Dresses and the fickle mind

This post started out with a dress I recently thrifted (with intention to resell). When I brought it home it occurred to me that it is vaguely similar to another colorful flower pattern dress I owned and I thought about doing a comparison. Then as I sorted through my closet I got a bit bogged down with dresses and decided on a three way comparison – vintage vs. contemporary vs. designer.

So I took pictures of myself in the three dresses I picked. I wore my Prada Sport pumps because all dresses are sort of purple. These pumps are a great example of why second hand shoes are the bomb ($15 with the stickers still on), and are comfortable for clomping around and changing dresses.

Exhibit one is a vintage dress. I thrifted it several years ago. Although I love thriftng and second hand, I do not wear a lot of vintage*. I think vintage works beautifully on some people but more often than not it makes me feel frumpy. But I am am a big fan of the exception, and I do have two vintage dresses in my closet. Vintage coats are my other big exception, but that is the story for another day.

Vintage dress: no label
Vintage dress: no label

This is the dress I recently thrifted and am calling contemporary :

Contemporary dress: Ann Taylor
Contemporary dress: Ann Taylor

The third dress was thrifted it over 5 years ago:

Designer Dress: Zac Posen
Designer Dress: Zac Posen

When I looked at these pictures my immediate reaction was I would never wear the contemporary dress and certainly not with those shoes. But studying the pictures, it occurred to me that not everyone would agree. So I sent the pictures to my sister and asked for her impressions without identifying the dresses. (Not that my sister would have been influenced by labels – she is not one bit impressed with designers.) And she wrote back: the second dress is clearly the best. She was quite adamant. I was shocked, if not completely surprised.

Next I checked with my husband. He also said that in the pictures I look best in the contemporary dress although in person he thinks both the vintage and designer dress look much better. (He has seen me wear the vintage a few and the designer quite a few times.) I found this troubling.

I really don’t like how I look in the contemporary dress. It looks, for lack of a better word, standard to me. Conventional. Not interesting at all. I sort of see that it is more flattering, if flattering means making me look more hourglassy or thinner, but I don’t especially want to look more hourglassy or thinner. Moreover, I resent the dress for trying to squeeze me into the shape of a younger woman. Or maybe that it is trying to neutralize me. On the other hand, I am not sure about the vintage dress, I also don’t like to look frumpy. Oh fickle mind. Do you have an opinion about these dresses? Is a flattering (in the conventional sense) dress better than an interesting one?

*Thrifted and vintage are two different things. Thrifted indicates the item was bought at a shop that receives donated clothes and resells them, usually to support a charity. The clothes themselves could have been produced just last month. Vintage usually refers to clothes that were made at least twenty years ago. It is possible to thrift vintage but most clothes at a thrift store are not vintage.


  1. ladywone

    O.K. once again my need to read the background and thoughts have been fulfilled. Now I like the shape of the vintage dress and the pattern of the designer dress. I could do with a combination of both on you. I am not feeling the standard at all. I do think at times our minds play tricks on us to make us see what we imagine shapes and images to be.

    I do like vintage but I also like to explore different styles. Most vintage I cannot fit because the sizes were much smaller back then. People around me used to think that you could only by well used clothes from the thrift stores I have changed there minds. That is how I started my small business. Thrifting is not what people think it is for me it is very calming and I meet the most wonderful people who love to talk.

    I don’t thrift for profit I thrift for peace it is almost a zen like experience. Thanks for the commentary.

    Question: Why do you keep them if you don’t fully love them? What about the dresses keep you holding on?

    1. Jaime

      Ladywone your comments are always thought provoking and a pleasure to read. I have no intention of keeping the middle (standard) dress. It was just here for experimental purposes and will soon be in a consignment store near me. I have worn both of the other two more than once (actually I wore the designer one every other week for a year or two and then took a break). Only with these pictures am I questioning the vintage one but my husband insists it looks great in person. Thanks for your comment!

  2. rabbit

    Interesting! The thing with a dress is that you don’t know what the viewer is responding to. For me, looking for example at how the shape of the dress, particularly the neckline looks on you, I’d say the contemporary one is most flattering, the designer one next most flattering, and the high-neckline of the vintage one is what makes it border on ‘not quite flattering enough’ to my eye.

    1. Jaime

      Great point Rabbit. There are many ways of assessing flattery. It may be the neckline that bothered me in the picture of the first dress. Perhaps it is not so noticeable in person.

  3. Mary Celeste

    This was a very compelling entry. You are lovely in all 3 but I don’t care for the contemporary dress at all either. It looks very generic and not special enough for you. I think it’s great that conventional flattery is not always your goal. It is not mine either. Viva individuality!

  4. Deborah

    Love #1. You edge up the vintage look with your hair and I would want to put ankle boots with it. #2 while a lovely dress is just “ordinary” to my eye. It doesn’t do you justice at all:). I don’t view you as being this conservative. #3 looks the most current to me and I’m still seeing this look in stores. I love it on you. It’s modern, fluid and I think it looks quite stunning.

    Jamie, I adore vintage coats too! Completely congruent to my style but that doesn’t stop me buying them x

    1. Jaime

      Thanks Deborah! I agree the shoe choice did not help #1. Those shoes are really best with long trousers. #3 is also my favorite – thanks for the validation! Hope to see you model some of your vintage coats soon Deborah!

  5. texstyle

    I haven’t read any other comments but I was immediately drawn to the third dress. I love it on you! I feel like it is more “you” than either of the first two and it just looks fantastic on you too. I feel a bit like you do about the second “modern” one. The vintage one is okay but I’m not big on florals so it’s just my personal taste but you still look good in it.

    1. Jaime

      Thank you texstyle! It is interesting how we all see the dresses differently isn’t it? There are a lot of women that would look fantastic in the middle dress, I’m just not one of them.

  6. serene

    This is so interesting to me because the contemporary dress is the one I like the least as well. And for the reasons you mentioned. ..it’s uninteresting. Expected. I actually prefer either of the other two…I love the print on the vintage and love the looseness of the designer. I know what you mean about feeling frumpy. ..a woman over 40 with curves can look frumpy pretty easily (I get that same feeling for myself! ) on thing that I think helps is to show a little more leg…the just below knee length doesn’t look good on me. It’s almost as if it needs to be longer or at least an inch above the knee and now I’m wondering how the vintage dress would look minutes an inch or so. I find that I’m more interested in looking interesting rather than “pretty”. What a great post! Serene

    1. Jaime

      Serene I do so enjoy your thoughtful comments – thank you! I know what you mean about the length, I think combined with the high neck and old style print the frump factor threatens. In person I am moving around and flashing a bit more leg, which probably makes a difference.

  7. amiable

    I do like the neckline of the middle one, and it’s bold print is eyecatching. My favorite is the third one (amazingly wonderful print!), and I also really like the first one (the shape, and colors). Both of their lengths are better than the middle one too.

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