It’s not hard to see why so many curvaceous women turn to fashions from the 40s and 50s when it comes to making the most of their bodies. The era’s pin-up girls, ‘cheesecake’ models and Vargas girls all had waspish waists and sexy curves. Actresses had hourglass figures that their clothes could barely contain (think Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors) and all women wore girdles that sculpted their bodies to perfection and bullet bras that gave the appearance of a Joan Holloway-esque bosom on even a petite woman.
I know from reading comments and looking at search terms that many of us wish we could eschew badly-designed, poorly-fitting modern pieces for something more flattering from the past. But finding true vintage pieces from that era for a larger figure can be difficult. Most good pieces are expensive, and many come in very small sizes, especially on the waist.
So three cheers for the many great brands and retailers who’ve allowed us to get a bit of that old-fashioned glamour in modern sizing. Some of the labels below stock plus size, some don’t, but I’ve chosen to include them all for reference.
This page lists some of best vintage reproduction or vintage inspired online retailers I’ve found. The list covers everything from 40s tea dresses to 50s tiki dresses, and I’ve also included some burlesque lingerie and my favourite retro swimwear brands so you can get the complete package. Don’t forget your hair either! Every wannabe pin-up girl should invest in a good set of hot rollers, some hair set and Lauren Rennells’ amazing ‘Vintage Hairstyling’ book for the perfect pompadour or pin-up set!
L – R: Vivien of Holloway, Tara Starlet, Get Cutie, Pin-up Emporium, Pin-up Parade
Vivien of Holloway – Famous for her circle-skirted halter dresses with boned tops, Vivien actually offers much more, including amazing sarong dresses, pencil skirts, sailor trousers and loads of different prints. Plus sizes are stocked, but the dresses use vintage patterns, so it’s worth heading to the Holloway Road store if you can to try a few on. I’ve got six VoH dresses and can’t speak highly enough of the fit, but you must go by waist measurement.
Pin-Up Parade – One of the best stockists in the UK for vintage repro brands from the USA like Stop Staring and Bettie Page Clothing. Move fast if your size is in stock, and keep an eye on the sale pages – I got a Bettie Page dress for £35 recently!
The Pin-up Emporium – A UK option for big US brands Stop Staring and Bettie Page Clothing (stock is limited but they have key pieces like the Bettie Page ‘Captain’ dress) as well as What Katie Did lingerie.
Tara Starlet – If Swing is your bag, this label offers up some brilliant floral tea dresses and early 40s styles. Unfortunately sizing is limited so anyone over a 14/16 (myself included) may have trouble…but if we hassle them enough, maybe they’ll increase the range?
Collectif – 40s & 50s inspired dresses, cleverly divided into full-skirted and fitted, wiggle dresses. Well-priced (approx £40 – £70 for a dress). Lots of rockabilly prints including tropical, nautical and polka dot. Also some lovely Mad Men-esque coats and pin-up girl tops. Good range of sizes with most items available up to size UK 22.
Dolly Dagger – Rockabilly-influenced online store that stocks Tara Starlet, Stop Staring and many others. Good for polka dots, pencil skirts and swimwear, plus a lovely range of exclusive 50s style dresses in florals and taffeta.
Love Ur Look – Lovely capsule collection of vintage inspired dresses in quirky prints including florals, cowboy print and bird print. Prices are all under £100.
Freddies of Pinewood – Do your best land girl impression in Freddie’s high-waisted jeans and 40s tops. Or try some dungarees if you dare!
Get Cutie – Not technically a vintage repro company, but if you like the full skirted styles and the rockabilly look, these cute dresses handmade in Brighton will be right up your alley. Choose your dress shape and then pick your quirky print (including some cool Varga girl style offerings and tattoo prints).
Vintage Allure – 30s – 50s style dresses for around the £70 – £100 mark. Lots of nice polka dot circle skirted dresses and some beautiful wiggle dresses with wing-bust detail in the ‘tinseltown’ section. Limited sizes (up to a UK 16 approx).
Big Beautiful Barbara Brown – Huge selection of pre-made and custom dresses, including a section of Marilyn Monroe-inspired dresses (Niagara pink dress, The Misfits cherry print etc). 1920s – 1970s covered, though the real emphasis is on the 30s – 50s with lots of floral tea dresses and fitted suits. Sizes 6 – 26 available.
Soho’s – Primarily a punk / emo clothing store, this makes the list because it stocks Hell Bunny, an alternative clothing brand that does a lot of 50s halter dresses in prints, lace and polka dots for a lot less than you pay for the more pin-up style brands. That said, these are simpler styles with none of the boning or super-wide skirts you’ll find elsewhere. Also look out for Criminal Damage, who do a great sailor dress with a pencil skirt.
Puttin on the Ritz – Art deco inspired website stocking 1930s and 1940s inspired reproduction clothing with a big emphasis on daywear. ‘The Harlow’ dress is worth looking at for potential brides. Customers can provide measurement for the perfect fit.
Able Grable – Small collection of custom-made dresses with a 30s / 40s inspiration. Great silk pieces, including evening gowns, day dresses and a nautical number. Keep an eye on opening dates – they can be limited and at time of writing the store is closed for Winter.
Lady Vintage – Swing dresses and floral styles, the classic ‘Hepburn’ a-line dress in polka dots and lots of lovely affordable full-skirted dresses (£30 – £50). For a review of the swing style, click here.
US stores (most ship internationally)
L – R: Bettie Page Clothing, Bernie Dexter, Pin-up Girl Clothing, Mode Merr, Stop Staring
Stop Staring Clothing – Probably the best-known producer of vintage-inspired wiggle dresses and bombshell frocks. Loads of great stretch dresses, satin cocktail dresses and swing dresses. Check sizing – stretch bengalene is not particularly forgiving. This has celeb approval too. Paris Hilton is a big fan, and Ashley ‘Twilight’ Greene was their model before she hit the bigtime.
Mode Merr – Retro dresses with a modern twist, separated into ‘good girl’ and ‘bad girl’ sections. Lots of embroidered detail (anchors, horseshoes, poodles and so on) and pencil skirts, fitted dresses and ruched gypsy style tops.
Daddy O’s – Rock and Roll store with a massive range of Stop Staring dresses (probably the biggest online away from the official site) and men’s bowling shirts. It’s a bit of a nightmare to navigate, but the stock is great.
Pin-Up Girl Clothing – One of my favourites for gorgeous wiggle dresses and pin-up styles. This big boutique stocks most of the big vintage brands and their own ‘Pin Up Couture’ label. Also the place to go for some very cute retro-inspired shoes and swimwear.
Bettie Page Clothing – Discovering the flagship store in Las Vegas was like stepping into my dreamworld, so this is another favourite of mine and I own three Bettie Page dresses now. Like Stop Staring, the best items are fitted wiggle dresses that make the most of a waspie waist!
BernieDexter.com – If you visit the shops above already, you’ll know Bernie. She’s modelled for just about every vintage reproduction retailer going. Now she has her own store selling some beautiful pieces for burlesque and vintage chicks.
Babygirl Boutique – One of the biggest boutiques for rockabilly and alternative clothing. It’s got all the big names, plus lots of accessories that can be hard to find elsewhere. Check out the sunglasses!
My Baby Jo – website of the cute LA boutique selling great vintage styles you won’t find elsewhere (look out for the gorgeous garden party dress) and brands mentioned above. The undergarments section has some great retro lingerie too.
Whirling Turban – Stunning bombshell dresses, tiki frocks and 1950s style wedding dresses, many with a trademark ‘wing’ detailing on the bust. Offers off-the-rack or custom (in some styles) in loads of prints, from leopard to bright tropical florals.
Trashy Diva – Clothing line specialising in great dresses and suits with a 40s / 50s vibe in amazing old-fashioned prints. Lots of nice Summer circle dresses and shirtwaisters. Very good prices (lots for circa $100) and international delivery is affordable too.
Corsets and Lingerie
L – R: What Katie Did, Fairy Gothmother, Playful Promises, Hepburn & Leigh
What Katie Did – The place to go for corsets and lingerie, including fully fashioned stockings (with the must-have french or cuban heel). If you want to go the whole hog, the bullet bras and proper girdles are a great alternative to modern shapewear (and much sexier).
StockingsHQ.com – The biggest range of fully-fashioned stockings made on vintage machinery by brands like Gio and Cervin, as well as plenty of more affordable modern interpretations. Also have their own range of 40s-style suspender belts and matching lingerie.
Playful Promises – Modern lingerie brand with a big dash of pin-up inspiration. Come here for longline bras, pretty girdles and suspender belts, and diaphanous, boudoir-inspired sets.
Hepburn and Leigh – stockists of Kiss Me Deadly, for a modern take on vintage lingerie (think suspender belts, deep knickers and push-up in lieu of bullet bras). The styles are pretty, the items well-made (I’ve got the ‘Alouette’ set) and kudos to KMD for going up to an E cup! The site also stocks Playful Promises, Cervin and others.
Miss Katie – Yet more corsets, this time a bit more costumey and over the top. Think blue corsets with big sailor collars and white pinstripe numbers with matching skirts.
Fairy Gothmother – Don’t let the name fool you, this site stocks a lot of really beautiful high quality steel-boned corsets and has a good crossover from its goth roots into the world of burlesque. They’ve also now got a big dress section. Definitely worth checking out if you like the wasp-waisted look.
L – R: Modcloth, Skinny Dip Swimwear, Pin-up Girl Clothing (above), For Luna
Esther Williams – Williams appeared in countless movies during the golden age of Hollywood, often in fabulous high-waisted bikinis or sexy one-pieces. Now she sells them to the public. Ignore the terribly 90s photography – these are the bees knees when it comes to retro swimwear. At time of publication, sales on the site are suspended, but some of the sites below (Modcloth and For Luna) stock the line.
For Luna – Small but perfectly formed online swimwear boutique. The only UK stockist I’ve found for Esther Williams, also has What Katie Did swim and Jantzen. Also stocks the Red or Dead swimwear collection which has some fab pin-up girl styles.
ModCloth – Retro and indie superstore with an amazing selection of very reasonably priced retro swimwear, including polka dot two-pieces, nautical inspired sets and Esther Williams swimwear. If nothing else, it’s a good place to see the line photographed in a more modern way!
Skinny Dip Swimwear – retro-inspired swimwear from the people behind lingerie / hosiery brand Leg Avenue. Includes cherry print halter bikinis, white broiderie anglaise trimmed swim dresses, and plenty of polka dots.
L – R: Dig For Victory, Zombie Doll Clothing, Audrey and Grace, Fables by Barrie
Dig For Victory – Beautiful 1950s style dresses made from vintage fabrics. Sized up to 16 with custom sizing available at extra cost. If you’re a Betty Draper fan, this is the one for you! I’m definitely saving up for my own floral frock! You can also shop in the UK at DigForVictory.com.
Jack’s Daughter – 40s, 50s and 60s inspired dresses, including buttoned tea dresses, halter neck swing dresses and a good dash of polka dot. There are also some very cute bikini top and skirt combos in tropical prints. Made in Australia.
Zombie Doll Clothing – Made to measure dresses, tops and corsets in rockabilly and retro tattoo prints. Lisa will even do custom designs, so if you’ve see a fabric you love, drop her a line.
New Vintage Lady – A seller who specialises in plus sized vintage. The store is mainly patterns, so you’ll need to get crafty, but you’ll occasionally find clothing there – usually items over a 40″ bust.
Miss Brache – Amazing retro ‘maillot’ swimsuits (take a look at the ‘ooh la la’ set!) and rockabilly dresses. The designer will custom make everything up to a US size 24.
Fables by Barrie – Vintage styles with a modern twist – mainly sailor-inspired. Amazing red, white and blue swimwear and button-detail pencil skirts.
The Red Dolly – Very well-priced retro swimsuits and bikinis in spots, stripes, block colours and animal prints.
La Drama Queen – More retro swimwear. Cute bikinis with halter tops and ruched sides, and amazing chevron striped swimsuits.
Note: This is by no means a complete list of retro reproduction shops and sellers, but it did take a long time to put together. Please do not republish it without my consent. If you wish to borrow portions of it, or if you use it to compile a list or feature of your own, please link back to this page – share the love!