How to do vintage fashion over 50: great expert tips on how to wear it with style

Now that vintage is simply an alternative to buying new, you may feel hesitant to try it, for fear of looking like you’re stuck in a time warp or dressed in costume. But older pieces can lend a unique quality and style to an off-the-peg outfit.

For 50-something women, vintage fashion didn’t exist when we were growing up. There were jumble sales and second-hand clothes, and only the most creative and eccentric dressers were interested in those.

“People view vintage as a niche, but I see it as clothing like any other – it’s just been around for longer,” says fashion journalist and stylist Lynnette Peck, who owns Lovely’s Vintage Emporium, an award-winning online vintage store.

Wearing vintage to feel visible again

“Vintage probably isn’t for the majority of people,” she acknowledges. “It’s not for those who are happy wearing the same as everyone else. It’s for the person who wants something different to the crowd.

“For older women who feel their figure and hair is no longer what it was, vintage can be a way to feel visible again.”

Vintage dresses. 70s-inspired Jax dress. 60s-inspired Ophelia shift 500x500
70s-inspired navy Jax dress and charcoal 60s-inspired Ophelia shift from Dawn’s own range, BOB

Dawn O’Porter agrees that the great thing about vintage is finding unique pieces that no one else has. On her Channel 4 series This Old Thing, she showed how to shop for vintage and how basic sewing techniques can transform unloved garments into stylish new pieces.

Dawn now sells carefully sourced vintage clothes and her own vintage-inspired range from her BOB, her website and her pop-up shop in Soho. Her advice is: “Buy your essentials, like trousers and shoes, at the shops you know and trust, then look for fun vintage highlights for your wardrobe.”

“There are so many ways to mix vintage into your existing wardrobe. Maybe a great 70s shift with a novelty print and a pussy-bow neck tie, or a 60s jacket with cropped sleeves and a scalloped neckline.”

How to start wearing vintage

Accessories are a good starting point for the vintage virgin, says Lynnette. “I have a 60s handbag with jewelled owls on the side. It cost me £20 and I bought it because I love it, but people are always asking me about it. It’s a real conversation-starter.

“Use vintage to emphasise the bits of your figure you like. If you have a lovely, long neck, wear that string of pearls. Slim waist? A 50s dress will show it off beautifully.”

Dawn says autumn/winter is a good time to take the plunge by looking at warm separates. “Winter vintage is so fun. Gorgeous thick knit jumpers and cardigans are a great place to start.”

Vintage costs. John Anthony for Bergdorf Goodman. 1970s checked coat. Lovely's Vintage Emporium
Winter vintage: couture John Anthony for Bergdorf Goodman coat (left) and 1970s checked coat, both from Lovely’s Vintage Emporium

Don’t wear top-to-toe vintage, warns Lynnette, and don’t be tempted to wear vintage make-up. She says: “It ages you and places you in the past. Keep up with modern make-up formulations and techniques.”

Dress for your personality, not your age

Dawn has no patience with the old adage that if you wore it ‘the first time round’ you shouldn’t wear it again: “We are talking about great clothes. If they’re still in good condition, just wear them. I’m a firm believer that if an outfit makes you feel good, you should wear it.”

Lynnette agrees the feel-good factor is vital, because you won’t wear it if you don’t feel comfortable in it: “If you’re looking at 80s dresses, for example, and you don’t feel up to something bright red with shoulder pads, look at more understated designers such as Nicole Farhi and Armani.”

The designer vintage at Liberty has an excellent edit of pieces, including accessories, if going down the designer route sounds like a much safer option for doing vintage the grown-up way.

Vintage style. Vintage Cartier watch and 1990s Cabouchon bracelet. Lovely's Vintage
Vintage accessories: Cartier watch and 1990s Cabouchon bracelet, both from Lovely’s Vintage Emporium

Condition and fit of the garment

You can get away with wearing shabby clothes when you’re young, but not when you’re older, so only buy a piece if it’s in good condition.

“Fit is key when you’re older, and getting pieces tailored to fit will make you look more put-together,” says Lynnette. “If you see a piece you like that’s too big, buy it and have it altered.”

Dawn advises taking a few pieces to some dressmakers and testing their skills. “Anything that’s more than a simple ‘in or out’ takes skill. I take a lot to a local dry cleaners but not anything valuable or complicated. Your relationship with your tailor should be like the one with your hairdresser: you have to trust them.”

Good examples: celebrities in vintage

Lots of celebrities wear vintage, says Lynnette, but you wouldn’t know; what you see is a elegant, glamorous and confident woman. She cites Emma Thompson in vintage Lanvin on the red carpet as a good example.

For Dawn, Tilda Swinton is the finest example of how to wear vintage. “She treats fashion like art. She has no limits and I love how theatrical she is.

“We can’t all look and dress like Tilda, but we can take inspiration from her on how to be brave with what we wear.”

Dawn O’Porter’s pop-up BOB boutique is at 8 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RJ until January 2016. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10am–7pm, Sunday 12–5pm. Visit BOB By Dawn O’Porter