How to style: vintage layering


A cool thing about older vintage and antique clothes is that they were intended to be worn over foundation garments, and mixed and matched in layers, so are often transparent.

That makes styling for modern tastes a lot of fun, because you can layer over jeans, go for crazy underwear or bare it all. Giving beautiful antique clothes an edge is one of the coolest things I can think of.

It’s the difference between costuming and styling, I think. Mixing decades to tell a story is an art: selecting items from vastly different times, but with the same vibe. Very, very cool.

Antique aprons

Aprons are very accessible price-wise because there’s no market for them now. That is, there’s no market for people who think an apron is just an apron.

Here’s the thing: an apron can be a pinafore. An apron can be layering accessory. An apron can be a blouse. An apron can be a skirt. The style of Edwardian aprons, in particular, lends itself to conversion because they’re full-body and fitted at the waist.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to buy an antique apron for £10 and remove the skirt (literally just cutting – no sewing!). You then have a stunning lace top that ties at the back.

A child’s apron – but d’you know what I see? Add some ribbons at the sides and you have a halter top.

Now, I can understand some reticence about actually cutting older items. We’re talking about an antique. But in my view, something that isn’t museum quality, something pretty humdrum, is better off being worn. It’s fashion tradition to remix the past, and you’ll give a piece a new lease of life with some adaptation. Be wise, be respectful, but it’s important to wear our history.

Take a look at the skirt I made from two pinnies. A pinnyskirt, if you will.

30s and 40s voile dresses

Hard to come by and usually very expensive. Because cotton voile and organdie are so light and thin, 30s dresses are particularly delicate. It’s what makes them ghostly and beautiful, but it means they’re costly or damaged when they show up for sale.

However, if we see them as a layering item, damage matters less. We can wear damage with pride.

This 1940s Swiss dot girl’s party dress by Parasol – a now-defunct dress shop in Inglewood, California – was a consideration for my wedding. It’s very delicate and needs some tiny fairy stitches to protect its neckline, and it’s discoloured under the arms.

But don’t we forgive it??? She’s the most stunning wounded bird, and I style her with just fancy underwear beneath. The ruffles make the skirt a bit less transparent, so it’s cheeky but not an arrestable offence.

If I was a vandal, I could dye this dress black to hide the stains. But at what cost? The candy pink Swiss dot must be protected.

50s tulle petticoats

Original tiered petticoats are usually transparent at the waist, making them tricky to style as outerwear.

Unless you’re us, of course. The easiest thing is obviously to wear a solid petticoat or skirt underneath, but wouldn’t that be dull?

I love the contrast of shorts and trainers with a super-feminine petticoat. Or you could go punk in leggings and Dr Martens.

1960s slips

Pretty much always semi- to fully transparent. There is a plethora of choice out there because slips are protected from so much wear by clothes and lots of these beautiful garments are ‘for best’ so people find them in their mothers’ closets still in original condition.

Which is very sad, really. We owe it to those ladies to wear the things they were saving for an occasion. Let it be today.

60s slips range from elegant tulle gowns (for killing your husband) to little frou-frou babydolls, so this is my favourite era. We have kaftans, negligees, peignoirs, teddies – the availability is a delight, and not too bad on size range, either.

The 60s were when man-made fabrics really took off. While this is not great for the planet and not as comfortable as cotton or silk, the fabrics lasted and patterns got REALLY fun. If you find the nylon and polyester too sweaty, you can just wear cotton underneath and problem solved.

Styling is easy:

  1. Layer multiple slips until satisfied with the opacity;
  2. Wear shorts and crop top or;
  3. Go for a patterned jumpsuit. I say patterned over a solid colour here because we want it to look intentional. If you can see the shape of your body in a solid colour through a slip, it looks like you maybe didn’t realise everyone could see your tights.
This tiered babydoll is JUST off transparent because of the ruffles
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