How to Pick Vintage Styles

I frequently get questions about how to make the plus sized figure look good in vintage styles.  There is no single answer, so I thought discussing this topic in a blog post might be helpful.

The first thing to picking the right vintage style is to know your figure type.  This is very important to all sizes, but critical for the plus-sized gal.  Different decades had different ideal body types.  If you match your body type to that decade, you will look your best.  If, however, you are into historical reenactment or have just fallen in love with a particular style, there are ways to make things fit.  I’ll discuss that later.


The 1930’s started out being influenced by the 1920’s, with hip-hugging skirts and ruffles and bows to draw the eye upward.  This decade looks great on the more rectangular figure, meaning not much difference between the waist and hips. As decade progresses, we see more curves leading into wartime fashion, with full sleeves and A-line skirts.


The 1940’s were governed by WWII rationing and fabric restrictions.  We see built-up shoulders and A-line skirts.  The rectangular figure is given the illusion of a waist and the pear figure is given balance by the built-up shoulder.  As the decade progresses, we move into Dior’s New Look that dominates the next decade.


The 1950’s are dominated by Dior’s New Look, featuring a full skirt and smaller shoulders.  At this time, we also see the slim line, also know as wiggle dresses.  The New Look fits the hourglass figure well.  The cinched waists follows the hourglass curves.  The inverted triangle, heavy on top, slim hips and bum, is given the appearance of balance by the full skirt.


The 1960’s starts off with 1950’s influences.  The skirt rises to just below the knee and the waist is not as tight as the 50’s.  Great if you have nice legs or your waist isn’t as defined as a classic hourglass.  The mid 60’s develops into the classic Jackie O look, the Chanel Suit.  The more boxy look, with it’s shift dresses and cardigan jackets, suits the rectangular and apple figures well.

Of course, these are the ideal figure types.  If you are doing historical reenactment or are attached to a particular era, there are ways around the ideal.  The first major thing would be proper undergarments.  These fashions were designed for a figure wearing girdles and bras of the era.  A proper girdle will help the hourglass or apple slim the hips for 1930’s looks.  The proper waist cincher will help give more of defined waist for the 1950’s look.  If you choose to forgo proper undergarments, then changes must be made to the pattern prior to cutting.  If you don’t have a defined waist, the New Look styles must be made bigger at the waist.  If you aren’t full busted, the 1950’s styles might need a small bust adjustment.  If you are an hourglass wanting to wear wartime fashions, a full bust adjustment must be made and the waist taken in.  I’m not saying that you can’t go against type, just that more work must be done in order to look your best.  The beauty of using vintage patterns today, is that we can pick what we like or what suits us from all eras.  Have fun!



About andreahg

I'm a stay-at-home wife and mom to two boys, a cat and two rough collies. I love to sew and knit with vintage patterns, primarly from the WWII era.
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2 Responses to How to Pick Vintage Styles

  1. Miss C says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for putting all this information out there. I have no idea how to resize patterns, so there is a book coming in the mail for that, but I was curious as to what method you use to resize your patterns. I found some good information about cutting the patterns apart at key points, and pulling the pieces apart by a specified amount. The only problem was the simple fact that no one could tell their audience just where EXACTLY you are supposed to cut the pattern apart. It was more of a “Hey look at this diagram thing and do this” I would think that you wouldn’t want to just wing it- thus the book I ordered.

    Anyhow, I think your creations are lovely, and being plus sized myself, it makes me hapy to know that there are ways around a skinny past.

  2. rachel says:

    was always impressed with your grading. will try it myself someday!

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