What dress can you wear to a vintage themed event that has long sleeves, a high neckline, and long hem? This is a common question I receive from a variety of women who have various wants and needs to cover up all or certain parts of her body. While vintage clothing is often modest with high necklines and longer sleeves, the vintage reproduction market still caters to younger bodies and smaller sizes with a ‘less is more’ aesthetic. This makes shopping for modest vintage style dresses very difficult. Vintage dresses that are flattering on mature women’s bodies face the same difficulties. As I age, I may oooh and ahhh over many cute vintage reproduction dresses, but ultimately I choose a color and design that suits my figure and age better.
The following are some suggestions on brands, styles and colors to choose for each vintage decade: 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I also have links to my favorite styles at the end of the post. If you don’t find what you are looking for, just ask me for more help.
1900-1920s Modest Dresses
The first brand I turn to for vintage inspired modest dresses is Nataya. These light, romantic, designs range from Small to 3XL and are perfect for mature body types and ages. On most dresses, the sheer sleeves come to the elbow and the hem hovers around the ankle or slightly above. They are especially popular for weddings, garden tea parties, and Titanic themed memorials, as well as Victorian, Edwardian, and 1920s events. Some designs can even spill into the 1930s. See the Nataya collection at WardrobeShop.
1920s and 1930s Modest Vintage Dresses
Another brand I love, although more expensive than Nataya, are dresses designed by Komarov found at Nordstrom. These are also light and airy gowns in small to plus sizes, perfect for summer gatherings. Dresses usually have long sleeves and a mid shin to ankle hemline. Many dresses also come with a lightweight jacket to add extra coverage. These designs work best for the 1920s and 1930s styles. They come in many plus sizes, too.
For more formal occasions set in the 1920s or early 1930s, look no further than Pisarro Nights beaded gowns. Not only do they come in a variety of sizes (petite, standard and plus) and colors, but many also have full sleeves and longer hemlines. They do have stretch to them, which is a good thing for many women but not all. I suggest ordering one to two sizes up from the chart just to be sure it hangs off your body rather than hugging all your curves.
1940s, 1950s and 1960s Modest Dresses
For the mid century woman who needs partial or full coverage in sizes XS to 6XL, I always suggest customizing a dress from eShakti. They have a variety of plain, print, or specialty (prom or wedding gowns) dresses that are in vintage styles. Most of these feature short sleeves and knee length hemlines. Did you know you can customize sleeves, hemlines, necklines, and other details? Each dress page outlines all the different options you can choose from. For the most modest looks, choose a bracelet or full length sleeves, a high square or scoop neckline, and full-length skirt. Not every dress has the same options, so spend some time looking for one that meets all your needs.
If you are a “difficult fit,” meaning you have a large chest with small waist, or square torso without curves, or any other combination of non-standard measurements, eShakti has the “Custom Size” choice where you can put in your exact measurements and have a dress pattern cut just for you. When your package arrives, it comes with a card naming all the ladies who drafted your pattern, cut the dress, and sewed it together. It is a nice touch.
Most women have a hard time visualizing what a customized dress will look like. Most of the dresses on the website feature short sleeves and an above the knee hemline as the “standard option.” Customizing these dresses for more modest tastes requires a little trust and the ability to imagine what your final dress will look like. If you struggle with this, please feel free to contact me for help. I can help you pick a few dresses based on the decade or theme of your event and choose which modifications will keep your dress period correct.
Look here for more 1940s modest/mature dresses and 1950s modest/mature dresses. I don’t yet have a separate page for 60s dresses, but you can look here and find the mature styles within. You might also like this article on dressing for a wedding/evening event as a mature woman.
Tips for Modesty in Vintage Dress
- Stockings – A pair of skin tone nylons or stockings do wonders to cover up uneven skin tone on your legs. Go for one shade darker than skin tone for a more accurate vintage look (and more coverage), or a colored tight for pre 1930s or post 1950s looks. Avoid shiny sheers.
- Jacket / Wrap – Turn any short sleeve or sleeveless dresses into a long sleeve with the addition of a lightweight jacket, cardigan sweater, shawl, or evening wrap. Not only do they cover arms well, but they also add some extra fashion styling to otherwise plain dresses. For a 1920s look, add a fringe kimono jacket. 1940s and 1950s look good with a cropped or bolero jacket. For any decade, try a faux fur wrap.
- Gloves – An elbow length sleeve dress can add a touch more coverage with a pair of long gloves.
- Accessories – Accessories can transform any dress you already own into something vintage. Research your decade and consider adding a hat, jewelry, belt, purse, and shoes to take your new-ish dress back in time.
- The anti dress – If wearing dresses is a foreign concept to you, you can always go for a pants suit with wide leg chiffon pants and long sleeve tops. Some women also combine long skirts with tunic tops for a dressy-but-not-dress look.
Need a modest swimsuit? Try modli.co. They also now carry a full line of casual dresses and clothing, although most are not vintage inspired.