How to dress your home and yourself in vintage without feeling outdated

25 January 2023 | Conscious Fashion, Conscious Living

Julia Roberts’ wardrobe in Pretty Woman is often referenced when 90s fashions are trending, but the interiors struck me most last time I watched it. Although a set, the penthouse suite created for the film was in keeping with the Beaux Arts style of the Beverly Wilshire hotel building with a blend of late 1980s-1990s opulence. I revelled in this because I am currently trying to strike a balance of eras in the renovation of our flat with antiques, vintage and reclaimed pieces, and it struck me that I am not alone. In fact, the search for ‘Eclectic interior design vintage’ is +850% according to Pinterest’s data comparing September 2020 to September 2022. 

With more and more people rejecting fast fashion and fast furniture, eclectic dressing for ourselves and our interiors is hot. But when the beauty of eclecticism is the lack of rigid rules, how do you create cohesion with pieces from all manner of sources and eras? And how do you borrow from an era without emulating it to the point of looking like you are wearing a costume or stepping into a time warp? Here are some tips to help you style with vintage, whether you are dressing your home or yourself.

Vintage 70s dress with vintage Celine Pretty Woman patent boots from a charity shop and eco Swedish Stockings
Wearing my go-to decade, 70s dress from @Vintwear2 at Portobello Market with my answer to Pretty Woman patent boots by Celine picked up at my local Royal Trinity Hospice charity shop. Modern eco hosiery by Swedish Stockings

Blend it up 

There is nothing wrong with committing to a full retro outfit or interior design that is authentic to the age of your room, but if you are keen to explore Pinterest’s Hipstoric Home trend to honour old things in a fresh way then blending different styles and eras is key. 

Mixing modern and vintage can be tricky, whether introducing vintage to a contemporary space or styling 20th-century ‘modern’ design with older antiques. My advice is to maintain bold conviction in your taste and be led by what you love. If you genuinely adore each piece, then the room will eventually come together, and if it doesn’t then you can easily find another place for anything that you were attracted to that much. 

Take your time as you introduce each element and experiment. Sometimes an unlikely pairing of different periods can make your look. Until recently, our antique 1880s Swedish sofa felt like the odd piece out. Interestingly, it was a slightly 1980s-inspired contemporary coffee table made with salvaged stone by Leleni Studio, which brought the room together for us. 

Leleni Studio bespoke table made with salvaged marble
Coffee table made of salvaged stone by Leleni Studio

There is no formula, but sometimes it helps to find commonality through colour, shape or texture. Mixing pieces from different decades works really well, but try narrowing yourself down to a few main influential dates so you can nod to them numerous times through different details. Our lighting set our general parameters with a large 80s Murano light shade over the bleached oak table and a mix of green Arts and Crafts glass light shades, which along with the dining table, chime with the Edwardian building of our flat. 

Historic home interior with vintage 80s Murano light over antique dining table
80s Murano light before we updated the flex, now hung over our dining table
Eclectic interior with antique and vintage with eras from 1880s to 1980s
Edwardian glass pendant shades light the other side of the room
Eclectic Edwardian glass pendant light shades
A closer look at the mis-matched light shades united by colour and era

Look for aesthetic sustainability 

Designer, maker, and antique dealer, Matthew Cox got me onto the term ‘aesthetic sustainability’ with a post on his Instagram feed. Matthew wrote that he found it a relevant way to talk about design that endures and less throw away than the word ‘timeless’, which is overused by marketers and often misused. He elaborated: ‘The truth is that in the 85 years that three generations of my family have been antique dealing, there are only certain things that have remained aesthetically desirable throughout, and they all have the same qualities – they are simply designed but with a light human touch, perennially practical and well made in quality materials. The reason they are still here for us to enjoy is because they have remained relevant to generation after generation. Everything else at some point falls in and out of fashion or falls apart, which leaves it open to being discarded or having to be replaced.’

Matthew Cox Instagram aesthetic sustainability
@matthewcoxetc Instagram

In order to measure the aesthetic sustainability of a purchase, Matthew advises you to ask yourself whether you can see your children fighting to own it once you are gone. 

In fashion terms, a true ‘forever piece’ can be harder to find. For your own wardrobe, there is a plethora of vintage, pre-loved and even antique options that strike aesthetic sustainability like timeless knitwear, denim and blazers. I am reminded of the first photo I took when I created Reclaimed Woman six years ago that still feels current. The vintage outfit (pictured below) consisted of an antique Hungarian shirt that I got from Beyond France at a Salvo Fair, a pre-loved Acne denim skirt and 90s Versace mules from a charity shop. This might be the fashion equivalent of my nowstalgic room above with a blend of different decades that makes the aesthetic less likely to date. 

Eclectic vintage fashion with antique and pre-loved finds

Practical, well-made classics worn regularly will not necessarily last long enough to be handed down to our offspring. That said, it is hard to beat the storied feel of vintage items like a trench coat, a watch and a handbag that are more likely to survive to be enjoyed by many generations. The worn handbag is also rising in popularity thanks to celebrities like Mary-Kate Olsen carrying a well-loved, battered Hermès Kelly bag. One of the things I immediately found comfort in when I started buying antiques and vintage is that you take pieces as they are, imperfections and all. I find this helps me use them, wear them and enjoy them more, rather than worrying about the inevitable first scratch, scuff or mark that life throws at us and our things. 

vintage men's Burberry trench
Wearing a vintage 80s-90s men’s trench, 60s trousers, pre-loved knitwear, Stella McCartney shoes

According to luxury fashion resale marketplace The RealReal, demand for bags in ‘fair condition’ — showing signs of heavy wear — has nearly doubled since the platform started accepting more visibly used bags in early 2022. The average price for a fair condition piece is 33% less, so the economic climate is definitely a driving factor. The optimist in me also sees a shift to more visibly worn things as a sign of increasing mass awareness of the climate crisis. More old things in our homes and in our wardrobes might just be the visual badge to the answer of pride when somebody pays you a compliment, ‘thanks, it’s vintage.’

Flea Market Paris vintage handbags and jackets
Vintage handbags and jackets at the Flea Markets in Paris

Rescue and revive 

Removing shoulder pads from a jacket or reupholstering a chair can breathe new style into old pieces. If you are embarking on a project, just make sure you are up for any challenges to make it yours and bring it up to date. It is easy to collect with an eye for the future that does not come around. I have been there, done that and bought the vintage T-shirt… However, if you have the vision to revive something, go for it because there is nothing like witnessing a transformation. Fresh from watching Pretty Woman with surprising soft furnishing inspiration, what happens after you rescue something? It fulfils its environmental benefit through reuse and rescues you right back. 

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