How to Get a Vintage Look - Menswear Retro Outfit Tips
Do the clothes that you find in big chain stores bore you? Do you think that Old Hollywood icons had it all figured out, or are you more of an acid rock kind of man? No matter what you answered, vintage clothes are the way to go. A vintage look can be sharp, adventurous, and just plain attractive. Whatever you want to transmit, you only have to go rummaging through the menswear section and learn how to put a retro outfit together.
Here at OneHowTo we'll show you how to get a vintage look that fits your own taste without looking like you're wearing a costume.
Look for inspiration
The first thing to do in order to get a vintage look is to decide just what kind of vintage you're looking for. We don't have to explain that flare jeans, a fedora hat and a tiny corduroy vest is going to be a disaster. A quick Google search of the trends of different decades will be enough to tell you about the basic staples of that time. Then, decide what's best for you:
- 1940s: After WW2, men's clothes were much bigger and more square-shaped than now. Think wide shoulders and wide, short ties, with high-waisted pants and perhaps a fitted sweater. Zoot suits are also a signature piece of the time. Chalk stripes were a quite common pattern.
- 1950s: Suits became narrower and greyer, while sport clothes and drainpipe jeans became popular. New teen subcultures appeared - think Elvis Presley or the greasers, along with the turtle-necked Beatniks and rocker Teddy Boys.
- 1960s: Styles split; you could find sharply dressed Mods as well as psychedelic prints. Synthetic fabrics became more common, as did space and tech-inspired outfits.
- 1970s: Bright and crazy colors and patterns continued. Very dark blue denim was everywhere, while tight polo shirts with bold colors, stripes and oversized pockets were also common. ABBA was also a thing that happened, but perhaps they're not your best option for a vintage look.
- 1980s: Think big, confident and out there, or... Punk. Eighties-inspired looks can be a bit much for daily wear, but do try combining an oversized suit jacket or wear a band tank top.
- 1990s: Yes, the nineties are already vintage. Take a look at the staples of hip hop culture and show off colorful runner shoes by rolling up your jeans.
It's also a good idea to create a vintage look by drawing inspiration from a particular subculture or icon. Some of the biggest 20th century menswear icons include James Dean, Cary Grant, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Mick Jagger.
How to get a vintage look: The basics
The piece that will make your outfit automatically vintage is, of course, the suit. You can wear a full three-piece suit, but you can just wear the blazer or the dress pants with more contemporary pieces. A truly retro suit will probably be very wide, with impressive shoulder sizes. It can end up looking like a costume, so make sure your suit is as closely tailored as possible. When you're trying them on, ask for the smallest sizes.
Choose a wool fabric (mohair if your budget allows it) in a neutral color. Black, brown, navy or even ivory white will work, but grey is best for a vintage look. Patterns should be toned-down - like tweed, twill, herringbone, chalk or pinstripes.
Accessories like ties and scarves, on the other hand, can be as bright as you want - you can even wear pastel shades.
Vintage shirts, sweaters and jackets
After a necessary reminder that crop tops were a thing in eighties menswear - and that you should at least try them out - we can move on to specific pieces.
- T-shirts: The true 20th century classic. While they're so common nowadays that they don't look vintage at all, you can wear a t-shirt with a band logo or a reference to an event or movie from past decades. The more worn it looks, the better.
- Polo shirts: They should have stripes in the collar.
- Shirts: Of course. Make them look retro by choosing a loud pattern that makes it the centerpiece of your outfit, from checks and stripes to hippie paisleys and floral. If you want to go the gentlemanly route, though, pull a David Beckham and wear a sleeve garter.
- Vests and waistcoats: They can make you look like an elegant professor or a rock star - up to you.
- Sweaters, jumpers and cardigans: You can pick and choose between sixties black turtlenecks, Mod checkerboards, varsity cardigans in dark red and navy blocks or Fair Isle sweaters. They can be as slim or chunky as you want as long as you balance them out with your jeans or pants.
- Jackets: Harrington, bomber and monkey jackets have a rebel edge that's never actually gone out of fashion. Denim jackets are also classics for a reason, but they will look especially retro if they have a white woolen collar.
- Coats: Military and navy-inspired wool pea coats are your best choice for a vintage yet still on point look.
- Windbreakers and anoraks: In the eighties and nineties, these pieces were blindingly bright and fluorescent. If you don't want to be that noticeable, wear a green or brown parka.
Vintage jeans and pants
It might seem that jeans and pants have always looked the same, more or less. Wrong! Sure, stone washed boot-cut jeans have been worn since the 1950s, but you can give just a touch of retro menswear to your look by wearing:
- Dress pants: With a slim fit and a crease.
- Flare or bell-bottom jeans.
- Patterned pants: Pinstripes are alright for a suit, but you can also try tartan for a punk look or paisley for a sixties throwback.
If you're already wearing an obviously vintage shirt or jacket, though, wear contemporary skinny jeans in any neutral color.
Good footwear, from casual to detailed, is what will make all the difference for your vintage look. Some basic tips: Know your vocabulary, pick leather or suede shoes, make sure they have a wingtip, and if possible, show off your ankles and loud socks.
Vintage shoe staples:
- Loafers: This kind of slip-on shoe can go from plain and discreet to decorated with tassels or basket weave. Shades go from cognac to black.
- Oxfords: This kind of lace-up shoe is gentlemanly yet sturdy. Oxford shoes can be plain, two-colored (saddle shoes in black and white are very popular), or very decorated. In that case, they're called Brogues. They come in more colors than loafers, and you can wear them with bright laces.
- Bowling shoes: Popularized by the Mods in the 1960s, these shoes are slim and can have very bright and colorful patterns. Therefore, they look quite informal.
Vintage boot staples:
- Desert boots: Worn from the late 1940s onward, these soft suede ankle looks look good with wider trousers. Nowadays they come in many different colors, but shades of brown and tan are the most common.
- Chelsea boots: Also worn by the Mods in the early 1960s, these leather boots are sharp, slim and look perfect with narrow trousers. You'll know them by their elastic gusset, and some even more retro versions have laces. Make sure the heel is a bit higher than in other types of men's boots for a more Beatle touch.
- Dr. Martens: Also called Docs, these combat boots have been popular in many youth working class subcultures. Nowadays they have many different designs, but go for black or oxblood for a real vintage vibe - plus they're easier to combine.
Have you ever seen a stylish man from the 1940s and 1950s without a hat? Exactly. Read this article on how to combine a man's hat for more details.
Look for ties, collars, cuff links, suspenders and maybe even a pocket watch. Dare to wear bold scarves, and if you wear glasses look for wayfarers, horn-rimmed or John Lennon-round models.
Now that you know how to get a vintage look, tell us your menswear tips and icons in the comments section!
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