Brave Enough for Vintage?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

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.

45 Responses
  • Miss Dolly
    August 17, 2011

    This is a fabulous article sweetie, I can relate to just about everything you have mentioned and reading articles like this makes ME realise that its ok to be “different or dress like a nutter!” and that I should be confident about the decisions I make. Liek you I always thought I was really into fashion, then realised the “fashion” of today is crap and wearing vintage, vintage repro and rockabilly is much more me and I’m learning to not give a crap what others think. So thank you again sweetie 🙂 xx

  • Mr Chick
    August 17, 2011

    Nice. x

  • Ruth
    August 17, 2011

    Good on yer Retro Chick I too was in the Blur category in the 90’s and sported the DM’s with a pretty floral dress – however I couldn’t get out of trousers as was a complete “geezer bird!” – however upon discovering my Bettie Page fringe 2 years ago I embraced “vintage” and haven’t looked back since – I love it.

  • Intrinsically Florrie
    August 17, 2011

    Wow- what a wonderful post!
    I was writing one on self expression through style last week but haven’t got round to finishing it yet, these things are so personal.
    I love the way you dress but what’s important is you like it too 🙂 People should be allowed to dress however makes them happy.

    Florrie x

  • Old Fashioned Susie
    August 17, 2011

    Love the “Dress like a Nutter” phrase!! I’ve had “freak” shouted at me a couple of times when I was younger and living in a village, but it just spurred me on (they were lads in shell suits)!!

  • Amywasamyo
    August 17, 2011

    What a blooming marvellous post, I shall be secreting it for future reference! Struck several very relevant chords (not least being in *that* Blur/florals/DM camp), as I’m consciously trying to embrace and showcase the classic/vintage-esque gal, recently also set more free thanks to WW & high street ‘vintage’. Keep up the great work, love your posts.

    Ps also have total zombie apocalypse bolthole envy x

  • Perdita
    August 17, 2011

    Loads of this rings true for me. My oldest friend loves recounting how I used to fight tooth-and-nail with another girl from a raggedy bridesmaid dress in the dress-up box.

    A certain husband of mine’s first words were “oi fashion victim” (for which I gave him what-for, naturally. Weak chat-up line indeed. I made him buy me a pint and the rest is history). I was in one of my favourite mid-90s combos of purple-n-green skatergirl minidress, purple 70s Adidas jacket, silver glittery trainers and purple heart handbag. And red hair with purple streaks. And why not.

    I proudly class myself as loving vintage but also embracing anything that takes my fancy. I’m proud to be a mongrel fashionista, and admire everyone who wears what they enjoy creatively. Vintage folk in the main are lovely and anything on t’internet gets a few trolls (food forums…OMG, you get some on those. Serve a kid a potato waffle and they’d have you locked up!) so it’s just a case of ignoring horrids and focussing on lovely blogs like yours and Fleur’s etc’.

    One thing I find interesting is gender reactions to unusual clothes. Women are viewed as ‘brave’, but I had a former colleague think it perfectly acceptable to tell me that my OH was ‘odd’, ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘shifty’ because he dressed that way (Chappish). They asked me if he really did his job ‘because if he did a serious job like that he wouldn’t feel the need’ etc’ etc’. Mind you, this person was from Guildford, and of the M&S greige/middle-class or bust brigade. I asked them if they thought the same of me (I was wearing a corset-dress and looking rather gothic) but apparently I was just ‘arty’ and ‘brave’. Hmm. Interesting.

    • Gemma
      August 17, 2011

      Hmm, that is very interesting actually! Women are arty and brave, men who are interested in clothes are shifty!

      • Perdita
        August 17, 2011

        Mind you. This is my husband we’re talking about, who is spivvy as anything! 😉

  • pollyp
    August 17, 2011

    *applause* Truly the best post i have read on this subject; empathetic, enlightening and, what’s more, encouraging. Thank you for this.

  • Fi Phillips
    August 17, 2011

    Great post. I’m afraid I’ve taken advantage of the vintage retail you mention above, in my store, but those designs are there mainly because I like them and wanted to share.

    I love the fact that the vintage trend has allowed people to become individuals again and reminded us that it isn’t all about having and buying, but instead treasuring and re-working what we have.

  • Emma
    August 17, 2011

    What a beautiful post….I really needed to read this right now. Thank you xx

  • LandGirl1980
    August 17, 2011

    Another corker of a post. As a former long frocked hippy – who lived in the Blur Camp – this rings bells. I also get a lot of “you’re so brave – wish I could..” to which I reply – just do it. Simpler said than done for some. I have to remind myself that i AM the odd one out – hence the stares and odd compliments and that it took me a good LONG while to get comfy with who I am and how i dress. Weight had a lot to do with it. A LOT. When I lost 3st i felt a lot more confident.

    I had not thought of the surge in cupcakes and roses as a way of someone changing their lives. Thats a different slant on it. I think for me it is the generalisation that goes with my style atm. I get a lot of “Oh – so are you into burlsque… Cath Kidston… white washed furniture… cupcakes..?”. None of these things I have an issue with – but its the brush tarring that makes me go “EUGH”. But thats my issue.

  • Steph (mrs_sock)
    August 17, 2011

    Fab post, my first foray into vintage was for my wedding and around the same time I stumbled across your blog. You gave me the courage to roll my hair and start to change my style. I get braver all the time as I want my daughter to grow up to be what she wants and having a happy confident mummy will help this. in fact I’ve just been stopped and told I look very 50s like a film star. I’m wearing a combination of primark pieces. Oh and I’m smiling 😉

  • Kerry at His Girl Friday
    August 17, 2011

    Well I am one of those people whose life has been changed for the better by discovering vintage blogs on the internet.

    I am still very much in transition (it’s a big thing to commit to, and victory rolls are bloody difficult!) but I finally feel confident and happy with the stylistic choices I’ve made.

    For years I have felt the need to fit in with this group of girls I associate with, they wear ‘cool’ clothes that fashion blogs would describe as ‘edgy’, and I felt like I had to keep up. I am finally letting go of that idea and embracing the girly truth of what I want to dress like!

    You only need to go back through my archives and you’ll see the evolution over even the last few months. It’s still going to take me some time, but it is the encouragement of wonderful ladies like you that is keeping me going!

    So from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

  • Elizabeth
    August 17, 2011

    Fantastic post, thank you for sharing – both the words and the photos! Nodded my head right along with you the whole way through, and I’m definitely inspired.

  • miss rosette brune
    August 17, 2011

    i love your post
    thanks for writing it,
    very inspiring

  • Glamour_ologist
    August 17, 2011

    Great post. Think this type of post should be mandatory for bloggers – love to see where people ‘come from’ and the experiences and styles that make them what they are today.

    I definitely was in the DM and Plaid shirt camp and started dressing in vintage clobber about the age of 15. Never stopped really but the things I love have changed over time.

  • Claire Evans
    August 17, 2011

    Awwww lovely lady. Well I have seen you around Norwich at vintage events & you always look stunning. I am far too lazy to wear vintage every day. If I could master the Victory rolls it would be a step in the right direction!! My wardrobe has always been a mix of vintage & new and jeans and a fabulous 1940’s wool jacket and red lipstick with heels is one of my favourites. Hope to see you around soon. And looking forward to your next event xxx Claire

  • Shona
    August 17, 2011

    Excellent post! Being even just a wee bit different can be so scarey, yet I love love love it when people dress as they want too, even if that style is very different from mine. I also respect that some days just can’t be a best dressed days, and that some days and activities means that one’s favourite or most inspired style just has to wait.

  • Tiny D
    August 17, 2011

    Love this post for reminding me that it’s more important to dress in a way that makes you feel good, rather than trying to follow what’s trendy. I like to dress in a vintage style sometimes but I like to mix it up so one day I’ll be 1950s-style, then the next day 1970s, and then the next day modern. And I feel equally good in whatever!

  • Tura
    August 18, 2011

    My God woman you had me in tears with this post! Not tears of laughter but the fact that I felt I was reading almost my own autobiography! So true! I feel so confident and ready to lash out in a 50’s inpspired floral dress complete with tulle underskirt to go grocery shopping – where as a few years ago full of doubt and whether or not I could pull off any kind of style and wanted to blend in to the general public. Despite family and close friends loving my style and encouraging me I was influenced by the masses (media & workmates) to conform to everyone else. Such a fantastic post love it and so happy to have read it! xx

  • Nicki - Vintage by Appointment
    August 18, 2011

    Great post Gemma. And something we all need reminding about! Well done!

    Dressing like a nutter is good. I always have: from college days (1987-89 in my case) of 60s frocks and mens waistcoats to a spell of true Goth (shave hair at the sides, purple perm on top, you should see the pictures!) all in black, occasionally with a hint of purple.

    For a while I went all mumsy (this period probably coincided with when I gave birth to my children) and now… well, anything goes. I can’t stick to an era but generally speaking its second hand and pre 1980s. With so much waste in the world (gets on high horse) recycling clothes is the way forward. And falling in love with vintage makes that so much easier to do. Who cares if we look like “nutters”! 🙂


  • rachael
    August 18, 2011

    Fantastic post xx

  • Helga
    August 18, 2011

    Fantastic post!!
    Being a vintage purist would be fun,but I just can’t box myself in! I love too many eras! I just dress to suit my mood on the day, and it’s usually 60’s or 70’s,but I have a soft spot for the 50’s,so give that a nod as much as I can!
    I do think there are “cliques” or “tribes” out there, though.There are many who won’t give me the time of day because I’m not a purist,or fit into a neatly labelled era.Can’t be helped,it’s human nature I guess!
    Thanks for popping by my blog,your comment was most appreciated!Mrs Slocombe is one of my style icons,and I rip her off regularly!!!

  • Kezzie
    August 18, 2011

    What a wonderful post! You write beautifully and I love the archive of photos charting your style. I think it’s a great thing to do, thinking about your style and why you dress the way you do! I have always dressed eclectically, but loved aspects of vintage styles, be it wearing Regency style spencers, floral tea-dresses or wearing genuine 70’s flares as a 13 year old! Thanks for your comment on my blog- it’s lovely to visit and I’ll definitely be back!

  • For Those About To Shop
    August 19, 2011

    Thank you for this little glimpse into your past and what drives your style. I liked finding out more about you 🙂

  • Suzy
    August 19, 2011

    This article actually made me well up because I can really identify with everything you say. Funnily enough, I was going to email you and ask you to write a bit more about how you got where you are (professionally and sartorially) and you’ve done just that! I really enjoy your blog – you seem like a lovely, genuine person, and what you write inspires me and lifts my day. Keep the vintage flag flying!

  • weezi
    August 19, 2011

    Oh my Goodness!!! I luv this post! I can totally relate.
    You are a real inspiration and I can’t wait to share this post with anyone who will listen!
    Keep up the great blog and inspiring words!!
    All the best, your newest fan, Lisa 🙂

  • Lady Cherry
    August 19, 2011

    Great post. I guess some people do think it’s all a bit nutty, and don’t get it. I recall when we were saying goodbye to each other after Swing for Skin in June some drunken chap asked aloud if he had gone back in time hehe! I don’t consider myself to be a nutter, I am just me. I certainly don’t do it for attention. I think I do it because I like being feminine and glamourous, and different.

  • Julia
    August 20, 2011

    I love reading your blog and this is so appropriate today for me! As a forty something mum of three who has never really followed avidly any fashions I have recently discovered vintage. I’ve got a fab new job as a PA /Events Assistant in a vintage inspired hen party/photo shoot company which I love, but I haven’t really plucked up the courage to “go vintage” in my normal life, i.e. on a night out. So I’m out with the girlies tonight and have 2 outfits ready to wear. “Normal” floaty top and black trousers (the staple of my going out wardrobe for 20 years! – how bloody boring!) or a lovely repro vintage polka dot tea dress, with matching wedges. I’d sort of decided to try both on and then decide, but you have inspired me, I’m going the whole hog, victory rolls, red lippy, eyeliner and polka dots. I can’t wait, we’re going to an eighties theme night, so the outfit won’t fit, but I’ll feel fabulous dahrrliing! Thanks for the inspiration x

  • Nessbow
    August 21, 2011

    What a fabulously inspirational post! Good on you for penning this. You’re 100% right, as long as you’re happy with what you’re wearing, what other people think really doesn’t matter.

  • Gvennitja
    September 2, 2011

    You are awesome!

    It’s funny that I found this post just as my friend and I were talking about having the guts to dress as we please. When I was a kid I wore “pirate” dresses (frilly, lacy, velvet things) every day with boots, even when I was climbing trees and playing sporty games. I had a purple and pink dress with unicorns all over it that I was very proud of! I had an interesting, not always fashion forward, eclectic style through high school and early college – but then something changed and I got scared of what people thought. I can’t pinpoint one incident, but there was this general feeling that I was supposed to be growing up and becoming an adult and I think I toned my style way down because of it. So for the last five years I’ve been struggling with what I feel comfortable wearing and why. Just in the last couple years I think I’ve started to get my courage back and reading your post gives it a wonderful boost! Thank you!

    Your style is wonderful, as are you!! And here’s to being brave!!!

  • Emmie
    September 20, 2011

    Thank you so much for this post. I think it has just given me the confidence I need to wear the 50’s style dungarees I bought, LOVE, but don’t wear outside the house for fear of being stared/laughed at. Like you, I had a lot of confidence when younger, and seem to have lost it over the last few years… Now my thought is, fuck it – wear them! I’m not alone!

    I’ve just discovered your site, so am now off to read through your blog archives.

  • Julie
    October 29, 2011

    Thankyou so much for this. I have very little confidence, but love to dress in 40’s clothes. I live in a very remote island and everyone dresses in jeans and fleeces, so I really feel like I don’t fit in most of the time. Last week I went on a short break to meet my mum. I was determined to dress vintage, so, I did, travelling complete with my 40’s suitcase, basket etc! But, after a few days, I started to feel frumpy and out of place, and my mother managed to persuade me to dress, normally by buying me trousers etc. After arriving home, I want to dress vintage again, and reading your blog has really helped, thankyou, Julie x

  • Alex
    November 4, 2011

    This is an amazing article- I’ve always been drawn to vintage looks, but have been either too scared that I would stand out too much but also on the flip side that I would be frowned upon by vintage ‘purists’ if I didn’t get the looks just right!! Thanks for such a great, positive message!

    • Alex
      November 4, 2011

      P.S. I wish that more women wrote like this 🙂