit perfectly. I recommend keeping the excess fabric for seam allowance when making a garment smaller, which means that the garment can always be taken out again if need be.

READ: The secret of the Duchess of Cambridge’s elegantly tailored style? Alterations

Find silhouettes to suit
Always try on vintage clothing, and if you are shopping online (I love eBay and Juno Says Hello ) make sure you know your full measurements. I’m an apple shape, which means I carry most of my weight around the middle. My go-to outfits are shift and empire dresses from the 1950s and 1960s that skim flatteringly over the tummy. For pear-shaped girls pretty much anything A-line will look great, as it hides weight around the hips and thighs, or try a Dior New Look-inspired silhouette from the 1950s with a defined waist and full skirt. A 1950s wiggle dress or pencil skirt that accentuate the waist are brilliant for hour-glass figures – a tight fit avoids a frumpy shape. A skinny frame can carry off the androgynous flapper look from the 1920s better than any other shape. Partner a loose dress with big heels for glamour.


1950s navy blue silk faille dress with hidden pockets from Juno Says Hello

Styling plus-size and petite shapes
For women who are size 16 plus, 1940s tea dresses are great because they are loose-fitting but feminine. Buy trousers that fit you perfectly from the high street and find a boldly patterned 1980s shift top to wear for a daytime look. Fabrics such as silk and jersey drape flatteringly over curves – look to Jean Muir’s designs from the 1960s for inspiration. For petite girls, coats from the early 1960s are awesome, as the sleeves are three-quarter length and the detailing is minimal. A late-1950s hostess dress that gathers at the waist should fall around the knee on petite women. There’s nothing better than wearing a 1970s maxidress in the summer. If you are plus-sized or petite, avoid looking swamped by lots of fabric by choosing one that is slim fitting and follows the shape of your body.

Dawn O’Porter presents ” This Old Thing ” on Channel 4. The accompanying book is available now

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