What is retro style? Retro style refers to manufacturers consciously designing and manufacturing clothes to replicate past styles. Unlike vintage clothing, retro fashion doesn’t stick to a specific time period, but instead, pulls inspiration from different eras.
To dress retro, you want to pick what era, or eras, that you want to grab inspiration from. Once you find a piece of retro clothing that you want to use, you find a more modern piece to pair with it. An example of a ’90s retro-style outfit would be wearing fitted overalls over a crop top or fitted tee.
There is a trick to mastering the returns of these styles and making them up to date; if you’re not careful, you can end up looking like your grandmother gave you her closet! Here are some tips to help you master the retro look, along with different outfit styles.
How to Dress Retro
Retro refers to anything that references the recent past with a modern twist to it. Each decade, with the most popular being the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, and ’60s, have their unique characteristics that really define that time in history and have trends that still look great today.
If you are trying to conquer the retro look, here are some tips you should keep in mind:
- Find your style – First, decide what type of retro look you are going for. Then, look through old magazines, search the web, or use Pinterest to find some inspiration.
- Embrace it, but don’t overdo it – When dressing retro, the goal is to modernize styles from the past, so you don’t want to dress head-to-toe in old fashion.
- Add a modern twist – Always add something modern to your outfit, sometimes just keeping your hair and makeup simple is enough to keep the retro look tamed.
- Accessories – Accessories can easily help turn your modern-day outfit into a retro one. Retro handbags, headbands, shoes, or jewelry can be a nice touch to your modern outfit.
- Be yourself – Retro style should be a creative way to express yourself.
35 Ways to Dress Retro
Each era of fashion has many excellent characteristics that could add a fun twist to your modern-day outfit. It is easy to incorporate some inspirational pieces from the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, and even the ’60s and ’50s are becoming popular.
The ’90s was a significant era for pop culture and music, which had a great influence on the fashion world. Going for a ’90s retro look is easily achievable as there are many different styles. First, think about the type of top you would like.
- T-Shirts – Graphic T-shirts were a popular staple in ‘90s fashion, particularly band and skateboard t-shirts.
- Flannel shirts – Just about everyone owns a flannel shirt, and this was another popular staple in the ’90s. Often paired with distressed jeans and a graphic t-shirt, it was ubiquitous to see these flannels tied around someone’s waist. This was known as the “grunge” look.
- Slip-on dresses – A slip is a thin dress that is usually worn underneath another dress, but in the ‘90s, they were commonly worn over a t-shirt or alone.
- Windbreakers – Windbreakers were a huge staple in the ‘90s, especially ones with bright and colorful designs.
Next, you can think about a retro-style bottom you may like to pair your top with.
- High waisted denim – Nowadays, we call these “mom jeans,” but in the ’90s, they were trendy. These can be paired with a graphic tee, tucked in for a modern look.
- Overalls – Overalls were a very trendy statement in the ‘90s, often with only one strap fastened. Now it is easy to find modern style overalls to pair with crop tops or t-shirts.
- Bike shorts – This staple isn’t only for exercise; bike shorts are very trendy worn with a baggy shirt or sweatshirt
- Hats – The snapback was a must-have in all closets, thanks to ‘90s hip hop. Adding a snapback turned backward is a great way to turn your outfit into a retro outfit.
- Hoop earrings – Hoop earrings became popular thanks to television actors wearing them in the ‘90s.
- Combat boots – Combat boots became popular in both the “alternative” and hip-hop worlds in the ‘90s and were paired with everything from black leggings to baggy jeans.
The ’80s time era was known for its big hair, bright makeup, and leg warmers. They were all about excess, bright colors, and shoulder pads. But now, you can have the ‘80s retro look without needing to tease your hair.
When choosing pieces inspired by the ‘80s, think of bright colors and accessories.
- Leggings – Leggings were viral in the ’80s, and they are continuing to be very popular now. They can be worn with oversized t-shirts or sweaters.
- Large t-shirts – Paired with those leggings, girls would add baggy t-shirts – the brighter, the better. To go for an authentic ‘80s look, roll up the sleeves of the t-shirt and cut out the neckline to hang over one shoulder.
- Acid-washed jeans – In the ‘80s, women opted for a high-waisted, slim-fitted jean with an acid wash.
- Jean jackets – Jean jackets have made a huge comeback these days and can be paired to enhance your ‘80s retro look.
- Shoulder pads – Big shoulders were a staple in the ’80s, so if you want to add an ’80s touch to your modern-day outfit, add a blazer with shoulder pads to the mix.
Using accessories to add an ’80s twist to your modern outfit is an excellent way to turn it into a retro look. Some accessories that are making a big comeback now are:
- Statement earrings
- Fanny packs
- Bright eyeshadow
Modern times is taking a trip back to the era of love and positive vibes for inspiration. The ‘70s was a time of free-spirits and bell bottoms, and it is a great time to add a retro vibe to your wardrobe.
- Flared jeans – wearing wide-legged jeans or flared jeans is a great way to add a ‘70s vibe to your outfit.
- Fitted ribbed shirts – Paired with those flared jeans, nicely fitted ribbed shirts can be tucked into your jeans for a ’70s look.
- Jumpsuits – Full jumpsuits were often the style you would see at a groovy disco club.
- Peasant blouses – A cute flowy top will give that nice ’70s “boho” look.
- Fringe – Fringe boots, fringe shirts, fringe skirts, fringe everything was fashionable in the ’70s and is making a strong comeback.
- Tie-dye shirts – Tie-dye is a staple of the ’70s that has lasted throughout the years.
- Knee-high boots/platforms – Knee-high boots and platform shoes were a thing of the ‘70s and nowadays can be paired with gaucho pants or a mini skirt.
The ‘60s was when people began to embrace the bohemian lifestyle; it was a time of major social and cultural change. To get into the ‘60s retro style, you should go for ethnic fashions, theatrical outfits, and mismatched colors.
- Paisley print – Paisley print, psychedelic prints, and tie-dye went well with bell-bottom pants.
- Blouses with bubble sleeves – The bohemian style involved a lot of flowy tops with bubble sleeves.
- Baby doll dresses – loose baby doll dresses are a standard ’60s retro style.
- Accessories – In the ‘60s, headbands, scarves, and peace sign pendants were a popular choice of accessories. Putting flowers in your hair is also a fantastic way of turning your outfit into a ‘60s retro look.
Dresses were the most common thing worn by girls in the 50’s. Soft shapes with defined waists was a common characteristic of these dresses. At that time, they mostly covered their legs with stockings. This was the era where everyone looked well-groomed and perfectly dressed.
- Dresses – Wearing a 50’s retro dress involves wearing one that goes below the knee with a floral, striped, polka-dotted, or plaid print.
- Halter sundress – A halter sundress with a full skirt and peter pan collar is a simple dress theme for this era.
- Poodle skirts – These skirts are typically what come to mind when people think of 50’s fashion. With their solid color and poodle patch, these skirts would hit the knee or below.
- Pencil skirts – Pencil skirts were also a popular, fitted skirt that hit below the knees. These can be paired with a collared shirt, button-down, or sweater.
- Accessories – 50’s retro accessories include faux fur, gloves, and large cat eyeglasses.
Dressing for a Retro Party
Having retro-themed parties is becoming a common choice of party throwers all around. When dressing for a retro party, you first want to consider what type of style you want to go for. You may also want to consider what kind of look will be easily achievable for you.
- The ’50s will be a more put together, “perfect” look with skirts and well-groomed hair.
- The ’60s will have paisley prints, loose clothing, and carefree hair.
- The ’70s will be a lot of tie-dye, bell-bottom jeans, and disco jumpsuits.
- The ’80s will involve bright colors, leggings, and oversized shirts.
- The ’90s will be influenced by pop culture with grunge t-shirts and high waisted pants.
After choosing an outfit, you can begin considering all of the different hair and makeup trends that can be paired with your era.
1. Leggings and a T-Shirt
Pairing some bright, thick neon, leggings with a bright oversized t-shirt is probably one of the easiest retro looks that you can master. When you choose a t-shirt, simply cut the neck off of it so that it can hang off your shoulder.
To tie this outfit together, you can add a belt around the waist, some leg warmers, big hair, and bright blue or pink eye shadow. Here is a list of other accessories that could tie this outfit together:
- Bright-colored earrings with geometric shapes like triangles
- Lace headband
- Lace gloves
- Colored hoop earrings
Who Wore It Well
This trend was influenced by the movie Flashdance. Jennifer Beals showcased her off the shoulder clothing on the advertising poster in the ‘80s. Women began sporting this trend at malls, schools, and anywhere they could get away with it.
Cindy Lauper, Madonna, and Michael Jackson were also big influencers of ‘80s fashion.
2. Graphic Tee and High Waisted Jeans
This is an outfit that probably most people have in their closets, and it’s super easy to throw together. Pairing a graphic t-shirt, especially a band t-shirt like Nirvana, with high waisted mom jeans, is an easy and straightforward retro look to master. From there, you can tie a flannel shirt around your waist or add a bright windbreaker.
To add an extra flair to this ‘90s retro look, you can pair these accessories with your outfit:
- Hoops earrings
- Bright snapback hats
- Layered jewelry
- Combat boots or Converse All-Stars
Grunge fashion in the ‘90s became popular when bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam became popular. Their music focused on a lot of insecurities that people related to, so then it created a whole fashion movement with people becoming rebellious with what they wore.
Who Wore It Well?
In 1992, Marc Jacobs showcased grunge fashion at a catwalk and model Kate Moss started to inspire others with her carefree style. Movies like “Singles” and bands like Nirvana made this fashion statement extend far beyond the runway.
A jumpsuit is the perfect disco party retro outfit to choose, especially in gold, silver, or rainbow striped colors. Jumpsuits can be long-sleeved with flared legs, and fitted for a modern look, but a halter top white jumpsuit with a gold belt would be a more popular ’70s look.
Accessories to ramp up the disco fever:
- Peace sign necklace
- Bangle bracelets
- Mood rings
- Platform shoes
Who Wore It Well
In the ’70s, Cher had a massive influence on women and women’s fashion with her large hairpieces and platform shoes. Farrah Fawcett also came on the scene with her big hair and signature Jumpsuits.
4. Poodle Skirt
A poodle skirt is a wide felt skirt that is typically one solid color with a poodle patch. The skirts usually hit knee-length or below and should be worn with the patch in the front, but off-centered. These skirts are a classy and fun way of looking 50’s retro.
Things to pair with the poodle skirt:
- Short sleeve blouse
- Bobby socks
- Saddle Shoes
- Tied scarf
Who Wore it Well
In the ’50s, poodle skirts became an iconic type of style for all girls and women. Poodle skirts came about when singer and actress Juli Lynn Charlot didn’t have anything to wear to a Christmas party, so she made her own.
Her skirt became a hit, so she continued to make them for others. Eventually, she was influenced by women walking around with poodles, so she decided to patch on images of poodles onto the skirts.
Annette Funicello, famous ‘50s star from The Mickey Mouse Show and, later, Beach Blanket Bingo, helped further the popularity of the poodle skirt.
Tunics or caftans are loose-fitting dresses or shirts that are either ankle length or above the knee. These dresses are a Grecian inspired style worn as a bohemian look during the ’70s. They have large kimono sleeves that come in bold colors and prints.
- Bead necklaces
- Earthy hair
Who Wore it Well
This bohemian style was given rise to by one of the ’70s biggest style icons, singer, Joni Mitchell, who’s laid-back attitude and bare feet inspired many to follow.
6. Bell Bottoms and Tie Dye
Bell bottom jeans with a tie-dye top are a foolproof way of hitting that retro style look at a party. Jeans can come in different colors and even better if it has embroidery. Paisley, tie-dye, and psychedelic printed shirts are also very retro.
You can pair this outfit with:
- Peace sign jewelry
- Flower headbands
- Round sunglasses
Who Wore It Well
The youth inspired the hippie movement of the 1960s as they were going through a cultural change. Style icons of the ’60s include; Janice Joplin, Mary Quant, and Twiggy.
7. Shoulder Pads
Shoulder pads are a blast from the past. Women wore these to give themselves a broader shoulder to be equal with men in the workplace. Finding a suit with geometric patterns and colors helps pull off the retro vibe. Wear the jacket open with a colorful shirt underneath.
Accessories to add:
Who Wore It Well
Shoulder pads in the ‘80s became popular when shows like Dallas and Dynasty featured wealthy, successful women played by Joan Collins and Linda Evans wearing large shoulder pads.
Grab a corduroy jacket, shorts, pants, or skirt and pair it with a black turtleneck is a fantastic retro look. Corduroy is a soft but durable material, designed with ridges and is totally ’70s retro.
Paired with corduroy, you can add:
- Matching corduroy vest
- Matching corduroy hat
- Round glasses
Who Wore It Well
Corduroy became popular when the sitcom, The Brady Bunch, was being aired. Every one of those Brady kids sported corduroy pants or jackets at some time or another!
To get a retro feel, overalls can be worn with a graphic t-shirt, crewneck sweatshirt, or a crop top. In the ’90s, people wore their overalls with only one strap clasped.
- Platform sandals
Who Wore It Well
Overalls in the ’90s were made famous by hip hop musicians, actors, and pop culture. Everyone from Jenifer Aniston to Madonna was caught wearing them at some point.
For a simple and chic look, you can pair a brown suede fringe skirt with a plain fitted white shirt. Or bell-bottom jeans with a fringe jacket or vest. Fringe anything is a very retro look and can easily be incorporated into your retro outfit.
- Round glasses
Who Wore It Well
Fringe began to be incorporated by fashion designers who were inspired by Native Americans. It then became a staple in Cher’s wardrobe, which made it popular throughout the fashion industry.
11. Swing Dress
A swing dress is a flowy dress with an a-line shape that is tighter around the chest and then bell out, creating a lot of movement. Popular prints are polka dots, gingham checks, flowers, or a solid black or white color for elegance.
Swing dresses should be worn with:
- A colorful belt around the waist
- Tied scarf
- Colorful shoes that match the belt
Who Wore It Well
Swing dresses were made into one of the most iconic dress styles by designer, Dior. He created dresses decorated with large buttons and bows and with collars of different shapes and sizes. Marilyn Monroe’s halter-neck swing dress is ironically 1950s.