A few weeks ago @shipwreckghost commented that one of my outfits reminded her of the old Banana Republic catalogs from the 1980s, which send me down a rabbit hole of the mother of all eighties-does-thirties-explorer-style clothing.
For real, Banana Republic used to be a safari/explorer themed store! They started out selling military surplus (from all over, not just the US), but then expanded into producing their own items, particularly after they got absorbed into Gap. Safari had a big moment in the 1980s in part due to the Indiana Jones movies and Banana Republic was here for it. The hand-drawn illustrations are a major part of the charm of the scans. It feels more like a ye-olde outfitters catalog.
Aside: while I think their aesthetic is really fun, I hate the brand name. You could have named yourself something evocative of exploration and animals and travel but noooo, you decided to go with this shit.
TL;DR here are some outfits I made inspired by the catalogs’ aesthetic. Click it to view full res in a new tab. Also, heads up that I was too lazy to make fast-loading thumbnails to embed in the post that only when clicked link to the full res photos, so some of these may take a little while to load.
Read on to see my thought process on distilling mood board images into some actual outfits. I wore most of these out but some of the ones more suited to cold weather I just photographed for this post.
You can view my Pinterest board with all these inspiration images and more here. As usual, unless I specifically say I recommend it, any images of actual shoppable items are not a recommendation, just visual inspiration. I find that people tend to ask for links to all the items in inspo albums anyway so I just provide them when available by default.
The Source Material
These images are all scans of catalogs from the 1980s from the Abandoned Republic site. Check them out here! They have loads more scans as well as photos of some of the actual items and store interiors.
From top to bottom:
- Screencap of the character Evelyn Carnahan from the cheesy 1999 comedy-adventure classic The Mummy (set in 1926)
- Bessie Coleman c. 1922
- Sourceless-Pinterest photo of a female hiker from the 1930s(?)
- (Wikipedia) Women’s Land Army Poster
- 1932, Chinese-American pilots Hazel Ying Lee and Virginia Wong
- Woman working at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California during WWII (Library of Congress via Buzzfeed)
- Women camping/hiking(?) 1924 (Wikipedia)
- (NPR) Lillian Yonally, one of the few women with a camera during her WASP service from May 1943 to December 1944
- 1930s hiking boots ad (lots more vintage hiking clothes images at the link)
And here’s crowseyeproduction’s video on the Women’s Land Army uniform, which goes more into details than the wikipedia article.
Modern Fashion Inspiration
- Uniqlo x JW Anderson SS19
- Sourceless Pinterest image
- REISS Shearling aviator jacket
- Urban Outfitters button-down midi dress (I actually tried one of these on in a store but it was hilariously oversized all around on me because I’m not 6 ft tall. Also the fabric wasn’t that nice.)
- Free People Patti Pant in sage
- Sourceless Pinterest image
- Free People Mid-length Utility Skirt
So we have a bunch of themed images we like and want to make outfits based on. Here we’ve even got some modern outfits included which should make distilling things down even easier.
As in other inspiration -> items -> outfits posts, I like to consider the following points in the process of actually materializing all of this into styled looks.
- What are the recurring visual elements in the style board?
- Colors, fabrics, silhouettes, styling choices
- What makes this distinct from other similar styles? What subset of the visual elements should we focus on to keep the wardrobe cohesive?
- What is the lifestyle of the person this wardrobe is for?
- In this post since I’m not trying to make a hypothetical all-occasions capsule wardrobe, just wearing a bunch of stuff I have already, I’m not going to get suuuper into this to make sure there are the correct proportion of items suitable to different activities and weather. But normally I’d consider: Office? Bike commute? Active job? Tolerance for fussing with clothes? Dry cleaning okay? Do they party? Attend operas? How often? Do they have fluffy pets that shed a lot? Young children?
TLDR: earth-toned vintage military-inspired style with a relaxed but practical feel.
In this section we write down everything we notice makes this style. For actual outfits, because of constraints of activities, actual clothing owned, and not wanting to literally look like we time traveled from 1920s Egypt, we won’t necessarily try and incorporate every single one of these points. But I always like to have it all out there so you can get a better feel for it.
Earth tones: Obviously. Olive, khaki, beige/cream, browns of various shades. Some black, but it’s not a dominant neutral. Think National Park Service.
Sturdy natural fabrics: All over the catalogs you see them bragging about how the properties of the cotton, linen, wool, and leather items of various kinds will aid you on your adventure. Not the sort of technical materials you’d get from modern workwear and activewear brands. (For the record, I don’t hate synthetics on principle. They just don’t make sense here.) There are still soft fabrics, but nothing diaphonous or delicate.
Comfortable silhouettes: a bit loose to accommodate movement because spandex wasn’t really a thing in clothes back in our era of inspiration, but not so loose that things will catch on vegetation or machinery. I didn’t want to comb through all the scans to dig it up, but the copy from one of the catalogs advertising a skirt said something to the effect of “loose enough to take long brisk strides in without catching between the legs”.
Military details: A lot of this style is closely related to the military (i.e. pilots) or is just so utilitarian in bent that military surplus makes sense. Banana Republic was originally a surplus seller after all. All-in-all more on the smart end than slouchy end, but without blurring into officewear (if you can only wear it at a desk, it probably won’t work here).
Vintage styling: The catalogs cite inspiration anywhere from the Victorian era through the 1980s (they did actually sell t-shirts in addition to stuff like that embedded scans), but from what I can tell focuses on the elements of 20s through 40s. With an 80s bent, for example they have so many sweater dresses and shirt dresses with wide belts over them. So this means mostly structured and tailored items and more classic style shoes like lace-up boots and oxfords.
Specific items and styling details:
(Some of these I’m pulling from the Pinterest board but haven’t appeared in photos above)
A lot of the modern inspo photos feature Doc Martens boots, which also work with the military inspiration. Shoes are generally comfortable and on the sturdy side.
Loose trousers: Specifically jodhpurs, but we can assume that we’re not going to be walking around casually in those any time soon, but trousers that are relaxed around the thighs then tapered down can have a similar vibe. Wide-leg 40s trousers also appear. There aren’t really any leggings or skinny pants. Jeans were a thing in the 40s and definitely appear in a lot of working women historical photos, but I think going hard enough on the vintage pieces to pull a look more old-timey with jeans will usually end up looking like a costume or a 50s pinup style so I’d just avoid it.
Midi skirts: Not mini skirts which are just impractical (might as well wear shorts) or maxi skirts which would be a trip hazard. Crisp styles rather than breezy or boho styles.
Belts. Belted everything!
Aviator-inspired bomber jackets, shearling jackets: Optional: those leather flight caps and goggles 😛
For modern looks, a balance between vintage-inspired and modern. If pants are more modern (e.g. plain trousers vs pleated trousers), pair with a more old-timey top. If the top and bottom could be just any old outfit, add a hat + statement vintage shoes.
Linen/cotton button-down shirts, beige/white or olive. This + khaki or olive bottoms are core pieces. (Sourceless Pinterest images)
Henley shirts or plain tops can also work, more of an off-duty sort of vibe.
Hats: structured hats like panama hats, in straw or wool. Probably wanna avoid anything that looks like a literal pith helmet IRL though.
Bandana/scarf for hair or around the neck.
Leather/canvas backpacks and messenger bags
Tall lace-up boots, chelsea boots
Jumpsuits and safari/utility dresses
Vintage aviator sort of watches
Distinguish the style from similar styles
Like any look, there’s quite a bit of overlap with adjacent styles. Here are some things I tried to keep in mind in order to avoid and keep outfits on track.
Soft prairie / romantic / Victorian undergarments style: At least one of top/bottom should be more structured. So a soft romantic vintage style top like the one in the first photo could work with more structured pants (like the free people crop wide-leg pant from above shown again here). Or the pictured skirt could work with a utility/camp button-down.
Socialite on vacation in the Mediterranean style: These two images show items/outfits that are pretty close, but not quite sturdy enough to feel adventure-y. The first is more of a loungewear jumpsuit and while the second outfit is pretty close, the shoes don’t exactly look like they’re made for going places even though they’re flat. Open shoes can work, but I think something more heavy-duty like Birkenstocks fit better.
Just straight-up military inspired style: I think by nature a lot of the pieces or outfits individually could be read as just plain vintage military inspo, but collectively they shouldn’t have a drill sergeant vibe. In another example of accessories making or breaking it, the sleek black boots and black beret bring it more towards “when you have brunch at 11 and a coup at 12”. I tend to favor lace-up boots for this style because it feels more boots-on-the-ground and less shiny officer boots, if that makes any sense. Also sticking to lighter earthy tones can keep things more obviously safari inspired.
Professor style: actual professors now can obviously wear a larger variety of styles, but I mean that sort of old school ivy league humanities professor look. The photo below this is a great look, but it’s on the formal/buttoned-up side and doesn’t quite have the outdoorsy vibe. I think incorporating at least one more utilitarian/relaxed fit piece can help bring it more towards an explorer/adventurer look.
So that’s great and all, but if someone (i.e. me) is actually going to wear these outfits, the hard realities of the day-to-day need to be taken into account. In my case, it’s currently spring, which in the San Francisco/East Bay means that it’s ~50F in the morning, usually though a high of mid 60s F or low 70s. Which is the case for about 85% of the year. I take public transit to work and have to climb 1-2 flights of stairs to go back and forth in the office so shoes that are comfortable for up to 1 mile of walking is the minimum for practicality.
I work in an office with HVAC where people wear anything from old t-shirts + sweatpants + adidas slides through business casual, although the average person is probably wearing smart casual. I’m at a point right now where I’m comfortable wearing a distinct style at work, but still prefer to keep things office-modest and not so loud or costumey that it looks like something to be worn to an event, ya know?
I don’t have any kids or pets. If I need to exercise or do some grubbier chores then I’ll change into some non-fashion-y outfit.
What I ended up using in my outfits! Here I made the outfits first and then picked the items, since I wasn’t trying to create a capsule for continuous wear. This style is a pretty clear subset of my “storybook style” style capsule so this whole exercise was a bit of low-hanging (delicious, delicious) fruit.
I made sure to include a variety of color values in each category.
Tops: Picked a variety of styles including a button-down shirt and a v-neck cami to keep things from being super repeitive. Made sure to get at good mix of green and beige, and only included one black top. I don’t have a relaxed fabric white button-down shirt otherwise I would have included it.
Bottoms: Planned to make the cotton-linen trousers in green the MVP of the whole group of outfits, but also roped in my brown midi skirts. The orange-y one is a little bit more flared than I would have ideally liked, but the cotton twill is at least on theme. I included the black skinny pants for a single outfit where I specifically wanted to do pants with tall boots, and didn’t want to look like I was wearing jodhpurs if I stuffed loose-fit trousers into them.
Dresses: One black cotton smock dress, which was in a single outfit where I was trying to recreate a specific look from one of the catalog pages.
Shoes: Lace-up styles for anything close toed, and anything open has a more robust feel. Admittedly the heeled oxfords aren’t 100% on theme with the ~3.25″ heels, but I like having the reddish and more extra version of the plain dark brown ones for some looks. If it was fall/winter I’d probably have worn mostly boots in these outfits, but since it’s warmer the Birkenstocks and clogs made it into a good chunk of them.
Platform clogs I would definitely not classify as practical/outdoorsy shoes, but felt visually heavy enough to work with the style and the materials worked.
I do have docs and think those would work in this style, but since my clothing items were a bit on the plainer side I wanted to keep footwear more on the pure vintage style rather than something that could also go generic punk/workwear/goth.
Outerwear: I did actually include one Banana Republic item – the classic style trench. I got that one from Goodwill and I’d guess it was from the early 2010s due to the bicycle print on the lining which had a very twee/subdued modcloth feel to it. I don’t have any shearling jackets or leather bomber jackets (alas, I had one before but I donated it because jackets take up a lot of space and I hadn’t worn it more than once in like two years) but I included my fleece bomber jacket and brown and black moto jacket options. The coat was for a specific outfit and a bit too drapey to be 100% on theme, but
Accessories: Tbh I didn’t actually wear either of the outfits with hats out. I would if it was cold enough for a hat to be a practical thing but they were just a bit too much for the current weather. For bags, I don’t have canvas/leather backpack but I did use my leather crossbody bags in a lot of the looks. The straw bag is straying into the “socialite on vacation in the Mediterranean” style but I used it in a particular outfit to balance out another element.
Outfits that didn’t make the cut
Before we get on to the final outfits, here are some that I didn’t feel were quite on theme enough to make the main collage. Some of these were outfits I wore previously and some where rejects from iterating on outfits that were included here. I generally like all of these, they just weren’t fully channeling the vintage explorer feeling.
I reeallly wanted to have a relaxed white or cream long sleeved button-down, but the only one I have is a polyester imitation silk blouse in a more dressy cut. The fabric and shawl-collar just didn’t feel like they quite fit in. It also was uncomfortable to wear with the pleather jacket for some reason, possibly it was sticking to the polyester lining or there was just too much fabric in the sleeves. The trench outfit I actually really like, but combined with the dressier shoes just was a little too un-outdoorsy.
This was actually the first outfit I tried to make specifically for the theme. I think it’s pretty good, although overall just too … preppy? Feels a bit like expat officewear.
Idk, I think this could have worked but it felt too plain without a belt (sadly these skirts don’t have belt loops and I don’t have belts wide enough to not look awkward when just worn over). Also straying a bit too military for what I wanted.
Right idea overall but just a bit too generic. Sweater and boots pull it more modern.
Jeans: not quite what we’re going for here.
Too soft and brunchy with the fluffy blouse and sandals.
Hey, that’s why I put the tldr at the top.
Starting off with the most wearable outfits: a basic t-shirt with the loose tapered trousers. To keep things closer to the inspiration material, I paired these with more structured moto jackets, or in the jacket-less one, with a leather purse and clogs to add some more defined shapes to the look. Brown leather belts in all of them.
I didn’t expect to like the white trousers with the black jacket as much as I did, but the black leather sandals and relaxed black top did a good job combining the items.
Olive trousers 4ever + more structured tops: I wanted to get in a safari suit inspired look, but I don’t like outfits that look like they were surplus actual maintenance worker uniforms because I do occasionally see city workers wearing those and it feels weird/disrespectful to wear them as a fashion item. I don’t feel strongly enough about that to crusade against other people wearing flight suit styles, but I personally avoid the look. So while I paired the (not quite matching ) olive button-down with the olive trousers, I tried to make it pull more casual-summer–outfit with the accessories rather than wearing boots or a leather jacket with it.
Didn’t actually wear the version of the first outfit with the hat and jacket out. That one is a liiitle too costumey for me at this point (and also not suitable for the weather now) but I would definitely wear it with the jacket or the hat.
The buttons on the cardigan added more visual interest to the outfit that didn’t have a purse or chunky shoes.
Skirt outfits: I really love the tall lace-up boots with the twill midi skirt. I hadn’t tried that before since I bought the boots when it was on the warmer side already. The coat outfit was worn on a colder windy evening. Def going to be boots + midi skirt in rotation for colder days. I think the middle outfit would have been better with green socks to pull it together, but it was too hot for socks that day.
Copycat looks: These just didn’t quite fit into any of the other groupings. I wanted to at least try one outfit that was obviously a nod to the vintage aviatrix look, which I figured should include the bomber, tall lace-up boots, and some kind of hat. I didn’t wear this one out because it’s too warm for it now. I suppose beige pants would have made it a better copycat, but I still wanted to keep it wearable, and black fitted pants were less costume-y. I chose a hat without a brim.
The other outfit fits in a bit less with the overall theme but I was still pretty excited about because it was almost exactly like one of the styled looks in the catalogs (see below).
If you have actually read this far, thank you and congratulations 😂 Hopefully that was fun, inspiring, or helpful as an example of how to distill a Pinterest board into outfits. Next up: I’ll be doing a “warm weather weekend goth” themed outfits post with items from my own wardrobe, and I’ve still got the futuristic space theme post with full mini-capsule + outfits in progress.
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