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Ask Amber | How to Put a Modern Twist on Vintage Style

Posted on 6 min read

I

t’s question time, again, folks! A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from lovely reader, Linnea, who wrote:

As a fellow almost petite mum who feels that a large part of my wardrobe just feels wrong/don’t like a lot of my clothes anymore, do you have any tips on outfits that are grown up/office friendly but still have that vintage feel?
I’m 36 and dresses with ruffles and bows just don’t feel me anymore.

And, honestly, guys, I can’t even tell you how much I relate to this question. I mean, I’m going to TRY obviously, but I probably won’t succeed, because I relate to it a LOT. A LOT lot.

Zara green midi dress with voluminous sleeves
My own post-partum wardrobe crisis started early. Almost two years before Max was born, in fact. (What can I say, I like to be prepared, and I had to schedule in time for it in between other pressing issues like, ‘Wondering if the baby’s head is the right shape?’ and ‘Comparing myself to other new mums on Instagram and wondering how come they totally look like they’ve got their act together, while I’m still wondering if sleeping in my clothes would be acceptable?”)  That was roughly when Terry and I started to entertain the thought of possibly having a baby, and, in related news, it was also when I started to feel that approximately 90% of my wardrobe was desperately in need of being set on fire.

And, I mean, it’s possible that this would’ve happened anyway. Your taste changes as you get older, obviously, but, in my case, the thought that I could one day be someone’s mother definitely made me take a long, hard look at myself, and think, “Does this REALLY look like someone who should be in charge of a small child?” The answer to that one? A hard NO, basically: and I want to say at this point, before you all start yelling at me, that this had absolutely nothing to do with the concept of “age-appropriate dressing” or anything like that.  I still firmly believe that people should wear whatever the hell they want – regardless of their age – and some of the most stylish people I know have a bunch of kids, so I’ve never subscribed to the idea that mums have to dress a certain way, either. So why was I suddenly feeling the urge to burn down my closet?

green midi dress outfit
Well, because it just didn’t feel like ME any more, basically. And it’s a tough one, because, theoretically, I still like everything. I mean, I flip through my closet, and I’m like, “Yup: love you! And you! And, ooh, lookit you!” But then I actually put the thing on, and it’s all just a bit meh, really. Like Linnea, I don’t really feel the retro-inspired look is quite right for me any more, so while I’m still wearing some of my favourite pieces, and borrowing elements of that style, at the time of writing, a large percentage of my closet is stuffed into bags and hidden under the stairs, while I work out what the hell to do with it.

In the meantime, I’ve been on the lookout for pieces that are a bit more… I want to use the word “sophisticated” here, but I’m really aware that doing that will imply that the full-on retro look is UNsophisticated, and I don’t think that at all. Linnea described her particular dilemma as wanting to look more “grown up”, and honesty, I think that’s where I’m at, too. Being self-employed, I obviously don’t have any need to be “office appropriate”, but I would like to look like an actual adult, who is good at adulting, and while I know lots of people who do exactly that, while still sticking to a very retro-inspired look, I’m just not one of them. So, here’s what I’ve been doing instead, in a bid to unlock the “Dressing Like a Grown-Up” achievement while giving a nod to the pin-up inspired style that I still love, even although it doesn’t really work all that well with my current lifestyle…

Green full-skirted midi dress with gold wedges
01.

Shop on the high street, rather than in speciality stores

I feel like a bit of a cad for saying this, because I’ve spent the last few years singing the praises of retro-reproduction brands, who are still some of my all-time favourites. The problem (If it can be called that) with these brands, however, is that their aim is to make clothes that faithfully recreate vintage styles: that’s FANTASTIC if that’s what you’re after, but it can also end up looking ever-so-slightly costumey if it’s not. The good news, though, is that you can find a lot of retro-inspired pieces on the good ol’ high street, and, because they’re aiming at a much broader target market, those items can often capture a vintage feel, while using modern cuts and fabrics. The green dress in this post, for instance, was from Zara, and while I wouldn’t describe it as “vintage-inspired”, exactly, it does have a huge, swishy circle skirt, and nipped-in waist, which creates that 50s-style silhouette, without making you look like you’ve dressed up as Betty Draper for Halloween.

(Note to self: dress up as Betty Draper for Halloween.)

Brands like Boden and ASOS, meanwhile, also make great use of retro-inspired silhouettes, but will put their own, slightly more contemporary twist on them. If you search for things like “midi skirt” or “tea dress”, for instance, you should find quite a few things that are a little bit vintage, but which won’t make you feel like you’re wearing fancy dress.

Boden Antonia dress in blue polka dot
02.

Look for specific prints and patterns

Another way to give a modern wardrobe a vintage feel – or vice versa – is to look for prints and patterns that are associated with the “retro” look, without necessarily being a retro-inspired style themselves. My Boden Antonia dress is a good example of what I mean, here: again, it’s not really a particularly “vintage” cut, but the polka dot print gives it a vaguely retro feel, and I find that polka dots have a way of doing that for just about ANYTHING. The same could be said for gingham and stripes – they’re prints that people tend to associate with vintage style, so clothes with any of those three prints are a really easy way to get the retro look from a modern wardrobe. I personally think that polka dots and stripes are pretty classic, so it’s easy enough to make them feel office-appropriate (Not that I’ve tried, you understand…); novelty prints, on the other hand, can be a little trickier in that respect, so I’ve been sticking to either classic prints, or block colours instead.

03.

Go easy on the hair and makeup

I mean, you’ll prise my red lipstick out of my cold, dead hands, but these days, if I’m wearing something retro-inspired, I’ll normally go with more subtle hair and makeup than I might have done back at the height of my retro-obsession. Again, I really love vintage-style hair and makeup looks on other people, but those looks can be hard to get right, and – on me, at least – I find them a really easy way to tip a simple, 50s-inspired dress into “costume party” territory, so you won’t be seeing me in victory rolls anytime soon. (I mean, I say that as if I have ANY CLUE AT ALL how to actually achieve those looks, which, HAHANOPE.)

Similarly, to look at this one another way, I also find that a red lip and winged eyeliner will make even a pair of worn-out sweatpants look a little bit “retro”, so, you know, that’s worth bearing in mind too.

04.

And go with modern shoes and accessories

This is an easy one for me, because while I’ve always loved retro-inspired clothes, I’m not so keen on the shoes. Again, this is a good thing in my case, because wearing vintage clothes with modern footwear is another easy way to tone down the, er, retro-ness of the look (YES IT IS A WORD), and what could otherwise have been a 50s-style dress, say, just becomes, well, a nice dress. Which is just fine by me.

 *   *  *

Will any of these tips make you look/feel like a “grown up”, though? Er, I mean, they haven’t done it for me yet, to be honest: I still feel about 12 most of the time, and about 102 the rest of the time. So that’s awesome, for sure. This, however, is where my awesome readers come in, so if there’s anyone out there who has some more tips for Linnea on how to put a grown-up/office appropriate spin on the vintage look, I’m sure she’d love to hear them. And, well, so would I

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11 Comments
  • last year's girl
    July 9, 2018

    I can’t help smiling my way through this post, because your look has always seemed to me like the epitome of sophisticated style… but then, I am a 36-year-old who describes her day-to-day look as “children’s party entertainer” (despite working in THE most corporate of corporate environments) so I’ll forgive you if you refuse to accept that compliment.

    I hope Linnea got what she needed from this post – your Boden dresses always look incredible, so I reckon that’s an excellent shout.

    x

  • Paula Rhodes
    July 9, 2018

    Yes!!! Until now, I couldn’t put my finger on it. But you have helped me figure out what was bothering me about my retro-inspired outfits. Love your suggestions for making these skirts and dresses more wearable in regular life. Thank you so much!!!!

  • Myra Boyle
    July 9, 2018

    This post has surprised me. I love how you dress although I get that you feel too dressy at times, especially with a baby who might be sick all over a beautiful dress at any time. You do need to be a bit more practical I suppose, but when I read this I thought of Angela Strawbeidge in Escape to the Chateau (which I love). She is very creative and artistic and is married to a fat middle aged engineer. They have two young children and she varies from dungarees when working on a really dirty job in their chateau to the most vivid and colourful apparel you’ve ever seen at all other times. Just keep on being you and loving clothes, whatever you choose.

  • Linnea
    July 10, 2018

    Thank you so much Amber! 💕😃 I love all your ideas like borrowing elements of that style, patterns and such but with modern shoes and bags. I will use all these tips for sure!

  • Melissa
    July 11, 2018

    I completely relate to this. Tho I have never gone super retro, I’m always trying to find that balance. My usual method is a retro inspired skirt/trousers, with a high street blouse or top. I often wear a collectif skirt with a plain navy top from Oasis, today my new Hell Bunny Capris will be teamed with a Pepperberry top. Sometimes I wear more retro tops with ordinary jeans, but for some reason it feels easier to go retro in the bottom half.

  • Erika
    July 11, 2018

    I’ve been a long time reader of yours and have enjoyed seeing your style through the years. I too can relate to all of this. I once thought my style would never change, then a few years later, I’m like who even am I?

  • Erika
    July 11, 2018

    I’ve been a long time reader of yours and have enjoyed seeing your style through the years. I too can relate to all of this. I once thought my style would never change, then a few years later, I’m like who even am I?

  • Elaine Fraschini
    July 14, 2018

    I love your style! You always look sophisticated and put together.
    If you’ve got bags of clothes you don’t know what to do with, you should sell them on something like depop! Im sure all your readers would want in on the action!

  • Cecilia
    July 15, 2018

    Hi Amber and fellow followers!

    I read this post and was so thrilled with the tips on how to add elements of a style to your look, to avoid feeling costumey and also to get braver with your outfits, which is my challenge. I saw Rachel Khoo, who is a cooking idol of mine, on Insta wearing the brand Sugarhill Brighton, and I think you Amber and perhaps some of the followers would like to check it out. Haven’t tried it myself, just thought of this discussion when I saw the picture. Hope you don’t mind.

  • Caga
    August 2, 2018

    Hi amber I always love your style, you always come with stunning fashion and great fashion ideas.

  • claireLewis
    August 13, 2018

    I am facing 6 months of getting bigger in my third pregnancy!… maternity fashion seems to improve year on year and I have enjoyed your maternity fashion blogs. Where would you recommend shopping? Im same age size 12 and seem only to find the basics or evening wear, help!!!!!

AD | Time for a quick game of “Where’s Amber?”⁣
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It’s another rainy Monday, so I’m throwing it back to our trip to @universalorlando ‘s amazing Volcano Bay water park last month. I’m a bit of a scaredy when it comes to water flumes, but this park had tons of stuff for pretty much everyone: plenty of rides for me, and an amazing splash pad for Max 👶In fact, I’d still be on The Fearless River right now if I possibly could be. Still, doing the laundry and turning the heating on will be just as good, right? Right?! 🌋 🏊‍♀️ .
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#universalorlando #volcanobay #waterpark #lazyriver #vacay #floridavacay

AD | Time for a...

Good news! We took Max to hospital this morning, and saw two different surgeons, who agreed there was no need to go ahead with the surgery as his lip is healing really well on its own 😅  He’ll definitely have a scar, unfortunately, but that would’ve been the case whether he’d had the surgery or not, and if it turns out to be worse than anticipated, we’ll have the option to have it corrected under local anaesthetic when he’s older. ⁣
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I’m still really upset that this happened in the first place, obviously, but so relieved that we don’t have to put him through a general anaesthetic, and just incredibly grateful that it wasn’t anything worse. I know some parents have to deal with much more serious stuff than this, and my heart goes out to you all: it’s been a rough couple of days, and I’m really grateful to everyone who took the time to comment on yesterday’s post - your stories were so comforting when I was panicking yesterday ❤️ ⁣
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(Old photo, obviously: every time Max sees the selfie camera, he thinks it’s going to be one of those filters where you open your mouth and something happens 😂)⁣
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#pbloggers #mummybloggers #mummybloggersuk #ukmumblog #mumblogsuk #mumblogs #mamablog #ukparentbloggers #parentbloggersuk #ukparentingblog #parentingbloggers #motherhoodblogger #motherhoodblog #ukblogger #ukofficialblogger #happyblogger #mummyblog #bloggerclubuk #instamum

Good news! We took Max...

Totally unrelated photo, but we’ve just spent the morning in Accident & Emergency with Max, who fell on the path outside the house and split his lip open 😥 ⁣
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They tried to stitch it up at A&E, but it was totally impossible with him awake, so they’ve booked him in to have it done under general anaesthetic tomorrow ... Max is absolutely fine: the bleeding stopped quickly, he doesn’t seem to be in pain, and is just his normal, happy little self. I, on the other hand, am a complete wreck: the plastic surgeon he saw today reckons if we don’t have it fixed, his lip will be crooked when it heals, but I’m absolutely *terrified* of the thought of my baby having to have a GA. ⁣
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If you’re a long-time follower, you might know that I have a full-blown phobia of general anaesthetic (I literally had an elective c-section in order to eliminate the possibility of an emergency one, which might have had to be done under GA), so I just can’t get my head to accept that it’s safe and he’ll be fine 😥 ⁣
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Positive stories and advice very welcome: I’m just so terrified, I can’t even imagine how to get through the next 24 hours 😥😥😥

Totally unrelated photo, but we’ve...

#throwbackthursday to last week, when I needed a sunhat and SPF 50 to leave the house, rather than the current raincoat and wellies situation. Can you tell the post-holiday blues are still in full swing over here? 🌧 .
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#whatiwear #30plusblogs #everydaystyle #realoutfitgram  #scottishbloggers #fashionblogger  #fashionblog #fashionstyle #whatimwearing #stylegram  #outfitoftheday #personalstyle #todayiamwearing #styleinspiration 
#stylediaries #styleblogger #over30style

#throwbackthursday to last week, when...

I posted this on Stories over the weekend, but he looked so cute in it I figured it deserved a spot on the grid, too! This is Max all ready for his friend Eleah’s 1st birthday party on Saturday: despite the jetlag and his continuing obsession with doors of all kinds (He had an entire soft play at his disposal, but he mostly just wanted to open and close the gate into it...) he had an absolute ball, and spent the whole drive home shouting, “HAPPY! HAPPY!” Thanks to @thestirlingstyle for a great party 🥳 🎈 🎉 . (Oh, and that’s his hairbrush in his hand - boy likes to look his best 😉)
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#littlepiecesofchildhood #cameramama #chikdhoodeveryday #childofig #celebrate_childhood #babieswithstyle #ootdkids #fashionbaby #trendykids

I posted this on Stories...

We’re back home in not-so-sunny Scotland, but my feed is still stuck in Florida... New post is up on the blog (direct link in Stories..), talking about how we’ve been dealing with toddler jetlag, and why I always hate coming home after a trip...
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#myunicornlife #lifecolorfully #liveauthentic  #ABMlifeissweet #ABMhappylife #ABMlifeiscolorful #howyouglow #makeyousmilestyle #thegoodlist #thecolorwallproject #colorsplash #colorworld #colorsplurge #lovecolors #jj_colorlove #gf_colour #huntgramcolor #jj_colorful #tv_colors #pocketcolors #sunnypicchallenge #colorhunters #colorgram #colorfulllife #colorinspiration #brightcolors #colormyworld #colorinspiration #womeninframe #ihavethisthingforwalls

We’re back home in not-so-sunny...

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