The past hundred years of Fashion present a dizzying array of silhouettes. The dropped waist of the 20s, the broad shoulder of the 40s, the nipped waist of the 50s.....bell bottoms, maxi dresses, leg o mutton sleeves and on and on… The beauty of wearing vintage is that it offers endless choices with something to suit every taste. This variety works perfectly in todays fashion world, women are no longer slaves to fashion dictates as they were in the past. Fashion trends of the past were often so strict they became virtual mandates. Hem lengths were were exact, silhouettes very limited. Not so today, and thank heavens for that. Trends will always be a part of popular culture, that's a given, but they no longer hold the power they once did. This is great news when it comes to silhouette because body types are so varied. What looks good on one person may be disasterous on someone else. When shopping for vintage you will find silhouettes to suit every body type body type... but how do you determine whats right for you?.
I love the 1920s boyish look but with the curves my maker gave me I look like a shapeless matron in nearly every dropped waist sheath I try on. Here are a few modest guidelines from the 1920s to the 50s to help you choose a vintage style that suits you.
Starting with the 1920s. We all know the sheath style flapper look. This is one of the few styles that demands the tiniest bust possible. Especially if you have small shoulders. During the twenties it was common for women to actually bind their breasts. Narrow hips are ideal and a defined waist line is ..well….wasted as no one will see it.
1920s flapper style ...narrow hips, small bust - waist can be slim or thick it doesn’t matter
The bias cut dresses of the 1930s will show off every curve you own. They look gorgeous on a long slim frame but the good news is that they can be stunning on a curvy figure as well. If your curves are unruly the secret here is to wear undergarments that smooth and tame them so the bias glides over. Personally I think bias cut crepe dresses in darker shades are some of the most slimming garments ever invented. I am fond of the simple ones with little embellishment. The day dresses look beautiful with sweaters and jackets. I look for the more simple pieces with very little embellishment so I can accessories!
1930s bias dresses... a variety of shapes and curves are fine BUT smoothing out curves with the proper undergarments is a must
During the 40s the shoulders were wide, the waist defined and the skirts modestly narrow. This is a perfect era for those with narrow or sloped shoulders. On the other hand it can be disastrous on a naturally broad shouldered woman. The broad shoulders are also good for creating the illusion of a smaller waist line. So if you have narrow shoulders and a slightly thick waist look for 40s jackets in your size to team up with modern skirts and pants. The 1940s look is also good on petite women. The obvious shoulder line draws the eye up Peplums on jackets and slim skirts give an appearance of length.
1940s...average to smaller shoulders work best, A variety of figures including curvy will work. Good for petites.
The 1950s brought in the impossibly small waist and full skirt. Also most of these dresses have VERY full bust lines. This is one of the figure issues that is easily remedied. I tell the girls who come into the shop "that’s why God made socks". (you may however prefer a padded bra ) The tiny waist is not that easily dealt with. Even if the dress is let out the look may not be flattering because of the full skirt. On the other hand if you DO have a small waist and pronounced hips this is a great look for you. The full skirts are wonderful at hiding the hip size.
1950s... "New Look"- smaller waist is usually important. The hips are hidden under the skirt and usually a crinoline as well so size does not matter. A small bust will probably need to be padded.
Mini skirts require shapely legs
Hip huggers belong on gals with a lean torso
Victorian lace looks beautiful on everyone
Wild Pucciesque designs must be carefully considered if you are not slim
The A-line dress compliments most figures
As I said these are just a few pointers. My best advice is for you to go and try things on. Most Vintage shop keepers are only to happy to help you find your true vintage silhouette!