Brave Enough for Vintage?

This post was actually inspired by an incident this weekend where a lovely woman chased me across a car park to ask how I did my hair, but when I started writing it I remembered this post on Diary of a Vintage Girl from a couple of weeks ago. I nearly scrapped the post, but then I decided you can’t have enough inspiration to dress like you damn well please so I thought I’d keep writing. (that and I have nothing else interesting to say today of course!) Inspired by Fleur’s post this is actually a little more autobiographical than I originally intended, but hopefully someone will find something in that inspires them a little.

When you dress like a nutter people often comment on it.

Fortunately most of the comments I get are positive as my poor little fragile ego can’t cope with too many insults.

By far and away the most common thing people say to me is something along the lines of “I love your style! I wish I was brave enough to dress like that”. This always strikes a chord with me as I know exactly how they feel.

The thing those comments always remind me of is how long it took me to re-find the confidence to dress however I pleased.

I was a confident child and far too chatty. I spent my childhood dressing almost entirely out of the dressing up box and had to be forcibly separated from the Princess outfit at playschool. I played the lead in school plays and remembered everyone elses lines as well as my own. I wore a pink jacket to Primary School because I wanted to be a “Pink Lady” and I hated trousers even then. When I was 13 my sister nearly got into a fight with 2 older girls who were giggling at my (very chic I thought) outfit of a 60s style block colour mini dress and over the knee socks. When everyone else was in baggy jeans and T Shirts I was buying floral harem pants and playing with make up.

On the right in 1993 In stripy tights and a tartan skirt

As a teenager, like many ladies of the vintage persuasion, I was a big fan of alternative styles. Stripy tights, DM boots, multi coloured hair and multiple piercings, been there, done that. In fact, if people weren’t staring at me when I walked down the street then I wasn’t doing it right. (Though I still had a picture of Audrey Hepburn on my wall)

1997, in a floral bias cut dress.


By my late teens I’d already settled on what I think of as a more “classic with a twist” style. I stood out precisely because I was smarter than everyone else. Pencil skirts, shift dresses, double breasted pea coats and heeled loafers were my favourites. I wouldn’t have called it a “vintage” look. I probably leaned more toward a bit of mod style if anything (put me firmly in the late 90s Blur camp please!) but it’s definitely the basis of how I dress now.

Then I feel like it all went wrong. In my final year at university I had a sudden attack of nerves doing a presentation, which I’d never been bothered about before, and over the next few years after graduating a combination of less exercise and more money meant I put on a lot of weight. I was out of my comfort zone and desperate to blend in. I saved the fancy frocks (if I had one I could fit into) for special occasions and generally lived in baggy stretch jeans and combat trousers, which were hand me downs from my Mum.

At a Christening in 2006


The long journey back to where I am now probably started with me joining Weight Watchers in 2007, and was aided on it’s way by finally getting out of a job that was very damaging to my poor fragile psyche. In December 2007 I was jobless, and decided to try and make a bit of money selling vintage and second hand clothes on eBay. Starting that opened up a whole new world on the Internet. It took me a long time to find where I felt I belonged. I always thought I was interested in fashion, but found I didn’t really give enough of a crap about designers, trends and new collections to write anything of interest about it. Then, eventually, probably sometime in 2009, I found my little niche in the vintage world and my style and my confidence grew from there.

I already knew a lot about vintage styles of the 30s, 40s and 50s as they were always times that had grabbed my interest. The thought that I could dress like that myself, now, had never occurred to me! I started off with a very 40s and 50s influenced look, but as I got more confident I found myself more drawn to the 1930s, and started playing around with styles from the decade. Essentially I now treat my wardrobe like a huge dressing up box, and every day is an excuse to create a look and play with styles. That’s exactly how I like it. Today I might be a 50s glamourpuss, tomorrow a 40s housewife, a land girl, a 30s starlet or throw in a little bit of Rockabilly. (I’m not a vintage purist, so lets not even go there!)

Recently, though, I have been wondering about this “bravery” aspect of how you dress. I am one of a very small pool of people in my area who dress in a “vintage” style on a regular basis.  This means that when I go out alone I stand out. But would I be dressing this way if I didn’t know that behind me there was a whole group of people who also loved the style? Has the Internet just moved the idea of those “tribes” we belonged to as teenagers into cyberspace and meant that geographical location is no barrier to the idea of “belonging”. Has the Internet made us “braver” in real life?

Maybe those people who approach me and tell me I’m “brave” will take my card, go away, start reading lots of vintage style blogs and this time next year they’ll look like Carmen Miranda when I bump into them?

The struggle for confidence is a daily thing. Every time you try something new you start all over again. I was terrified when I started Vintage Norwich, and when we threw our first Cocktail Party, and there are some things I’m doing now that scare me even more.

There’s always that little voice at the back of your head that tells you you’re not good enough. Other people do it better / have been doing it longer/ no one really cares about what you write / do / wear / say. The key is to get to the point where you can successfully ignore it. So what if your victory rolls are inexpertly formed or your tights don’t have authentic seams. What’s important is that YOU like it, and YOU chose to wear it, not anyone else.

Like lots of people I get increasingly irritated by the proliferation of “vintage” t shirts, sofas, kitchenware and food stuffs. The word has been taken over by the world of fashion and retail, much like “punk” has in the past. However, if that popularity gives a few people the newly found confidence to step outside the norm on a daily basis, and introduces them to a way of dressing and a lifestyle that they love, is that a bad thing?

A few months of overpriced floral pinnies and a proliferation of cupcakes is little price to pay if it changes someones life. Besides, I like buying cheap “vintage style” tops in Primark.

There’s far too much snobbery in the world and we spend far too much time picking holes in other people as we’re too scared they’re going to start picking them in us. If you want to dress like a 70s disco queen, then bring out the lip gloss and glitter, or swathe yourself in 80s lycra and frosted lipstick if that’s your thing.

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not “vintage” or you’re doing it wrong, because it doesn’t matter one jot.