What I Wore: Styling the Vintage Prairie Dress

When it comes to trends there’s one that’s been building momentum for some time now.  It started with the resurgence of vintage dresses from a particular era as far back as seven years ago and the emergence of new brands like Batsheva and The Vampire’s Wife who have dedicated themselves to creating modern versions of Gunnies and the prairie dresses we scour vintage rails for.  Now designers like Bora Aksu are reinventing the prairie dress for a new audience to great effect.

I do own a Batsheva frock and two Vampire’s Wife dresses and I do feel amazing in them, but it has to be said, there’s nothing quite like an original vintage prairie dress.  The thrill of finding one, especially when it fits and it’s the perfect length and composition – well, that’s just unbeatable.  So, what exactly is a prairie dress?  Well, let’s get that clear first off…

A true prairie dress has three main features (and a lot of vintage sellers will list any old maxi dress with a few ruffles and call it a prairie dress which is absolutely not the case), so what should you be looking for?

1. a high, stand up collar

2. a feature waist – either elasticated, belted or ribboned, but not empire line

3. a flounce – that’s the detail which appears in the bottom third of the dress

Anything in addition to this is a lovely bonus.  If it has an empire line it’s a different type of dress from the same, or a similar era and your vintage seller is cashing in on your lack of knowledge, or maybe even theirs.  The rules are simple though, if you like the dress, buy it, if you’re definitely and resolutely looking to buy a prairie dress, then stick to the protocol.

Here’s my current favourite (subject to change literally daily) and the one I wore to the VIP launch of The Cosy Club at Durham’s Riverwalk complex.  It’s a full length navy blue true vintage dress, fully lined and covered in tiny polka dots, bought right here in the North East from an expert vintage curater and re-seller called The Pansy Garden.  It’s a dream to wear because it’s so light and flowy and not at all heavy meaning that when it’s warm outside you don’t get all hot and bothered in it.  I’m wearing it with a Topshop leather and chainmail belt which I bought a few years ago, you can find a similar one here, a Western style works well.  Chuck on a pair of cowboy boots (again mine are Topshop) and a fedora (out of shot because the wind picked up), and that’s one fast, easy, and pretty damn sustainable outfit.


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