Saturday 31 October 2009

Sew Subversive

I found this 1960's brushed nylon dress for £1 on the nearly-new rail at a church table top sale this morning. I loved the vibrant retro print and the cosy feel of the fabric, just perfect for the chillier months.

Originally a maxi dress I decided to hack the dress off just above the knee to make it more wearable figuring I'd get more mileage out of a groovy mini than a dressy maxi.

There's always a danger of treating vintage clothes too reverendly, like precious museum pieces to be wrapped in tissue paper and treated with the utmost of respect but heck, where's the fun in that?

Rubbish at sewing? Don't fear the scissors!

  • Try a dress on with opaques and heels and stand in front of a full length mirror experimenting with a length that looks good on you.
  • Mark the right length with chalk, take off the dress and cut 1inch below the required length with pinking shears or sharp scissors.
  • Iron the 1inch length under, on the wrong side. Try the dress on again just to be sure.
  • Slide in some Wundaweb and place a damp cloth between the dress and the iron. Hold the iron down until the cloth dries and the hem will be magically held in place without the need for scary stitching.

Friday 30 October 2009

Radical Chic

It's pay day this week, which means the shops are going to be heaving with folk wanting to spend their hard-earned cash this weekend but why not try thinking radically and take a break from the tyranny of the high street?

Second-hand shopping - it's infinitely more fun than normal shopping, stepping into the unknown, entering uncharted territory, spend-thrift without the spending. By going to the car boot sale, charity shop or an open-air market your wardrobe opens up and shapes to you. It's doors reveal sequins and leopard print, sumptuous fabrics and floaty florals, fabulous retro prints, military, lace, tweed and cheesecloth, all tempting you in.

Going thrifting is all about the activity, using your senses, joining a community and being outside, the feel, the look and the excitement of finding something unique and lovely and shouting inwardly "It's mine!"

It's a personal and independent pastime which ,strangely, some people think of as radical or even subversive, but most charity shops and jumble sales are run by the least radical people on the planet and any stigma attached to buying second-hand is surely irrational!

Thursday 29 October 2009

Get on your boots

And so yet another Thursday rolls around, which means donning sensible boots and setting the alarm for an ungodly hour in anticipation of the weekly car boot sale. The unseasonably warm weather and school holidays meant that the field was packed with sellers this morning but paradoxically, because the huge choice is so random, a treasure shines more visibly.
I often leave the house with a current inspiration in mind, perhaps a hand knitted slouchy mohair jumper to wear with skinny acid wash jeans or something in mustard and lime green. It's a strange psychological trick to play on yourself - if you're focusing on something other treasures can impinge on your peripheral vision, appealing to your unconscious.
With no idea of what you may find, there's every possibility of a chance encounter of falling in love with something you've been searching for all your life.

Today's bargains included: This season's TopShop and H&M earrings, two gloriously butter soft navy leather bags with Italian labels, a leather bag with a tooled peacock design, Vintage Renata of Italy and Gina shoes, TopShop shoe boots with the store tags and tissue paper stuffing intact and today's ultimate indulgence - Tod's turquoise python boots with a fur trim.

Total spend: £25

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Turn-on, Tune-in, Drop Out

If I could be transported back in time I'd choose the period 1969-1973. Woodstock, the first ever Glastonbury festival , Biba, Granny Takes a Trip, Oz Clarke, The Magic Bus, The Rolling Stones, Mamas and the Papas, The Who......what wasn't there to love about the "Age of Aquarius"?

To make up for the fact I was born too late I live as a twenty-first century hippy. I'm a vegetarian, yoga-practicing, peace lover. I love the smell of patchouli oil and burning incense. I spend the winter months bumming around India, lodging in cheap guesthouses, haggling for silk dresses in street markets and meditating under palm trees listening to the Arabian sea lapping the shore. In goa we often meet the guys who did the overland trail in the 1960's, often teaching yoga and always with a tale to tell.

Every spare penny is spent on travelling to festivals around the UK in Gilbert, the trusty VW camper, enjoying good company and great company. We grow our own veggies, bake bread and keep warm by wood burning stoves. When it's a warm evening we think nothing of pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars.

I've never had a credit card, preferring to deal in cash. I have eschewed the traditional expectations placed upon me by not working in a 9-5 , four-weeks -of -freedom -a -year job, never marrying or having kids.

I love the floppy hats, psychedelic prints, silk scarves, flowing dresses and voluminous sleeves of the age and hunt for them at every opportunity. Knowing one of my dresses was worn to see Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival fills me with immense pleasure.

My hippie heroes include Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Grace Slick, Michael Lang, William S Burroughs, Gandhi, Arlo Guthrie, Jack Kerouac, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Mahesh Maresh Yogi, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Ravi Shankar, Carly Simon, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa and Matthew Wright.

Belt up!

My stash of thrifted belts

A vintage Escada lion's head belt bought at a boot sale for 10p

A shapeless vintage cardi transformed by the addition of a belt

A belt adds a bit of dash, shaping you and adding to your mood. A good, hardy belt used for practicality is grounding. Over-sized clothing can be made to fit and a belt can go over everything: coat, cardi, shirt, dress or jeans, whether hanging from your hips or nestled, comfortably at the waist. A belt adds shape to larger bosomed girls making a smock top look less tent -like. Big buckled elastic waist-cinching belts act like comfy corsets and don't dig in if you've pigged out during the day.

Even a thrift shop novice should have no trouble finding a belt. Every charity shop has a rack or basket crammed full of belts, often at giveaway prices. Check for damage and discard if there are any DIY holes. Leather belts are generally a better buy. Dull, cracked leather can be treated with leather food. If an elasticated belt is tatty but it has a cool buckle buy it and replace the elastic from a length bought from a haberdashery store.

Belts every girl should look out for:
  • A brown leather belt with a brass buckle to give a hippy vibe to anything.
  • A black leather studded or riveted belt to wear over a ditsy print floaty dress for a rock chick edge.
  • A skinny leather belt tied at the waist to instant transform last year's coat into this season's Chloe-inspired number.
  • A cinch-in elasticated belt with a groovy buckle to make a mundane sweater dress more appealing and individual.

Monday 26 October 2009

The Magic Bus (or adventures in charity shop tourism)

Today's the day for an adventure in charity shop tourism!

One of the best things about charity shops is exploring them when you're out of your neighbourhood. Any provincial town in Britain has a charity shop, which doubles as a curious museum of the mundane. My friends and I plan trips together, motivated by thrifting, and other than the odd punch-up over a vintage tea towel, we have a great time. We feel we've really seen Mumbai, Worcester, Boston, Paris, Leeds and Trieste, and are boosted by our amazing finds in these places.

Never miss an opportunity. If you're in uncharted territory and spot a charity shop, boot sale or church fete, try not to screech to a halt, and don't panic and then have an argument with your boyfriend about driving while circumnavigating the one-way system to find a parking space.

"Chazzing" is when the gang piles into Gilbert our trusty VW camper van for a day trip to discover charity shops. Stopping for lunch in Wetherspoons is an essential part of the day.

Tips for Chazzing:
  • Give up on uninspiring charity shops quickly, or your eyes will cross and you'll start to seriously consider that 2002 Next sequined cardi.
  • The whole browsing thing should be peaceful and relaxed, you in your own bubble.
  • Take a tote bag as some shops charge for bags (and quite right too!).
  • The more packed with stuff a shop is, the more likely you are to uncover a gem; the less packed the easier to see if there aren't any.
  • If you're not quite sure and it's cheap, then buy it. It's for a good cause. Keep a bag at home to fill with your discarded buys ready to donate back to another charity shop.
  • Make the snooty lady behind the till smile by putting your change in the collection tin on the counter.
  • Things that look bizarre and unflattering on the hanger may be well-designed and genius on.

Sunday 25 October 2009

In this light and on this evening

If it ain't broke don't fix it. I enjoyed wearing this outfit so much last night I thought that it may as well be recycled for tonight's Editors gig at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

I'll talk you through it:
Grey silk camisole trimmed with black fringing and green glass bugle beads - Sample stall, local market £4
Trashy acid-wash skinny jeans (not pictured) - Sample stall £3
Faux snakeskin oversized clutch bag - Sample stall £2
Black beaded chandelier earrings - From a Tangiers souk, Morocco back in 1995
Black oddly shaped plastic bangle - Originally Biba, belonged to my mum
Bejewelled ex-Warehouse bangle - Charity shop £1
Silver bangles - Car boot sale finds
Grey patent boots - £20 River Island sale

I'll swap the clutch for a black leather over-the-body bag as a free hand is needed for holding my Strongbow.

Saturday 24 October 2009

Jingle Jangle

Wherever I've been in India from remote villages in Tamil Nadu to a bustling metropolis like Mumbai, everyone always calls me "Miss Jingle Jangle" because of my obsession with bangles. You'll hear me arriving before I enter a room.

I'm happy to leave the house without make-up but without a bracelet on my arm? No way! It's like my armour, once I've slipped a few bangles on my wrists I'm ready to face the world. I've no qualms about mixing gold with silver, old with new. Bangles personalise my outfits and make me who I am.

My large hoard contains everything from traditional Indian bangles picked up for a couple of rupees in street markets to beautiful, hand-crafted tribal silver pieces, 1960's Biba bracelets raided from my Mum's collection and tat from boot sales.

How do I store my bangles? The leatherette display box was given to me by a kind stall holder I got chatting to at a car boot sale and the elegant silver hand was a gift from a friend.

A Money-saving for cleaning silver and removing tarnishing from costume jewellery:
  • Line a glass bowl with silver foil and place jewellery inside.
  • Sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda over the jewellery.
  • Pour just boiled water over the top , covering by at least 2 inches.
  • Leave to soak for 30 minutes.
  • Remove jewellery, rinse and polish with a clean, dry cloth.

Friday 23 October 2009

What's New, Pussycat?

There's nothing new about pussy bow blouses, they've been in and out of fashion since the Edwardian times right up until Maggie Thatcher killed them off in the mid-eighties.

I adore their buttoned-up femininity and when worn with skin-tight jeans or tailored shorts and opaque tights they look ultra-sexy without the need to flash the flesh.

When they started to make a catwalk comeback three years ago I just had to have one. However, as you'd expect from me, walking into a store and buying one from a rack of hundreds just goes against the grain.
Call me weird but there's something dull and soulless about high street shopping. You run the risk of bumping into someone else with the same garment or even worse, some low-rent "celebrity" pictured wearing one. I love to set my sights on something and leave no stone unturned until I find my quarry. There's nothing quite like that sweaty-palmed, quickened heartbeat you get when the item of your dreams is there in the local charity shop for £1.99

I've now got a collection of mostly vintage pussy bow blouses including (from the top) a 1980's Vicki Volts shadow striped red blouse (£1.99 local charity shop), the 1960's Bri-nylon blouse in lime green (£1.29 eBay), the violet satin pintucked contemporary blouse (30p car boot sale) and the semi-sheer 1960's Parisian retro printed blouse with shirred elbows (£5 vintage clothes shop). The rather kitsch couple at the end are a car boot find!

Fancy being a Pussycat Doll? Here's my tips:
  • Search eBay using the keywords - tie-neck, ascot, power, city or secretary instead of the "pussy bow" word - you're more likely to find a bargain.
  • Popular fashion house that manufactured pussy bow blouses were Dereta, Lerose, St Michael, Jacques Vert, Jaeger and Viyella.
  • Too big? Wear with a tight waistcoat over the top or cinch-in with a wide elasticated waspie belt.
  • Search the older ladies' stalls at car boot sales.
  • Ask an older female relative if they've got one lurking in the depths of their wardrobe (my Mum had lots!)
  • Add some foam shoulder pads (available from any haberdashery department) for a groovy 80's vibe.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Dead leaves and the dirty ground

Despite the chilly, damp and grey conditions this morning, thursday just has to be my favourite day of the week. The weekly morning car boot sale is great for unearthing vintage gems as the majority of traders are either retired folk or house clearance traders. As most people are at work there's virtually no competition and more goodies for us!

This morning's rummage has yielded two 1960's framed prints, a Danish minimalist Jacob Jensen telephone, a haul of high-end, unused cosmetics (YSL, Sisley,Clarins, Lancome and Clinique), a yellow melamine picnic set and a couple of vintage leather bags, which look much better in the flesh .

Any tips for car boot sales?
  • Take an empty plastic bag for kneeling on so that you can get down and (not) dirty in large piles of clothes.
  • Don't be afraid to dive into boxes and suitcases in search of hidden treasures.
  • Be very wary of "designer labels", if it looks too good to be true it probably is.
  • No sane stall holder will be insulted if you try to haggle.
  • Look at the stall holder before looking at their stall as smartly dressed, older people are likely to have better treasures than a cash-trapped student or a young family.
  • Take plenty of change and some strong carrier bags and make sure you wear a bag that goes across the body and fastens securely.
  • Don't be hindered by excess bagage. If you buy a bulky item ask the stall holder to keep it in their car until you have finished looking around.
Another reason why I love thursday? A local church holds a monthly jumble sale at 2pm. Again, as most people are at work it's generally just us and a handful of pensioners. As we go regularly everyone knows us and it's lovely to have a bit of a gossip whilst rummaging. The pickings are mixed but today's purchases included the 1950's style boned rose print prom dress and a pretty box containing some gorgeous vintage seamed nylon stockings.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Mirror (s) in the bathroom

Our bathroom started life as another bedroom which had to be passed through to enter our bedroom and the only loo was downstairs, off the kitchen - a long and chilly walk on a winter's night. With no building experience whatsoever we created this room using a wooden frame, plasterboard, glass bricks and a Victorian door salvaged from a skip. Three walls are painted in Farrow and Ball's James White with a feature wall in deep chocolate brown.

When we removed the old Anaglypta-type wallpaper from the back wall the plaster fell away with it to reveal the original brick fireplace, it had been back filled with rubble and the mess it created was appalling. The bricks were scrubbed down, re pointed and coated in PVA glue to make them waterproof. We used a wall of vintage mirrors to reflect the light from the glass bricks on the opposing wall. The brass Buddha coat hooks were from an Indian street market and the Japanese kimono was a jumble sale find.

The roll-top bath is a repro; we'd have loved a cast iron original but it would have been impossible to get one up our narrow staircase. The shower was built to fit around a large shower tray found in the clearance section of a DIY superstore and the wood-effect tiles were also clearance bargains. The salvaged Lloyd Loom cabinet is used for towel storage and the Roberts radio was my Grandpa's. The bullfighter print was a wedding gift given to my parents' in 1966 and the metal swallows were a car boot buy.

The Victorian mahogany mirror above the sink was already in the house when we moved in and the antique glass bottles are part of our huge collection, some dug up in the garden and others from boot sales. The willow is another boot sale buy and the rose canvas a gift from a creative friend.

Monday 19 October 2009

Elementary, my dear Watson

It's such a miserable day I've just had to make a bit of an effort this morning to cheer myself up. I've teamed this vintage coat dress with grey opaque tights and black lace-up patent brogues (Primark via a charity shop) and topped it off with a black angora trilby (car boot sale £1) accessorised with an inherited Victorian Whitby jet mourning brooch. My pièce de résistance
is a white leather handled 1960's magazine cover umbrella found at a boot sale for 25p.

I like to call this classy little 1960's number my "Sherlock Holmes dress".
It's made by "Cresta Couture" and bought from a vintage clothes fair last winter. I was overjoyed when I discovered it marked up as £5 in amongst a rail of otherwise expensive dresses.

If you haven't been to a vintage fashion fair they are definately worth checking out with anything from Christian Dior couture gowns to cheap and cheerful 1960's lucite dress rings. Blind Lemon Vintage are one group who regularly stage events throughout the UK.
Heres a link -

Take a girlfriend, a vintage motor car and dress up for the occasion, there's always pots of tea and cup cakes available.

Back To Black

Being a magpie by nature my eyes are drawn to bright hues and vivid shades and black is the last thing I tend to notice when scanning the charity shop shelves and boot sale tables. Having long black hair makes me wary of looking a bit too vampire-like so I keep my black clothing to a bare minimum.
  • A lace 1960's style go-go dress. This often makes an appearance at festivals with my Alexander Henry "Day of The Dead" wellies and some lurid purple tights. It looks vintage but is actually a Monsoon Fusion piece bought in their 2007 sale for £9.
  • Knee-high 1980's era leather boots - handmade in Italy, cost £2 at a car boot sale over 4 years ago. The suede bag was made in Cyprus, it has an attached metallic leather corsage and cost £1. I found the belt in a charity shop.
  • An early Liberty silk scarf in an Indian tree and paisley print inspired by Mughal art. Found at a car boot sale a couple of weeks ago for £2.
  • Vintage black angora beret by Kangol (50p from a car boot sale) displayed on a 1950's cobra-headed plaster lady lamp base.
  • Black kajal - an essential as I rarely leave the house without lashings of black eyeliner. I stock up whenever I'm in India as it costs less than 20p a pot and the packaging is just so retro.