What is it about the cute vintage dresses Zooey Deschanel wears on and off screen that makes everyone go gaga?
Zooey’s dresses are pretty, but they’re made for modern life. How to re-create this look without spending a fortune? Starting at your local thrift store or vintage shop, it’s possible to upcycle a completely one of a kind dress a la Zooey.
Here are a few tips to start with.
1. The Pretty Factor. Zooey’s look is feminine without being overtly sexy. Look for second hand dresses with retro-style details like gathered or pleated skirts, peter pan collars, small florals or other subtle patterns, lace, pintucks, etc. In general, these are dresses that hug the body only at the waist.
2. Quality and Condition. Be sure everything’s in good condition. You don’t want to get home and find the zipper is broken or the armpits are stained!
If you buy from a vintage clothes shop online, the seller should describe the item’s condition in detail. Don’t buy from a seller who only says “good condition.” You need all the facts.
3. Making it Modern! Looking at the examples of Zooey’s dresses above, they all have this in common: They hit above the knee—farther above than most dresses were worn in the past.
Now, a lot of thrift-store dresses aren’t short. Those from the 1980s and 1990s hit about mid-calf (which, incidentally, is generally very unflattering). But lots of these dresses are still great candidates for upcycling a la Zooey because of other details.
Sometimes all you need to create a cute modern vintage look is to shorten a dress above the knee. You can get a seamstress at the dry cleaners to do it—generally about $15. Or you can do it yourself. I recommend this tutorial.
The second change you might make to a thrifted dress is to take out those big ol’ shoulder pads. These are usually very easy to remove; but if you’re nervous, here’s an article with instructions.
Unless the pads are reeeeally huge, taking them out won’t change the way the dress hangs.
Here are a few dresses in my my online vintage shop that have gotten the complete Zooey-fying treatment. At less than $40 each, they’re still a bargain for a cute, well-made dress that’s one of a kind.
Peter Pan collar dress, size 6, $35.
Indie Secretary Dress, M-L, $30.
Yellow Floral Dress, M, $38.