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Jan 29, 2013

Hone Your Vintage Styling Skills: a Resource Guide!

One of the challenges of putting Cathy in vintage outfits from different eras is accessorizing them correctly and giving her the right period look.

I try not to get too hung up on perfect accuracy (impossible on a tight budget) but rather merely to suggest an era.  This goes beyond the actual garments and extends even into things like posture -- women held themselves very differently in the Thirties than they did in the Seventies, for example.  When given a choice, Cathy sits.

Parenthetically, readers, you'd be shocked to see what my cousin looks like without makeup -- no eyebrows whatsoever. 

Perhaps you too would like to cultivate a vintage look, maybe even inspired by Cathy Lane herself.  How do you know what goes with what?  Were they still wearing tilt hats in the Fifties, or white lipstick in the Seventies, and exactly how long were skirt lengths during WWII?

Obviously we can only do the best we can and may need to compromise.  Cathy insists on modern pantyhose, for example, refusing to have a seam line drawn down the back of her legs with a Sharpie.  And bullet bras?  Fuggitaboutit. 

Much like Claudette Colbert, Cathy prefers to maintain her trademark hairstyle from shoot to shoot; just the occasional trim and weekly Lustre-Creme shampoo is all that's needed.  If you have good vintage hairstyle resources, let us know!

I've compiled a short list of where I find my inspiration, and I hope you'll add some of your own resources too.


Some books in my collection (or which I’ve borrowed from the libary and loved) are “The Way We Wore” by Marsha Hunt, “Unseen Vogue” and “Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look.”  But there are dozens, if not hundreds, of
beautifully illustrated books documenting fashions of the past, and many of these can be picked up inexpensively on Amazon (especially in paperback editions) or found at the library

Old movies

The list of movies that inspire me is practically endless, but a few favorites that come to mind are “The Awful Truth,” "Stage Door," and “The Women” for the 1930’s, “Leave Her to Heaven” and “Cover Girl” for the 1940’s (I love the big title number, embedded below), and “Funny Face” and "Pillow Talk" for the 1950s.  But almost any old movie that has a contemporary story (as opposed to say, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” or “The Ten Commandments”) will yield a treasure trove of vintage fashion inspiration.  

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Now Voyager

Leave Her To Heaven

Mildred Pierce

Of course, once we're in the Fifties, there was TV.  Who hasn't been inspired by Lucy?  (But don't forget Loretta Young!)



Pinterest is an excellent resource for vintage style aficionados.  Search under any star of yesteryear or famous designer and you’ll be overwhelmed by how many fantastic images people have posted.  Sometimes I’ll start a Pinterest board specifically for a project I’m planning and fill it with images that inspire me.  It might start with a pattern, then expand to hats, shoes, furs, the whole nine yards.

A few recent boards I've created are Fabric of the 1940's and Fashion 1939.  I can lose myself very easily on that site!

Vintage magazines, catalogs

These needn’t be expensive, highly collectible issues of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar.  You can find a lot inspiration in many of the less coveted magazines of the era like Life, Good Housekeeping, and Women's Home Companion, that often show up often at flea markets and antique stores for a few bucks apiece.  Pay attention not just to fashion spreads but also to vintage ads.  Old Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs show exactly how many people dressed way back when.  Many bloggers generously scan these and post them on their blogs or directly onto Pinterest, so we all get to enjoy them.


 Pattern Envelopes

I always seek direction from my pattern envelope; it's usually what inspired the project in the first place.  There are often accessories included in the envelope art, and I especially pay attention to the fabric design choice: I figure if the pattern is shown in stripes, stripes would work well, and if it's shown solid, there's a reason.  Of course, all this is not written in stone, but it's a good jumping off place.

Readers, I think that's about it for my sources of vintage style inspiration.

How about yours?  When you're trying to put together a vintage outfit (or even style a photo shoot), where do you go for direction?  Favorite books, movies, magazines, blogs -- all of the above?

Are there particular movies or movie stars whose style has inspired your own?

Do tell!


  1. Oooh, you've really covered all the bases. I also like to look at things in nicely-curated vintage stores. You can see the best of an era in that environment (even if none of it fits!). Have you seen Down With Love (with Ewan Macgregor and Renee Zellweger)? I LOVED the costumes in that movie - and it wasn't even real vintage.

  2. I like to look at our old family albums. You see a lot of great styles in old wedding photos, or baptism photos-- I love the farm photos, too. I like seeing how those hats and gloves looked on my relatives.

  3. Kay Francis. A style icon of the silver screen. Kay's clothes were sometimes more dramatic than her performances or more hilarious. Lenny Bruce cites her in one of his routines when he is talking about a
    truck driving drag queen who wears "Kay Francis hats" I have attached a photo /Users/belfant/Desktop/Bunny Hat.jpeg of Kay in what I call the Bunny Hat that she wore in The Feminine Touch 1941

    1. Here's the hat you mean, I believe. Pretty wild!

  4. Photography books. Many street photography and documentary photo books have great photos of real people. Its nice to contrast these with studio photos.

  5. Bette Davis in the 1940s. Great posture and she walked so beautifully. The clothes of that era are my definition of perfect. I cannot begin to guess how many times I have watched Now Voyager.

    1. I watched that a few weeks ago on AMC, I think that was the channel.

  6. I don't wear vintage clothes, but I love the ones I see in my family photo albums. I had some really stylish relatives. They were affluent so they could buy what they wanted. I also collect vintage photographs for the fashions and also for their homes exterior and interior. In the 1980's I collected vintage hats. I had a large collection and most were in excellent condition. Some were even in their hat box. I gave them all away in the 90's to a guy who said he would cherish them.
    They ranged high end to the more affordable.
    I just love hats but I just didn't have the room or anywhere to display them.

    Oh, and of course I love magazines and old movies.

  7. Books, magazines, films and the pattern envelopes. Also family photos, though many of my 40's era photos are from Europe and so the look is slightly different - significantly less glam, given that my father's family had just gone through a German occupation. My Oma still managed to look quite chic despite their recent privations. Her hair was always lovely and if I grow my hair out I'd want it to look like hers.

  8. Hi Peter, new reader here (as in just a week yet I'm all the way through the first two years and am currently studying the men's shirt sew-along like my life depends on it with plans to start my own shirt when I get my paycheck...TOMORROW!!!).

    The only thing that I could add to this would be Etsy, Etsy, Etsy. Especially if you're not looking for perfect recreations or authentic period pieces (though those can be found as well) it's a great resource for modern pieces inspired by different eras. Also they can be purchased in case some of us aren't up to crafting our own hats, gloves, shoes, bags, etc.

    I recently participated in a murder mystery dinner party where my character was a Lt. Commander in the Queen's Navy circa 1940's. I did plenty of research, and even though I didn't have much leeway with costume choices being a military officer, I made sure that every detail I could find was as accurate as my skills could make them. Etsy and google were two of my biggest resources for both military specifics, and period details in general.

    Loving your blog and enjoying the journey, thanks for everything!


    1. Welcome to MPB, Matthew! Ah, yes, Etsy -- how could I forget? I visit there daily!

  9. I have no clue on vintage style, but your video link reminded me of another fun video. Rita Hayworth Is Stayin' Alive

  10. I know what kind of vintage I like and I see inspiration everywhere but I often struggle with how to wear it. I don't know how to accessorize without looking like I'm wearing a costume- or at least feeling like that's how I look. I end up with some great pieces that hang in the closet away from the world. It doesn't help that I work at a boring place where vintage may not get the appreciation it deserves.

  11. Ok I am going to admit something. I watch Lawrence Welk on pbs to see the clothing, set design, and the colorful choices made for early color tv. I am always amazed and thoughtful afterward. There are some black and white clips with great 50's dresses too. I like the big band somewhat as well. The polyester men's suiting is there in all its glory, and then the audience is shown and we see how it really happened. Great stuff.

  12. A great resource for all things vintage is the Vintage Fashion Guild's web site.

    The public forum is free and open to all. It's a great place to learn about vintage, and to ask questions of experts (including none other fashion historian Jonathan Wolford, author of that wonderful book you show on 40s Fashion, and, less of an expert but no less of a vintage enthusiast, yours truly!). It's a wealth of information.

    Please come check it out:

  13. I'm not a vintage fashion person for the most part--I lived through the "vintage" eras from the 50s on, so I tend to leave the vintage fashions to those who can rock them! I do love the details and construction of vintage fashions, though.

    Granted, I was a young child in the 50s, but I remember that awful red lipstick that was miserable to wash off cups and tumblers!

    White lipstick was in the 60s. It evolved from exceedingly pale pink and peaked at white around the mid-sixties. Probably backlash from the red of the 50s!

    Keep in mind, though, that I was raised in southern California. We had our own styles, to a certain extent.


  14. This site has lots of scans from old magazines (including pincurling diagrams, makeup, lifestyle tips...)

  15. What a great post! So many resources and ideas, thank you!

  16. Old photographs are certainly a good source, too - I recently reasearched (am, in fact, still more or less researching) what active girls and women wore at the sea and hiking etc. in the 1930s - I'm a hiking girl myself, more than the "lounging on the beach" pyjama style - as much as I love some of the pyjamas - and for a number of reasons I became intrigued...
    For me, personally, it's rather important to look at what someone like me would have worn back then. I don't wear make up now, so what would such a girl wear then? That sort of thing. Of course, I have not really tried to emulate a style yet, I'm mostly just looking for inspiration for my today...

  17. P.S. I do not think any celebrity or film inspired my style as such, but I have got the Grace Kelly Style book (V&A, got it in a giveaway), and she's definitely one of my style icons. I like her simple looks.

  18. Try

    They have a fabulous book on vintage hairstyling how tos and a fabulous on vintage makeup.
    Also, Bramcost Publications sells actual beauty school books and beauty manuals from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s...I believe they also have a few Victorian Era hair manuals.


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