How to Modernize a Vintage Maxi Dress

by Sammy in 4 Comments — Updated October 19, 2019

Thrift Shopping Dictionary: Thrifting Jargon 101

Hello and happy MODERN VINTAGE MONDAY, everyone!

It was an insanely gorgeous weekend in NYC this weekend … proven with visual evidence thanks to this photo I snapped running in Central Park yesterday. Beautiful!

The sky in the picture above is just as if not more beautiful — as are the rest of the shots featured in today’s modern vintage post!

If you’re reading this post sometime between 7:30AM and 11AM today, at this very moment I am actually shooting NEW pictures for future modern vintage posts. I’m in Central Park near the south end / Time Warner Center — there are a ton of lovely bridges, grassy hills and scenic views of city-meets-nature! Central Park pictures will kick off next week’s modern vintage post.

I love sharing how I style vintage looks with you in a fresh, contemporary way — along with sharing the odds and ends of my daily fashion inspiration on Facebook and Twitter.

But enough about me. How are YOU? I hope you had the chance to visit one of your favorite flea markets or vintage stores this weekend. Or maybe you just went thrifting at your local spot. Whatever you did, I’d love to hear it. Because honestly, what you do as a vintage lover is what inspires me as one, too.

Today’s shots feature the most fabulously floral and fun maxi dress gifted to me thanks to The Vintage Mistress on Etsy. Please check her out! Her shop represents what I love most about vintage fashion: pieces curated with love and care so that they can find happy homes with you!

Keep reading after the jump to see more pictures of me, my maxi dress and that big ‘ole New York City bridge (we seriously have a lot!).

This week is a fun one at Sammy Davis Vintage! Thanks to the stylish tastes of some new YouTube friends, NiaSays, BritPopPrincess & ThePerisanBabe, I’ve fallen back in love with everything that is LONDON.

Check back later this week for some seriously MODERN fashion influences thanks to our sister country also known as the great United Kingdom … plus, a new video coming up in a few days featuring vintage store A Little Wicked!

Please say hi and ask any questions on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube & email [email protected]. Share your vintage fashion finds on the fanpage — I LOVE celebrating great style!

xx, SD


Thrift Shopping Dictionary: Thrifting Jargon 101

THE LOOK: Marvelous maxi, belted to fit and styled for contemporary chic!

THE INSPIRATION: The spring/summer 2011 runways — which influenced this season’s epic return of the MAXI, which is a skirt or dress that is floor length, i.e. “maximum” length. A “midi” is halfway down your calves and a “mini” is above the knee.

I also couldn’t help but be inspired to style this particular maxi after putting together a maxi dress outfit at the Manhattan Vintage Show a few weeks ago. Check out the video where I style the look head-to-toe!

HOW I MODERNIZED IT: Admittedly, this was a simple piece to modernize: Because the dress itself was already cut and designed for today’s fashionista.

Here’s why: First, the dress was sleeveless, therefore the amount of fabric from my neck to the floor didn’t seem as cumbersome.

Second, the print is fabulous and so on-trend. It’s definitely ’70s inspired, but the choice of color on a black base doesn’t scream “flower child.” There’s enough mix of colors here without those eye-blurring brights we’re so used to seeing (think brighter yellows, reds and oranges mixed in one print — so ’70s!)

Third, the dress was made from a cotton material instead of polyester. Cotton makes everything lighter and drap more elegantly. Polyester can “flow” but in a cheap, ready-to-tear-at-any-moment sort of way. Watch your heels, ladies — if caught on a poly dress, you might just hear a rip!

To add some of my personal touches, I went with a black floppy hat to keep on the ’70s modern style trend. You can match it with 70s make up too. This floppy hat is actually new, and I would have preferred a vintage one made from higher-quality felt material. The fact that this one is black is key so that it matches the base of the dress.

I grabbed a hair flower to wear as a corsage along my strap. A re-inventive use of vintage clip on earrings, shoe clips and hair bows is to append them elsewhere …. anywhere!

Think of anything “vintage-clip” as opportunities for embellishments on head scarves, or purses, or as DIY bow-ties on your collar or oversize cuff links. There are a lot of vintage materials that may not be suitable for their original purpose in a modern way, but can be “re-imagined” to still offer something to a look depending on the particular style of the wearer-at-hand.

The belt was necessary to cinch the waist so the dress wouldn’t hang on my body, looking a bit more boxy than I’d like. Not all maxis are created equal — and the cut of this one made it “billow outward” without the tightening of a waist belt. So belt it I did it, choosing one with a circular buckle that was a “faux metal” material and also a unique shape and woven along the belt itself, but still a subdued color to blend — not contrast — against the colors of the dress.


Thrift Shopping Dictionary: Thrifting Jargon 101

THE DRESS: ’70s maxi dress, gift from the Vintage Mistress on Etsy

THE HAT: New ’70s-inspired floppy black hat, gift from The Vintage Mistress on Etsy

THE FLOWER: This is a hairbow I wear every-which-way … and in this look, as a makeshift corsage! Bought last year from H&M and worn to death with love.

THE BELT: Swapped from friends!

THE SHOES: (not seen in these pics) Thrifted Nine West wooden clogs, Goodwill Brooklyn, NY



Thrift Shopping Dictionary: Thrifting Jargon 101

This look isn’t a tough one to re-create … but here’s where things DO get tricky!

Since you want to find a maxi dress that’s modern, you need to have a discerning method of searching for the oh-so-marvelously maxi.

In other words: When searching on Etsy, Market Publique or visiting your local vintage boutique, ask for a “sleeveless” maxi. A ton of maxi dresses in the ’70s weren’t only floor-length, but wrist-length, too.

While those were the warmest dresses you could rock in the winter time, the maxi dress trend is hot for summer 2011. You want a maxi dress that’s made from light cotton material, illustrated with summer design and colors in mind and of most importance: is sleeveless!

I did a post in my Shop Finds a few weeks ago on 12 great maxi dress suggestions for spring/summer. A few sold, but 8 marvelous maxis remain! Check out the Shop Finds now (scroll down to May 16) for some ideas on how to re-create this look.



Thrift Shopping Dictionary: Thrifting Jargon 101

I’d love to wear this look to any summer formal occasion — think wedding, outdoor dining, poolside party or ceremonial event.

The hat does casual-ify the outfit, so swap it out for some bejeweled instead, like the hair pieces Bianca Jagger used to wear in her Studio 54 days.

Or, just tie a silk head scarf into a pretty bow for a girlie-touch that goes with any event — just change up the size and design to suit the need of the occasion! Keep the hair bow bigger and center-of-the-head angled for playful, smaller and angled at the side for formal, and tied like a bandana (2Pac style) for casual and fancy free.

p.s. Upcoming post on “vintage” rapper’s style influences on modern day fashion … I have SO much to say about this!



Thrift Shopping Dictionary: Thrifting Jargon 101

This was a pre-shoot-prep-pic captured on the fly by my photographer. I had JUST bought the new iPhone complete with the self-camera … and was using it to apply lipstick! ;-)

4 thoughts on “How to Modernize a Vintage Maxi Dress”

  1. Love the outfit! Your posts inspire me to get more creative with what I have in the closet. So much to work with an restyle!

  2. Hey, let’s hear it for fun loving-perfect-weather weekends!!
    Love the entire look– but especially the hat!!

  3. Hey Sammy D! I just recently chanced upon your blog and I love how you make vintage pieces look modern :D I was wondering could you do a post about how you store your bags, especially the vintage ones as in my opinion they tend to be more fragile and delicate.. Thanks!

  4. Hey lady! Awesome post :) I am a little scared of trying the maxi…Why? Because I’m short and my build is a little “fluffier” than most and I’m afraid I’d look like I was wearing a mu-mu. However, I love how you implemented the belt…I think that division creates a waistline which would help in achieving a less frumpy look (on me). I’ll have to find a maxi and try out the belt trick…who knows, maybe it’ll work :)
    Here’s to trying new things!!!
    <3, AMC


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