The Look: Give Your Site a Retro Vibe

Our blogs are our online homes. With tweaks, we can show off not only our work, but our personalities. Are you nostalgic for the past? Do you love styles and designs from bygone eras? Let’s look at ways to give your site a retro vibe.

I love that our blogs and websites are truly our online homes. My blog is different from yours — with a specific custom background and collection of fonts, hand-picked colors, and other design tweaks. I’m able to make the space my own in the same way I’ve painted my loft’s walls yellow and decorated my shelves with my favorite things.

Some of the coolest blogs I stumble upon have an overall cohesive design; these bloggers use a mix of tools — from their theme and widgets to other unique touches — to make their sites their own.

Are you nostalgic for bygone eras? Do you love fashion, styles, and designs from the past? Today, let’s take a peek at ways to give your site a retro vibe.

Go retro with themes

At WordPress.com, we make it easy for you — you can browse retro themes already tagged in our showcase, from Retro MacOS, an homage to the black-and-white days of an earlier, more pixellated Mac operating system; to Vintage Camera, a playful photoblog theme with old-school camera iconogoraphy; to Handmade, a premium theme with a design that resembles a stack of paper file folders:

Other themes offer great starting points for retro-inspired sites. I like the wood-paneled background and crinkly sticky post area of Adventure Journal, which has a unique diary-like layout and celebrates note-taking and communication of the past. I especially dig the look and feel of The Vibes, the blog of Mark, a designer and traveler:

Phil at ESCapology, also using Adventure Journal, has a custom background with a spiral notebook, colored Post-its, and a wanderlust-filled custom header image with handwritten notes, postcards, stamps, and coins:

Create a mood with personal touches

But choosing a theme is just the first step. You can personalize your site further, from the background and widgets you use to the way you display your photographs.

Choose your background wisely

I like the rustic wood background at The Vintage Postcard, a blog on adventure and writing by Canadian blogger Alli. Here, she transforms the Forever theme and evokes a sense of both exploration and nostalgia (and the vintage illustrations of women and Paris add to the overall vibe, too).

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 2.28.52 PM

Selecting a background or color is one of the quickest tweaks you can make to your blog — and the effect can be dramatic. (It’s free, too.) Go on and experiment in Appearance → Background, or read more about custom backgrounds if you need a bit more inspiration.

You can search for free patterns on sites like . . .

. . . and experiment with the color wheel in your dashboard to find the right hue for you. Consider off-white or sepia tones to create an old, weathered look. Or choose a color scheme that’s bright and reminiscent of 1950s diners and decor, like red and yellow or pink and black, which would perfectly match the retro header image of Preservation in Pink, a historic preservation blog using the Adelle theme:

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 2.38.44 PM

Sprinkle in custom-made image widgets

Take a second look at Mark’s blog, The Vibes. He’s created custom Image Widgets for his sidebar — clickable images that resemble Polaroids and match his overall design.

You can transform the photos in your sidebar in different (and free) ways using editors like PicMonkey and apps like Vintage Deco, which allows you to decorate photographs with vintage stamps and frames. If you use Instagram, you can activate the Instagram Widget and post images using filters like Earlybird, Toaster, Walden, and 1977 to display a feed of retro snapshots in your sidebar, too. (Read more on using filters.)

If you want to spend a few bucks, you can try other apps like Retromatic, which offers more themes, stickers, and vintage poster-like effects.

I also dig the custom-made frames made out of tape on fashion and style blog Vintage Reflection. Here, London-based blogger Amy inserts images that link back to her Flickr account and add a nice touch to her sidebar:

Adding custom images to your sidebar, like the one above, helps to unify your blog’s visual elements. You can learn more about creating your own Image Widgets in a Widgets 201 tutorial on The Daily Post.

Customizing your blog is one thing. Personalizing it to create a cohesive visual style and overall mood is another. In the coming months, we’ll share more ways to achieve certain looks, so stay tuned.


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Cheri Lucas Rowlands

30 Comments

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  1. anotherwisemonkey

    Great post. My blog is still on default settings after eight months. I’m looking forward to making some changes.

    Like

  2. -Pille-

    I really like the look of ESCapology – very nice design. Definitely invites you to look around more.

    Like

  3. Mara Eastern

    A thoroughly enjoyable and information-packed post! But now, what if you want to give your block a modern rather than retro look? I’d love a follow-up post on this subject, if I may take the liberty of having a suggestion :-)

    Like

  4. Eduard de Grave

    retro is not my style, but ‘vintage camera’ is tempting…..

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  5. levithkas

    I really liked the notebook theme at ESCopology..it would have been much cooler if his menu is transformed and accessed from the ‘page divider’ like tabs on the right side…

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  6. Mark

    Hi, both The Vibes diary background and the Escopology spiral notebook are my designs – very pleased that you featured both of them!

    Like

  7. ramblingdon

    Great Cheri! Adventure Journal was just what I have been looking for to use on my personal site; donbobbitt.com. I write short stories, Poems, Political Rants, and even exhibit some of my photography. This theme suits the variety of my output well. And, I am a Retro kind of guy, anyway. Thanks for the tip.

    DON

    Like

  8. emmapalova

    I found this article very helpful in further tweaking my design. Looking forward to more advice.

    Like

  9. glitterbunnies

    I love the retro looks! Mine doesn’t have that kind of feel, but I love finding some that do. Great post! :)

    Like

  10. Deli Lanoux, Ed.D.

    Oh. My. Goodness. Tres chic.

    Like

  11. pinkylee0202

    I love all these looks. I’m very into the vintage thing. I’ve been perusing ideas. So hopefully I’ll have a beautiful blog soon. :)

    Like

  12. Hannah

    I love vintage styles and while I love these designs I’m also still sort of in love with my blogs current design. I need to find a way to combine what I like about it now with what I want it to look like in the future.

    Like

  13. El Santo

    I’ve always been tempted to use that Mac theme at some point. I don’t think I’d ever make it permanent, but it does give me the nostalgia tremens.

    Like

  14. Barbara Rath

    This post is extremely helpful. My site reflects my lack of inspiration and cohesiveness.Hopefully overtime it will develop a personality. Thanks.

    Like

  15. Kaitlin

    Thank you for including Preservation in Pink with a great group!

    Like

  16. Adshayah

    My blog definitely needs some customizing! Can you help, Cheri?

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  17. wwwander

    Wow! Love these themes – specially Adventure Journal!! I think it’s time for me to change! Thanks for the tips!

    Like

  18. Greg Urbano

    Great ideas to transform a blog!

    Like

  19. frugoal

    THANK YOU! My blog is so boring (but the content is awesome, she states modestly). Great ideas on how to amp it up visually.

    Like

  20. Minoring In Baseball

    I can see these themes being very popular. Great job!
    -Mike

    Like

  21. Faradiba Achmadi

    Still love twentyeleven, but retro MacOS & Vintage Camera is cool.

    Like

  22. Dominique Shaw

    Ooooh I do love retro :) Looking forward to seeing the other looks when you post them!

    Like

  23. Francesca Maria

    My daughter has a passion for the 40s and 50s, she dresses retro, has her hair done in retro style, so I will tell her about this. I’m sure she’ll love to give a retro look to her blog. Thank you for the information. Best regards from Sicily and have a nice Sunday!

    Like

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