Build a vintage closet

Building a vintage closet, step 2: Elements of style

Last time, we started to build a visual language which will ultimately develop into how you choose and edit your wardrobe. I asked you a few questions, some of which obviously relate to your wardrobe and some not obviously. What do your restaurant and city preferences have to do with anything? Well, think about how different someone would dress if their favorite restaurant was a classic old Italian place in New York vs. a beachside surf shack in Santa Cruz. Classic, sophisticated, elegant vs. casual, warm, and maybe daring. Adjectives like these are powerful signs along your path, allowing you to evaluate an item you’re considering adding to your vintage wardrobe. That lacy floral new look dress may be adorable and a good price and fit, but if your adjectives are causal, androgynous and simple, you will probably never feel that comfortable in it and it might sit unworn in your closet, taking up valuable real estate. This isn’t to say that you can’t break your own rules every now and then and test new limits, but especially when you’re just starting out, it’s helpful to keep your budget and goals in focus.

To that end, it’s time to identify your style. Quiz time! Go down the long list of pairs of words and pick the word from each pair that you feel best describes your style. These words might seem very similar, and they might seem like they have nothing to do with each other. You may feel like they both describe you. That’s fine.  Don’t think too much about it and just choose the first thing that resonates more with you, and move on to the next pair. Meet us back here after you have your top three most-chosen words.


Add up the number of times you circled or chose each adjective. Your top three adjectives comprise your basic style elements.

My adjectives are classic, casual, and simple, with sophisticated close behind. In terms of actual design elements, this means my choices are

  • iconic, tailored pieces that feel somewhat timeless (classic)
  • comfortable and easy to move in (casual)
  • mostly solids with minimal geometric prints (classic, simple)
  • no hemlines above the knee (classic)
  • detailed and quality in construction (sophisticated)

My least selected words were sweet, naive and androgynous. Things I’m not going to buy include

  • florals
  • polka dots
  • short skirts
  • beaded sweaters
  • cardigan sweaters
  • pastels
  • most 1930s styles (too slim in the hips)
  • embroidered blouses
  • peter pan collars
  • anything without a defined waist
  • most novelty prints

If I can describe something as sweet, cute, young, shapeless or slim, I don’t buy it. My next highest scoring words were sophisticated and sexy, so I can also skew in that direction and still be focused. So my style is classic, simple and classic, usually sophisticated but sometimes sexy, mostly fitted dresses and separates from the late 40s through 1950s, in solids or geometric prints.

With your style in mind, keep pinning and building your visual language. Start refining your board based on your adjectives–in these terms, how would you describe what you’ve already pinned to your style board? Does it match? Why or why not? Do you see things that you like visually, but now don’t feel like the right choice for you? Take a little time to edit this, and discover new looks, either in vintage photographs or things currently for sale online, that do match up well. And lest you think this exercise is a foolish waste of time, consider this from one of my favorite designers.

I do believe good taste in clothes can be acquired like any other form of art appreciation. It grows out of interest in the subject, in looking at people just as you look at pictures, with en eye for pleasing or unpleasing lines, colors, textures and quality, in analyzing how the woman gets her effect, what she had added for accent–and what she has had the good sense to leave off.

– Ceil Chapman


Next time: Assessing your assets. Or, what do you already have?

in January 20, 2015

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  • Rebecca January 20, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    This is simply BRILLIANT!!! I love following along with this and having actual keywords to help me add to my wardrobe. Thank you for taking the time to do this, right down to the helpful pinterest boards! Honestly, this is the most helpful tool I’ve come across when it comes to buying vintage yes, but also just defining your style. Thanks!

    • Jessica Parker January 22, 2015 at 12:39 am

      Thanks Rebecca! So glad to hear it’s helpful 🙂


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