Some of my best dresses are vintage (see the below '70s cheesecloth number I found on a Greek island—nothing compares during the summer IMO). In my 20s, I had a great run of finding gem after gem thanks to the fact I lived a hop, skip and a jump away from Brick Lane, and most of my hungover weekends were spent trawling through thrift stores with nothing more pressing to do than get brunch. Things have changed: My life is far busier with a toddler, there are definitely fewer hangovers, the stock of vintage in the UK is becoming more and more limited, and I've become increasingly fussy about what is allowed to enter my very full wardrobe. So I still wear many of these special second-hand pieces to this day, but I can now also shop safely in the knowledge that almost any vintage-inspired dresses, whether new or old, will see plenty of wear.
It's almost an oxymoron to say "vintage dress trends" because many retro styles have become bona fide classics in their own. A tea dress, for example, is neither on-trend nor ever out of fashion—it just suits your personal style or it doesn't. Same goes for the whole #cottagecore vibe and those Laura Ashley–style prairie dresses—something I was wearing long before lockdown came with its picnic-scaping and long walks.
Below, I've charted the vintage dress trends that really never fade out and have lived happily in my closet for at least the past decade or so. These are dresses I've enjoyed wearing when I first bought them, but they're also the ones that I'm still excited to pull out this summer and style all over again. I've found vintage options for you to peruse but also some retro-inspired newer options because I know second-hand isn't for everyone. The sizing is restrictive, and the fabric technology just isn't what it is today (many a sweaty polyester number I have endured to save you from the embarrassment). So keep scrolling to discover the vintage dress trends that get my forever seal of approval.
1. PRAIRIE DRESS
Style Notes: This Yolke dress was a new addition to my wardrobe last year, but it sums up a more modern, and less fussy, prairie mood well. Subtle ruffles, a full skirt, blouson sleeves and a toile floral have all the hallmarks of a '70s piece but just toned down that little bit for ease of wear.
Style Notes: A ditsy floral tea dress never fails to feel good on and is the kind of midi you turn to whenever you're unsure of what to wear in the summer months. I even wear some of mine during the winter with knee boots and a chunky knit or super-warm coat. I tend to gravitate more towards the 1930s and 1940s-inspired tea dresses in slinkier fabrics, bias-cut skirts and with smaller blooms, but you could look at '50s options that come in louder prints and stiffer cotton if you wanted a more snug fit.
3. BRODERIE ANGLAISE
Style Notes: Broderie anglaise isn't just vintage—it's basically an antique fabric technique that dates back to the 19th century. So if anything has staying power, it's this!
4. '70S MAXI
Style Notes: I am short, so maxis can be difficult to pull off (or not trip over), but there are certain styles with a more nipped-in waist and '70s vibe that work better for me than anything too tent-like.
5. MOD MINI
Style Notes: I'm more of a '70s girl at heart, but I can't resist a modest and mod-inspired printed midi dress. The fit needs to be slightly loose to counterbalance the shorter hemline, and the more retro the pattern, the better.
Style Notes: Fit-and-flare dresses have been popular since the '40s and '50s and continue to be a big seller today in many guises because they are flattering on almost all figures.