I don’t know if I have mentioned it much before, but my husband and I are on a very tight budget. Some weeks, even a trip to Goodwill is out of the question. And it’s not for lack of budgeting or trying to earn more, that’s just the way it is. Things have changed at my husband’s job and he took a pay cut equal to the sum of our utility bills in the winter months. So we don’t have the luxury of purchasing whatever we want whenever we please. I laugh when I see “budget friendly” picks or “budget conscious” outfits in magazines and on blogs when the chosen item is $49.99 or the outfit is altogether more than our weekly grocery bill.
For a while I despaired of ever dressing like the vintage vixen I hoped to become. I read blogs like Miss Victory Violet and Southern California Belle and dreamed of having my own beautiful vintage/reproduction closet, but the price tags were too high for our modest bank account. And then I realized: you can dress retro on a budget. You just have to have patience, persistence, and a little bit of luck. So today I thought I would share my tips for dressing retro on a budget!
One: Thrift Consistently
Obviously, if you read my blog regularly, you know. I am addicted to thrift shopping. Over the years I have found many vintage and reproduction styles at my local favorite thrift haunts, and it still brings me a thrill when I enter Goodwill and find that perfect item.
But many people say to me “I never find the things you find!” or “I’m just not that lucky at thrifting!” and as soon as I ask them how often they thrift, or whether they have a method while thrifting, I know their problem. When you’re thrifting for vintage or reproduction garments, you can’t just waltz into a thrift store every six months, spend five minutes looking, and come out with an armful of goods. It has taken me six or seven years to build up my arsenal of dresses, and I still have holes in my closet. When I plan to go to the thrift store, I plan myself at least thirty minutes (but usually go an hour). I start in the section of the garments I most want or need to find, and I give a cursory sweep of any other sections just to ensure I’m not leaving behind something on my mental list.
And I go thrifting at least once a month, and at most every week. Consistency and persistence are key. Flexibility in what you hope to find is also paramount. You may go in hoping for a dress an instead come out with a fantastic pair of heels! In fact, the heels in this post were thrifted last week after I ran through the entire dress and skirt section and decided to give the “last chance” section of the store a once-over. They look perhaps once-worn, no wear on the inside, very very minimal (as in, a bit of dust) wear on the soles. And they were 99 cents.
Two: Learn Retro Hair and Makeup
If you can’t afford to shop and add more pieces to your closet, you can definitely always style your head to suit your vintage dreams. I am a firm believer that hair and makeup are the most important when you’re attempting to achieve a pinup look. When your hair is done and your lips are on, almost anything looks retro — even a modern tee and jeans. So when your bank account says “no more shopping”, turn to your curlers and get your hair glammed up! For my hair today I used this tutorial and it was by far the most effective retro hair tutorial I’ve ever tried!
Three: Wait for Sales
This should be obvious if you’re on a budget, but it’s seriously so true. The dress I’m wearing was originally a $50 dress that I just didn’t have money for when I originally spotted it. So I passed it by and hoped that perhaps one day I’d see it on sale somewhere… and my dreams came true! perhaps a month later, someone mentioned that a sale was on at Lindybop, and I snagged this beauty for a grand total of $13 (plus shipping, of course.) Totally worth the wait, and I am so glad that I didn’t splurge on it at its original price because the lowest button popped of on my first wear. It’s an easy fix, and was aggravated by the belt I’m wearing, but still. Buttons on a $50 dress should most definitely stay put.
Four: Support Small Businesses!
This isn’t always going to be the case, but often you can find niche or kitchy retro items handmade on Etsy for an inexpensive price, while on sites like Modcloth the similar equivalents are 3-4 times the price. My camera brooch is from the shop CircaAd, and was ten dollars. It was an accidental purchase, but one that I adore and I will definitely be going back to purchase more! I also got a brain in a jar brooch from the shop for five dollars, and love it!
Five: Compromise on Era
I know. You ideally want everything from the forties and fifties, but they’re so expensive. What do you do? Search instead for 70’s-does-40’s, or 80’s-does-50’s! Every era has an era that it loved to emulate. In the seventies, they often created dresses that mimicked the soft flow of the forties, like this pretty blue floral dress for a fraction of what it would cost to buy a true 40’s style. And in the eighties, of course, there were plenty of full-skirted beauties that could easily be taken for a retro housewife’s dress.
Six: Let People Know You Love Vintage.
Obviously not all of your friends are going to give you their grandma’s finest, but sometimes you get lucky! Don’t hide your vintage-loving self. Don’t be afraid to wear head-to-toe retro looks on a daily basis. Wear them to the grocery store. Wear them to church. Wear them to parties, to friends’ houses, to the park with your kids (and yes, you can look vintage while being practical. Just go knee-length, washable cotton, and a little retro hair or makeup (or headscarf) and you’re good!) When people see you wearing vintage and retro garments, they’ll remember. I’ve been lucky enough to have five or six people hand me off vintage garments (though not all of them fit) , and I have friends who have gotten incredible hauls because they’re not afraid to let their vintage selves free. The earrings I’m wearing were given to me, along with a TON of others, by a friend’s mom whose own mother was moving and needed to downsize.
The more I wear retro/vintage outfits, the more people give me their grandma’s hand-me-downs. And, to paraphrase Macklemore, I will wear your grandma’s clothes, and I do look incredible.
What tips do you have for dressing retro on a budget?
Bonus: I nearly decided to make this a coats-and-gloves-and-hat outfit, but when I stepped outside the cold weather of the morning had changed to a good warmth, so I lost the extras.
The extras: coat was a gift. Hat, vintage/thrifted – $8 | purse, vintage/thrifted $5.99 | gloves, vintage $6-7?
So there you have it! Now you know how to be retro on a budget, so go be a vintage goddess no matter what your spending allowance is!