Julia Roberts’ wardrobe in Pretty Woman is often referenced when 90s fashions are trending, but the interiors struck me most the 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 occurred to 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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
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.