My favourite thing about running an Etsy shop is the people that I get to chat to from all over the world including vintage fabric fan and designer-maker Eileen from Brisbane in Australia. Eileen has her own Etsy store, Touch Wood Design, selling beautiful cushions that she makes in her studio. She bought some unique 1950’s barkcloth from my vintage fabric shop last year and we have been chatting on Instagram ever since. When I spotted an amazing 1960’s saucer chair that Eileen posted on her Instagram page I had find out more. Eileen shares her vintage story with us…
‘I often use chairs as a prop in photos for my homewares business Touch Wood Design. I’m gradually adding special Mid Century pieces to my home and I’d had my eye out for a saucer chair for years, but never been able to find one that was in good condition at an affordable price. I decided to put the call out to my Instagram friends and, to my great surprise and delight, one of them found me a chair within hours!’
Eileen is now the proud owner of this striking red and white 1960’s saucer chair, also known as a satellite chair due to it’s iconic shape. I have been spotting a revival of Loom and Cane furniture recently and I love this article from a1966 edition of the Birmingham Post. Journalist Priscilla Hodgson suggests ‘Cane furniture today is very comfortable, very practical, extremely attractive and suddenly popular’, which could have been written in today’s press.
I asked Eileen why she was so intent on finding a saucer chair ‘When I was little, we had a turquoise-and-white saucer chair in the same design in our sunroom at home. It was my favourite chair – I was a real bookworm and would curl up for hours in it reading Enid Blyton books!’ that sounds like heaven! (Photo below from Cup & Saucer’s vintage shop on Etsy)
‘The person I bought it from needed to clear some space in her daughter’s room as she was graduating from primary school to high school and needed to make way for a study desk. When I bought it, the chair was covered with a hideous brown cushioned cover, but hiding underneath was the beautiful red-and-white original chair. It has a tiny bit of sunburn so I assume it’s spent at least part of its life on a porch or in a sunny spot, just like the chair from my childhood.’
‘The experience reinforced for me what a wonderful and supportive community of like-minded people I’ve found on Instagram since I joined a couple of years ago. Luckily, I’ve also been able to do some spotting of vintage goodies for that insta-buddy to return the favour!’.
‘I’ve had numerous comments and requests from people to buy it, but I’ve become so fond of it I don’t think I could ever give it up!’
You can buy Eileen’s beautifully made cushions from her Etsy store, Touch Wood Design. Follow her on Instagram for vintage inspiration, Australian style.
Cup & Saucer sell vintage books alongside kitchenalia and collectibles
To support fashion revolution week’s campaign ‘who made my clothes’ I chatted to Designer-Maker Nadien Klages on her stall at the recent Urban Makers East Eco Spring Fair. Nadien re-purposes adults clothing into children’s apparel. I find out where she picks up her ideas and how she developed her sustainable fashion business.
It was whilst re-organising her wardrobe that Nadien found the inspiration for her business. ‘I found all these lovely pieces that we stopped wearing. The first pair of trousers I made for my son was out of my partner Nils’ blue and white striped shirt. It was what he was wearing when we first met but it had shrunk in the wash’. Nadien took her fabric scissors to the shirt and turned it into a pair of trousers for her son Emil, who was one at the time. ‘I do ask Nils before I cut up his shirts’ Nadien laughs.
Nadien never dreamt she would run her own children’s label. ‘I studied women and menswear design at university but my interest shifted once my son was born. Having him around and seeing what is important for kids clothes such as wide shape for comfort, easy to clean, clothes that grow with the child’. She explains whilst bouncing her second child, daughter Ida on her knee. ‘Two or three design tricks mean you can keep your favourite piece for more than one season’.
Sustainable fashion was on the curriculum at the university where Nadien studied in Germany. ‘It is more important to resume these existing resources rather than buying them new all the time and helping fight against fast fashion. I want to show people that there are alternatives and the clothes we keep throwing away are still good by mending them and making something new’
I wonder how she comes up with new ideas. ‘I don’t design with an inspiration first. I have an old garment in front of me and I think about what to make out of it. I find it an amazing challenge to turn an existing design into something different – a men’s shirt becomes a boy’s pair of trousers, an old pair of jeans turns into a pair of dungarees for the child and a rucksack for the parent.’
‘There used to be no question that you would mend your socks but now you can buy five pairs for four quid. People don’t have the skill or the time to mend something’. ‘Re-purposing your clothes is so much fun: put lace on the sleeves, shorten the skirt, add fabric to make it wider.’ We both agreed that the nineties fad of dip dying is due a comeback ‘that is what I love – lots of experiments’.
Nadien teaches sewing workshops at pop up shops such as Urban Makers East who hosted their Eco Spring Market last weekend in Mile End. If I have a break from sewing it is like something is not right, I become unbalanced. Nothing is better than starting with a fabric and have something wearable in your hands after a few hours.’ She enjoys passing these skills onto customers and meeting people who want to commission a piece. ‘One customer wanted to talk about what to make for her daughter’s first birthday, so I reconstructed a pair of dungarees from her husband’s favourite shirt’.
‘I made a dungaree skirt out of my grandma’s piny for my daughter. Seeing Ida in the kitchen wearing the skirt brought back the smells of her cooking and I could visualise my grandma. Stories that you connect with a piece when you see it. What is cuter than seeing these stories going along a new path.’
Nadien makes clothes to order and offer an upcycling service that creates bespoke kidswear from your old favourite clothes contact her via her website. You can also buy from the ready-to-wear collection and accessories from her Etsy store.
When I came across a photo of a gorgeous bride in a floor length rainbow cape on Facebook I had to get in touch to ask more about this incredible outfit. The owner of the cape is Sara Nesbitt Gibbons and she has shared the story behind this smile inducing outfit.
Sara was planning in advance what to wear for her wedding to her fiancé James and had her heart set on an intricate beaded lace cape by Irish designer Alice Halliday. Coming back down to earth Sara realised that the combination of her two small children, an outdoor venue in the Kent countryside and a chocolate wedding cake was probably not the ideal combination for a delicate white cape. As a make-do-and-mend fan who writes a blog on reducing waste Sara thought how she could use something she already had.
Sara’s mum, Nico was a hoarder of clothes. A trait Sara inherited, which lead her to write start her blog ‘why so many clothes‘ and explore why she was keeping hold of items. To help her declutter, Sara says ‘I wore everything in my wardrobe to figure out what it meant and why I kept hold of it, which has meant I’ve been able to let go of a lot more clothes than I used to be able to’. What a genius idea! It was thanks to this project that Sara delved into a forgotten bag her mother had given her before she sadly died of cancer in 2012. A wash of rainbow colours spilled out onto the floor, sparking Sara’s memory. She remembered seeing her mum looking like a film star in a rainbow catsuit, cummberband and matching full length cape. Sadly, Sara doesn’t have a photo of her mum in the full outfit but shared the above photo of the two of them having fun at a festival in matching cat suits.
The outfit had been a gift from her own mother, Sara’s Grandmother. ‘Mum described it as something her mum had picked up from a graduate show and held onto until she was old enough to wear it. She didn’t know who the designer was but I found out by accident. I posted a picture on the Facebook Group Make-do-and-mend and someone commented that their mum has a dress in the same distinctive fabric. She told me the outfit was by iconic designer Jean Varon, who also made some of Diana Rigg’s outfits for the Avengers’.
‘In my head I remembered the cape being more of a capelet but when I realised it was a full length, sheer, flowing rainbow cape, it was absolutely perfect for our rainbow themed low waste wedding. My mum had wanted to wear the whole outfit as the Mother of the Bride so it felt right to have her cape around my shoulders as I walked up the aisle. Sara remembers her mum wearing the rainbow catsuit again for her sixtieth birthday with a black velvet jacket ‘she looked so striking’.
There was a slight pull in the seam of the hood, which Sara had fixed whilst it was being cleaned at her local dry cleaners. ‘It was a very tense few days being parted from the cape.’ Sara describes the outfit as being extremely special ‘A symbol of love across generations and I hope my own daughters will be able to enjoy wearing them one day.
I first got chatting with Ann from Storr Cupboard when she shared a picture of a vintage cookbook on Instagram. I had a flashback to my mum making birthday cakes for my younger brother with the most amazing chocolate fudge icing recipe from the same St Michael book. My mum’s copy of the book is long gone but Ann kindly sent me the recipe and shared her vintage story with Olive Road:
Cooking is love and cooking is helpful and to me those two acts are intertwined. I cook for my family, I cook for my friends. God help you if you turn up to my house and you’re not hungry. The Sundays of my childhood were church, dog walk, Sunday roast, homework. Quiet days, family days. Driving my parents nuts walking in and out and in and out of the sitting room, jarring the ill-fitting ceramic door handle each and every time. Their sitting still and dozing quite un-nerving.
My mum’s few cookbooks lived, and still live, in a wall mounted shelf, high above and to the right hand of the cooker. My mum uses the Cordon Bleu cookery book, a couple of pudding recipe books. That’s about it. She doesn’t need your trends; she can make caramel glazed profiteroles without a recipe, delicate apple tarts, angel cakes rich with raspberries and vanilla spiked whipped cream.
From about 8 years old, I started baking on a Sunday afternoon. Just because, really. Our one simple cookbook was St Michael’s ‘Giving a Children’s Party’. St Michael was the lifestyle section name of Marks and Spencer’s: your clothes were St Michael, the food M&S. The slim cookbook would be hard to find against the 3 inch spine of the Cordon Bleu. I’d have to look at least 4 times before I’d find it, climbing up onto the work surface, rummaging over and over again searching for it. I felt at home rummaging through the baking things, little packets of nuts and dried fruits gently desiccating from one Christmas to the next. Flour and sugar regularly replaced. Butter in the fridge. Never margarine, even in the 80s. I learnt to add my own baking powder to plain flour, that storing plain and self-raising was a waste of time. I saw how happy my brothers were when they saw a cooling rack heavy with cakes or scones.
Years later, when A levels approached, my friends clustered around my dining room table. My parent’s dining room table is a big, thick mahogany beast, with space for my parents, three brothers, and me. Sometimes space for more. The room is formal: old family paintings and silver candlesticks. A fireplace with old postcards and a carriage clock. Huge antique dark wood dresser.
So round they came: Rachel, Elizabeth, Jo and Cips. If it was warm or rainy, May or June, I don’t remember. Just the weirdness of having the doors shut against my family and throwing papers into the bin and pretending that we were in ‘A Few Good Men’. The fever of panic against the reality of three separate three hour exams, of the futures we wanted, and the ending of the safe security of secondary school. The futures we were too scared to want, too. I’d been in the same form group as David Taylor for all 11 of my 13 years of education. I went to the same school my brothers went to, that my mum volunteered at, that my dad had the oversight of. That I’d visited since I was four years old, sitting at the head teacher’s desk with my Spot the Dog colouring in. I was leaving, so excited but utterly terrified.
I’d got in the habit of baking birthday cakes for my drama group, my friends. Utterly wound up and anxious about my A levels, I’d default to the “milk chocolate birthday cake” and “chocolate fudge icing” from ‘Giving a Children’s Party’. Everyone knew it by that point and I could make it at 10pm and not make a mistake. The pages were rigid with smears. I promised Rae that if she studied, I’d give her a wedge of chocolate cake, studded with Milky Way Magic Stars. She loathed the Gothic literature we had to study, so we’d cajole her onwards through thinking about vampires and ghosts while she frowned and scowled. Those days are hazy in my mind’s eye, the adrenaline and, likely, the boozy nights that followed. We got there, we did okay in our exams. We went to work or to uni, and we kept our little group little gang. We were fused together 11 years ago when our dear Cips died suddenly, during an adventure in Beijing. These friends became something more to me, to each other.
Twenty years on and I find myself sitting around Rae’s kitchen table, being frowned at and being told that my second ever (now lost to digital deletion) blog post just doesn’t cut it. And I know it doesn’t. “It sounds as though you’re terrified” she says. And I am. She tells me to send her a first draft before I hit send. I pick at my nails and screw up my face and stare at the table and tell them, “I want to be a writer” and “Christ, finally” they say, but know better than to hug me.
They have known me when I wore only a four sizes too large TopShop jumper (hey! 1994), a reversible Mickey Mouse sweatshirt (more M&S delights) and cut my fringe viciously. Rae has literally picked me up off the floor in heartbreak. We’ve seen each other post-partum blue and terrified by the shit that life slings out with fucking regularity. So when they tell me I’m letting myself down professionally, I listen. Especially when it fucking infuriates me.
Life is busier now, but we still see each other to talk, work, share ideas, and even, sometimes, just to be together. Each time I sit on Elizabeth’s back step and we take a sneaky peak into her neighbour’s windows through our third glass of Prosecco, eat dark chocolate on Jo’s sofa, or get drip fed red wine and steak around Rae’s dinner table, I am so grateful for my friends. I trust them with every last part of me. And when I can, I bake them cake.
Ann sharing her passion for cooking on her blog sharing inspiring recipes she has created from leftovers. Sign up to her newsletter here to get inspiration directly to your inbox. Or follow her on Instagram @storrcupboard.
The rain was pounding against my window on a Saturday afternoon back in November 2015. I was deliberating whether to stay in my warm cosy flat or go to a book reading at the Idea Store’s Write Idea Festival in Whitechapel. I’m so glad I decided to brave the cold as I met author Kate Thompson and her interviewee Sally discussing the real stories behind Kate’s first novel the Secrets of the Singer Girls. The book is based on a group of women rag trade workers set in Bethnal Green during WWII. Kate brings the women’s stories to life and had me in tears with both laughter and sadness. A year later, Kate asked me to help her research her latest novel, The Allotment Girls. Set in my home of Bow, we had some fun afternoons pounding the pavements of East London that I didn’t even know existed; climbing locked towers of Bow Quarter that used to be the Bryant & May match factory and seeing where Gandhi slept in Kingsley Hall. The Allotment Girls is released today and Kate has shared her vintage story with Olive Road:
When a relative dies, you might take some comfort in inheriting a treasured keepsake, a couple of faded black and white photographs of family events, perhaps even a little bit of money. When my grandfather, Alan passed away six years ago, at the age of 91, he bequeathed us much more than a dusty old photo album and a savings account. We inherited Twinkle – an ageing Jack Russell with melting chocolate eyes, ears as soft as satin and breath so pungent it could strip paint. I had just given birth to my second son Stanley and I worried how Twinkle would react to being around two young boys. Yet this old girl, whom we assumed would retreat miserably to her basket, to doze through her few remaining days on Earth before rejoining her master, has had a surprising effect on my family. She has brought calm, order and love while at the same time finding the joie de vivre of a dog half her years.
My grandfather had found Twinkle three years earlier on a charity website devoted to matching old dogs with elderly dog-lovers and they turned out to be a match made in heaven. Like him, she was a little rickety, very sedate and clearly relished the prospect of seeing out her twilight years snoozing on his lap. Every time we visited Alan, we found her gently snoring, her nose tucked under his arm as he stroked her soft, white fur and smiled benignly. offers to take her for a walk were swiftly rebuffed. ‘Twinkle prefers to stay in the warm,’ he would say, lovingly feeding her crumbs of luxury Marks & Spencer fruit cake. Twinkle proved to be the perfect companion, slotting effortlessly into a quiet and dignified life built around books, art, classical music and the odd glass of red wine. He’d relished the company of dogs all his life. Before my grandmother Joyce, a tireless charity worker and magistrate, died in 2000 they’d had a succession of hyperactive hounds – most memorably Sheba, an assertive Boarder Collie who would round up guests and trap them in a corner. A rather energetic Bedlington Terrier called Larry had kept him company after Sheba passed away. But after Larry died in 2008, my grandfather lived alone until Twinkle, a little dog with an unknown past, was delivered to a loving future in Wimbledon in April 2009.
‘I’m very old to be getting another dog, aren’t I?’ Alan remarked to the woman from the re-homing charity. ‘I don’t think you should deny yourself the pleasure’ she replied kindly. Twinkle was about nine, although she was a rescue dog so no one knew for certain. it took just five minutes to melt my grandfather’s heart. After he died, I admit, I feared the worst. You hear stories of loyal dogs simply losing the will to live after a beloved owner dies. I wondered whether Twinkle, bewildered by her new surroundings, not to mention the challenge of living with two rumbustious boys, might just fade away. But I hadn’t accounted for just how adaptable this feisty terrier was, or the rejuvenating effects of youthful company.
Within days, somehow our ageing hound was galloping around the house in hot pursuit of the boys, terrorising any neighbourhood cat that dared to stray into her garden; and greeting the postman like a sworn enemy. on trips to the park, her little legs were a blur as she tore across the grass to leap on dogs twice her size and half her age. An animal-loving friend explained the reason for her new lease of life. ‘She’s running with the pack’ he said. ‘She’s just adjusted her behaviour to living with young boys – she’s trying to keep up’. Twinkle, it seems, had found her inner puppy.
Twinkle is now a pivotal part of our family. My sons adore her as she does them. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank my beloved grandfather for his parting gift. There may have been 87 years between him and his grandson Ronnie but Twinkle truly captured both of their hearts. When Ronnie strokes here, I can see my grandfather doing the same thing and somehow, it eases our grief. His memory is being kept alive by the love of a tiny dog better than it could be by any photograph. I watched Ronnie this morning, hugging Twinkle and kissing her nose over and over – despite me pointing out that he has no idea where that nose has just been. ‘Why do you love Twinkle so much?’ I asked him. ‘Because she is just so strokey’ he said, and somehow I know Alan would agree.
Kate’s latest novel The Allotment Girls is out now. Head to her Author’s page on Amazon to read about all four of Kate’s novels. Each one is set in East London and brings to life real historic events such as the Blitz, the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster and the Battle of Cable Street. The Allotment Girls is set in the iconic Bryant & May factory where the famous Match Women’s strike took place in 1888. The story starts during WWII but there are many secrets reaching back to the factory’s darker past.
It was the first time my husband visited my grandparent’s house at Olive Road that I realised my family’s greeting to each other was unusual. ‘What’s ooo-oooh?’ Craig asked smirking. A pebble dashed house on the edge of a London suburban housing estate, I always entered around the back and sang out ‘ooo-oooh’ as we pushed open the door. All the family did. With the back door permanently open ‘perhaps it is a way to signal to Nan and Grandad that it is one of us’ my auntie Barbara offered as an explanation.
For over sixty years, my grandparents had lived in this end of terrace house, where they raised their five daughters. Being the eldest grandchild, my youngest auntie Lisa was only aged 5 when I was born. ‘I don’t want to go home’ I would whine to my mum as I battled through the rainbow coloured strips of rubber hanging from the door frame. Once through, I would be standing in a compact kitchen. How my nan cooked for seven in this tiny room was always beyond me. A formica table surrounded by a corner bench covered in terracotta vinyl took up most of the space. The bench doubled up as a storage cupboard so we would often have to stand up mid-mouthful so my nan could fish out the chocolate Angel Delight, a regular dessert favourite.
By the time my eldest brother and I had come along, all but one of the daughters had married and left home but they didn’t move far. A constant flow of visitors through that back door, our family grew with the arrival of an Irish family who lived in an identical house a short skip through the back gate. Two boys and two girls, the Rocks became part of the gang.
‘Better pass that over love, as it will be cold by the time you get round’ Grandad said dryly to my mum one Sunday afternoon. With us squashed in the kitchen enjoying a roast dinner, Grandad preferred his on his lap. This was the early 1980’s and Nan had bought a corner suite from the local Co-Op in soft grey velour to accommodate everyone. The problem was, it reached from one side of the room to the other with only a narrow gap to expertly navigate through to actually sit down.
To me, Olive Road was an endless supply of friends to play with. Living on a busy road, my brother and I were not able to play on the street at our own home. My Nan’s house was surrounded by quiet roads, children playing on every corner. Forty-Forty, kerbside, chalking up the pavement for hopscotch, British Bulldog and the endless cry of the ice cream van. We owned the summer.
With so many aunties, birthdays were full of gifts, one of them being a compact black vinyl vanity case from my Auntie Kay. Knowing how much I loved to stay overnight at Olive Road, it had just enough room for my rag doll, clean undies and a set of pyjamas. I would keep it packed, ready to go by my bedroom door. When my mum announced we were going to Nan’s, I was prepared for the ‘I’m not going home’ argument.
This little vanity case has served me well. Stuffed with samples of clothes I had made and accompanying me to fashion college interviews. Now it sits pride of place on my aptly named vintage stall, Olive Road. A small momento of the tiny house packed with so many memories and sadly no longer in the family since my grandparents died. Customers often ask how much the case is and I’m always quick to reply ‘it is not for sale’.
Olive Road London talks to City Thrifter about her love for vintage shopping and her vintage story…
‘I’m unsure where my love for all things vintage began. I have really early memories of being dragged into antique shops by my Dad and being beyond bored with wandering around looking at “old stuff”. I can’t walk past a vintage or antique shop now without being lured in. I’ve always had a my own sense of style, and enjoy experimenting with fashion. I wouldn’t say I follow fashion, I wear what I feel good in, anything vintage or preloved. You’ll mainly find me rummaging the rails at the vintage fairs and markets, or hunting out that gem in a charity shop.
The unique pieces you find when shopping vintage are the pull for me. Finding those one-offs, that more than likely have a heck of a story to tell. When it comes to my favourite pieces, I have a fair few to choose from! But the one that stands out, is the one that has the sentiment and story that’s personal to me.
My mum is the complete opposite to hoarder. I look back on photos and wish she’d kept all of her wardrobe for me but unfortunately that’s not the case. The one item that I’ve remembered her having since I was a little girl is this leather bohemian bag. She bought it in a boutique in 1968 when she was 18. When I was 16, she passed it on to me knowing I’d always had my eye on it. It’s the perfect accompaniment to most outfits, and it’s special to me that I’m enjoying this piece from my mum’s youth. Who knows who’ll get to enjoy it next.’
City Thrifter, also known as Kayt, works as a Trading Ops Manager for a chain of charity shops. The perfect job to compliment her passion for vintage and pre-loved clothes shopping. I’ve been following City Thrifter on Instagram for a while and she has a natural talent for assembling outfits from pre-loved clothing that work with the current trends, despite being from decades gone by. Kayt has started sharing her love of thrift shopping with a new blog launched this month. A great read for vintage style ideas.
Gliding seamlessly from studying astro physics to setting up a successful upholstery school isn’t the most obvious of career paths but Louise from the Shoreditch Design Rooms did just that. Louise lived on Gower street in central London, a pebbles throw from the beautiful university buildings of University College London (UCL) where she was studying. Twenty years later and a further few miles to the east, Louise was building a different type of school. The Shoreditch Design Rooms on Hackney Road teaches around 70 students in upholstery and soft furnishings from beginners to professional upholsterers. The college is renowned for having small classes so students can learn on a one to one basis, pick up tips from each other and learn from the commercial workshop attached to the school.
I bumped into Louise whilst she was demonstrating her skills at Sew Amazing on Roman Road. Owner Robb helped Louise source the industrial machines she needed for the college and he continues to service the machines ‘A sewing machine is so important and I can rely on Robb to look after it really well’ Louise she tells me. We share our excitement of transforming a much loved old piece of furniture or fabric into a brand new object when Louise tells me the most wonderful coincidence that happened to her whilst she was in the midst of building the school. ‘I was looking for something that would work as a good cutting table. The right height so students didn’t have to bend down but long and wide enough to hold a length of upholstery fabric’. She came across some benches outside a reclamation yard, discared on the street, left to fend against the elements. The benches are solid mahogany oak and from inspecting the detail, Louise could see they were obviously hand made. Each of the drawers underneath the bench are numbered as they only fit in that custom made home. Sadly Louise only had room for five benches out of the 250 available and the rest were probably damaged beyond repair from being left in the rain. There was something familiar about the benches, when Louise asked the trader it turns out he had acquired them from UCL. Not only the same university Louise attended but from the same science labs. ‘I knew they were the same as when I sit up at them I can’t get my legs underneath and I remember that from being at college. It felt like such a good omen’.
Savitri Coleman, Founder of Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair shares the story of the beautiful vintage dress she is wearing along with her her top ten tips on shopping for the ultimate vintage style.
The story starts with the enlarged Portuguese Filigree earrings Savitri is wearing, a gift from her partner who is Portuguese. Filigree jewellery is derived from the Latin ‘Filum’ meaning ‘thread’, the craft dates back to Egyptian times and the style imitates a lace or thread pattern. At the Clernkwell Vintage Fashion Fair earlier this year, Savitri spotted this ivory and scarlet maxi dress. She couldn’t believe that the print was identical to her treasured Filigree earrings and had to buy it. ‘It is easy to dress up or dress down for a festival with a pair of cowboy boots’ Savitri tells me. It is certainly striking, suits her perfectly and goes to prove one of Savitri’s own vintage shopping top tips below….
Savitri’s top ten vintage shopping tips
If you’re shopping for vintage for you it’s really useful to know what era suits you and your body shape. This will save a lot of time at fairs when browsing so you know which periods are just not you and even if the print or fabric is fabulous it just won’t do you any justice.
Keep an open mind when shopping for vintage at fairs or markets as you are unlikely to find exactly what you are looking for but you will find other interesting things.
Try on garments and photograph yourself in them so you can see how you really look rather than how you think you look in a mirror.
If an item fits then it’s meant to be. If you love it – buy it. You won’t find it again
Google vintage fairs and markets to find out what fairs are on and when.
Instagram is a good resource to search for vintage traders and vintage apparel
Check the width of hems to know whether it is a 50’s dress instead of 80’s. Some 1980’s copies are great and sometimes they have used 50’s fabric but the hems are usually really thin and overlocked.
If you are unsure of the price or worth of a vintage garment you can always get a second opinion by speaking to other traders or contacting auction houses to see what similar pieces have sold for.
Earlier pieces like 20’s and 30’s can be expensive as they are harder to come by in good condition especially beaded or with embellishment (Check under the arms on chiffon dresses for tares, check the seams are in tact or you won’t have much wear out of it and lastly for moth holes)
Lastly always get a receipt so if you have any queries you can always contact the trader
‘I only came here to get ideas’ Bride-to-be Sarah confesses to me at the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair in May. Despite this, she has found the dress she wasn’t even looking for, a 1940’s vintage wedding dress from Peacock Vintage, one of the many stalls at the fair. ‘I wasn’t going for a traditional dress. The first stall I came to I bumped into Savitri and she took me shopping’. Savitri is the founder and organiser of Clerkenwell Vintage Fairs. When Olive Road caught up with Savitri back in May, she expressed her delight in helping customers find their ideal vintage outfits. Savitri advised Sarah to be open to ideas and try on as many dresses as possible. Between them they chose a dress completely opposite to what Sarah had planned, the beautiful traditional off white, silk dress that Sarah models in the above photo. The neckline sits across the clavical with tiny silk covered buttons running down the back seam to the base of the spine. The sleeves are slightly gathered at the shoulders, creating the classic 1940’s style. The highlight of the dress is it’s dramatic long train. Sarah was excited and shocked in equal measure and when I caught up with the bride-to-be she was waiting for her friend Jenny to arrive to give her a second opinion.
I know from experience how difficult it is to find a vintage wedding dress in a style that suits you and that fits. Before planning my wedding 13 years ago I had watched the 1957 film Funny Face staring Audrey Hepburn and dreamed of a three quarter length wedding dress. I am not blessed with a 1950’s sized waist and I gave up looking for a vintage dress before I had even started. My friend Cathy suggested that I buy a vintage wedding pattern and have the dress made. I found what was looking for on an early version of Etsy, I think it was called Ruby Lane? Luckily a friend had recently commissioned her wedding dress to be made by costume designer Nancy and she agreed to make my dress too, altering the original neck line of the pattern to suit me. I asked Nancy to include a vintage diamanté belt buckle, that I had sourced on eBay.
Cathy had more luck in finding her vintage wedding dress off the peg. Her sister Su is a TV stylist and a vintage fair veteran as she shops for vintage clothes and ideas for her work. The sisters went to Frock Me at the Chelsea Town Hall and saw a beautiful 1950’s pure silk dress on a mannequin. ‘I want that one’ Cathy exclaimed. ‘As soon as it floated over my head and Su pulled up the zip it was if it were tailor-made for me, I couldn’t believe my luck’. It wasn’t a traditional wedding dress but Cathy hadn’t planned on a traditional wedding so it worked perfectly. Read more about Cathy’s dress in this month’s Vintage Stories.
Sisters Pippa and Hesta from Peacock Vintage agree with Cathy that in order to find a vintage dress for your big day you don’t have to stick to a traditional wedding dress. ‘It pays to put the time in and do your research and try dresses you wouldn’t normally wear’ says Pippa. Hesta adds that it is important to ‘buy the dress when you see it otherwise it will go’. This true of all vintage clothing and if you change your mind you can always sell it on.
Savitri Coleman shared her vintage shopping tips with Olive Road on a recent blog post and adds ‘When looking for a vintage wedding dress it is important to try different shades of white to find out which one suits your skin tone. Shape is also important, different eras suit different body shapes. For example bride-to-be Sarah was lost in a 1960’s box shaped dress yet the 1940’s dress fit her like a glove, it was like it was made for her, it was unique and the long train and sleeves added drama’. I caught up with bride-to-be Sarah a few hours later, she had bought the dress for her Australian wedding to Ian and was off to celebrate with her friend.
Buying a vintage wedding dress will ensure that you wear something completely unique for your special day. Not everyone will be as lucky as Sarah and Cathy in finding their dress so quickly but the same can be said when buying a new wedding dress. Start shopping early. Ask friends, write a post on social media requesting recommendations for dress makers who can make the necessary alterations for you, or in my case, copy a dress to fit and suit you perfectly. Most off all, have fun in searching, take a friend and treat yourself to a glass of bubbly when you find the dress of your dreams.