Pretty Vintage vs. Ugly Vintage

Vested Interest, Three-On-A-Match, Half-N-Half; I adore this rather fabulous set of knitted frocks, especially the cardi on the right.

Belle Hop; So clean and chic, I only wish it came with all the jewels, gloves and that wonderful hat.

These are scans from a vintage knitting mag that I bought on Etsy a little while ago. It’s a Spinnerin Knitting magazine from 1956. A genuine article. I keep flipping through the pages of it lusting after each and every knit creation. I’ve probably put 20 years on the poor mag with all my flipping and skipping through it. As I won’t be at working my day job much longer, I brought it to work the other day so I could make my coworkers jealous as they flipped through it too. Much to my surprise, my secret plan did not work. None of my coworkers were jealous that this lovely magazine was mine, or that I might actually knit something from it (when I learn to knit that is). In fact, as they flipped through the pages, barely looking at the photographs they laughed (an odd response, I felt) and said things like “these models have no waist,” “look how thin they are,” “they didn’t have photoshop back then, so they must really be that thin.” I was actually a bit shocked that no one looked past the models and onto to what they were wearing, which is essentially the point of the magazine, right? Not a single ooohh or awww escaped my coworkers lips as they flipped. Not even those who knit their own sweaters and such! Sigh….

Lovely “You”; Isn’t this top just to die for? So sweet! I love how it has a sort of peplum flair along the bottom.

Dual Rule; My favorite of the bunch, I love the cardigan here and the small stripes. The tucked in waist and flared peplum is just ravishing!

No, I’m not going to discuss the skinny here. I want to discuss views on vintage. What do you think? Is vintage pretty or ugly? The other day I was wearing my great gran’s vintage opal necklace and earrings. This lady, a very well dressed one at that, complimented me on the set and said, “Those are really pretty. Usually vintage stuff is so ugly.” My mouth sort of dropped. I didn’t quite know what to say.

French Accent; This is so darling! And just think how comfortable it would be too.

Winsome Twosome; I love the collar on this cardigan and the skirt is just lovely with that faux pleat look.

Velvet Touch, Tailor Made; Oddly I think the model on the right looks an awful like Rosemary Clooney.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit lately especially with the “laughable” reception of my vintage knitting mag. I personally think it’s just gorgeous. But I do love vintage, though everything I wear and make is not always so. I also think alot of vintage is beautiful, but I have to admit that not all vintage is my style. Then I started thinking that perhaps the styles you grew up in maybe leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. You know, maybe they are associated with the heartache of puberty and such, if that was as bad for you as it was for me. I mean, the 90s give me all sorts of grief. Whenever I’m out shopping for vintage patterns and I come across 90s styles I remember wearing in high school, I immediately push them out of sight. Ugh…. But then sometimes, very rarely I find a 90s pattern that I really like. Weird.

Art Throb

I don’t know. What do you think? Have you ever experienced responses like these to vintage? Maybe it’s just that people are uneducated about vintage style and fashion and therefore feel that anything “old” must be ugly? Maybe, just maybe, its just not their style and I am over thinking this just a little. Still, I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Smart Suiter

I do hope you enjoy these scans. I am trying to illicit intense jealousy so if you do feel like laughing, please hold it in and let the green envy take over. It only takes a moment. If you feel you must point out the tiny waistlines, it is good to remember that accenting a waistline with a belt is a sure fire way of nipping this part of the body in (not to mention the shapewear they wore those days). Just a smoke and mirror trick, in my humble opinion. And if anyone knows the rules about copyright and whether or not I can scan in this entire book and put it on Ravelry or something let me know. I would love to see one of these made up.



  • Catherine Daze - I think it’s spot-on that how you react to vintage is as much to do with how you feel about the era concerned as it is to do with the actual look. I think it also evolves over time! I distinctly remember hating everything 70s during my 80s childhood, but now I love it. And I think of myself as loving 80s style but actually when I look at real 1980s sewing patterns I realise that I’m only remembering a subset of what we wore then, and a lot of the rest was pretty unflattering. It’s so hard to step back and see the clothes independently of the times.

  • Leah - I think that these sweaters are absolutely gorgeous, god, I wish I knitted! Art Throb? Kill me, that’s adorable and I can honestly say that I would probably wear most of these.
    I think it’s important to point out that many people like what looks good on them, but a lot of people also do this odd thing where they just like what they see available to them in major stores, even it it’s supremely unflattering. I personally love vintage styles of the 20′s even though they would look terrible on my figure. I also love styles of the 40′s and 50′s, which look pretty great on me, I love it all, even if I can’t wear it all. I love fashion history, though, because it’s fascinating and illustrative of the social and political setting. Nothing exists in a vacuum, though, so it makes sense. Did you know that every war of the previous century provoked hem-line shortening? It makes perfect sense, i.e., fabric shortages mean shorter skirts, but when you know how it works you have such a better appreciation for why fashion has moved the way it’s moved. Or that women started wearing suits in the 40′s because they had to convert their husband’s suits into women’s clothes if they wanted something new? Things like that fascinate me.
    I like Sherry’s use of the term costume, I think some people can’t get past that word, and it’s not costume, it’s clothing. Just because it wasn’t made last week by a factory in Indonesia doesn’t mean it isn’t wearable. Obviously not everything ever made is a beautiful flattering piece of clothing, but I think there was more of an appreciation for craftsmanship, say, 70 years ago, then there is today, and it shows. It’s why I like sewing, because you can bring that back!
    Great topic and great comments. And the woman who “complimented” you is quite the backhanded hitter…

  • Charlotte - It’s sometimes hard to see because we all love vintage, but I do think we can get ‘blinded’ by our immersion in vintage that some styles can end up looking frumpy. But often it’s easy to fix by, for example, raising the hem (the late 40s / early 50s New Look skirt length does nothing for me) or making the skirt narrower or making the bodice more fitted.
    xx Charlotte

  • Charlotte - Those knits are just divine – I love love love the stripy number, and that peplum suit in the last pic!
    Re the backhanded compliment, it seems rather an odd thing to say. For a start, ‘vintage’ is such a broad term that it would be hard to make a single generalisation. It’s true that a lot of vintage is ugly, just as it’s true that a lot of new is ugly. Because designers don’t get it right all the time, and everyone has their own tastes.
    xx Charlotte

  • Emily Smith Pearce - Thanks for sharing the pictures. So interesting. Yes, the models are too thin, but they also look weird because most likely they were wearing some serious undergarments, the likes of which haven’t seen the light of day in decades. Girdles at least, if not corsets.

  • Seemane (aka Claire) - Hi Sunni!
    I’ve just awarded you a ‘Stylish Blogger Award’

  • Trixie - Oh, those knitting patterns are just so beautiful! I’m so envious! (Typing can’t convey the lust in my voice but it’s there, or, well, it would be if I was actually speaking aloud and not typing). I do knit but I very very rarely knit from any vintage patterns because the teeny tiny gauge doesn’t go well with my attention span but I’ve been thinking I should really learn to concentrate, because 40s/50s knitting patterns are so lovely and after seeing these ones I realise I really really must try one.
    It seems strange to me to say that all vintage things are usually ugly (and I suppose equally to say that they’re all beautiful) – there’s about a century’s worth of clothing and patterns out there! How can it all be ugly? Personally I think 40s and 50s styles are the most beautiful clothes ever made but hate 80s styles.
    Oh, and like you say, they might not have had photoshop back then but by god, they had shapewear!

  • Jeanine - They’re probably also the people who go to those “sofa art” sales and think they’re tasteful paintings. I rather liken vintage to fine art—it’s well-made and timeless and not throwaway (for the most part!). I can almost bet money that most people who look down on vintage don’t frequent art museums or anything cultural. They are more into the mall and sports, etc. Buncha sheeps who have to wear current styles, regardless of whether they’re flattering or not.

  • Hatty - The truth is that in most of the world it is only those born since the seventies that are so “cornfed” in their childhood that they are now big and strapping (to put it kindly) or even obese. I compared my school primary school photos (sixties) with my son’s (eighties) the other day. Yes, his generation is HUGE compared with ours. We were not only slimmer but smaller-framed as well. One reason older people may cringe at the memory of all those fine-gauge knits and “vintage” clothes, though, is that they do remember them being worn by their middle-aged mums and aunties after much childbearing. Believe me they are not so lovely on the stocky, broad and buxom. Having said that, modern fashion isn’t either – and today’s young people manage to be like that BEFORE they start the childbearing. (Probably my generations fault for overfeeding them in childhood of course.)
    Another thing i remember well about the sixties and seventies (and none of the “vintage-groupies” ever so much as mention it) was the ubiquity of (the firstly welcomed and later despised) Crimplene. Believe me if you haven’t danced in Crimplene, you don’t know what “sweat” means. And washing powders were not so effective then either….. uuuurrggggh.

  • Karen - Who really looks good in a 1920s silhouette? As much as I love that era, I would look awful in a drop-waisted, flat-chested, beige, calf-length rectangle dress.

  • Tasia - I love the scans! The ‘You’ sweater is my favourite and I’d own it in every colour if I knew how to knit!
    The whole ugly-vs-pretty debate is so general, but I think there are some people who can’t appreciate any of it. You know? Like all things non-modern are OLD. I agree with Katherine, it’s about the silhouettes for me. And the feelings. I love the extremely feminine full-skirted look and wish I could twirl through life in a cupcake dress, all the time! Plus, the hourglass silhouette that was popular, is flattering on me. The mod sixties, with the minis and trapeze silhouettes? Not for me. It’s not ugly to me, it’s just not something I’d wear myself. I’d love to have long thin legs to rock a minidress!
    How disappointing that you didn’t get to show off your finds like you intended :) At my previous job, no one would have thought they were cool either. It’s like my brown dotted shirtdress – the skirt is longer length than standard fashion, it’s not super-fitted, and the sleeves are a modest mid-bicep length. Ugly, perhaps, to some people. Most people wouldn’t have looked twice at it on the rack. But when I wear it, I feel pretty and comfortable and a little bit twirly.
    It’s almost the same reaction to thrifted finds – some people just can’t get over the ‘used’ factor to appreciate the truly awesome thing you just found. Those are likely the same type of people, thinking all vintage is old/ugly, all thrift-store clothing is used/old.

  • In the Hammock Blog - Aww, that’s too bad that your coworkers didn’t see the beauty in these designs. I personally love the striped outfit with the peplum, adorable!!

  • melina bee - wow, knit dresses are a personal favorite, I’d love that one with the square collar and two stripes at the bottom hem.
    I wear a ton of vintage and some of it is frumpy and some is stylish, it’s as much about how it is worn and context as much the items.

  • Lorena - My mother and sister have told me the same thing when I wear vintage and vintage-inspired dresses; they say they age me. I have thought the same thing sometimes when I see girls wearing vintage…that it does make them look older. I have to remember to keep it young, like with my hair and makeup…I don’t overdo those!!

  • Lorena - A lot of vintage styles can be frumpy. I like how girls pair vintage dresses with edgy tall wedges that make the look fun and youthful and at the same time more modern. A mix of vintage with modern works best.

  • Tisha - I thoroughly enjoyed this post… I came here from Elegant Musings. The scans are lovely, and the big question is: if the ladies’ waists back then were so skinny, how wide were the hips? Straight skirts would look really awful over skinny waist and wide hips!! Did they just not eat? :)

  • Amy - It has to be said, maybe I’m not a ‘true’ lover of vintage but when I go to actual vintage shops I’m always amazed at the ugliness of some of the stuff in there! I mean, the 70s and 80s are technically vintage now and there was a load of hideous stuff that came out of those decades – acid wash jeans for a start!
    I think sometimes folk who are heavily into vintage get a bit carried away, just because something is old does not necessarily mean it’s either pretty or flattering. I guess it’s like anything with clothes, what looks good on one person doesn’t necessarily look good on another.
    On the other hand though, I agree with the ladies above, vintage is going through a revival at the moment and so folk in their 20s-30s might have been a bit more positive about your lovely knitting mag! I know my Mum doesn’t quite get my vintage obsession, she associates a lot of the things I wear with her Mum, who wasn’t the most stylish woman alive (in the nicest possible way Gran!).
    I read several vintage and fashion blogs where the ladies wear clothes that can look super chic on them, but would look utterly ridiculous on me. Equally though, sometimes they wear items of clothing that they go on about how wonderful and vintage it is and I’m looking at it thinking, “oh my goodness, really?!”
    Horses for courses I guess!

  • Viv - No matter what decade, there are going to be ugly trends/fashions. I don’t think you showed any that fit into those categories. Just because someone doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean that it is ugly. And I feel sorry for your workmates because they just showed you how creative they really are- they couldn’t look past the fact that your magazine was 50+ years old.
    I agree with the fact that if you were alive in that decade, it is looked upon as “out-dated” to you- thus not pretty anymore. However it wouldn’t be fair to just classify past styles as ugly. I personally can appreciate almost every decade. Athough 80-90s I’m having a hard time. 80s just seems so extreme to me like they ran out of ideas and had to get crazy.

  • Lainie - I love the Dual Rule! And yes, I was in middle school in 1988 and had HUGE Teased bangs, bleach spots on my jeans and fringed boots. I see the 80s influances pop up and just cringe! I HATE it! However, there are ugly, gaudy clothes in every era, today included.
    I am into specific vintage looks, and modern ones inspired heavily by that specific era. But even then, I don’t like all colors or prints, so even if the shape of a dress is something I like, the color or fabric could make me feel as if it “ugly”.
    While many of my coworkers regularly compliment my style, it isn’t the look for them at all. As their’s aren’t for me.
    Just embrace your individual style, and forget about everyone else’s opinions. It’s nice when other people think you look good, but not as nice when you feel good yourself!

  • seeks - I’m sorta with Sigrid on this: fashion is really about the manufacturing of style. In which case, if you look at vintage clothes as “old” or “quaint”, you’re more likely to see it as ugly and outdated. If you were to take very similar pieces of clothing and show them on willowy runway models of today, the same folks may not interpret them as such. If you look at vintage as “classic” or “timeless”, then you are more likely to notice the stellar as opposed to the awful.
    I really enjoy vintage, but I do think that I probably don’t wear it the same as it would have been worn in its original era. No matter what, fashion is always about reinterpretation.

  • bonita - ~ * ♥ * ~
    I am purely green with envy…. I would LOVE to knit any/all of these patterns and words fail at the gorgeousness of the knit peplums!!
    I can sympathize though ~ I bring home a piece of delightful vintage that I adore and often times my family comments along the lines of my looking like a grandma. That or my mother literally laughs at me… : (
    I just tell myself that some people don’t get it, and the internet is full of vintage obsessed people that can drool with me. : )
    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  • Jen - I for one am swooning over just about all of these—even those that I wouldn’t personally wear have a lot of charm. (For the record, though, most of them I WOULD WEAR! With a thrill in my heart!)
    What others are saying about some folks having a skewed view of “vintage” (polyester, anyone?) is true. I grew up during the 80s and 90s. Neon, insane proliferation of animal prints, harem pants, western style (with fringe!), pegged jeans…Oh, dear. Yes, I remember it all. And even participated in some of it, Heaven forbid!
    But I look at fashions from my own personal favourite eras—the 40s through the very early 60s—and see so much beauty, class, and elegance. There was a lot of cheek and fun, too—the novelty prints, the bright colours. And as another commentor noted, so many “classics”! Classic pieces that one would be hard-pressed to find RTW today in some cases. Plus things in that era fit so nicely—not baggy and floppy or sausage-skin tight like we see today. I’m an hourglass shape, so finding things RTW that fit is really difficult—hence my appreciation for styles like the ones here.
    No waist? Too skinny? WHAT?! That is just unbelievable.
    Also, all of these “ages you” and “makes you look older” comments…Obviously, our culture is obsessed with youth, but one reason I like older styles…Everyone looks like an adult. A grown up. Every woman had a bit of Myrna Loy or Kate Hepburn or Olivia de Havilland about her because she was dressed so nicely, her hair done up…What is wrong with looking like an adult if you are one? I think about my grandmother being married and pregnant at 22 with her husband fighting the Nazis in Europe. She was an adult. I look at that and what they accomplished with real awe. Just a thought.
    Finally, Sigrid makes a brilliant point:
    “Or maybe it isn’t what they are used to seeing in the RTW stores so they think it must be “ugly.” I think a lot of the fashion industry involves the manufacturing of desire. It’s not always about making beautiful clothes that will flatter us with their cut and fabrics, instead there are new trends every year and the industry needs us to want them and to buy them. I think Vintage is so outside this process that people don’t know how to think about it.”
    Exactly. Brilliant.

  • Miss Katie - I would kill to knit one of these up! Do let us know if you post them somewhere, I would be all over that :)
    I get that kind of a reaction to my vintage knits all the time, people are genuinely shocked that something vintage can be beautiful, and also that something handmade can be wearable!

  • The Thriftaholic (Leilani) - Not to be an urban-centric snob but are you located in a city or a more suburban area? I live in Chicago and rarely have I gotten a derisive comment on a vintage outfit (I wear vintage or thrifted clothing every day) and usually get a compliment on even my ‘wackiest’ accessories. When I’m outside the city, however, I tend to get weird looks and more questions. Especially in the neighborhood I live in (which is younger/more artsy) the vintage look has become almost mainstream! (As an aside I’m originally from Arkansas and when I’m at home people are usually pretty accepting too.)
    You should be happy that you value history and appreciate vintage, I’m glad there are people out there like your co-workers so I don’t have to compete with them at the estate sales or thrift stores! You should ask them if they have any aunts or grandmothers who have vintage and want to give it away as they are unlikely to want their old clothing.