Top 10 Distinguishing Features of Vintage Dresses

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Vintage dresses are an absolute delight. These dreamy pieces are carefully curated and take us back to an era where mini, midi or maxi dresses were a big rage. Characterized by timelessness, traditional craftsmanship, and exciting history of origin, vintage numbers are worth their value.

Check out this list (not exhaustive) of the most common features of vintage clothing for women to know what you can expect when shopping for retro numbers.

What are the Features of Vintage Dresses?


When we talk about vintage clothing, particularly dresses, necklines feature at the top of the list. These include fairly modest ones, such as sweetheart, slit, scoop, or notch styles. For collars, the wing, shirt style revere collar or shawl are some of the popular varieties.

Sleeve Heads

Also known as crowns, sleeve heads are typically high with double pleats or gathers. As for the sleeves, you can find vintage dresses having them in varying lengths. But they are usually fitted and relatively plain. In addition, elbow-length or three-quarter sleeves were widely preferred.

Shoulder Pads

The shoulder pads on vintage dresses, especially from the forties, were usually hand-made from scraps of fabric filled with different wadding-type materials. They typically have a strong square shoulder shape and defined silhouette, giving a slightly masculine look with an emphasized nipped-in waist. This style with broader shoulders enhances the authoritative appearance.


A yoke is a dressmaking term referring to a fixed, flat area of fabric, typically added across the shoulders, back and front. They are pointed or curved with soft gathers to create fullness at the bust. Smocking and shirring are also standard features in vintage clothing for women.

Elbow Darts

Elbow or sleeve darts are single, double, or even triple, added to offer shaping and strength. Also, they allow more movement at the elbow, even on a snug-fitting sleeve, which is pretty standard in vintage clothing.

Side Fastening

The retro dresses in the 1940s - 1980s period were almost always fastened on the side, often with small press studs or a metal zip. If the bodice is buttoned through at the back or front, you will find an additional opening on the side.

Buttons and Closure Details

Another popular feature of vintage dresses is the round fabric-covered buttons with multiple loops, made using the same material, to fasten across.

Waist Line and Panel

Although not all retro dresses had this feature, many pieces of clothing have a deep waistband, shaped into a curve or V. They function as a basque to pull in the waistline. Alternatively, vintage dresses also have a plain waist seam with a short overskirt, called peplum.

Skirt Style

When it comes to vintage gowns and dresses, the swing style with several panels is quite popular. The beauty of these flattering skirts is they do not add extra volume at the hips like gathered dirndls but offer fullness at the hem for dancing and walking.

Material and Prints

Linen, silk such as crepe de chine, gritty textured crepes, and silk substitutes like Rayon were some of the favourite fabrics for vintage clothing. Usually, the dresses are unlined as petticoat slips are worn separately. They often have decorative prints in bright colours and flowing silhouettes.

Genuine Vintage vs. Vintage Appearance

The popularity and aesthetics of retro numbers gave rise to the vintage style somewhere at the beginning of the 21st century. Beautiful pieces were recreated through modern manufacturing methods to reflect the look of the past era. Epochal prints and stylistic features of bygone times typically characterize this style.

If you are looking for authentic vintage clothing, it helps to know that the value of actual vintage garments differs from the retro look.

Get Your Choice of Vintage Dress with Us!

The beauty of vintage clothing is so irresistible that many fashion houses incorporate unique ways to weave retro charm into their designs. However, only authentic vintage pieces can guarantee an authentic retro look, feel, and quality.

If this is something you are looking for, Black Market Clothing has a beautiful selection of vintage dresses. Some of our favourites include:


Feel free to browse our collection to find something you love. Sizes and measurements are listed for each item. You can also refer to our vintage sizing guide if you have any questions about the fit.

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