Retro revival

Our guide to keeping things retro

Words: Rosie Goddard | Illustrations: Sabrina Scott

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the fashion world is in a permanent state of retrospection. Between the bell sleeves, Bugs Bunny motifs and our love for anything 90s-inspired, it seems we can’t get enough of the past. Heck, you can’t even walk into a club these days without spotting a plastic choker or yin yang pendant.

Aside from yearning for the eras we never experienced, our focus is simultaneously on reimagining the fashion that we remember fondly from our youth. The thrifted look is on top once again (whether authentic or recreated) and with it comes a sense of light-hearted, nostalgic fun.

There’s a longing for days of innocence past when all you really had to worry about was keeping your Tamagotchi alive or making sure your sticker collection was cooler than your friends’ (it was). Even the words ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ have become tenuous – for the first time ever, they refer to periods we’ve actually experienced, and clothing we may have worn, not merely once-off pieces from a far-removed decade.

But what is this look all about? How much is too much? Are scrunchies a thing? Do you really feel comfortable bringing back tie dye? Read on for our guide to keeping things retro (and real).

Second time’s a charm?

You know those people that were really smug when Birkenstocks came back because they’d held onto their pair and had obviously never stopped wearing them? While we think it’s always a good idea to hang onto your old clothes, this particular theory doesn’t always translate when it comes to the fashion items you loved to wear as a child. If, like me, you spent large amounts of your time decked out in tie dye, a rainbow scrunchie, and plaited choker all while rockin’ out to the Spice Girls CD, then the thought of donning one of these items again might fill you with a mild sense of panic. As a general observation, we often gravitate towards items that give us that nostalgic feeling minus the sentimental connection, so if it feels wrong, then I’m afraid it probably is. If you always loved it and still do, then go for it.

Less is more

When it comes to throwback style, we’ve said it before (right here) and we’ll say it again; less is more. You do get those people that can combine an overload of clashing prints and look totally awesome doing it, but as we all learnt from the classic rom com He’s Just Not That Into You, they’re the exception – not the rule. To create a standout look, a well-timed motif or accent goes a long way, whether it’s some playfully patterned sneakers, a retro tee, a watch or statement sweater.

Cartoons are cool (again)

Jeremy Scott knows it, Lanvin knows it, even Fendi and Marc Jacobs know it. When the fashion mood is right (usually around the time of ‘Peak Neutral’), cartoon characters sell. Partly because they’re fun, reminiscent of youth and a magnet for Instagram likes, but also because they tap into the offbeat, unique aesthetic that draws people into this trend in the first place. Once worn in all seriousness, Mickey, Bart, Snoopy and Minnie have taken on an ironic feel, referencing childhood while still keeping things fresh. Which characters should you go for? That’s up to you.

Old vs. new

Fashion has a way of looking back on decades past with rose-tinted spectacles. 70s style definitely wasn’t as sleek as it is today (hello ruffles and stifling silhouettes) and mom jeans were far from flattering circa 1990. While it’s good to have those one-off pieces that you thrifted or borrowed (stole) from a family member, new interpretations can be just as cool and have a more flattering fit. Plus, let’s face it, we’re not all cut out for the thrifting life, it can be stressful and if you don’t have the eye for it, it’s like looking for a needle in a very large haystack. A pair of denim high-waisted shorts, novelty bucket hats and fitted crop tops are just some of the items that will blend in seamlessly. They fit well, look good and more importantly they give your ensemble a modern, updated feel without looking contrived.

Custom job

If teen dream Tavi Gevinson taught us anything, it’s that a little bit of DIY goes a long way, whether that’s an embroidered badge, some patched jeans or a simple doodle. Take embroidered badges as an example. If you’re the cross-stitching type, why not add a felt cutout or two to a sweater or pair of dungarees? The trend recently exploded on Tumblr and the result was an amalgamation of wacky, tongue-in-cheek, pastel-ly goodness.

Get thrifty

When it comes down to it, our love of ‘retro’ is partly about establishing a sense of individuality. In the same way that your average scenester decorates themselves with irreverent inkings, we’re constantly searching for new ways to set ourselves apart, whether it’s through tumblr’s, tattoos, or angst-ridden tweets. If this look is all about novelty then logic dictates your first port of call should be a thrift shop. Having some original pieces in your wardrobe gives you an edge with a decent side helping of authenticity; sure, you may see that Hard Rock Café jacket, Looney Tunes crop top or checked skirt replicated somewhere else, but guess what, friend? Yours was the real deal, and you can savour the sweet taste of satisfaction knowing you paid next to nothing for it. Where to start? The Vintage Experience Market in Cape Town is pretty decent as is the Milnerton Market for accessories, and in Joburg, Asseblief Vintage is your new best friend.

So there you have it, our guide to retro style. Fool proof? No. Food for thought? Potentially.