Friday, 25 March 2011

wearing vintage for work

So, I've been a little AWOL from both blogging and twittering the last couple of weeks, primarily due to being busy doing exciting things,and also a lot of energy going into my work situation, which is somewhat complicated atthe moment!

I will post about my fabulous 1970s weekend last week, with lots of outfit pictures, on Monday when I get back from yet another weekend away (starting to forget what to do with a free weekend!), but in the meantime, here's a quick outfit post.

I've ways found it hard to get vintage into my work wear, as I enjoy a rather dressed up style of vintage, whilst my workplace is more of the dressed down vibe. I've slipped accessories in for years of course, and I have a gorgeous 1950s overcoat I wore to work all the time for years (so much so that I sadly wore it out!).

Now I'm making a renewed effort, and so today I wore this lovely 1960s shift dress into work (apologies for the awful photo, neither I or the hubby are good at mornings!)

1960s is very easy to wear for work, especially this style since many modern work dresses are effectively based on this style. But the great thing about vintage is it's often just that little bit different - in this case the unusual and unique neckline. I got no fewer than 3 compliments on it from workmates, so I think this counts as a success!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A thirties tea party with a thirties dress!

As mentioned before, my Dad has just turned 80 and celebrated it with a lovely tea party last Saturday, inspired by the tea parties his mother used to hold when he was young. Here's a clip from our family films of one of those tea parties of old, this one on the occasion of my aunt's christening;

I just love all the glorious hats all the ladies are wearing. Compared to that long gone sunny day it turned into a rather rainy day on Saturday, so we all stayed indoors. But it was still a truly lovely day, and included speeches full of fascinating anecdotes from a school friend he has stayed in contact with his whole life. My film edit of the family cinefilms was projected against the wall and made a nice talking point, and I got to see lots of people from his and our families past again, which was really nice.

I chose to wear an original 1930s dress to match the theme of the day (bought in Islington a couple of years ago at a vintage shop that's sadly now disappeared). I was nervous about wearing it because it's quite hard to wear - unforgiving on the figure, and as with many thirties dresses of this style, difficult to wear a bra with! It was also quite dressy compared to what others would be wearing, which made me feel self conscious. However, I got lots of compliments and felt great wearing it.

The dress is pale blue lace over a blue satin lining. It has the most amazing back and arm features, so very typical of the 1930s.

Luckily it also comes with a jacket in the same lace and a pretty peplum effect, which helped me feel less self conscious about my figure.

None of the photo's of me in it from the front without the jacket were terribly good, this is the best of the bunch!

The lace is terribly delicate - or at least the netting it is set on to is. There are already several holes in the netting, and pulling it on and off is a delicate maneuver - there's no openings to help you get it on, and every movement feels like you might tear it. I gave myself a complete heart attack during the party when, clambering over a chair, I managed to put my heel through some of the lace in the hem! Luckily, it's very hard to spot holes in the net as it's virtually invisible against the satin, and I hadn't damaged the lace itself.

I'd like to get some more pictures of this in better light - a nice sunny day perhaps - to show of the delicate colour and lace much better. I will just have to find some lovely garden party some time soon, now spring is on the horizon!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Review: Vintage Life Magazine

I first picked up a copy of Vintage Life Magazine last year at a fair, but now it's available in WHSmiths for the first time, which makes it an awful lot easier to get hold of without subscribing. This is a good thing because I always like to read several issues of a magazine before I decide to subscribe.

My impression of the magazine last year was that it was very enjoyable, but still a bit rough round the edges - very much a magazine for its community, but not a mainstream mag. I don't mean this as a criticism - it was still a good read. But the point is, it really needed to step up to the plate if its going to sell in shops like WHSmiths.

From reading this, I think it's fair to say it has succeeded! It still has all the things that made it good in the first place (that certain special understanding of the vintage ethos) but it's all much more polished in look and writing, and with extra pages now, better value for money too.

One of the things that it hasn't lost from  before is it's use of real (though gorgeous) women to illustrate it's articles. thank goodness! It's so hard to find magazines on fashion and beauty that do that rather than endless images of unobtainable size zeroes!

I love the use of vintage fashion pictures, and for once this is a magazine where I actually enjoy looking at the adverts instead of just flicking past them.

The most useful part for me is the advice around hair and make-up. For all the will in the world I am rubbish at those things, so I need all the help I can get! Their articles are so much better than mainstream beauty magazines because they're about showing you how to actually recreate a look, instead of just trying to sell you certain products.

On the detail of vintage fashion, there's plenty here, but naturally I wouLd like to see more. There was another in depth article about a vintage compact, but I would like to see similar dissections of specific dresses, talking about construction, style and design history etc. (I accept this may well have appeared in other issues I haven't read!). The  article on vintage sizing was very interesting and useful, as well as having a healthy and reassuring message (Marilyn Munro didn't obsess about her size; why should we?).

The articles on people in the vintage community, such as Kitten, were enjoyable reads and her independence of style is certainly inspiring! Being a lover of social history, I also loved the article on socialising during the war, hearing from the writers granny about her experiences.

If there's any critique I have it is that, while the Aya Smith fashion spread was very pretty to look at, I would have liked to see some more details about what she was wearing and where she bought them from. This isn't as simple as in modern fashion, of course, but it's frustrating to look at pretty clothes thinking "I think that's 1940s, but I'm not sure..." I wish they'd tell us! Maybe that makes me geeky!

Overall I really enjoyed the magazine, and certainly will be picking up the next copy - and since three issues is the charm, that may mean I finally give in and subscribe!

A thirties style tea party

It's my father's 80th birthday today and this week I have been rather busy preparing a variety of things in relation to this. He rather loves recreating the 1930s style afternoon teas he remembers from childhood, and so he has organised an afternoon tea party for friends and family this Saturday to celebrate. (I had planned to organise something for him, but he got there first - but then he loves playing host!)

My grandfather was a keen cinefilm user, and so we have many hours of footage from Dad's childhood, and I have been busy this week finishing off editing together a short film of his life to play at the party. Going through all the old film, there are some glorious dresses that my grandmother and her friends used to wear. I thought I'd share here these clips of a lovely red patterned dress she wore while gardening with my Dad one beautiful summers day all those years ago;

I love the colour and pattern (though the colour in the film has faded over the years), but I also love the way the collar and sleeves fall over each other. I'm now looking out for vintage patterns that have a similar style so I can try and recreate it.

Meanwhile, I have also bought a set of very cute vintage-style bunting to help decorate the hall he's hired, and hopefully will make some more if I have time tomorrow. I've also had printed off a range of old family photo's captured from the films, as part of one of his presents.

Now I just need to work out what to wear. I had been veering towards my favourite white with blue pattern cotton 50s dress with bolero, but it's occurred to me that my 1930s blue lace dress with matching peplum jacket doesn't get many outings because of it's delicacy. After watching these clips of my grandmothers lovely thirties dresses, this seems like a very appropriate special occasion to wear it to...

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Creating a 1920s weekend wardrobe

So last weekend I went to an event set in 1924 in a fabulous big house in Norfolk. The easiest way to describe the event is '1920s murder mystery with added fear' - basically me and my friends go to these things to flaunt around in fabulous period outfits and also scare each other witless while solving a mystery.

I love incorporating vintage into my day to day dress, but that's usually a mix of modern and vintage. Weekends like this are for me an opportunity to wear authentic outfits from head to toe and really feel what it was like to dress in that era. This includes everything from underwear, nightwear to luggage.

Well, I had great fun, both going to the event and putting together the wardrobe, so I thought I would share the process here.

Unfortunately I was so busy having fun that I only had time to get photo's of a couple of my outfits, so some of the dresses are illustrated just on their hangers. All of the vintage items I'll go into more detail about in the future.

So, what makes up a 1920s lower-upper class lady's weekend away wardrobe?

First up: luggage. I own a gorgeous old portmanteau, bought in Camden Market for a snip some years ago.

Its of a slightly different design to the drawer style ones that seem to be more common, but I suspect this works better for fitting in dresses rather than men's suits. Here it is packed, including my Victorian jewelery box and a (not vintage) box to hold vintage style face creams etc

The hats are carried in a vintage hat box:

Second consideration is underwear. From many descriptions of 1920s clothes, you would think that twenties undergarments are terribly simple. Whilst simpler than previous eras, this is not entirely true. The key issue is how to keep your stockings up, and how to control your bust. While you usually hear about skinny young girls with boy like figures wearing minimal underwear, clearly not all women at the time were shaped like that, and I'm certainly not now. A lot of women in the twenties did wear corsetry and serious support wear, it was just designed hold you in and to flatten instead of boost your bust. The classic example of this is a favourite of the time, the Symington Side Lacer, which from the pictures looks a rather formidable garment, but I have never been able to track one down.

I own a 1930s corselette which works well, but this weekend I actually wore my 1940s style What Katie Did corselette, as it is considerably more comfortable, and holds my stockings up well.

I also own an original, terribly pretty lace 1920s bra, but having no under-wiring and being a very basic design, provides no support at all, so I wear it with a modern bra of the same colour to give extra support. Annoyingly, the ribbon strap broke on the original bra this weekend, so now needs some mending.

Beyond that, I have a choice of original french knickers, camibockers and directoire knickers to wear (admittedly with modern pants underneath to preserve them), proper seamed stockings, and then of course a shift in cream and a shift in black (vital for underneath sheer 1920s dresses).

Beyond that, I essentially had six outfits to wear over the weekend.

Outfit 1: Travelling

I arrived in what I would have traveled in. I had made a new coat based on a 1920s pattern, worn with black lace up shoes (modern but the right style and heel), black gloves and the black piped hat I showed in a previous post. I was concerned about wearing the hat; it's delicate, and I squeezed it on over a blonde bob wig, plus it was raining when we arrived and for most of the weekend. Luckily I had also brought along a modern reproduction black cloche I wore the rest of the weekend, that I didn't need to worry about damaging. I also had a (modern) plain little black satin handbag, string of (fake) pearls, and an original cream and black 1930s bakelite bracelet.

Hats and gloves are so important to an authentic twenties outfit. No self respecting lady would have gone outside without hat and gloves on: it was a matter of propriety, and little hang over from the Victorian era that didn't really die out until the 1960s.

Underneath was this original 1920s day dress; one of my favourite purchases but one I find hard to adapt for contempory wear. I also wore this as my day dress on Sunday.

Outfit 2: Friday night dinner

After arriving and having welcoming drinks, we dressed for dinner. The dress here is actually a modern Monsoon dress, found in a charity shop. I can't afford an original beaded twenties dress, much as I wish I could! The original vintage items were all in the accessories, my favourite parts being the shawl and long white kid leather gloves. The shawl is probably actually 1950s, but it is large enough and beautifully embroidered to give the impression of those amazing shawls that were so popular at the time. The leather gloves came from a stall in Islington's Camden passage, and I was terrified of ruining them. Jewelery is my mum's 1970's diamante (as I was being aristocratic, I wanted to pretend I was wearing the family jewels!) with a string of diamante around my head as part of the feathered head dress. The outfit was finished off with cream satin 1980s shoes that looked the part and an original little cream beaded handbag.

Outfit 3: sleepwear

Sleepwear is important because, due to the 'scary' nature of the event, a lot of the spooky things happen at night, so I needed to be authentic looking, decent and warm. I went for a (not original) cream satin long negligee and a white cotton dressing gown with a slight Kimono look to it and a grey art deco-ish pattern. I dream of buying a proper full Kimono for a more authentic look!

Outfit 4: The morning stroll

We went for a bit of a stroll round the grounds in the morning. It was very muddy, so I wasn't wearing anything original, so this outfit consisted of wool tights, a mid-calf pleated tweed skirt, cream wide collared blouse and a long thick wool light brown cardigan. The most vintage part of the outfit was probably the boots: I have no idea their actual age, but I have some lovely brown leather ankle boots that look exactly like originals. A string of beads completed the outfit, which was then worn with the coat, gloves and hat mentioned before.

Outfit 5:Afternoon tea

Original 1920s chiffon flowery dress (rather see though so needed the cream shift underneath), with red suede matching shoes, and a dark brown long cardigan. Apologies that I got no photograph of this outfit (I didn't wear it for long) but this is how the dress looks on the hanger to give you an idea:

Outfit 6: Saturday dinner

Original 1920's dark red crepe de chine dress with beading detail round the neckline, worn with long black satin gloves, black shawl, black beaded bag and red shoes (none original), plus marcatite jewelery; again I only have a shot of the dress on the hanger here:

I had also taken along a variety of 'spare' bits of clothing in case I changed my mind about what to wear. At past occasions, I have also added morning dresses to the mix, but you get to the point when you wonder how ladies had enough time in the day for all these changes of clothes!

Review: Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs spray tan

I am the palest of the pale and have never given a damn about it: I don't tan, and I rarely can be bothered with messing around with fiddly fake tan creams.

However, I am going to a Seventies do in a few weeks and plan to wear some very skimpy shorts, and even my hatred of tanning blanches at the idea of people seeing my post winter practically blue thighs. So I decided to try out some spray on leg make up. The brand I went for is Sally Hansen's Airbrush Legs:

The blurb claims: "Spray on Perfect Legs in an instant!". Hmmm...

Purchasing it was confusing as the descriptions of the two shades available weren't exactly clear which was the darker. I went for 'medium glow'.

Coming to try this out this morning, I discovered that despite saying 'spray on' the instructions actually tell you to spray it onto your hands and then rub in, which left me wondering what the difference to normal self tan creams is.

I bathed, exfoliated and moisturised an hour of so before applying, then stood in the bath to apply it, for the sake of my carpets. I started by trying to spray it onto my hands as the instructions said, but found that this went on in a rather streaky fashion, so I tried spraying it on directly instead then rubbing in. And this worked far better! It was somewhat tricky to get to the hard to reach places, but over all I was quite pleased with the even-ness of the coverage in the end. I used it all over my body (it's only meant for legs) but this has given me the most authentic all over tan I've ever had! Here's a 'halfway' photo showing one leg tanned, one still pasty:

I would recommend being careful to wash the bottom of your feet and carefully dry them on a towel you don't mind getting stained before walking around the house - when I got out of the bath, I left a couple of cute footprints!

Overall, I find the colour probably more orange than I would want to use for normal wear, but pretty authentic for a 1970's tanned look. It worked pretty well, although the claim of 'in an intant' isn't exactly accurate - although it probably is quicker than many other self tan products. I will update on how well it lasts over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Listening to the Kings Speech

My father's 80th birthday is in a couple of weeks, and I have been editing together a film of his life. My grandfather was a keen user of cinefilms and was lucky enough to be able to afford colour film back in the 1930s. This means we have an unusual (for that era) record of my Dad's family life as a child right through that era. I never knew my grandparents, so it's also an important emotional connection to them for me.

And, of course, I just love looking at all the beautiful period detailing on the films, and the fabulous dresses and clothes my grandmother and her friends wore at the time! At some point (when I've finished my Dad's film), I'm planning on pulling out some short clips of the more lovely examples to share here.

In the meantime however, I have found this historically interesting clip that has some current relevance. I've been meaning to post this up since going to see The King's Speech a few weeks ago. It is my grandparents listening to World War Two being announced, and then listening to the King's speech of the films climax later on that same day:

They clearly saw it is so important that they should record listening to it, but having watched the film and learned more about the struggle to deliver it, watching this clip now has a whole load more meaning and context for me.


Meanwhile, a few thoughts on Livia Firth's controversial Oscars dress. The idea of cutting up 11 wearable original 1930s dresses to make one very modern looking one just makes me wince (although it's hard to judge just how wearable they were; see the shop's comments here: ). I can see what she was trying to do; she had a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of the eco message and vintage fashion, and at the same time promote a British designer and a vintage shop. The intention was certainly well meant.

I'm very much into eco-politics myself, so this issue makes me feel torn. The 'upcycling' of vintage clothes has always left me torn just generally. I don't believe things should be left to moulder if new life can be breathed into them again. Our ancestors often took old clothes and refashioned them to adapt them to later times, and vintage examples of this (thirties dresses adapted to be worn during the forties cloth restricted times, for example) can be fascinating. I also find myself thinking of the amazing Eltham Palace ( ), where art deco architecture was merged with an ancient building to create something truy beautiful and unique, that in this day and age, the protections on ancient buildings would never allow now. But on the other hand, the fashion historian in me mourns the history that has been lost when you cut up an old dress - the stories it has to tell about construction, style, social history and the person who owned it, lost forever.

Perhaps the real litmus test should be whether this recreated dress will one day become 'vintage' in itself with it's own stories to tell. It's not to my taste, but perhaps it will. To my own taste, I think the dress she wore to the BAFTA's was far more beautiful and iconic - now there's a dress to be lusted after in the future;