Channeling the Tropics from Vintage Hawaiian Shaheens and the Mexican Circle Skirt to the Retro Tropical Playsuit or Sarong Repro: There is a Perfect Tropical Look for Everyone!

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With the weather getting warmer every day, it’s time to start channeling the tropics into your wardrobe. Whether you’re throwing a Tiki Party, having a picnic at the beach, or going out for cocktails, vintage garb with an equatorial feel is sure to be king again this summer.  This season designers from Dior, Versace, Marc Jacobs, and Stella McCartney are going bold with tropical patterns, colors, and shapes to capture the summery island feel.  

Crystal Renn covers the May issue of Vogue Mexico in true pin-up style, wearing a tropical print dress from Salvatore Ferragamo’s spring collection.

      Tropical trends for 2012.
202112 on the runways
I am not recommending that women start donning the classic collared short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt, which is difficult to wear unless you’re Elvis.  Same goes for the layers of pattern seen on the catwalk this season suitable only for the editorial world.  So how, you many ask, does one realize this tricky trend with ease, evading the fresh-off-the-jet tourist look? 

First and foremost with any vintage or retro ensemble, fit is key. Whether you’re looking for a piece to make you look like a bombshell or more of a Mod Barbie, finding a flattering vintage or retro silhouette for your body type is not as difficult as it seems. Tropical styles from the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s rank high on my list of tropical must-haves as the classic cuts that come from these decades make it easy to find the perfect look for any body type as well as make an eye-catching, graphic, and deliberate statement. 


On finding the tropical vintage or retro piece for your body: For a curvy vixen, the Sarong style dress is my hands-down favorite. This cut and Hawaiian dress incarnation in itself first entered popular culture with Dorothy Lamour's films in the 1930s. Often made of luscious rayons in the 1930’s and 1940’s and in light and airy cottons in the 1950’s, the Sarong cuts as well as the full skirt and nipped waist dress often came in strapless, halter, and spaghetti strap versions. The Sarong and full-skirted tropical dresses are the perfect shape for bombshell pinups as they accommodate a full bust with elastic backing and room for full hips. For those looking to amp their curves, 1940’s tropical prints dresses with pockets, 1950’s wiggle skirts, and dresses featuring mermaid hems are sure to make traffic stop. If you’ve got legs for miles, show them off with a fun short playsuit.  Other classic tropical favorites are the Pake Mu'u and Cheongsam, but be careful girls:  these style dresses often run on the small side. The Mod baby doll shapes from the 1960’s and 1970s’ can do wonders for the long and lean among us.

 Models: Mariah Kuykendall and Katy Starr

Have fun with separates!  Transport yourself to Baja California or Cancun Mexico with the vivid prints on fabulous cotton of 1940’s or 1950's Mexican circle skirts paired with a simple cotton top, a look that is flattering on all body types. Or pair a vintage top such as this 1940’s Cha Cha Mexican souvenir sun top with amazing cut-outs and sequin details with your favorite skinny jean or cropped pant for a look that can be worn day or night. 

Paying attention to complimentary colors for your skin and hair color is a big factor in making a vintage or retro piece shine for you. Pairing bold prints with complementary colors is also essential. Be bold in classic Hawaiian floral, atomic abstracts, Mexican novelty prints and make it your single statement piece. One is all you need! Play with neutrals and complimentary single tones to highlight and accent your statement piece. Pairing your bold piece with something subtle and chic, from a simple vintage, retro, or repro piece is always an easy means to looking classy.  

Preferring to spend your currency on a tangible holiday to the tropics rather than a vintage collector’s piece is no obstacle to tropical fashion success. Look for tropical styles from the late 1950’s into the 1980’s, sure to be abound this season in vintage stores around the globe. Pay particular attention to those that mimic the classic tropical silhouettes discussed above. Support one of the many etsy vintage style garment makers or craft your own piece with a vintage tropical print fabric and pattern.