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Vintage Must-Haves for Today's Girly-Girls

Updated on January 6, 2020
Victoria Moore profile image

Victoria Moore has been a professional Los Angeles-based fashion/feature writer for over 20 years. She loves vintage, tap, and reading.

It's Hard Dressing Like a Lady Today

If you're a woman who's ever wondered if people would take you seriously if you fully embraced your femininity and dressed like a girly-girl, you might be suffering from sartorial inferiority. As an African American who loves lace, frills, ruffles, and florals but rarely sees icons of her race portrayed as soft or pretty this has been a challenge. Now with so much media emphasis placed on the #metoo and Black Lives Matter movements, it's become even harder to project this look confidently. It doesn't matter if you look as strong as Grace Jones did on her Warm Leatherette album cover if you're also inspired to wear the prairie look inspired by the new version of Little Women directed by Greta Gewig your competence might be questioned.

The Ladylike Debate:

Recently I watched an episode of What Not To Wear and was intrigued, more than usual, by the show. It featured a Caucasian jazz singer who preferred the tomboy, skateboarder look of slouchy shorts and pants, and oversized short-sleeved button-down print shirts to the sultry, sophisticated styling of traditional cocktail frocks and flirty heels. Initially combative and resistant to a makeover that eventually transformed her into a more attractive version of herself, her arguments reminded me of those my co-workers regularly initiated over the way I dress for my day job as a Special Ed Instructional Assistant for LAUSD.

When I've asked them why they only wear nice skirts, dresses, and suits on special occasions, they've often said, "I can't move around as easily in them as I can in leggings, jeans, and t-shirts." But since I believe in aspirational dressing, and representing for the person you want to be in the future instead of who you are now, I know dresses, skirts, and other more formal attire can be just as comfortable and flexible as athleisure. That is if it's done right.

For instance, if you wear a simple knee-length burgundy dress from Forever 21 over a pair of brown leggings from Ross Dress For Less and a beige mini coat from Council Thrift Shop, it'll give you the same casual appeal as a pair of sweats and a hoodie.

So what do you do if you believe what you see and read on the internet, TV and in the newspaper about it being a hard time to be a woman? Do you arm yourself with pepper spray, a guard dog, and take self-defense classes to protect yourself or do you become self-empowered and save your toughness for combative situations and remain a lady?

Personally, I vote for the latter. I'm not telling you to put your head in the sand and hope no one and nothing will ever hurt you, I'm just suggesting a softer, more subtle approach to this reality instead. One way is to reflect the womanly charms you were born with by adding pretty touches to your wardrobe with vintage, secondhand and retro finds. Through this connection with the past, you can gain strength from those who came before you and continue expressing yourself with a unique vision.

Vintage and Retro: Mixed and Matched

Black skirt over white skirt with vintage rhinestone pin
Black skirt over white skirt with vintage rhinestone pin | Source

Vintage, Retro and Secondhand

Velvet blouse, t-shirt from "Target" and black and white skirts
Velvet blouse, t-shirt from "Target" and black and white skirts | Source
Denim jacket, t-shirt from "Target" and black and white skirts
Denim jacket, t-shirt from "Target" and black and white skirts | Source
Vintage Oscar de la Renta scarf, t-shirt from "Target" and secondhand "Banana Republic" cardigan
Vintage Oscar de la Renta scarf, t-shirt from "Target" and secondhand "Banana Republic" cardigan | Source
Vintage and contemporary jewelry
Vintage and contemporary jewelry | Source
Vintage and contemporary jewelry
Vintage and contemporary jewelry | Source

Retro, Vintage and Secondhand

If you don't know the difference between retro, vintage and secondhand, let me give you a few definitions and examples. According to Merriam Webster's Pocket Dictionary since vintage means "a period of origin", and secondhand means "not original" and retro is part of the words retrograde, retrogress and retrospect it means "a view of the past". Examining three various retailers within the context of these definitions, I'd say The Way We Wore, Decades and Vintage On Venice in Los Angeles, California sell vintage. Online, unique vintage, Ivey Abitz , and Amelia's Bloomers sell retro. Secondhand, the least expensive of the three can be found at garage sales, Goodwill Thrift Stores, Salvation Army , and Countil Thrift Shop.

The unfortunate aspect of the vintage market now is that it's become "a luxury good" with celebrities and fashion designers driving up the price every year. When I first started wearing vintage, out of necessity, as a Fashion Merchandising student earning a BA at CSULA, you could buy a pair of 1950s cowboy boots for $4 and an early 1960s cardigan for $2, but now that's virtually impossible.

The moment I saw the exhibit Journey of a Dress about Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dress I became obsessed with finding one within my budget. Finally, after searching all over the internet, I found a white floral for under $100 on through DesDes Vintage in Geneva Switzerland.

Diane von Furstenberg Wrap Dress

Vintage DVF wrap dress from "DesDes Vintage'/
Vintage DVF wrap dress from "DesDes Vintage'/ | Source

The New Vintage Collectibles

In the article, Bryan Procell Explains Why the Fashion World Started Taking Vintage Seriously by Samuel Hine, he admits, "Thrifting was really taboo when I was growing up. We weren't allowed to go to thrift stores. It was all about status. If you weren't shopping for your clothes, that meant you had no money." This mind-set was definitely the case in the early to late '80s when vintage was a significant part of my wardbrobe. Fortunately for me, times have changed and yesterday's polyester shirt is today's work of art, making the formerly passe the newly chic.

Forecasting what's going to be collectible and still affordable, while maintaining a girly-girl edge, let me suggest the following:

  • Dresses (1960-1990): Sheaths, fit and flare, minis and maxis.
  • Skirts (1960-1990): Pencil, pleated, bubble, A-line, and decorative.
  • Blouses (1950-1990): Tie-front, print, lace, and button-down.
  • Cardigans (1940-1990): Pastel colors, neutrals and prints.
  • Accessories (1940-1990): Floral an decorative scarves, costume jewelry, compacts, handkerchiefs, purses, and gloves.

Two of the mainstays of a girly-girl's collection is a pretty frock and a two-piece suit. Both can be dressed up or down with either a pair of sneakers or lovely ballet flats. Reese Witherspoon wore costume designer Ariane Phillips' 1950s renditions of June Carter Cash's cutie pie dresses in the 2005 film Walk The Line. In 2009, Miuccia Prada revised the fit and flare silhouette, worn in the film, giving iot a fresh boost for a new generation. Actress Jennifer Beals also showed how special a suit could be by dancing up a storm in the 1983 film Flashdance in a red satin suit created by costume designer Michael Kaplan. Layered over a tight white tee and blue capris, he coordinated an interesting take on the red, white and blue theme.

Modern Retro and Vintage

Pink blazer with beige scarf and vintage daisy pin
Pink blazer with beige scarf and vintage daisy pin | Source
Black and white checked button-down shirt, accessorized with black and white African necklace and denim gauchos.
Black and white checked button-down shirt, accessorized with black and white African necklace and denim gauchos. | Source
Boho hats, vintage necklace from Goodwill Thrift Store.
Boho hats, vintage necklace from Goodwill Thrift Store. | Source

Retro on the Runway

For 2020, retro is still trending with the girliest looks, on the runway, echoing 1970s romanticism, preppy and 1800s Victoriana. Easily combined with more straightforward contemporary and traditional Levi's, white t-shirts, designer sneakers, leather motorcycle jackets, puffer coats, black socks, and shoes, they provide a sweet alternative to overly casual and monochromatic black.

Secondhand, the hero of sustainability, can easily be found online at, and The RealReal, at your local thrift store or courtesy of a loved one or a generous friend. Three of my favorite white shirts-a Calvin Klein button-down, a Ralph Lauren polo, and a v-neck Gap tee-were given to me by my brother because they were too small for his 6'5" frame. Accessorized with either a colorful vintage Gucci scarf or a triple-strand necklace from Rainbow they can easily be transformed into an elegant separate.

"As we enter 2020, we want to celebrate our incredible thredUP community," it said on their website. "Thank you for giving items a second life, and for inspiring a new generation of consumers to think secondhand first."

On the last episode of Project Runway this philosophy was brought to glamorous realization as the contestants, armed with $150 of Goodwill Thrift Store finds, attempted to create upcycled garments for the week's competition. Instructed by host Karlie Kloss to make a sleek and practical design for a CFDA event she was attending in Paris, they all expressed surprise at the quality available at Goodwill. Working with suitings, denim, and other materials, they discovered what I and others always knew about secondhand-that it's a reliable and inexpensive resource.

Dapper Outfit

Print vintage dress and brown vintage men's shoes
Print vintage dress and brown vintage men's shoes | Source

Coordinating with a Sure Hand

Styling your outfits with vintage, retro and secondhand coordinates and accessories can be tricky and difficult if you don't know how to create a story with your clothing, and use your wardrobe as a prop.

The first thing you need to do is decide what you want to say with your clothes for a particular day, then select your pieces according to the weather, the occasion, and your lifestyle. To get ideas I usually examine various high fashion magazines like Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, InStyle, Fudge, Larme Sweet Girly Art Book, Mode Et Mode, etc., then I study either Pinterest or Instagram on the Internet.

Major trends day usually stand out, during the season, so it's a good idea to note them for personal translation later. On New Year's Day, when I went to see Pedro Almodovar's new film, Pain and Glory, I wanted to wear something signifying renewal and versatility, so I combined a secondhand Caslon blazer from Council Thrift Shop, with a green secondhand turtleneck I'd just bought from and a pair of olive green pants from T.J. Maxx. To give the ensemble a girly-girl touch I tied a blue and white print scarf around my neck and topped it all off with a bright green hat from Ross Dress For Less.

Despite the plethora of retailers that're going out of business, and the unpopularity of the mall as a fashion destination these days, shopping for vintage, retro and secondhand brings back the joy of discovery and happiness at finding that one special thing.

Refresing Renewal in Secondhand

Victoria Moore in green hat, blue and white print scarf, green turtleneck and olive green pants
Victoria Moore in green hat, blue and white print scarf, green turtleneck and olive green pants | Source


  1. The Way We Wore, 334 South La Brea Ave., L.A., CA. 90036, 323-937-0878.
  2. Decades, 8214 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA. 90046, 323-655-1960.
  3. Vintage On Venice, 12218 Venice Blvd., L.A., CA. 90066, 310-302-7537.
  4. Council Thrift Shops, 12120 Venice Blvd., L.A., CA. 90066, 310-5729158.
  5. Goodwill Southern California Store and Donation Center, 8905 Venice Blvd., L.A., CA. 90034, 310-845-9327.

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