How to get a retro look on a budget

We know that many of our readers are, like us, fans of the retro-inspired look when it comes to clothing. If genuine vintage isn’t an option, though, and repro pieces cost more than you’re prepared to pay for them, it’s reassuring to know that you can always add a bit of retro flair to your look even when you don’t have a huge budget to work with, or the time to trawl through dozens of vintage stores in search of one piece that works for you. Here’s how to do it…

how o get a retro look on a budget

How to get a retro look on a budget

Getting the retro look you’re after will obviously depend very much on which fashion era you’re channelling, and for the purpose of this article we’re using the term as a kind of catch-all to refer to anything from the 40s-late 60s, which is how it tends to be used these days. The most obvious way to create a vintage-inspired look, of course, is to buy vintage clothes. While vintage shopping can be a lot of fun, and hugely rewarding, however, it’s not something that everyone has the time, expertise or even the cash for: we’ve all heard stories about that lucky person who unearthed a vintage Dior dress in a charity store for 99p, but the reality is that most of us could spend weeks ransacking every thrift store in town, and not ever have that kind of luck. Even if you do, vintage clothes can be delicate, and precious, which makes some of us reluctant to actually wear them. If that sounds like you, here are some easy, low-cost ways to create a retro look…

Check out the high street or mall

It’s easy to think of the mall as a source of fast, contemporary fashion, but it’s actually pretty easy to put to together a retro look using brand new clothes: and the added benefit of this kind of approach is that your retro look will have a bit of a contemporary twist to it, which can be easier to wear than head-to-toe vintage. Look in particular for things like…

Tea dresses

You may not be able to afford an ACTUAL forties dress, but tea dresses are almost always available somewhere on the high street: in fact, we featured a fabulous floral number from Topshop as our Dress of the Day earlier this year. Today’s tea dresses tend to be a little shorter than their vintage counterparts, but they’ll allow you to create the same basic look.

Midi dresses and skirts

The midi went through a bit of a revival a couple of years ago, and while the look wasn’t embraced by everyone, it has stuck around, and most mass-market retailers are still stocking at least a couple of longer-than-average dresses and skirts, which are perfect for creating a retro look. Try ASOS, which generally has a wide selection.

Full skirts

For a 50s-inspired feel, you can’t beat a full skirt, and you can give it even more of a retro feel by adding a petticoat underneath.

Pencil skirts and wiggle dresses

An essential component of the pin-up look, these are always in ready supply, no matter what time of year. We featured a selection of bodycon midi dresses from Topshop a few weeks ago: these look very modern at first glance, but can easily be dressed up for a retro feel, especially if you find the right print. Speaking of which…

Polka dots, cherries and gingham

It’s a print rather than a specific garment, but polka dots will lend a vaguely retro feel to just about anything. Ditto poodle-print, or any one of the thousands of whimsical prints (most often featuring food or animals of some description) that are everywhere right now. Gingham will instantly add a retro feel, as will cherry-print, which tends to crop up fairly often in the summer.

Capri pants

Don’t want to wear a dress? Capri pants are a staple part of the pin-up look: try to find a pair that’s cut slim in the leg and high in the waist.

Shift dresses and mini skirts

Love the late 60s look? You don’t have to have access to a vault of vintage Biba to do it: any kind of A-line mini skirt will give you a late 60s feel – one with a graphic print will go even further in creating the look you’re after, and with the 60s currently back in fashion, those prints aren’t hard to find.

Go thrifting

It’s so obvious we barely need mention it, but while stores dedicated to vintage fashion can be expensive, your local thrift store might not be, so it’s worth visiting – and visiting often – to search for vintage, or retro look pieces. Remember, though, you don’t need to buy true vintage to get the retro look: modern clothes can create the same kind of effect, as outlined above, and an eighties-does-fifties dress will (probably) cost you less than a genuine 50s one.

Learn some retro hair and makeup techniques

Sometimes all you need to create a retro look is the right kind of hair and makeup. Pin-curls and red lips, for instance, will give a 40s flair to even a modern outfit, while a beehive and flicked eyeliner will make everyone assume you’re channelling the 60s, regardless of what your outfit looks like. Check out You Tube and Pinterest for tutorials.

Remember the little things…

When it comes to giving your outfit a retro look, often it’s the little things that make all the difference. You don’t actually need to make sure every single aspect of your outfit is accurate for the period you’re channelling (Unless you want to, of course, in which case you’re probably going to be looking for true vintage pieces in any case) to capture the basic FEEL of that era, and little touches like red lipstick, a cat’s eye flick or a subtle victory roll can go a long way towards creating the look you’re after in a way that’s both more affordable and easier to work into your day-to-day wardrobe than a truly historically accurate approach might be.

Of course, none of this advice is intended to suggest that you can’t ever find genuine vintage clothes on a budget, or that you shouldn’t even try: many people take a lot of pleasure in hunting down and wearing vintage clothing, and with a bit of perseverance (and sometimes a bit of luck, too), they often manage to do it on a serious budget. If all you want to do, however, is add a little bit of old-fashioned style to your daily outfits, we hope these tips will help you do it: and we’d love to hear any others you’d like to share!


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