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Retro workwear that is timeless, fresh and always in style

May 20, 2019

Retro workwear can look as current today as it was new and fresh the first time around – you just need to know which vintage style trends have timeless appeal.


The vintage clothing and vintage style of retro workwear can be worn again and again through every fashion cycle and every decade, if you choose those timeless trends and pieces that never go out of style. Read on to see which trends stand the test of time and make the best investment pieces in your retro, vintage workwear wardrobe.

 Late Victorian fashion - Mr and Mrs Phelps Stokes - 1897

Late Victorian fashion –
Mr and Mrs Phelps Stokes – 1897

Victorian era retro workwear

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Women were out working in offices as early as the 1800s, wearing classic Victorian vintage clothing as their workwear. The look of this period was demure and modest, with an emphasis on full body coverage with long full skirts, long sleeves and high necks.


Retro workwear in the Victorian era was not boring, even though it was modest. Dresses and blouses were embellished with frills, lace, brooches, ruffles and bows. And dresses and blouses were usually made of pretty, retro printed or floral fabrics.


The trends that have timeless appeal from these vintage clothing options include brooches, which look modern and fresh today when worn in clusters on sweaters, vests, jackets or vintage style dresses.


Another trend that never goes out of style are retro workwear floral or printed fabrications, especially the delicate floral prints against pale backgrounds for summertime fabrics, or the timeless striped or dotted prints worn as dresses, blouses or T-shirts in today’s throwback vintage styles.

Women's fashion in 1914

Women’s fashion in 1914

World War era retro workwear

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Retro workwear during the first world war was practical and feminine.  Midi skirts cut as full circles, worn with long-sleeved blouses tucked into nipped-in waistbands, created the essential hourglass figure that epitomized vintage style. Pretty cardigans and pearls worn with full or straight skirts were another classic vintage clothing look of that era.


Rock the look today with twinset cardigans worn over classic vintage style plaid full or pencil skirts and add a string of pearls around your neck for a retro workwear look that is timeless and very flattering.


In the 1940s, when the world was in the grip of the second world war, women’s office retro workwear was all about fit-and-flare dresses in bright colours and vintage style polka dots, with full short sleeves adding the finishing touch. Cropped sweaters with Peter Pan frilled collars and oversized buttons worn with full or straight skirts were another classic vintage clothing look.


So which 1940s trends have stood the test of time?

Men and women Aircraft workers at Inglewood, Calif, USA on lunch break, October 1942

Men and women Aircraft workers at Inglewood, Calif, USA on lunch break,
October 1942

Fit-and-Flare Vintage Style

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The classic fit-and-flare silhouette is always going to be in style. Wear this vintage style in a sleeveless, belted dress in warm winter plaid colours, over a Victorian lace-embellished blouse.    Add plenty of vintage style brooches to complete your retro workwear vibe.

Shirtdresses Reworked as Retro Workwear


Picture yourself in an hourglass-shaped shirtdress with a mustard background for small white polka dots, a matching fabric belt, large buttons down the front and long sleeves casually rolled up to your elbows. Now add a pair of high-heeled oxfords in warm brown and you have the vintage style retro workwear look nailed.

Woman wearing black business suit in 1943

Woman wearing black business suit in 1943

Menswear-Inspired Retro Workwear Fabrications

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There are classic, menswear-inspired fabrications that speak to vintage style and appear every season. Plaids, hounds tooth checks, corduroy, Prince of Wales checks, stripes and tweed never go out of style.


Rework these vintage clothing fabrics into your retro workwear wardrobe today in tailored tweed blazers worn over cream-coloured pussy-bow tie blouses and skinny black pants.


Or opt for a plaid skirt suit in rich browns and golds, worn over a vintage style cream blouse.


Throw on a corduroy mini skirt over a black turtleneck sweater, opaque tights and knee-high boots for a 1970s-inspired retro workwear look.

M. Born Ladies Clothes publicity illustration, 1944

M. Born Ladies Clothes publicity illustration, 1944

The Colours of Classic Retro Workwear

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Some colours come back season after season and look as fresh and flattering today as when they first appeared in vintage clothing.


For Fall and Winter, mustard yellow, Hunter Green, Cranberry red and black-and-white gingham are must-have vintage style shades and prints.


Hunter Green A-Line sleeveless dresses worn over contrasting-coloured sweaters or blouses are a classic retro workwear look. Add a long beaded and tasselled necklace in deep green to match the colour of your dress and you have just put your own modern Boho spin on a vintage style.


Berry-red and brown checked midi full skirts worn with black or cream turtleneck sweaters tucked in make up another classic vintage clothing look. Add a beret in a complimentary warm tone and you have the European vintage style spin ready for your retro workwear day.

Photo portrait of Doris Day and Kitty Kallen, Central Park, New York, N.Y.Apr. 1947

Photo portrait of Doris Day and Kitty Kallen, Central Park, New York, N.Y.Apr. 1947

The Quintessential Shapes of Retro Workwear

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Depending on which vintage style you choose, it could look good on every shape and figure. You could easily wear them with confidence and you will never be out of style.


Cropped cardigans in solid primary colours, layered over winter-floral full-skirted dresses, finished with tights and high-heeled oxfords, are a classic vintage clothing look you can rock every winter season.


Pullover sweaters in retro workwear stripes with solid-coloured neck, waist and arm bands in warm tones like cranberry or burgundy have timeless appeal. Wear them with plaid or solid skirts or pants to work, and with your favourite jeans after work.

Sue Protruck, a women worker in shipfitters shop , US Navy Yard, Mare Island, CA, 1943

Sue Protruck, a women worker in shipfitters shop , US Navy Yard, Mare Island, CA, 1943

Retro Workwear Accents

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High-heeled oxfords in warm brown or patent black are a never-go-out-style vintage clothing accessory that you need on your closet today.


A spin on the classic oxford shoe is to wear them in two tones, like mint and cream in the summer, or brown and cream in the winter. Add ribbons in matching colours instead of laces and you have a vintage style accent to compliment your retro workwear dresses, skirts and pants.


T-strap suede or patent high-heeled pumps are another classic retro workwear accent that add that finishing, feminine touch to your fit-and-flare dress or wide-legged trousers.


Vests in colourful plaids are another vintage clothing staple. Wear them over black turtleneck sweaters for a sleek, modern take on retro workwear. Or amplify your vintage style by adding one to a classic pussy-bow blouse and piling on the brooches and pins to finish your look.


And to complete your vintage style look, add a cape in navy and red plaid to your retro workwear ensemble. Wear it over skinny black trousers and a simple black sweater to show off the beauty and style of this classic piece and enjoy your retro workwear reinvented!


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