Perhaps the versatility of wearing a maxi dress is old news to you by now, or maybe you’re just now learning the marvel of the maxi and naturally you’re curious to learn just what this madness is all about!
Prior to the dawn of 20th century fashion, floor-length dresses were the status quo of every woman’s style. She bared her ankles only whilst lifting her skirt to step out of a carriage, or to avoid the splash of mud onto her petticoats when crossing a dirty street.
But fast forward to ’70s clothing when after the dare-to-wear mini skirt explosion of ’60s fashion, anything past the knee was a new trend to be renamed something “cool” so that it didn’t conjure images of these less-than-desirable days of fashion.
Hence the word “maxi” was popularized and with it, the invention of an easy-to-wear style that I personally think every woman should own at least one of in her closet. That’s why I curated 18 of the best vintage maxi dresses that explore this piece’s versatility and print potential!
Keep reading after the jump for my rundown of why to buy and where to get marvelous maxis in floral, striped, polka dot, Hawaiian and tribal fashion families!
These 18 dresses illustrate just how broad a girls’ options are when looking for her dream maxi. I hope today’s post helps you to discover the pattern that fits your vintage style personality best!
Plus, to help inspire you to rock a vintage maxi dress for a variety of occasions, I asked feel-good fashion lover Stylish Thought to share three ways she accessorized a green ’70s maxi from her collection of vintage finds.
Let me know which dress in today’s post is your favorite by leaving a comment below, or by sending me a happy Tweet or a happy hello on Facebook!
Like the Partridge Family sang in the era that invented this dress, “C’mon, get maxi!”
FLORAL MAXI DRESSES
Bright Floral Maxi – $35 / Boho Floral Maxi – $35 / Ruffled Hawaiian Floral Maxi – $95
Perhaps the most tried-and-true pattern of any dress, floral prints can either be excellently elegant or a floral flop.
Particular styles (like the bright floral and Hawaiian print maxis) are truly best worn in warm summer climates. Other floral types – like the boho “Old World” Laura Ashley-inspired romantic style on a white base, middle – are chic with boots and a long maxi-length coat for fall/winter season.
Wearing floor-length floral can consume a girl who doesn’t own the print. It’s important to know the colors and types of flowers that suit your body best. The fashion rule of thumb is to wear smaller florals if petite and large florals if taller and broader in size.
However, the sizing of the flowers and amount of greenery can make all the difference for girl’s of any height. For example, a dress with white space between blossoms (middle dress) is well suited for a shorter lady in both ditzy and oversize floral prints.
GINGHAM MAXI DRESSES
Tiered Gingham Block Maxi – $36 / Red & White Gingham Maxi – $28 / Halter Neck Navy Gingham Maxi – $65
I think gingham is one of the most underrated patterns in the fashion world!
I can’t blame the general style consciousness for equating gingham print with picnics, country bumpkin living and Dorothy’s dress from Wizard of Oz. Beyond the stereotypes, the representations of this gorgeous checkered print in high fashion and designer collections are rare.
That’s why I vouch for bringing gingham to the forefront of casual summer style! I think it’s a great print to wear in a maxi because the cut and color of the dress can truly change the entire vibe of the pattern.
From fit & funky (left) to red & relaxed (center) to traditional & tailored (right), gingham print isn’t just for girls in Kansas with pigtails and dogs named Todo anymore!
STRIPED MAXI DRESSES
B&W Chevron Stripe Maxi – $48 / Graphic Stripe Maxi on Ebay / Bright Stripe Maxi – $35
A striped maxi dress is such a great throw-on, throw-off piece for the busy girls’ wardrobe. There’s a reason “stripes” denote a person’s military status: Because they’re symbols of strength and accomplishment that should be worn loud and proud!
If you’re like me, you’ve got those mornings of “I have absolutely nothing to wear” attitudes that make you 15 minutes late for wherever you need to be. Sometimes there’s just not enough minutes in the morning to pair separates with shoes, accessories and a jacket!
Knowing that you’ve got a chevron stripe (left), graphic stripe (middle) or bright stripe (right) maxi dress standby waiting to be paired with your favorite cardigan will keep those panic attacks at bay without sacrificing style for saved time.
POLKA DOT MAXI DRESSES
Art Deco Polka Dot Maxi – $68 / Polka Dots & Stripes Maxi – $35 / Exaggerated Collar Polka Dot Maxi – $30
Ah, the power that lies in a simple little polka dot! Before it was called the “polka dot” (which according to sources, was inspired by the polka dance craze in the 1840s-1860s), the pattern was called “dotted-swiss” after diagonal stripes of dots on a dice.
Polka dots were introduced to fashion in the ’40s when the polka dance became a swingin’ craze once again. Everyone from Minnie Mouse to Marilyn Monroe were wearing polka dots, which influenced the more frequent appearance of the dot in a woman’s wardrobe.
Polka dots are the most playful of prints because they appear to jump off the fabric and literally into your field of vision.
Wear a polka dot maxi for a fun occasion where you can live a little brighter, laugh a little louder and love your personal style as long as you like!
HAWAIIAN MAXI DRESSES
Traditional Floral Hawaiian Print Maxi – $68 / Mod Style Hawaiian Print Maxi – $134 / Pineapple Print Hawaiian Maxi – $78
The trend for Hawaiian fashion grew post World War II. American troops stationed in Hawaii following the December 7th, 1941 attack of Pearl Harbor may have influenced America’s late ’40s-early ’50s excitement for tiki-themed parties and Aloha shirts for men and pineapple or hibiscus patterned dresses for women.
Whether you’re grilling in your suburban backyard, sunbathing in NYC’s Central Park park or legitimately vacationing on the Pacific islands, Hawaiian maxis are a seasonal style staple that help to elevate the mood of a warm-weather event.
Styles run the gamut from traditional, mod to novelty print. The most modern looking styles are simple sheath style silhouettes with a high neckline.
Look for patterns with solid-colored “white” space (even if it isn’t white) between the design object – that means the print isn’t too busy, so it won’t look like a tacky tourist dress you actually just bought on vacation!
TRIBAL MAXI DRESSES
African Tribal Print Maxi – $48 / Metallic Tribal Print Maxi – $79 / Aztec Style Tribal Print Maxi – $37
Because vintage sellers want to attract as many eyeballs as possible to their listings, many sellers nebulously tag their items with descriptive jargon like “tribal,” “Indian” or “ethnic.” This can be frustrating for buyers who are looking to purchase a specific design without having to filter through pages of dresses falling into any of these catch-all phrases.
Indian and ethnic refer to Eastern cultures like India or Morocco. These styles were most popular thanks to ’70s fashion, when designers sought inspiration through their worldly travels and spiritual exploration.
Tribal can refer to an infinite number of “tribes,” with African tribes, Latin American tribes and Pacific Islander tribes most commonly seen in vintage design.
Wearing a tribal maxi with boots and a headscarf is my dream uniform for fall. I’d love to have a closet full of various prints and coordinated belts, boots and bangle bracelets to go with each!
MORE MAXI DRESSES
By Era: 18 Maxi Dresses From Different Decades
INSPIRATION: Stylish Thought Accessories a ’70s Maxi Dress 3 Ways
OUTFIT: Wearing a Maxi Dress by Thrifty Chic Shop
VIDEO: Shopping for a Maxi Dress at the Manhattan Vintage Show!
LOOKBOOK: ’70s Maxi Dresses Wearable for Spring 2012
SHOP: All the Vintage Maxi Dresses You’d Ever Want!
Emily Britton says
Totally love the polka dot and stripe one. Sold! Thanks for your great taste! It’s vintage and Mondo esq!
Hey Emily! OH YES! That polka dot & stripe one was a choice for this post as inspired by a similar dress we sold at the shop I manage. I never thought to combine polka dots and stripes in the same piece. Thank you, vintage inspiration XO
manic vintage says
Well done! informative, fun & stylish creative ways to wear maxi’s! Love your selections! Thanks also for the feature! xoxo
hi Manic! You beat me to the punch! Thanks for stopping by to check out the feature. Will be messaging you soon on Etsy, too. Lots of vintage love XO
Fashion Attack Vintage says
Girl, you’ve done it again! Another great post that is both educational AND entertaining! I Love maxi dresses but being as short as I am, it can be difficult to find one that won’t end up cleaning the sidewalk! lol
aw you are too sweet Sara! I DISAGREE! I DISAGREE! I love how long maxis look on short girls! It is so princess like! We gotta go flea market hopping for one for you ;-)
What a great article! I loved reading about the history of maxi dresses and the different pattern styles. I am definitely going to come back and visit your site to read more articles. Also, thank you for including my bright striped maxi dress! :)
hi Romi! LOVED YOUR MAXI! So glad I could share ;-) Will be visiting your shop again soon! thanks for spreading vintage love!