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Stunning Vintage Dress Styles from the 1940s through the 1980s

The vintage look is always popular and always trendy because what’s out of style can be in style again. As they say, fashion is cyclical. The looks that have been will come around again and that’s why vintage fashion always looks great. Reach back through time to find the looks that will work on you and re-capture the spirit of the past with vintage dress styles.

Vintage dresses

What is Vintage?

So is everything that’s old vintage? How about brand-new stuff that’s made to look old? And when do vintage clothes stop being vintage and start becoming antique? 

By fashion definitions, vintage fashion is at least 20 years old. Even new clothing that’s made in older designs can be vintage clothing, though you can always hunt for treasure n secondhand shops, too. 

However, new clothes that are made with new patterns that are designed to look vintage, this is technically “vintage inspired clothing,” or retro style. A retro dress can be just as cute as a vintage dress. You can even learn how to make your own retro clothing. Vintage inspired dress styles are easy to find everywhere.

And when a clothing style is more than 100 years old, it’s no longer vintage. Now, it’s antique. 

Types of Vintage Dresses by Decade

Want to create great vintage looks? Start with a dress and accessorize from there. If you’re going to dress vintage, look for the vintage dresses that were popular during the particular era you’d like to capture. 


WWII Vintage dress

Woman wearing 1940s vintage red and white dress

Women wearing 1940s dresses

Fit and flare dresses are perfect when you want to capture a 1940s everyday look. Choose something in a small print with a muted color palette to really look vintage. Cap sleeves were especially popular at this time. Round, square and sweetheart necklines were also common. 

Shirtwaist dresses were also highly popular at this time. Made in button-up, collared styles that resemble a man’s shirt, these dresses are a bit longer than knee-length in the 1940s and commonly made with short, puffed sleeves. Any shirtwaist dress in a small print or soft color will look totally vintage. 


Woman wearing a 1950s vintage dress

Woman wearing 1950s dress

Red vintage dress worn by woman in diner

Also known as ’50s style, the rockabilly look is a hot ongoing vintage trend. Look for dresses made in patterns like polka dots and tartan. Sweetheart necklines and halter necks are very rockabilly. Dresses with close-fitting bodices that cinch the waist are a must. Midi dress lengths were popular at this time.

Swing dress styles were particularly popular in this decade, a favorite for unique vintage looks of all kinds. In vintage shops, they’re often billed as a 50s style dress. The waist sits a little higher than the natural waistline and the skirt has a full or semi-circle design. Add a petticoat to add volume and you will look totally classic. This is still a great party dress look. The fitted bodice and flaring skirt create a fun look that’s great as casual or semi formal wear.


Classic 1960s vintage dress

Woman wearing vintage 1960s dress

Bohemian vintage dress from 1960s

Green vintage dress 1960s

Mini dress styles practically say 1960s out loud. The miniskirt was popularized in this decade and women were embracing the trend. Any minidress will look vintage as long as it has bright colors and the right accessories. A line, empire waist and shift dresses look especially vintage in the right fabric and pattern. A ’60s-era mini dress is a great vintage garment to have on hand.


Woman wearing vintage 1970s dress

Woman wearing vintage 1970s hippy dress

Woman wearing 1970s dress

If one dress says 1970s, it’s the maxi dress. This long, fitted down has a slightly flared skirt and an overall airy construction that makes it comfortable and easy to wear. Get maxi dresses n super bold, graphic patterns and bright colors. Accessorize with bright orange, yellow and powder blue to really look like a glam 1970s diva. 

If you’re going for a super glam look, try long satin gowns in a simple tube design. This will skim the figure but not cling to it. Long, billowy sleeves are very on-trend for vintage 1970s fashion. 


Vintage 1980s dresses

1980s rocker dress vintage

It’s official: 1980s fashion is hot again. Some looks from this era, like all the neon fishnets, are better left in the closet. But one timeless trend from the era is always cute for a great vintage look: prairie dresses. Lightweight and airy with elbow-length sleeves and pretty ruffle or lace details, the prairie dress is a vintage classic.

Sweater dresses with big shoulders and wide plastic belts are exactly what you need to create a great 1980s look. Remember to use lots of bright colors. Jewel tones and pastel hues are all perfect. 


Still have questions about capturing a vintage look? Learn the styling tricks to create a complete vintage look whenever you want. Get the answers to the most common questions about vintage fashion and vintage dress styles.

How to style vintage dresses?

Styling vintage outfits isn’t easy. Play around with different ways to wear vintage and master a few tips to keep your look fresh. Try mixing and matching. If you’re wearing a vintage dress, add some new accessories. Consider doing a take on a vintage hairstyle but add a modern twist to give the look something new. A second vintage piece or two can put a great finishing touch on any vintage outfit.

Who are some vintage style dress designers?

While anyone can make vintage fashion, even home designers. However, some names stand out through fashion history. These designers are well known for creating iconic looks during earlier style eras. 

Yves Saint Laurent is a huge name in fashion whose name continues to grace new styles. Vintage Laurent, however, can be pretty pricey. Laurent fashion has been popular through the decades, so you can’t go wrong with this label. James Galanos isn’t as well known as others and that’s a good thing. Galanos fashions are on point and they’re particularly popular among vintage style hunters but typically, items are not as pricey as other designs. 

Christian Dior is responsible for creating the “new look” of the 1940s that changed dress silhouettes. Look for the wide skirts and small waists that popularized dresses of this era and you may be looking at vintage Dior.

Are vintage dresses in style?

Vintage wedding dress styles are never out of fashion and vintage clothing never disappears in popular fashion entirely. Vintage is always a look that works. That’s why vintage fashion continues to be popular. The whole point of vintage dresses is that no, they aren’t all that in style anymore…but any kind of vintage fashion is always in style! Get it? 

Which clothing items are essential for creating a vintage look?

Jewelry is a great way to pull any vintage look together. Cameos have a great old fashioned look that works great with vintage looks. Large, beaded pieces also have an older style to them. Vintage handbags are another great complement to any vintage dress. Browse secondhand shops to find great vintage bags. 

A cropped tweed jacket or a motorcycle jacket will add vintage glamour to any look. Add a cardigan to complete any 1950s look. With a few vintage items, any look becomes complete.


  • Glamour – The Dos and Don’ts of Wearing Vintage
  • Harper’s Bazaar – Who are some vintage style dress designers?
  • HowStuffWorks – 5 Essential Vintage Items for Your Closet
  • Marie Claire – This is what women used to wear in the 1940s and it was pretty damn stylish
  • Outfittrends – 25 Best Ways to Style Vintage Outfits for Women
  • Revival – Twelve Common Vintage Dress Styles
  • SewGuide – What is Vintage Fashion Style, Retro Fashion or Vintage Inspired Fashion
  • Who What Wear – It May Be 2021, But These 7 Vintage Trends Are Still Dominating
  • Wisegeek – What are the Different Types of Retro Dresses?