Tips for Buying Vintage for Curvy Women

Today I’m sharing my tips for buying vintage and vintage inspired styles for curvy & plus size women. Like many of the other Shaped by Style members I’ve always loved hunting the thrift stores and estate sales to find that perfect vintage piece to add to my collection. The only issue is that as a plus size woman sometimes it can be hard to find a vintage piece that fits my curves! Any readers have this issue? I hear ya, I do too!

Today I’m sharing my top three tips for buying vintage for curvy women with you. I hope these tips help you find the perfect figure flattering vintage or vintage inspired piece!

I love history as much as I love vintage fashion, so first a little detour explaining why it can be hard for curvy & plus size women to find vintage styles with a that fit. As 1950’s styles are among my favorites I’m going to focus on the top three reasons why I think clothing from this era can be particularly hard for curvy women to fit:

1. Rationing ends with World War Two in 1945
With the end of WWII the American economy experienced an economic boom when supply rationing ended and men returned to work. In contrast to the simple & functional a-line styles of the 1940s (dictated by women in the workforce while men were at war & the lack of fabric/thread) garments from the 1950s were enhanced with newly available synthetic fabrics like tafetta & nylon and featured excess fabric to create details like gatherings and pleats. Not to mention an array of undergarments were created, like petticoats, corsets, girdles and cone bras, to help support the construction of 1950s style dresses and achieve the en vogue hourglass figure.

2. Rise of Conformity
Now, I don’t know why the 1950s are synonymous with conformity, but we all know that they are. There was a standard that women were expected to achieve and that standard was a small waist, shapely bust & behind with a delicate bone structure. Did you know that the industry standard for 1950’s dress making was to cut patterns with a waist 10″ smaller than the bust?

3. Changing roles for women
As men returned home from war & went back to work women returned to the home. An increased focus was placed on finding a husband and becoming the perfect homemaker. And that meant clothing served a single function: helping a woman to find the perfect husband and once he was found to keep appearances perfect. Since the ideal body type of the fifties was an hourglass clothing and undergarments were created to support this figure.

vintage clip art

Now where does this leave the liberal, bra burning, 6 foot tall, broad shouldered woman with muscular thighs and calves from road racing in my early 20s coupled with a love of cake that’s caused me to recently gain some weight? Well, since I also happen to love vintage fashion & 1950s styles its left me in quite a lurch.

Luckily for myself, and you- lovely Shaped by Style reader, I’ve developed some tips for buying vintage for curvy women.

Here are my top three tips for buying vintage for curvy & plus size women:
1. Look for princess seams

Princess seams are a type of dart on the inside of a piece of clothing. They are usually sewn into the bust of the garment to give extra support & definition to the figure. They act as a type of built in shape wear without being constricting like shape wear separates.  If you find a piece of clothing with princess seams there is another reason to hold onto it: princess seams are usually, but not always, indicative of  higher quality.

Here is what the princess seams on the inside of my red vintage inspired dress look like:

tips for buying vintage for plus size women
vintage inspired plus size red dress
2. Favor ruching, gathering & shirring
Ruching, gathering and shirring are 3D textural effects on clothing. They do an excellent job at smoothing over and disguising any lumps & bumps. They were also commonly used during the 1950s so it isn’t too hard to find pieces from this era or vintage inspired items with these forgiving details.

red vintage inspired plus size dress

3. Look for thick fabrics and do the “quarter test”
Similar to ruching, gathering and shirring a thick fabric will drape nicely over curves and prevent clinging to areas that you are uncomfortable with. Bonus points if there is a textural overlay- like these sequins.

quarter test
plus size sequin dress
Remember your plus size vintage buying cheat sheet includes:

– princess seams
– textural details
– the “quarter test”

If you are looking for some vintage and vintage inspired plus size pieces to add to your wardrobe I recommend:
Pinup Girl Clothing– online & in select stores vintage inspired boutique with styles (and models!) from XS to 4X
Owl and the Boy Vintage– an Etsy shop ran by our very own Kristina from Eccentric Owl. She recently added a bunch of plus size vintage styles.
Bread and Roses Vintage– our own Emily from Bread and Roses Vintage has a plus size section in her Etsy shop as well

I hope this post was useful to you! Would you like to see more educational style posts like this? Any style questions you need answered?


6 thoughts on “Tips for Buying Vintage for Curvy Women

  1. Thanks Hannah. I should have gone into more detail about the “quarter test” in the post. I’ll go back and update the post soon. Basically the way it works is that if the fabric is thicker than the width of a quarter then the fabric will be less likely to cling and show off any of those bits that we would rather keep concealed (see photo with quarter above).


  2. I LOVE this post! Elastic is my #1 recommendation when looking for sizes that fit curvier women; that and all the stretchy fabrics! And you can find a lot of really great 80’s does 50’s or 70’s does 40’s styles that are larger since the ACTUAL 50’s and 40’s size vintage dresses are just tiny.

    Also, that red dress on you is smoking hot! (and thank you for linking my shop! I really want to add lots of different sizes so that any woman can browse and come away happy!)


  3. Oh my gosh. This is SOOO incredibly helpful! It’s always seemed almost impossible to find anything vintage in our size, but these tips will help 100%. I LOVED this post!!!


  4. Excellent tips, Rebecca! Elastic has always been my best friend when shopping for vintage. If it stretches then I always feel 1000% more comfortable buying it. haha

    I’ve actually never heard of the quarter test and now I’m dying to know more about it! What’s the deal with it?

    Hannah | The Outfit Repeater


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