Fashion might change, but elegance is eternal! Elegant looks are often relatively subtle, turning away from the glitz of your favorite party dresses.
Instead, these dresses use luxury fabrics, careful shaping, and feminine touches to bring an inherent elegance to your style.
If you’re hoping to inject some elegance into your wardrobe, one of the best places to start looking is the past!
Vintage dresses draw from the favorite styles of previous eras, creating looks that have a classic and timeless appeal.
There are many ways you can draw from the past to find an elegant look that suits you.
In this guide, we’ve rounded up 14 of our favorite vintage styles for inspiration. From the 1920s to the 1950s, these vintage looks simply overflow with elegance.
14 Vintage Dresses To Add Elegance To Your Wardrobe
OUR TOP PICK
The bias cut epitomizes the elegance of the 1930s. Moving away from both the structure of the early 1900s and the loose silhouettes of the 1920s, the 1930s used form-fitting draping to forge a new style.
The bias cut involves cutting fabrics diagonally across the grain. Cutting this way provides a loose stretch, which allows the fabric to drape better.
Bias cut dresses cling in the right places, while skimming the less flattering parts.
Today, bias style dresses still offer a refined elegance with just a hint of the femme fatale.
The pencil dress has a form fitting shape, hugging the body from the shoulders down to the knees.
This style of dress is sometimes known as the wiggle dress, due to the wiggling effect created by the tiny steps you have to take because of the narrow hem.
Rising to popularity in the 1950s, the pencil dress was smart, elegant, and a favorite of many leading ladies.
One of the most famous wiggle dresses was donned by Grace Kelly in Rear Window, although the lime green is a tricky one to pull off! For an elegant look, try gray, navy, or a classic black.
Christian Dior himself created the A-line dress, so you can’t get much more elegant than that!
Tucking in under the bust before lightly skimming down the body, the A-line dress is incredibly flattering, and creates a gentle fluttering motion with every movement.
The slight flare of the A-line dress creates both comfort and style. It’s easy to see why this cut was so popular with women in the 1950s, looking for a shape with slightly less bounce than the swing skirt!
Tea dresses were designed to be worn while you hosted tea, so they had to create a balance of comfort and elegance.
Traditionally made from lightweight fabrics, often in fun colors and patterns, these dresses showed you could see to people's needs, and look fabulous while doing so. The perfect host!
For a touch of elegance at a daytime occasion, try a take on the classic tea dress. Typically modest, the tea dress can be dressed up with floral patterns or feminine bows.
Satin has been seen as a luxury fabric since the 1200s, and it’s easy to see why. Smooth, soft, and clinging, satin has an undeniable elegance.
From the 1930s onwards, satin became a popular choice for Hollywood starlets. Brushing over the body, satin emphasizes the feminine form, and is also comfortable to wear.
An empire waist — tucking under the bust — and billowing sleeves emphasize the natural movement of satin, and add a modest touch to a bombshell of a fabric.
The swing dress is all about movement. With a tight top and a pinched waist giving way to the massive flare of the skirt, swing dresses twirl and bounce with every step.
Whether you’re hosting tea, moving to the dance floor, or passing the cocktails around, the dance of the swing skirt adds beauty to every step.
Still closely associated with the refinement of the 50s, the swing dress looks classically elegant in any situation.
Big changes came to fashion in the 1920s, and elegance moved away from tight confinement, and towards something a little fresher. As the corsets went away, pleated skirts came into play.
Often paired with sailor-style blouses, pleated skirts were fun and feminine, but with exquisite detailing to create an impeccable finish.
Hemlines were getting shorter in the 1920s, and the swing of the pleated skirt drew subtle attention to women’s legs! But thanks to all the fabric in the pleat, they never became too revealing.
Tight down the legs before flaring out at the knees, the mermaid hem is one of the most unusual silhouettes in fashion. Completely impractical, the mermaid hem indicates you’ve dressed to look good, not to get things done.
In the 1930s, the mermaid hem was looser, and followed the natural line of the dress. By the 1950s, the mermaid tail had started to flare out, creating a look with some pizzazz.
Named after actress and style icon Brigitte Bardot, the Bardot style neckline is an off the shoulder style that exposes the neck and collarbones. It became popular in the 1950s, and is known for elongating the neck.
A flattering style, the Bardot neckline was spotted on stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and, of course, Brigitte Bardot.
The Bardot neckline is still a popular style, and is often seen in casual looks, as well as evening wear. For a vintage elegance, choose a structured dress, rather than a flowing style.
Flaring out at the hips, the peplum was used to create that classic hourglass silhouette that everyone wanted in the 1950s.
Although it seems a tricky one to master, the peplum is surprisingly flattering. Worn right, it can be used to draw attention to all your best bits.
Paired with a pencil dress, the peplum adds interest to a simple shape, while maintaining the refined elegance of the base design.
We tend to associate the flappers with sequins, sparkles, and glitz, but this was also a time full of casual elegance.
As well as beads, sequins, and sparkles, flappers were also fans of slightly toned-down touches of femininity, such as bows and ruffles.
The loose bowknot works well with the casual draping seen in many dresses of this period.
Paired with ruffles and flutter sleeves, these delicate additions bring a hint to the structure of the previous decades, in the looser forms favored in the 20s.
Women and designers in the 1950s were still feeling the effects of rationing, which meant styling details had to be achieved in new ways.
Instead of elaborate beading and embroidery, so popular in previous eras, designers looked for new ways to use fabrics.
Delicate chiffon capes and silk cloaks could add something new to a dress, and bring versatility to your favorite outfit.
At formal occasions, the cloak added modesty to the gown. When dancing, it brought movement. And when you attended a party, the cloak could be removed!
The waistline has moved around a lot in fashion, and in the 1920s, it dropped down to the hips! Ditching the corsetry, women used the drop waist to achieve a slim and straight figure (without uncomfortable undergarments).
The drop waist elongates the body, and the loose fit makes it an easy style to wear.
Recalling the simple shift dress, the drop waist can be dressed up with jewelry, or left to speak for itself.
Blouson dresses tuck in at the waist, with the billowing fabric of the top flowing over the belt. Popular in the 1920s, and then again in the 1950s (and onwards), the style recalls the look of the blouse, hence the name blouson!
The art deco style, combining straight lines and undulating curves to create complex patterns, acts as a gorgeous accompaniment to the blouson style.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Styles Were Considered Elegant In The 1920s?
Women in the 1920s looked for looser shapes, using drop waists and pleated skirts to elongate and slim the body without the addition of uncomfortable undergarments.
What Styles Were Considered Elegant In The 1930s?
Draping was used to create a subtly sexy elegance in the 1930s, with stretchy bias cut dresses clinging and flowing in all the right places. Smooth fabrics such as silk and satin added to this look.
What Styles Were Considered Elegant In The 1950s?
Structured tops and swinging skirts were popular looks in the 1950s, contrasted by the form-fitting wiggle dress. Bows and tailoring added femininity, while longer hems and higher necklines added elegant modesty.
Create an elegant look by drawing from your favorite vintage styles! Elegant vintage looks can take many forms, but they often focus on fabulous fabrics, careful tailoring, and feminine details.
Whether you prefer the loose rebellion of the 1920s, or the structured swing of the 1950s, there’s an elegant vintage look for you!
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