1980s Puff-Sleeved Accessory Dress


So much of who we are, who we feel we are, or who we portray ourselves to be is based on small choices we make. Not limited to paths or lifestyles, but on a smaller scale, the reactionary experiences we take part in and the ways we do or don’t choose to grow.


When I look at this strange 1980s dress, awash with a whimsical accessory print and abstract geometric designs, it looks nothing like me. I’m drawn to little more than the colors and the oddity that it is on a whole. But what it does feel like is a representation of choices made in the mad rush of life: colorful and soft, harsh and bewildering all at once.

White, indigo, magenta, and bright red are the standout colors of this dress’s details. These shades make up the printed accessories, which include a number of handbags, big hats, belts, and ballet slipper flats. Unlike something that has, say, a decked-out collar that would make a necklace redundant, this piece is practically begging for its motif to be brought to life and exaggerated. Like the decade itself, the dress seems to scream, “bigger and better.”

The lightweight fabric of the dress, perhaps rayon, is well-suited to playing dress-up, and heavier accessories help to balance it out.

The pale aquamarine hue is the perfect template for a series of mismatched patterns: grids, circles, and a textured blocking reminiscent–or predictive–of a 90s computer text/shape-fill option. In fact, the origin of this geometrics-heavy aesthetic can be traced to the Memphis Group, a design firm based in Italy.

Clearly, the look is still inspiring, as such design choices prompt me to take on the role of a puffy-sleeved arm chair philosopher.


When I put on a vintage dress, I am perhaps communicating that I enjoy fashion, have an appreciation for old things, and don’t (at my most secure) mind not fitting in.

But the physical hat I choose to wear is far less important than the metaphorical one: who will I be and how will I respond when a circumstance isn’t ideal? Can I choose to see patterns in my own behavior and move toward a more kind and productive way of being? Is there rhyme or reason to the way things pop up and fade out–on this wacky dress or in life?

In wearing vintage, in blogging about it, I must say that I have come to understand something about definitions. That is, that many of them may constantly be altered and added to. From mixing decades–a 40s purse here, a 50s cropped jacket there, even a 60s hat thrown in–to being fully present in a shoot to collaborating with my husband, I am not defined by one choice or reaction, but how I choose to move into the next situation. It is trial and error. It is mismatched and cluttered. It is a series of costume changes and additions, things that work and things that don’t. Somehow, I must conclude that I wouldn’t have it any other way.


1970s Hot Pink House Dress

A house dress may be one of the easiest vintage styles there is. Step into one, zip it up (as most styles do), and go about doing whatever you please–chores or play. There is something effortless to it, something that doesn’t ask for further embellishment, pretense, or any particular body/beauty standards to be present.

That isn’t quite what can always be said about documenting vintage styles, but it is something I strive for. More often than I’d like to admit though, especially if we haven’t done a shoot in a while, I get anxious about the next opportunity. This has happened more frequently as of late because of the challenges of a new environment, the growing backlog of things tried and attempted, and the self-imposed demands of a monthly schedule.

While I adore this recently purchased dress, it isn’t an old favorite that I’ve put off capturing, waiting for the perfect setting, light, atmosphere, or story. The chance to document this dress in a difficult environment without giving into guilt associated with taking a creative risk and (possibly) achieving a mediocre outcome was refreshing. A flea market provides limited opportunities for classic poses, not to mention the draw of being at such an event: while a keen and wandering eye might rule out the the possibility of a typical photo, it may allow one to spot a unique treasure.

This particular treasure sports floral embroidery in soft yellow, lavender, and a much brighter blue-raspberry–the same color as the accenting rickrack that lines the bodice panel as well as two sides of each of the large rectangular pockets.

When I initially saw the dress on the sale rack, the bright pink color caught my eye, but the rest did not, at least not in a way that impressed me. The stitching felt folksy in nature, and I doubted that it was something I’d be able to pull off. Passing it by several more times, however, convinced me that perhaps I should at least try it on. I did and was astonished by how the kitsch elements seemed to fade into the background of a completely wearable garment.

The pintucks on the bodice pull the eye away from the center zipper, which extends about five eighths of the way down the length of the dress. The smaller size of the bodice also gives the dress somewhat of a tent shape, or more accurately, that of a trapeze dress.

It is a testament to the always-surprising nature of vintage: that what you expect is not always what you find. The same can be said of blogging about it, discussing it, researching it. If what I want to present in my sharing of this passion is that vintage can and should be inspiring and fluid, I have to allow myself to practice the same level of flexibility.

Sometimes slipping into something comfortable, even if it’s not what we consider perfect and polished, is just what we need.

1960s Lively Navy Mini

In 2015 I was studying communication, working part-time, falling in love, and making friends that I would later consider family. The part of my life in which I began collecting vintage was a time of change, discovery, and redefining–expanding, even–my concept of home. In a sense, that is what my journey through vintage is and has always been about.

This dress, this easy, playful shift, was a hallmark of that time. I felt free in the vintage I wore, as though I were coming into new parts of myself. I wore a pink denim vest and read poetry on sunny lawns and in clock tower shade. I teased my closest friend that I would buy red sequinned pants and did. I regularly spent part of my newspaper job paychecks on vintage, eagerly awaiting packages at my college dorm (if a friend was nearby I’d open it with them) or my parents’ house if it were summer.

This dress actually came from the same seller as the aforementioned pieces, an Etsy shop that has unfortunately since closed. It is fashioned from a very lightweight cotton that never overheats and never seems to wrinkle: perfect for Oklahoma running around. There are no labels, but it is difficult to say whether it’s handmade. A simple metal zipper covers more than half the length of the dress, which hits about mid-thigh.

The deep navy blue, a common hue in my wardrobe, is background to a series of white dots. While the pattern appears to form simple vertical stripes, upon closer inspection one can see that alternating strips are actually strings of daisy-like flowers, complete with stems and petals. After the silhouette and hard-to-miss collar, the flowers are perfect evidence of the classically playful 60s motif.

On that note, the oversized collar is undoubtedly youthful. Almost as long in back as it is in front, it hangs slightly over the shoulders, and its size helps to balance the more narrow bodice of the dress with the a-line structure of its skirt. I’ve had some difficulty in being certain of what to call the style; my first instinct is that it is a Peter Pan collar, but Puritan collars are also sometimes described as this one appears. Seeing it in on myself in the mirror or in photos is like picturing my head between two clouds–as light as I feel wearing vintage.

Visiting my parents is another form of that lightness for me these days, and though right now it doesn’t come quite often as I’d like, it always does the trick. I leave feeling full and with a more complete perspective of the love of family. Theirs was the home I was extending out from in those mid-college years, and those are roots I would never change.

“Make yourself at home” is a blessing of a phrase. It is a reassurance that love is an option and that feeling safe is possible. As I did back then, I’m re-learning the creation of home. I am at home in poetry. In picnics. In perfectly worn dresses. In early morning smiles from my husband.

When graduation rolled around, I wrote on my cap that “a heart has many homes.” It is more true every day.

1960s Bullet Bra Beachwear

Growing up, my brother and I were very fortunate to have a backyard pool for basically every summer I can remember. We would spend long afternoons pretending to be adrift in an endless sea, bouncing up and down in our inner tubes to make small nauseating waves, and hanging over the edge to warm ourselves on the inflatable ring.

I learned how much I enjoyed not just being in the water but actually swimming laps when I got to college. I don’t have the best form, but I’m fast (sometimes) and have a decent amount of stamina (at least more than I do running). I began flashing my ID to the freshman lifeguard and flip-flopping to the locker room when my schedule allowed. It didn’t matter what I looked like doing it, if I’d had an awful morning, or if finals were fast approaching. Everything emptied from me when I swam. I simply allowed myself to be there, to get tired, and to leave feeling refreshed, lighter.

With its minor age-related wear, I hesitate to stress this suit by taking it for a swim, but I believe it would have held up quite well in its day as an active piece. Many modern pieces of swimwear that I’ve encountered are designed less for athletics than they are for style. With wide straps, a relatively high neckline, and fitted bottoms, it’s not hard to imagine taking this one from the sand or pool edge into the water.

This swimsuit is likely from the early sixties, as retains some of the charms of the previous decade–something that was common for early sixties fashion. The one-piece cuts a girlish figure and is conventionally modest, with a fitted micro skirt attached to the bottoms. The back is rather low, coming into a scoop cut just below the waist.

The straps feature two clear buttons that could be readjusted to alter the length, but are more practically just decorative. A series of intricate topstitches and darts fan out from the underbust, helping to add to the hourglass shape. This of course, is also emphasized by what is known as the “bullet bra,” a look that was popularized in the 1940s. While this garment is far from the extreme of pointed bras of the era, it does have a slight conical appearance.

Large peach colored flowers and chartreuse leaves and stems make up the cheerful pattern of the suit. I would consider this style a subtle predecessor to the flower power looks that would have been popular just a few years later in the late 1960s. The colors offer a sweetness that feels, as with the beginning of the decade, like early summer: green grass, lemonade, and youthfulness.

It invigorates and inspires me that I am far from the first woman to enjoy swimming (just read up on Esther Williams). To feel both playful and strong, perhaps even beautiful (in a stringy-haired, wide-eyed, shivering, carefree sort of way) in the water is a tremendous set of feelings. While it may not be the most accessible activity these days, splashing around and propelling through the water holds a special place in my heart and I relish any chance to become so fashionably saturated.

1970s Lilac Grecian Gown

Sometimes a dress has a way of shaking up a wardrobe and boiling it down to its essence. This one simmers in ideas of romance and mystery, flowing fabrics and soft colors, contentedness and joy. It relishes both the old and the new.

As a girl, I long had a curious feeling that I’d never be–Big enough? Old enough?–grown enough to achieve the same glamour I saw in princesses or brides or prom-goers. I’ve come to learn, though, that there is true delight to be found in my own sort of glamour. It is one that is most authentic to who I am, even when–perhaps especially when– branching out.

In my research I’ve found other dresses of the same era that also have the Dessy or Dessy Creations label. However, some of the first search results to appear are a modern line of bridesmaid dresses. I’m curious as to whether there is some relation and, if so, if the brand has reinvented itself with a niche market in the 21st century or if these dresses have always been intended as bridesmaids dresses. It’s not unlikely, but to consider that they are noticeably absent of puff sleeves, crinoline, or all over floral print is impressive.

In contrast, this dress is simple in its elegance but intricate in its minor structuring. The v-neck and surplice bodice are followed by minor pleating at the elastic waist. The skirt then flows into a shape reminiscent of a tulip: the fabric is cut so that it flows from one hip down to the center of the dress to form a wrap skirt with a high-low hem. The cascading at both the hip and where the skirt opens creates a petal effect. The ends of the simple tie belt have a rounded point to them. This is almost identical to the structure of the dress’s shoulder straps, which are created by a layering of two fabrics rather than being one solid piece.

Through my love of vintage, I’ve learned a great deal about myself, not least of all my relationship with my body and my own ideas of body positivity. Among other things, this dress’s softness and arm-baring nature lend it a carefree, accepting quality: something that can at times be difficult to cultivate.

The vintage community, lovely as it is, is simply a more stylized microcosm of the same societal pressures of our own age: emphasis on vintage make-up, vintage hair, vintage undergarments. It’s a very easy world in which to compare oneself to others. That is where my own brand of glamour comes in. Because it’s mine, it is in part defined by a resistance to look like anyone else and tempered by a desire to fit in. It is lankiness, a feeling of imbalance, a fear of appearing mousy. But more than those insecurities it is an air of confidence in my color combinations, a spark of curiosity for historic magnificence, a lightness that has come with practice of letting the right things go. For the better, my glamour is constantly being altered.

Additionally, ideas about “the perfect shape” have changed by slight degrees through the years but have done little other than cause strife for those coming in under, over or right at those perfect measurements. What I’ve learned about my own measurements is that knowing them is entirely utilitarian: one has to have a relatively precise idea of their numbers to shop for vintage clothing, especially online, as many vintage pieces lack size labels; when they are present, they are generally skewed significantly when compared to modern sizing.

Because I love it for its timelessness and that it already defies certain social norms, vintage also allows me to wear garments I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. It’s a good reminder that a sleeveless dress isn’t automatically less classy; that a short dress isn’t necessarily scandalous. There is freedom in knowing that grace–physical or spiritual–isn’t dictated by the clothes on our bodies (or whether or not those bodies have farmer’s tans [see below]) but by what lives in our hearts.

1970s Butterfly Beauty and 1960s Sweet Pink Boucle


Can you tell that there’s something special about this dress? It’s not a designer label or, as far as I know, a real rarity. (In fact, I recently spotted its twin for sale on Instagram, something that practically never happens for me.) But special is just the way I’d describe it. Why? Just look at those colors. Can you see butterflies like that and not smile? I can’t. This dress is easily one of the most bold in my collection and is one that timelessly transcends the notion of the casual versus formal setting.

The astonishingly bright colors in this dress have aged well: both physically with no visible fading and stylistically. Its playful neon hues are reminiscent not only of the original vibrant late 1960s color palette, but that of the 1990s’ Lisa Frank coloring books and stationary, found in many a young girls’ desk, mine included.

It’s refreshing, too, to see the colors make a resurgence with particular circles of vintage enthusiasts. For many, a vintage passion is a way to recreate (on the daily) a very particular style, often influenced by the victory suits of the 1940s or the full-skirted shirtwaist dresses of the 1950s. Others, however, might appreciate vintage piece by piece for what it adds to their individual style and otherwise modern wardrobes. This is the camp I more often fall into, one that mixes styles and decades, with colors more characteristic of the sixties and a fashion playfulness associated with the seventies and eighties. It truly serves as a reminder that vintage is for everyone, no matter their tastes.

And despite the show that the bright colors put on, black and white might prove to be the most important hues. The crisp white of the dress is the perfect canvas from which those winged beauties might take flight. However, the white background isn’t quite as plain as one might imagine. The dress is actually deeply textured, a floral embossing giving it depth and grounding the flighty piece in something substantial. Along with the contrasting shape and pattern, this is an element that adds sophistication to such a fun number. It’s also a weighty but breathable cotton, which means the dress has infinite possibilities for when-to-wear weather.

The butterflies themselves have a whimsical, hand-painted look to them. Their colors bleed together imperfectly and even escape the faint black outlines of the wings. The sharp black is a striking contrast to the vibrant rainbow of colors, and though the black details are small, an accessory such as a black shoe makes it stand out even more than the other colors.

There are two large white plastic buttons at each cuff and six more down the bodice of the dress which close high on the neck and meet a large, dramatic collar. A simple tie belt, unattached and very similar in nature to the my much-adored pocket watch dress makes an appearance as well.

The union-made bubble gum pink coat is a wool boucle. Its generous length and lightweight drape make for an excellent early spring garment. Double-breasted, its closures are four brass buttons, each imprinted with a regal crest-like image.

A truly unique feeling feature of this piece of outerwear is an triangular-shaped panel attached to the collar near the inside of the left shoulder. The panel snaps to a closure on the other side and acts as a sort of dickey. Fully buttoned, it provides an added layer of warmth to the chest on cool, breezy day. It can also remain tucked inconspicuously under the collar. Horizontal false flaps sit above spacious true pockets on both sides of the coat, making it a continually functional garment.

Each of these pieces is bold in its own right, and together they allow me to re-evaluate the nature of my vintage journey: finding the pretty, the strange, the exciting, and welcoming them into my life with gusto. In the end, I believe the most special thing about the dress is simply that I like it. I think that’s a pretty sweet deal.

1970s Stunning Paisley Starlet

Has there every been a wilder, more dreamy dress than this? Those were exactly my thoughts when I ran my hands over its silky fabric as it hung from its antique store rack.

It’s bold; it’s shiny. It’s not me at all, and yet, somehow, it absolutely is. In all its chaos, it quietly echoes a restrained elegance.

The jewel tones are something that I was immediately drawn to. Not only are the rich reds and teals and deep blacks decadent (not to mention that delightful cream color), but the way each color reflects light? Divine. There is somewhat of a shimmery threading to the dress, too, a delicate gold woven through the patterns. It’s a beautiful contrast to the silver threaded spots that dance throughout the dress, almost giving off the impression of tiny mirrors.

Which leads me to wonder where this dress–and the person who once wore it–may have felt most at home. A disco? It feels a bit more formal than that, I suppose. A dinner party guest? Perhaps. One of the things most intriguing about vintage is the idea that a piece may have meant one or many things to a person over their lifetime with it.

It’s part of what makes me feel so very connected to the pasts of these dresses in my own wearing them. There are dresses I wear frequently that have over the years become heavily rotated items in my wardrobe. There are pieces that I’ve bought for special occasions and some (like this one) that I’ve not yet had the pleasure of wearing out at all.

I don’t believe that any one collector’s motivations are exactly the same as another’s, whether that’s clothing or stamps, books or records. Functionality (or “fit”), aesthetic, rarity–all are possible factors in the hunt and an item’s eventual place in a collection. But I think that at its best, it’s much more than that. It’s not about idolizing a possession, but rather seeking clarity, connection to people or to history. It’s an opportunity to appreciate craftsmanship, inspiration, and humanity.

We create because we feel connected to something greater than ourselves, and I believe collecting is not entirely different from that.

On that note of creation, I’d like to return to the idea of this dress’s personal function. Without tags and as the dress is a bit thin–the inside hems even somewhat unfinished looking–I am lead to believe there’s a good chance this dress was handmade. To me, this means it could have fulfilled any and all desires the person had in mind when creating their handiwork.

Proportionately the dress is a bit odd on my frame. Its slightly larger waist, full bust, shortish sleeves, and yet generous length could be another indication of a tailor-made piece. A large quasi-waistband sits high on one’s middle at about five inches in thickness. This section of fabric then meets up with the surplice-style wrap bodice and a classic v-neckline. At the back, a simple black zipper remains perfectly hidden, and the dress is finally secured with a metal clasp.

Another reason I suspect it could be one of a kind is that in my searching, I’ve not come across anything else like it. You can find hints of what might have been inspirations for this dress–paisley motifs, metallic threading, rich colors–but nothing that combines all those things in the structure this one does.

I date it as being from the ’70s because while maxi dresses of this style might have made their debut in the 1960s, the darker, more earthy tones feel more reminiscent of the 1970s’ sultry color palette. There’s even a chance that it could be from the 80s, but I’m much more apt to say that it is anywhere from the mid- to late-70s.

I hope someday to really give this dress the outing it so deserves, and perhaps, misses. There may be no end in sight to this gown’s light-chasing, dream-hopping days.