How to Give Vintage Men’s Clothes a Modern Look

The sportscoat shown below is a beautifully tailored double-breasted blue wool twill that I would estimate to be twenty-five years old. I recently purchased it second-hand on eBay for only $16. You rarely see double-breasted sportscoats these days. What can I do to make this outfit feel contemporary?

How to Give Vintage Men's Clothes a Modern Look

My tips for men looking to build a usable modern wardrobe by thrift shopping.

First, when thrift shopping, choose older clothing wisely. Select timeless, moderately styled suits and sportcoats that age well. Anything that is too extreme or trendy should be avoided. Second, make sure it fits you well. An older garment that fits poorly screams “thrift shop!” Basic alterations will make the jacket or suit truly your own, and update its look.

Vintage 3-button wool suit

This jacket (shown above) reveals its age in its three-button design (circa 2003), and the overall jacket length (modern suits and sportcoats are cut a bit shorter). How do we make it feel more modern?

By combining it with monochromatic slacks, shirt, and tie, it gives the overall outfit a modern look. If I were to match a brightly patterned tie and shirt or add more colors, the overall outfit would appear ‘loud’ or garish by modern standards. By keeping the colors of the shirt, tie and slacks simple and muted, the overall outfit feels more contemporary.

Vintage Sportscoat - Gianfranco Ruffini

The sportscoat above personifies the padded shoulders and lower gorge made popular by Giorgio Armani in the early 1980s. I like suits and sportcoats from this era as they are more comfortable to wear than the slim suits currently in fashion. To make this sportscoat feel more contemporary I matched it with quiet colors and tones that give the entire outfit a more conservative yet sporty feel.

Vintage Menswear
Give Vintage Men’s Clothes a Modern Look

Here’s another example. The suit below is a Calvin Klein Collection grey flannel (fully canvassed) made nearly twenty-five years ago. The broader lapels and 1930’s profile of this suit reveals its vintage ‘power suit’ heritage. It is exquisitely tailored and one of my favorite thrifted garments (purchased second-hand for $25.00 on eBay).

Calvin Klein Collection Grey Flannel Suit
Vintage Calvin Klein Collection Grey Flannel Suit

While this would never be confused with the slim fit ‘skinny suits’ that are currently in vogue,  it still makes a stylish statement. The key once again is keeping things simple. A crisp, timeless white shirt and classic regimental silk tie are always appropriate, along with a crisp white handkerchief in the breast pocket. Be sure that the width of the tie compliments the width of the lapels.

With good taste and well-chosen colors and patterns, you can wear clothes that defy age with style. Just remember to err on the side of caution – avoid fads and use fewer colors and more muted tones. You may also enjoy my post on how to thrift & copy the look of expensive menswear.

Enjoy your thrifting adventures!