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Women's Clothing by Decade: Vintage Style and Body Shape, Part II

In the second in our series on vintage style and dress shape we look at the period from the 1960s to the early 2000s, and ask 'what is your decade?'

1960s - The mini skirt, pinafore dresses and Mary Quant

Most suited to: Petite and youthful body shapes, and those with good legs.

Least suited to: Larger sizes.

Vintage 1960S Biba mini dress and 1960s Flower Power Pantsuit

Whilst many were still wearing full circle or dirndl skirts, with cinched in waists, this was an era that revolutionised fashion shapes. Whether it was Courrèges in Paris, or Mary Quant in London who invented the mini skirt, shorter lengths became universally popular. Even HM the Queen wore above-the-knee dresses at this time.

Clothing shapes reflected the youthful bodies of those who popularised the new styles. Waists were loosened and lowered; practicality and ease of movement took precedence over modesty and formality.

There are not so many original 1960s pieces available today. However, the ones that survive are an indication of the extreme shortness. A late 1960s Biba dress on our website measures just 27 inches (68.5 cm) long. For those wishing to hide their legs, trousers became an option hitherto largely unavailable to women. We’ve a curiously characterful early Flower Power trouser suit made from lace and acetate, which comes up on the large size for this decade.

1970s - Bohemian style, the kaftan dress and Big Biba 

Most suited to: Depending on the sizing, styles can be worn by most women. However, smaller sized garments predominate and plus sizes are rare.

Least suited to: Those wishing to accentuate a small waist.

Vintage Thea Porter Dress and Vintage Samuel Sherman Dress

This period is best known for its hippy vibe, flared jeans and ‘ethnic’ inspired dress styles. 

It is possible to source items from the era in relatively good condition. The more fitted dresses tend to come up on the small side, so consider buying a couple of sizes larger than today’s equivalent. For instance, we have a dress by Thea Porter that is marked a UK size 10, but would probably fit a size 6-8. Larger sized items are more rare, but you can find the odd gem. This Clothes by Samuel Sherman angel-sleeved maxi dress is marked a size 16, but would be a good fit for a UK size 14, or possibly a large size 12.

1970s dress styles tend to be more fitted around the bust area, with free flowing skirts, so waist size is less of an issue. You may be able to find garments with elasticated waists, for instance dresses by Zandra Rhodes, or flattering 1930s inspired bias cut pieces by the likes of Ossie Clark, though many of the latter are exceptionally petite in their sizing.

The same goes for vintage Biba, where upper sleeves were cut to be super tight, and bust and back measurements are especially narrow compared to contemporary fashion items. The resulting elongated profile created an impression of height and suited underfed post-war body shapes.

The 1970s ended with the punk movement and more unisex styles, alongside the emergence of designer labels and jeans brands like Fiorucci and Gloria Vanderbilt. Items from this time are rare and collectable, and more likely to be purchased for investment purposes than worn.

1980s - Boxy suits, shoulder pads, statement evening wear and accessories 

Most suited to: Broad shouldered ladies. Hourglass, or athletic figures.

Least suited to: Those with smaller frames. Large hipped ladies.

Late 1980s Argyle Knit Sweater and Vintage YSL Earrings

The first part of this era was influenced by Edwardian style and Brideshead Revisited, producing Laura Ashley dresses, pie-crust collars, comfortable knits, and floaty ‘Lady Di’ skirts.

Dress became more structured and formal, with boxy shapes and shoulder pads - which grew in size throughout the decade. Designers like Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana inspired business suiting and Dynasty style evening wear.

Smaller framed women may find they look swamped in wide shouldered jackets and coats from this decade. Popular off-the-shoulder evening dresses from the era are more suited to those with broad shoulders. Boxy 1980s styles are most like to suit those with hourglass figures, or athletic bodies.

Vintage costume jewellery and designer accessories from this era are now highly sought after, especially Kenneth J Lane, Chanel, YSL, Celine and Hermès.

1990s - Supermodel style, grunge wear, Tom Ford for Gucci

Most suited to: A wide range of sizes and shapes.

Least suited to: Shorter women.

Satin bias cut Zara dress, American Apparel trousers and Vintage Disco Top

Clothing became less structured and casual separates took inspiration from Armani and Donna Karan. These sorts of pieces are and suited a wider range of sizes and shapes than the more structured shapes from the previous decade.

For dressing up, designers like Versace mixed items of casual clothing like jeans, studded jackets, and fluffy knits with flowing silks, PVC and safety-pins. Tom Ford provided Gucci with a much needed injection of Studio 54 style. These sorts of garments are more suited to a youthful, athletic body. Ford in particular cut his garments very small, and his trousers were notoriously unforgiving.

Later came grunge dressing - an assemblage of layered, floaty and mis-matched separates from the likes of Margiela and Marni, plus bias cut petticoat dresses and marabou, or velvet trimmed cardies from Voyage. These pieces are rare and standard sizes eg S/M/L are not always good indications. It is best to ask the measurements rather than assume the item will fit.

Y2K/Early 2000s - Designer brands, logo mania and streetwear separates

Most suited to: Youthful and athletic shapes.

Least suited to: Larger sizes and backsides.

Disco Bra Top and DKNY Y2K long reversible coat

Crop tops, Juicy Couture track suits, cargo pants, lace trimmed camisole tops, stretch denim corsets and monogrammed clothing are not everyone’s cup of tea.

The Y2K wardrobe was largely aimed at the growing youth market, and inspired by celebrity and pop culture, but there were some more grown up designs too.

Sizes come up larger than previous decades and stretch fabrics are more accommodating. However, the figure hugging styles best suit those with athletic bodies and smaller hips.

It is debatable whether or not the early 2000s qualify as ‘vintage’. However, many of the accessories from the era are highly collectable, and the release of a new Sex and the City film in December may rekindle memories of the heyday of the ‘It’ bag.

Are you ready to let us know... What's your decade?

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