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{image courtesy of www.fashion-era.com}

There was a fashion article on Jezebel over a year ago that’s really stuck with me: “Practical Tips for Personal Style Or, Why Not to Listen To Women’s Magazines.” This post was so interesting to me as a vintage fashion lover because Sadie, the writer, posited that the key to finding your personal style was finding the right fashion era of the 20th century for your body. As she wrote, “If you go through the major fashion eras of the 20th C, you’ll see that different silhouettes and body types were in vogue. Find the one that matches you . . . Skinny? 20s and 60s. Curves? Go for 50s, sexy 70s or 80s.”

It’s an intriguing idea, but not without its own problems—the biggest of which is that silhouettes varied wildly within any given decade. Just look at this awesome web page, which charts the silhouettes of the 40s alone. But I do think there’s a good kernel of truth for the home sewist here—when you’re first starting out sewing vintage, it can be incredibly helpful to narrow your style and construction preferences down to one single era. After all, there are a dizzying array of vintage patterns available, and it can be confusing if you’re not very familiar with fashion history of the 20th century. Here are a few silhouettes I’ve narrowed down for the home seamstress.

• Are you a wild child at heart with a boyish build? Maybe you’re a 20s gal.

• Do you dream of old Hollywood glamour with bias cut gowns and slinky charmeuse dresses? Look at the 30s.

• Do you like simple knee-length a-line skirts and feminine blouses with peplums and gathered details? Look at WW2 era 40s.

• Do you want a dramatic look with a corseted waist, huge skirt, and full bust? Try Dior’s New Look of 1947.

• Do you love full, swishy skirts with lots of body? You’re an early 50s girl.

• How about a Joan Holloway silhouette with tight pencil skirts and cute little bow-tied blouses? Try the late 50s.

• Crave a mod shape with a-line minis? Mid to late sixties, baby!

• Do you like menswear looks, complete with neckties and fitted blazers? Go for an early 70s Annie Hall vibe.

I hope this helps you find your perfect era of vintage sewing. But perhaps you already have. Do tell: what’s your favorite fashion era?

17 Comments

  • Missing

    May 27, 2011, 06.43 AMby Jen Charney

    I can’t pick just one, actually my goal is to wear it all from like dressing up Victorian and Medieval/Steampunk/Gothic for fun outings to wearing for every day wear stuff from 1920s to at least 60s, I have tough time with thought of sporting a heavy 70s look, hippy stuff, not my thing, 80s to 90s kill me first. unless it’s like some sort clubbing outfit to wear to an 80s night. I hope my wardrobe doesn’t have to be just one era and be consistent. Seems i’m not the only one to experiment with multiple eras? I’m sorta like Mad Men, Emma from Glee and then some. I always liked dressing in my mother’s old clothes. I like being able to combine the idea of costume with an actual outfit to wear in public. I come from goth background so I’m used to wearing out what others might consider a costume. I actually like attention drawn to myself to be honest so I’m looking foward to being 20s gal one day then 60s then 40s, etc. And then some combo of all with today too as I like some of the couture knock off patterns like Nanette Lepore, I want make like a classic Chanel suit, there are just things i need to make of all kinds styles since I’m learning to sew and there’s a world of opportunity now. I used to have no clothes bec they didn’t fit, now I make them fit. I do love the Hollywood glamour 30s gowns and every time I see one it isn’t in my size. I have nowhere to go in it, but I so want one if I did. They’re amazing, and I’m surprised more of the unusual lines of 30s clothing has not come back much yet. I’ve just seen the most amazing things in 30s patterns, things I’venever seen before, lines going up and then suddenly going 90 degrees over. Buttons here and there and tabs and even like sorta ties for women tacked onto their dress aside from one of my fave things, bows.

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    Sep 15, 2010, 11.32 PMby artemis-ivorywings

    20’s and 40’s for me!

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    Mar 4, 2010, 08.09 PMby mitmit

    Love most, but not the 70’s womens clothes. Too laidback for me. :-)

  • Missing

    Feb 13, 2010, 05.49 PMby sweet-saboo

    I’ve always loved the bohemian styles of the 60’s & 70’s, mixed with some understated classic pieces from the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s. Have been on an upcycling groove lately.

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    Feb 10, 2010, 10.15 PMby tambasmall

    I love the 50s and the 70s. My preference.

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    Feb 9, 2010, 05.12 AMby vintagerouge

    I have a hard time choosing just one because I always find something to love about all details! My personal favorites are the 1930’s and 1950’s although all of my friends think I make a great 1940’s gal.

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    Feb 8, 2010, 08.31 PMby melissaann-1

    I’m glad this post mentioned the 30s, because it’s my favorite and it really suits my shape (slender pear, long torso).

    Take a look at some of the more ordinary clothes of the era. It’s a cute and feminine style without swaddling yourself in yards of fabric, like 50s style, or rocking the shoulder pads as in the 40s.

  • Missing

    Feb 8, 2010, 12.44 AMby emily44

    the 70’s are so laidback and yet so chic, although I love how in the 60’s anything goes. I am also in love with the 20’s so it’s really hard to decide.. :$

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    Feb 7, 2010, 09.44 AMby william james

    the 1920s for me

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    Feb 6, 2010, 07.03 PMby jaynie16

    I thought I was an early 50s girl, but from this article and the lovely website, I think I am an early 40s girl I love the inverted triangle shape! This is a fun read! Thanks!

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    Feb 5, 2010, 08.37 PMby funnymuffin

    I am torn between the 40’s and the mod 60’s. Both are so lovely.

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    Feb 5, 2010, 06.54 PMby purplejb99

    40’s all the way. I love full skirts paired with fitted bodices. :)

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    Feb 5, 2010, 10.22 AMby janul

    I agree with jen ss. 50s style can make you look more curvy than you are, but sometimes not in a good way… I guess it depends on which silhouette do you prefer or feel good with. I would feel totaly bad in 50s styles and hour glass shapes. I prefer the 20s “tubular” silhoulette and I have no problem with my small chest :). But at the same time, I want to look like a woman… or a girl? :)

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    Feb 5, 2010, 09.52 AMby peaudane

    I like the 70s. To me it’s laidback chic and suits my shape (my measurements are an exact Burda size 38). I’ve collected quite a few Burda Moden magazines from the 70’s. I’m not into bellbottoms, but I’ve sewn several dresses from the time (including wrap dresses!). If I were to look for inspiration from an other era, maybe for a dressy occasion, it would be the 30s, but I haven’t tackled sewing bias gowns yet (though I plan to!).

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    Feb 5, 2010, 09.21 AMby teasecloset

    What if you answered yes to all of the above?!!

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    Feb 5, 2010, 04.45 AMby jen .ss1

    As a “curvy” girl, I have often been told how I should wear those 50s silhouettes. Frankly, I’m a bit uncomfortable by that. One problem is the inherent physical restriction of earlier fashion periods. Also, even though I have one of those hourglass shapes I think that the 50s shape is totally wrong for me, both aesthetically and conceptually. Why would I want to (over) emphasize the curves I already have? Rather, sometimes, contrast is nice. In my case, that does not mean menswear, but rather, just a few steps away from the hyper-femme look. Also, because culture and society are progressive, fashion should be progressive as well. Picking details from earlier fashion is natural, but going for a whole look is a bit too costume-y. (For my taste, I think!) That said, the old stuff can still be appreciated for it’s attractive qualities….

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    Feb 5, 2010, 01.41 AMby juebejue

    with all these vintage clothing in the rage, i wonder what would this era be defined as 50 years later! low rise Tshirt and jeans? though, i could be biased since i work in an engineering company in california! :) I so wish i lived in NY, just so that i can wear some of my more fashionable clothing!

    hmm, your post make me want a 30s dress, it sounds so sexy!

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