Vintage Attire for the Young Professional

While this blog focuses on professional attire for the young and fabulous, we rarely talk about my favorite Capitol Hill staple, the suit.  The reason for this is two-fold: 1) good suits are expensive, Nanette Lepore costs more than my first car and 2) most suits that you see for sale at staple retailers are nauseatingly boring.  There is nothing that brings a tear to my eye quite like those awful crepe suits sold at Macy’s and Filene’s.  But recently, I came to the conclusion that vintage suits could provide the unique look that I crave within a price point that I can afford.

Buying vintage can be a daunting process.  Over the holiday, I found the most incredible black suit at a vintage shop but alas, it was too small.  I nearly cried in the dressing room when I realized that no amount of prayer would make that skirt zip.  Simply put, the women of the 1950s and 1960s (my preferred era) were accustomed to wearing corsets, girdles and other foundation garments that gave them other worldly measurements.  After all, how many modern women boast a 37″ bust and a 24″ waist?

When buying vintage, you need to know two things: your own measurements and what can and cannot be altered.  On the first point, it is often best to ask someone else to take your measurements since self-measuring can be difficult.  Also, remember that it is far, far easier to take garments in than it is to let them out.  If something is too big, the bust and waist can often be taken in for relatively little money.  Sleeves can also be shortened, pants hemmed, and buttons moved.  However, when buying a knit suit (Chanel, St. John, etc.), it is important to remember that while some custom tailors can alter knits, these alterations can be prohibitively expensive.

Vintage suiting gives you the opportunity to try something bold and different that today’s designers just can’t match.  Here are some of my favorites from the vintage section of Etsy.

This light grey suit is simple, yet sophisticated.  The Peter Pan collar and the small bow are the kind of feminine touches that designers used to include as a rule.  This suit is well-made, in excellent condition and at just $105, a bargain.

Also, one of the hazards of shopping for vintage suiting is all the Mad Men references.  Apparently, if it was made in the 60s and can be worn to the office, it’s Mad Men inspired.  This becomes nauseating over time, so keep a barf bag handy.

This knit suit ($65) combines a classic vintage shape with a bold, almost sinful color.  This suit should be worn with a soft, chiffon blouse and a peep toe heel to make it more youthful.  But no matter how you wear it, this lipstick red suit is certain to get you noticed.

Sometimes, you just can’t do better than a classic.  This navy wool suit with white trim is the epitome of Camelot elegance.  To make it more modern, I would shorten the hem on the skirt, make the sleeves 3/4-length and pair it with a red shoe.  This piece of Jackie-esque style will set you back a mere $24, scary mannequin not included.

Typically, your editrix would shy away from something as daring as a goldenrod suit, but against all odds, I love this one.  The belted jacket, the buttons, it’s just a little bit spectacular.  You could pair the suit with black as this stylist has done, but my personal preference would be to mix in an emerald green or amethyst.  Best of all, the suit is deadstock meaning that you will be the first person to own it if you’re willing to pony up $186.

While I’m not sure that a brightly dotted bolero jacket and full skirted dress is appropriate for work, this WWII era outfit was so fab that I just had to include it.  It would be such a fun addition to my spring attire.  If you want to tone down the look, you could add a belted cardigan in place of the jacket.  Even on its own I think the jacket would be perfect for Gold Cup or another outdoor activity.  Dress and jacket are $98.


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  1. ALH says:

    Best post EVER! Thanks, Belle!

    January 15, 2010/Reply
  2. Jay says:

    Great post, Belle!

    January 16, 2010/Reply
  3. KH says:

    Belle, I love the idea of wearing vintage suits, but since the sizes can be different than our sizes and tailoring may be needed, do you recommend buying them online?

    January 16, 2010/Reply
  4. Belle says:


    If I buy a piece of vintage online, I always ask the seller to verify the measurements. I then ask if if the item doesn’t fit, I can return it at my cost. If the seller doesn’t accept returns, I am usually not interested.

    As for alterations, I always make sure to buy bigger than I am. It’s easier to take things in than let them out.

    January 16, 2010/Reply