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Posts from the ‘Vintage Fashion’ Category

Fasting fashion for Lent – Culture Chic of the Week

How do you know when you need a fashion spring clean? Maybe when your wardrobe explodes… After a whirlwind tidy before the arrival of a guest, my overstuffed clothes cupboard just couldn’t take any more and made itself heard. My cover was blown as with a bang, handbags, gladrags and all, freed themselves, and I was somewhat shamed into sorting it out.

And this may not only save my embarrassment but also my vintage purse. “Valuing our clothes, research from WRAP, in July last year showed that in the UK we have around £30 billion worth of clothes, which haven’t been worn for at least a year, hanging in our wardrobes. The report claimed:

“The average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes – but around 30% of clothes in the average wardrobe have not been worn for at least a year, most commonly because they no longer fit.”

I’ve been guilty of buying clothes that have never or infrequently been worn, and a fluctuating waistband has meant that at times clothes go to the back of the cupboard… and come back out again. Although I’ve never been tied to the high street, the quick-fix charms of fast fashion have lured me in the past. With fashion seasons speeding up, shorter lead times and more frequent deliveries, consumers are encouraged to buy the latest trends before they leave the rails to make room for the next must-haves, rather than looking for quality or durable items. Implicit in the buzz of commodity fetishism is that it rarely lasts long or fills the gap but that only means the next thrill is round the corner.

For the past year I’ve been making a conscious effort to curtail my fashion spending. To save money is definitely in the decision mix but it’s also just about reducing consumption for both environmental and social reasons. According to WRAP, “… by increasing the active use of clothing by an extra nine months we could reduce the water, carbon and waste impacts by 20-30% each and save £5 billion.” And of course it is not only environmental harm caused by the fashion industry but unethical working conditions and deunionisation which are exacerbated by the demands of ‘Mcfashion’.

At the very least we can think about what we buy, and reuse, repair and recycle. Fashion innovator, Vivienne Westwood at London Fashion Week this month encouraged austerity Britain to buy less to maintain its individuality:

“People have never looked so ugly as they do today, regarding their dress. We just consume too much… I’m talking about all this disposable crap. What I’m saying is buy less – choose well. Don’t just suck up stuff so everybody looks like clones.”

Quality over quantity makes sense as clothes will be less likey to join the tonnes of used up products in landfills (UK consumers send £140 million / 350 tonnes of clothing and textiles to landfill each year). They’re more likely to be durable and to be recycled in charity shops (often the trendy, low-cost, seasonable items cannot be resold easily). But for people wanting to be in ‘now’ without lots of disposable income, quality items may not feel within reach (and I still feel uncomfortable paying too much for one item). It comes down to revealing the actual lack of consumer choice and homogenisation of major fashion chains. Vintage and independent retailers are not working outwith the commodified fashion system and key into fashion trends too, but at least these may be at a slower pace. And of course the major plus for consumers, apart from a clearer conscience, is that the chance you’ll be caught at the office or a party wearing the same item as your contemporaries is much reduced.

With Lent coming up, I thought I should formalise my resolve to tidy up my wardrobe, and there are no shortage of projects to inspire us to rethink our addiction to fashion. The 333 project challenges participants to use 33 items of clothing for 3 months. Or how about A New Dress a Day where the stylish and inventive Marisa Lynch, transforms an oversized, seemingly unwearable vintage item each day?

Six Items Challenge

Could you manage with only six pieces of clothing? That’s what Labour Behind the Label, a not-for-profit raising awareness about garment workers’ rights, asks us to do every Lent with their Six Items Challenge. It’s a fashion fast to highlight the impacts of fast fashion. The idea spins around choice. Those involved in providing Western consumers with their fashion fix do not necessarily have a choice about working longer hours for low wages to meet increasingly demanding fashion brands, and by narrowing the apparent choice of items, participants are encouraged to get creative and think about what they actually need.

Six Items Challenge - what will you give up for Lent?

Follow the fashion fasters to see how they get on over the next six weeks. Even if you’re keen to continue to wear more than six items, I’d certainly encourage you to join Labour Behind the Label’s campaigns too.

The Uniform Project

The Uniform Project is a few years old but it’s still inspiring, innovative and shows how social media can be used for good. Sheena Matheiken pledged to wear one little black dress for 365 days of the year styled up with accessories from vintage and thrift shops. (Don’t panic, she did have a few versions of the same dress…) Her efforts raised over $100 million for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots organisation in India, which seeks to educate children from low income communities. I love the way that she turned her disillusionment with the advertising sector around and used her skills to make a difference. In the UK, when we are being fed ‘Big Society’ philanthropy to disguise public service funding cuts, her quote from Martin Luther King (which you’ll hear in the video below) about philanthropy is timely – “Philanthropy is commendable, but that should not stop the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary.” Like Labour Behind the Label, which seeks to help educate the industry and improve workers’ rights, here by providing education for children through this campaign, in theory at least, new, sustainable opportunties are being created.

Profitting from my wardrobe 

Part of the reason I have so many clothes is that I don’t tend to throw things away and have bought clothes to last – just too many of them and often rash purchases rather than planned staples. Many are vintage or charity shop gold dust, even from way back to when I was a student, and pieces passed down from stylish relatives. Indeed I still feel pangs of guilt about wearing a camel coat to death that my great aunt had kept ‘for good’. Although, better loved and worn, than wardrobe bound.

My challenge is inspired by J. D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly, and is not so much about reducing the use of items but more about maximising what I’ve got. My wardrobe is being cleared and clothes only get back in, if they’ve been worn by Lent time next year.

So I’ve started to sort into charity (two bags gone already), eBay helped me out at Christmas, Mum (she’s already rejected two tops but taken a coat) and a swishing party bag.  Some items go season after season without being worn as they’re at the bottom of my wardrobe, repairs get left after I stuff them back in the cupboard on realizing that the hem is down or a button missing on the mad whirlwind rush to work. Now the cupboard is becoming bare, who knows what I’ll find?

Are you giving up something for Lent? Could you manage the six item challenge or even one dress for a year? Let me know if you come across any projects that have made you rethink fashion consumption.

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Vintage Movie Magazines – Culture Chic of the Week

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Whilst researching about Hollywood star, Clara Bow, I came across this piece from the American film magazine PhotoPlay about her relationship with costume designer, Travis Banton. The interview articulated the designer’s cultural superiority towards the working class actress as he described her rather vulgar fashion sense:

“He finds it almost impossible to describe his mixed feelings for her. She made him suffer, she caused him endless anxiety and worry, and yet there always will be a glowing place in his heart for her. Her taste in clothes was noxious, she thwarted every move he made to improve it, she “jazzed up” his most beautiful creations, and yet he continued to indulge her.”

It seemed that Clara Bow’s beauty and charm somehow superseded her ‘noxious’ taste in clothes. After reading this quaintly formal article, written without any quotes from the interviewee himself, I was hooked and wanted to flip through the pages for more…

Such movie magazines are a fascinating way to peer into the cinema of the past and its intertwined relationship with fashion and consumer culture. Films and their stars, even in the early stages of the medium, were sold via these publications, whilst fans gained access to the lives of the glamorous actors. In the days of black and white silent film, these magazines played a vital role for the studios in bringing the actors alive in colour. Through adverts and editorials, readers were offered a lifestyle, advice and consumer products to fulfil such movie star dreams. Sensational stories about the seedy side of tinsel-town (with titles such as ‘Nobody is safe in Hollywood’) also feature to safely scandalise, and perhaps to allow the readers to ease back to their ordinary lives with a dose of schadenfreude – even the stars can have it tough.

PhotoPlay was launched in Chicago in the 1910s, reaching its most influential period in the 1920s and 1930s, and best known for its stunning illustrated covers. In the photo gallery above, I’ve picked out some gems for you to enjoy: cover stars, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo and Dorothy Mackaill, (a British born actress, who made the transition to the talkies). The movies’ influence on style is evident throughout as you can see from the recurring fashion series (featuring actresses like Kay Francis, one of the highest earning actresses at Warner Bros in the 1930s) and spreads showing the way that film costumes influence the latest trends (for instance see 1855 inspires 1936 with Gracie Moore’s costumes from The King Steps Out alongside illustrations of designer, Ernest Dryden’s 1930s versions). 

This cultural history was to delivered via Media History Digital Project, which is digitising collections of classic media periodicals to make them accessible in the public realm. So far I’ve just delved into the movie fan magazines, but there are also trade periodicals, year books, educational magazines, and legal and governmental papers as well as some European film mags.

Familiar elements of contemporary women’s fashion magazines are evident: female stars on the cover, problem pages, the latest fashions modelled by actresses endorsing beauty products,  adverts for female products to satisfy made-up needs lifestyle features (‘Mary Pickford entertains‘) and insights into how men really think and their romantic intentions (“Carey Grant – reluctant bachelor” or “Dick Powell admits he’s in love.” I just know that I shall be returning time and time again to this collection for fashion and period inspiration, and to analyse the way these cultural artefacts inform the films from the past.

Culture Chic of the Week… 

Each week I aim to pick something cultural that’s inspired me – my culture chic. I’d certainly recommend checking out the Media History Project – although don’t blame me if you lose an hour or two… If you come across any other digitisation projects that you love, let me know.

Bohème Sauvage: back to Berlin 1920s style

The time is 1926. The place, Berlin, and the atmosphere smoky, bohemian with a touch of big band swing and burlesque. Absinthe is being sipped at the bar by a distracted cabaret dancer, whilst a speakeasy gangster cavalierly gambles Reichsmarks away, and a young flapper shimmers with delight as all eyes follow her to the dance floor… We’re at  Bohème Sauvage , a night of fun for vintage lovers in Germany. Actually before you read on, why not get in the mood and tune into Radio Dismuke?

I was invited by my 1920s-loving friend for her fortieth birthday to Berlin with six others with Bohème Sauvage on the agenda for a night of dress-up, dancing and who knows what else in a vintage playground. The support acts of swapping accessories and styling tips, washed down with deliciously authentic Russian vodka, were almost as much fun as the main event.

Bohème Sauvage is a postmodern mash-up of periods, styles and locations: bohemian Berlin of the 1920s, the Belle Epoque Paris of Toulouse Lautrec, burlesque and Moulin Rouge, and the American thirties with speakeasies, jazz clubs and gangsters. Whether we were dancing the Charleston, foxtrot, swing, waltz, tango, mambo, rumba… it hardly seemed to matter. As the website says:

“Bohème Sauvage does not try to copy this era; authenticity is not the highest aim… It is made for people who enjoy to express themselves, who like to dress up and wear costumes, who like playing with identities and basically for everyone who is open for experiments and adventures.”

As the birthday girl loves the 1920s – the decadence, the androgynous looks, the Louise Brooks do – we all dressed in clothes of that era. And where better to celebrate the style and culture of the twenties than Berlin. Between the two world wars, despite being wrecked from defeat, for a brief time the city was a cultural and intellectual capital of Europe, a Bohemian centre, with intellectuals and artists from all disciplines (including Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Christopher Isherwood, Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich, Otto Dix) making the city their home. Rainer Metzger in Berlin in the 1920s goes as far as arguing that Berlin at this time was the nearest to capture the Modernist idea of art and life becoming one.

Caberet photo - two women dancing.

With a creative surge in the arts from cinema to cabaret and a more relaxed attitude to sexuality, in retrospect the post-war mood was about enjoying the transience of the glitter now. The Charleston, the shimmy and the foxtrot were hugely popular and Metzger says, “there was a strong desire to lose oneself in the rhythm, and to let one’s body react to the syncopation and feelings engendered by the beat.” This was the time of androgynous dressing, Josephine Baker making top billing at the Femina-Palast, or at the Troika, in Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” where girls dance behind gauge, assignations are set in motion via the telephones lined up on the dancing hall, and dancers stream with sweat. Indeed, the decadent Sally Bowles, not anticipating the rise of Fascism to come, is the Berlin of our popular consciousness. The Cabaret element is alive at Bohème Sauvage with an Emcee character hosting the entertainment, including a burlesque dancer and a female three-piece band.

The mix and match attitude to vintage dress-up suited me as I love wearing vintage clothes without pandering too much to period detail or authenticity, and I enjoy the experience of dress-up rather than a particular period or scene. As Ted Polhemus says, “…sampling and mixing diverse, eclectic, often contradictory elements into a unique, personal statement.” Part of the pleasures of this event undoubtedly was being admitted and thereby told that we had dressed the part – although not necessarily “authentic” (I was wearing a 1920s style dress via the 1980s). Subtle dress code boundaries were prescribed on the website:

“…quite apart from any modern clothes such as jeans, t-shirts, sneakers etc, kitschy, glitzy and tasteless carnival costumes, plastic products, flashy wigs, pink feather boas and all of the time from 1880 to 1940 are obviously not appropriate. We appeal very specifically to your sense of style and aesthetic.”

Admittance depended on your (sub)cultural capital which cannot necessarily be learned – you either have that sense of style or you don’t. Even if you’ve bought your ticket online, we’re told you can still be refused at the door (but you will get a refund to soften the affront to your sense of style). During the night, we all commented on how wonderful everyone looked – all shapes and sizes, a range of ages – and how pleasurable it was that there seemed to be a group affinity and that people had entered the spirit of the party. It almost felt like a ‘scene’ but was more like a shared affinity with people who would place themselves outside mainstream culture ranging from weekenders to those who have a vintage lifestyle.

Bohème Sauvage was created by “Miss Else Edelstahl” who started hosting private 1920s salon parties in 2004, which have now has grown to monthly gatherings at large ballrooms across Germany. Ours was held in Meistersaal in Berlin, a prominent artistic venue in the 1920s.  We were attending Bohème Sauvage as it was being incorporated into to the mainstream, being mentioned as a not-so-secret travel tip. This decade is in, in, in with the hotly anticipated Great Gatsby and top designers picking up on the styles, not only for women but in menswear too, which will be highlighted in the vintage store and filter to the high street. There may be people who think that Bohème Sauvage has become less authentic, filled with “tourists” like our group…

It was not just in fashion terms that people could express their subcultural capital but also on the dancefloor. We were too late for the dancing lessons at the start of the evening to help people learn the Charleston, swing or foxtrott. I loved dancing (and waltzing very badly) but also enjoyed watching the couples swing, spin and twirl round the floor. As there were language barriers, I am not sure how many people were taking on particular roles or characters but it certainty felt like an environment where you could do this without fear of being laughed at, in fact it may add to your subcultural capital.

Dance card (Tanzcarte) Boheme Sauvage, Berlin

A 1920s revival may be of the moment with its echoes of economic, political and cultural uncertainty, and the sense of decadence and shifting gender roles is perhaps more appealing than certain recreations of the 1950s with more secure home-making attire and lifestyle. We could all fritter the hyper-inflated Reichmarks at the mock casino and drink and dance the night away as if all was lost. There may have been a whiff of decadence, but of course it’s played out within safe boundaries. However it was glamorous fun, and my inner flapper certainly enjoyed being released.

Anyone else been to Bohème Sauvage? Do you enjoy dressing up in the clothes of a particular era? Are you part of a vintage ‘scene’? Please share your thoughts in the comments box.

Look out for a blog about my flapper outfit but for now here’s a taster of the party…

Books I’ve mentioned…

Isherwood, Christopher, (1939), Goodbye to Berlin, Vintage: London

Metzger, Rainer, (2007), Berlin in the Twenties: Art and Culture 1918-1933, Thames & Hudson: London

Polhemus, Ted, (2010), Street Style, PYMCA: London.

Vintage treasures Rayne

One of the key pleasures in vintage clothes is the moment when you find that treasured item. It may have been once loved, neglected or never out of its wrapper but it’s just right for you now. Usually a bargain adds an extra frisson but at the very least it shouldn’t be overpriced. This discovery could be after 10 empty-handed visits to the same thrift store but therein lies the pleasure, it’s not something that you or anyone else can simply pick from the shelf on demand. Last weekend I had that moment in Salisbury whilst meeting up with one of my best friends (a vintage fan too but on that occasion she had her moment with a bookshelf-quaking pile of second-hand cookery books!)

I uncovered from the window a luscious magenta bag which I thought would make the perfect Christmas pressie for one of my friends. She would be drawn to the shade and, whilst she’s not an everyday vintage wearer, she would still appreciate its 1960s sensibility without it being too ‘period’, way-out or worn (or ‘characterful’ as I’d say).

So it was a vintage treasure. But it was doubly so as I found out it was made by Rayne, the famous shoe company, which I’d spotted earlier in the year at an exhibition about British glamour.

Rayne in the label of the vintage bag.
H & M Rayne was the British monarchy’s shoemaker being granted a Royal warrant by Queen Mary in the 1930s and famously, designing Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding shoes. The royal connections don’t impress on their own but these shoes were hand-made involving 136 processes by a skilled workforce. Watch this video to see behind-the-scenes of royal wedding shoes:

In the 1950s Rayne, fronted by Edward Rayne, was one of the most glamorous shoe brands with collaborations with top couturiers such as Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell and the famous British pottery firm, Wedgwood. At this time, the appropriate accessories were key to the look with Rayne offering matching handbags and shoes in a range of colours to maintain order in the post-war consumer’s outfit. It wasn’t just royalty they’d charmed with their shoes, film star clients included Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead as well as Vivian Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor in their roles as ‘Cleopatra’.

With the rise of youth culture in the 1960s, Rayne extended the brand with ‘Miss Rayne’ to attract a younger crowd pulling on the design talents of Mary Quant, for instance, who created Shirley Temple ankle straps and stiletto heels for them. Another icon of sixties’ pop culture, Emma Peel from The Avengers (played by Diana Rigg) sported Rayne boots, surely a sign of a shoe-maker that was in touch with the times.

However, the Rayne family business did not always mix in such high circles. It was founded in 1885 by Henry and Mary Rayne as a leading theatrical supplier. An Irish immigrant, he changed his surname from Ryan to avoid anti-Irish prejudice.  With flapper fever in the 1920s, women who could afford it wanted the latest styles as worn by their favourite movie stars. To cater for this demand, their son Major Rayne opened a shop in Bond Street to extend the market for their exclusive lines. As an early example of celebrity endorsement, actress Lillie Langtry modelled for this family business. Henry and Mary Rayne’s grandson, Edward Rayne, continued to be a fashion leader and headed up the British Fashion Council in the late 1980s to promote home-grown talent overseas.

I love that this bag holds unknown memories that my friend can imagine and augment with her own, that the person sitting next to her on the bus won’t have this bag and that we can chart British cultural history through a fashion brand from the immigrant experience to the rise of celebrity endorsement.

What vintage clothes treasures have you come across recently? Do you shop in vintage stores for Christmas presents?

Rayne Shoes Logo

And now I just have to be strong and make sure that this bag makes it into my friend’s hands for Christmas…

Vintage bag by Rayne

Fancy finding out more about Rayne?

Visit Rayne’s website, check out Sheep and Chick where Miss Rayne reveals lots of vintage pieces and the showcase at Ballgowns: 50 years of British Glamour.

If you do happen to find yourself in Salisbury in the UK, seek out Foxtrot Vintage for the potential treasures inside!

Ballgowns: playing dress-up at the V & A

Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950.

Ballgowns are the ultimate dress-up fantasy. For most, they are not for wearing but left for red carpet dreaming. I haven’t ever had the occasion to wear a classic ballgown before, even at university balls, anything too formal or unashamedly feminine made me uncomfortable. The prom dress a la riot grrrls was more my style, however, a couple of weekends ago, I had a self-indulgent day of dresses. Although you can’t actually play dress-up at ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum, you can get up close to 60 gowns showing the changes in silhouettes, fabrics and styles over six decades.

‘Ballgowns’ is very much a showcase of British fashion, appropriate in the year of the Queen’s Jubilee and London 2012 Olympics. Curated by Oriole Cullen and Sonnet Stanfill, the exhibition charts the changes in ballgowns from the private sphere of dressing for royalty to the global, public glare of flashbulbs on the red carpet. Although the royal link has not disappeared. (I heard one person comment that Diana in the Elvis dress looked like a “proper princess.”) The ballgown with its romantic princess connotations are part of fashion’s wish-fulfilment. Gareth Pugh is quoted in the catalogue by Oriole Cullen,

‘That’s what fashion’s about… you’re transforming yourself from something that you are to maybe something that want to be… that’s the crux of what we do, it’s selling people a dream’. 

And although the exhibition is a social history through a particular garment, in truth the pleasure is in looking at all those dresses from the stylishly simple to the eccentrically attention-grabbing.

Fabric fetish in the ballroom

The exhibition is on two levels with the ground floor showing the preparation for the ball upstairs, where the contemporary designers are displayed. Fabrics stood out for me in these latter designs. From Alexander McQueen’s feathered dress to Atsuko Kudo bringing fetish to the ballroom with a stunning latex lace effect.

If you feel that you need body armour to go to the ball, then Gareth Pugh’s silvered leather gown is the one for you, where even the face is shielded. The beautiful busted dress with full skirt and casual pockets by Erdem (in the catwalk video below at 33s) couldn’t be more different but again makes innovative use of fabric to create an autumnal print using appliqué, quilting and beading.

Debs to swinging 60s

These dresses are designed for celebrities (Beyonce, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Annette Bening…) but back in the 1950s, the upper class girl would come of age at the débutante ball, often her first chance to don one of these fancy frocks. Reinforcing the relationship of ballgowns to old money, the designer was compelled to make their creation work with the family jewels. At fittings, fearing theft, some would draw the shape of a necklace on their skin to ensure the dress still work once they were bejewelled. I could just picture Matilda Etches’ dress from 1956, wonderfully named “Spinning Crystal“, being worn by young deb of this time. This pale green silk gauze dress has one shoulder sash with a pleated full skirt that I can imagine flowing and swirling during a dance.

With the likes of Mary Quant and Foale and Tuffin on the Kings Road, young debs of the 60s could wear mini-skirts as day-wear and so desired styles different to their mothers in the evening too. To cater for this shifting market, designers such as John Cavanagh and Bellville Sassoon, extended to boutique ranges for younger women.  The pink embroidered organza dress with cute bow at the front by Bellville Sassoon stood out for me as being particularly evocative of a ballgown from this period.

Kaftans rule 

In the 1970s the debutante ball changed to the charity ball where access was given to those who could pay the ticket price, encompassing the new royals – celebrities. One of the first dresses on display in the exhibition is a kaftan from the label Yuki worn by the actress Gayle Hunnicutt. Designed for dramatic entrances, it even looks stylish in the static case of the exhibition. This decade also saw trousers becoming an acceptable garment for women. Skip to the ‘oos and the Stella McCartney piece featured is a ballgown cum jumpsuit with pretty floral embroidery and casual pockets.

Bigger and bigger in the 1980s

Gold, extravagant and glitzy, Zandra Rhodes’ dress from 1981 seems to usher in that most decadent of decades. ‘Renaissance Cloth of Gold’ was modelled on Elizabethan styles and at the forefront of the corseted and hooped fashion revival of the time. The gold lamé of Craig Lawrence’s piece from 2010-11 again feels excessive but looks rather shapeless until movement gives it form. (see the video below at 01.50s)

At the turn of the last century the mixing of celebrity, commodity and the ballgown is exemplified in an Elizabeth Emmanuel romantic silk floral dress worn by Liz Hurley in an Estee Lauder advert.

Going to the ball

When I saw Patti Smith perform earlier this year (no less cool for wiping sweat off her face with her t-shirt), I would not have thought her an admirer of ballgowns. She can, however also pull off a Christian Dior.

“People wouldn’t know this about me, but I adore ballgowns,” she said. “I love their cut, their architecture and the thought of the hands of so many seamstresses working on them.”

If I was going to the ball…I’ve love to try Giles Deacon’s pleated “carwash” dress… or maybe this beautiful Worth dress

What about you? Which dress would you pick?

Have you been to the exhibition? What did you think about it? I’d love to hear from you.

Ballgowns: British Glamour since the 1950s is open until 6 January 2013.

Top 5 vintage styles – Oscar nominee actresses

Most Oscar fashion talk revolves around the movie stars’ red carpet style. In fact a huge part of Oscar talk full stop is about off-screen style. Who’s more red-faced than red carpet? That kind of thing … So I thought let’s take a look at some of the styles from the films themselves. Here’s my selection of vintage fashion worn by the characters played by the five Leading Actress nominees. Each of the five pieces could be picked up in vintage or high-street stores but I’ve tried to opt for classics rather than fast fashion.

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo Garcia, 2011)
The Tuxedo/Le Smoking

An androgynous fashion choice here. In the film, Glenn Close plays a woman who passes as a man, Albert Nobbs, to make a living and survive in nineteenth century Dublin. There are many different kinds of androgynous looks to choose from baggie pants to brogues. And after seeing a friend make an entrance in a bowler hat recently, I think this could be a way to work the Albert Nobbs look. It’s a definite stylish statement.

But for this movie, I’ve opted for the tux. Here we go from the androgynous looks of 1920s La Garconne to Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking in 1966 and its various incarnations season after season. I love this look on other people but have never really used it as an alternative to an LBD or any dress. Maybe I’ll give it a go. As Yves Saint Laurent said, “Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”

Viola Davis – The Help (Tate Taylor, 2011)
Sunday best hat

As Aibileen Clark in The Help, Viola Davis is mostly dressed in a blue housekeeper’s uniform with a white apron. The colourful, pretty clothes of the white characters (and the lack of attention given to African-American characters in fashion spreads) illustrate their social position in the movie.

So I thought I’d leave the floral full dresses and the pretty playsuits and go for an accessory – a 1960s hat.  As we don’t wear hats as much in Western society now, when we do (unless it’s woolly) it makes a statement. Often worn in the burlesque scene, it’s easy to pick up 1960s hats from vintage shops so you can look your Sunday best every day.

hat with a veil.Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2011)
Black biker jacket

Another androgynous look from Rooney Mara, who plays Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s remake of the Swedish thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s a grungy, punky look, establishing her as an outsider with goth dyed hair, tattoos and piercings. These elements of alternative lifestyles have been incorporated into the mainstream from catwalk to high-street. The same goes for the rebel choice of outerwear – the leather biker jacket. Although it’s one of those items, where if it suits you, I think you can comfortably ignore those tweaks from the designers. Does the rebel need a wool version?

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)
Pussy bow blouse

“The pearls are non-negotiable”. I love this line from The Iron Lady when Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher is encouraged to deepen her voice and get a new do. Thatcher politics may have inspired 1980s power dressing but her look was more boxy suits, blouses, structured handbags and pearls. In blue or blue of course. Although an unlikely fashion icon, I do love blue, have recently bought some pearls and have been known to tote a granny-chic handbag. But my vintage piece from The Iron Lady, is the pussy bow blouse. It’s another classic – ladylike with a sexy wink.  You can find different versions through the decades in vintage shops from 1950s sleeveless numbers to the puffy shouldered 1980s. Check out Vogue for lots more on the Iron Lady’s style, including sketches of the film’s designs and for the seamstress in you, here’s a how to make a pussy bow blouse (blue’s optional).

Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011)
Black polo neck

With Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe circa 1956 it is difficult to pick one fashion piece. My Week with Marilyn, is an adaptation of Colin Clark’s memoir about the time he spent with the starlet on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl (Laurence Olivier, 1957). So it’s about “Marilyn” in down-time style as well as “Marilyn”, fashion icon. Which piece to choose? The star must-have – shades and headscarf – to escape the paparazzi (though head-scarves can look more rain-mac on us mere mortals)? The sexy, curve-inducing dress, the lush wrap woollen coat or the simple pencil skirt?

Marilyn Monroe in a roll neck sweater.

After some consideration, I’ve opted for a sweater – the turtle, polo or roll-neck. It’s a look that still says hip beatnik cool to me. It can be difficult to pick up vintage knitwear but if you buy carefully you can find gems. A high-street polo doesn’t seem too fast-fashion wasteful as it never really goes out of style. OK, so you may not look like Marilyn but at least you don’t look like you’re trying too hard to channel her (think that white halter-neck dress).

Who’s the Oscar fashion winner?

The Oscar nominees don’t have long to wait to find out who’s won for their acting ability. But who would you pick for fashion style? Get in touch and let me know.

An Eye for Vintage Fashion – Norman Parkinson

Eye for Fashion M-Shed, Bristol

What a lovely way to spend a Saturday. Lie in. Awake late to snow. Perfect chance to wear new 1960s style swing coat, faux fur hat and hand-warmer (crafted by my talented friend at Come Step Back in Time) Then off to An Eye for Fashion to see glamorous 1950s and 1960s fashion photos in a pretty, pastel-shaded space…

An Eye for Fashion at M Shed in Bristol (UK) focuses on influential fashion photographer, Norman Parkinson’s shots of British Designers from 1954 to 1964 as featured in Vogue and Queen magazines. Visitors can follow the intertwined fashion and societal changes from the austere 1950s though to the swinging 1960s, illustrating the shifts in lifestyles being sold to women through these magazines.

The show is a collaboration between the Angela Williams Archive and the M Shed. Sixty rare prints were chosen from the archive, many of which have not been displayed before. Angela Williams, a successfiul photographer in her own right, enjoyed a creative partnership with Parkinson starting in 1962 when she became his assistant.  The M Shed delves into its collection of vintage fashion to complement the photos on display so that we can see how the designer looks played out on the high street.

Vitality, cheekiness and 1960s optimism abound in the shots. Parkinson is well known for taking fashion photography out of the stuffy studio to outdoor locations in dockyards, streets and alleys as well as exotic locations. Parkinson said, ‘My aim was to take moving pictures with a still camera.’ (An Eye for Fashion catalogue) As fashion photography is of the moment, it is wonderful that these images have been preserved for future generations, especially the photos that didn’t make the final cut for the magazines.

The catalogue tells us that Norman Parkinson liked to take photos of ‘real’ women rather than ‘ice queen’ debutantes. Taking a different sense of ‘real’ women, as someone who buys Vogue as a guilty pleasure, it was interesting to see the way in which the models did indeed look more natural here and less ‘fake’ than their modern photo-edited versions.

10 years is a long time in fashion…

The 1950s  fashion magazine shots on display are targeted at the Vogue reader of the time – older, affluent middle class women. The photos reflect this with images of Ladies, “Mrs so and so” shopping, parties in stately homes, and twinsets and pearls. The aspiration is to be like these upper/upper-middle class women with their glamorous, champagne lifestyles. To complement, these shots, we see fashions of the day. A hyper-feminine, lacey pink prom dress with fitted bodice and full skirt caught my eye, which you could imagine a contemporary girl toning down with sneakers. Another display features two suits with fitted waists and calf length straight skirts – a common 1950s silhouette. Very ‘ladies who lunch’.

Swinging sixites

Then the swinging 1960s arrive – less Hardy Amies, more Mary Quant and Jean Muir. This decade saw shorter hemlines, nylons, bolder colours replace restrictive hemlines, stockings and dressing like your mother. The iconic shot used on the catalogue of Jean Shrimpton epitomises the decade’s cool confidence. Musicians start to appear in fashion shoots; see ‘How to kill five stones with one bird’ featuring Nicole de la Marge in Mary Quant with the Rolling Stones. From the M Shed’s archives, they pull out a cool Mary Quant style raincoat (which I would wear) and a psychedelic monochrome top (which interestingly feels more dated).

Jean-Shrimpton---Plain-Girl-campaign---Norman-Parkinson-catagloue

There is an energy and excitement in the photos and a cheeky sense of wit but also an innocence. Take Jill Kennington and Melanie Hampshire chatting to London bobbies on the beat (see a similar photo from the National Portrait Gallery) – Parkinson’s commission for Life Magazine in 1963 to promote Brit style state-side. You can imagine that these young women had just arrived in the big city intent on making their way in the world.

Another shot I love is a Daks advert in Vogue, 1961. The model is posed side-saddle on the cool mode of transport at the time, a vespa with leopard skin head scarf, tight cream skirt and tie blouse completed with ankle boots. A vintage style which could easily be given a 2012 twist.

If you have an interest in vintage fashion or social history, it’s well worth giving this exhibition a visit. An Eye for Fashion is on at the M Shed in Bristol until 15 April 2012. I’m in for the Vintage Weekend on 24 and 25 March. Hope to see you there!

Watch the private view and take sneak peek at the exhibition!