1940s Style: Part 1

Whilst in London, Al and I visited the Imperial War Museum, where we saw ‘The Children of War’ Exhibition in its final weeks. The exhibition views World War Two through the lens of childhood, offering a unique slant on the very real impact of conflict and the lives it changed forever.

A definite highlight for me was the full-scale model of a wartime house, complete with rooms fitted out in period style, as if the inhabitants had just popped out for a moment. I had seen this part before on a previous visit, as it was exhibited in conjunction with the 2001 Channel 4 series, ‘The 1940s House’ about a modern family that tries to live in the same manner as a typical middle class family in the Blitz.

The attention to detail was just stunning; entering the house was like stepping back in time. From the carpets to the board games in the living room, basket in the hallway and mirror and dress in the bedroom every single item there had been lovingly curated.

A bit further along, more attention was paid to individual artifacts (and the stories of their owners), which was truly fascinating. Naturally, I was drawn to the clothing section. What fascinated me was the glamour that women managed to maintain, despite existing in a time of extreme austerity. It seemed as though they didn’t leave the house without hair curled, hat and gloves donned and make-up and stocking lines painted on. I guess this was one way of maintaining a sort of normality and by continuing to make an effort in this way it kept their spirits up? I’m no historian but the juxtaposition of glamour and sobriety seems pretty telling and is something that touched me.

Part of the glamour is in the subtlety of it all – to me this is the main allure of forties fashion. Covered up but sexy, there was an elegance to the pared down ‘utility look’ that is truly unique. The signature skirt suit epitomises forties glamour: below-the-knee lengths and peplum jackets nipped in at the waist optimised femininity in a time when women were acting as both men and women. Of course, looking back at the past in this romanticising way isn’t realistic, and I’m sure that the day-to-day sartorial struggle was far less glamorous (more patches than pearls). However, I do think that the femininity and glamour maintained in wartime style is evocative of something deeper. Clothes rationing of course influenced the styles and I was fascinated to learn about how women constructed their wardrobes, and of course the ‘Make-do and Mend’ propoganda campaign. Perhaps fast fashion could learn a thing or two.

Liberty Loves

Long-established department store Liberty has exerted its sartorial influence for almost a century and a half. Arthur Liberty first opened the now legendary Regent Street shop in 1875, which sold fabrics, ornaments and other objets d’art. The business proved to be a great success: as it expanded Liberty bought neighbouring properties and extended its popular furnishings into the basement, dubbed the ‘Eastern Bazaar’ for its decorative objects from the Orient. Liberty (or as the property itself was known then, Chesham House) became the most fashionable place to shop in London and its legendary fabrics donned both clothing and furnishings.

Arthur Liberty was an influential supporter of the Art Nouveau movement and the brand became associated with the style. He built strong connections with British designers and artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Costume Institute founding member Edward William Godwin, who directed the successful costume department which rivalled the fashion houses of Paris. This collaborative ethos and strong connection to the world of art set Liberty apart and this creative spirit is something the brand very much maintains to this day.

Liberty has played a big part in my own style from a very early age:

Liberty fabric was something really special, and when I was this little (here I’m two) my Mum could easily make me a dress out of a meter of material and have a little left over. Here’s another Liberty number. Perhaps the reason behind my obsession with florals and Peter Pan collars will be clearer now…

Our favourites (mine, my Mum’s and my Gran’s that is) were the floral prints of course but I also had some clothes made from needlecord such as this jacket I’m wearing with my Gran:

Even my bears had little outfits made out of leftover fabric, note the bunny at the front of this picture in the blue Liberty dress.

Liberty slipped off my radar when it took more than a meter to make a dress and when (sob) the gorgeous Edinburgh store shut down. It was always a must-see whenever I visited London and will always have a special place in my heart. The brand manages to marry heritage with innovation successfully – its great social networking makes it much easier for me to keep up with Liberty’s projects.

I came across this beautiful vintage Liberty dress at the Vintage Festival last month. It was a bit of a nostalgia trip – I recognised the print from something I wore when I was little (although I had the pink version, obviously…) The dress was a real bargain at £25 as it was in perfect condition and all the gorgeous details were intact, such as the matching belt, mother-of-pearl buttons. The shirt dress style, amazing collar, cute ditsy print and nipped-in shape all drew me to it. I’m realising more and more that so much of my approach to fashion is about nostalgia; Liberty will always be part of my style identity.

A Cameo Appearance

I spotted this beautiful cameo necklace in the window of an antique shop in Edinburgh’s Westport called Cabaret. This gem of a shop is absolutely packed to the rafters with vintage jewellery, books and various miscellaneous antique objects such as mirrors, penknives, lighters and other random bric-a-brac. A delightful antique collection and vintage lover’s dream, I expected prices to be high, but they were actually pretty reasonable, especially considering the generally stellar condition of this lovingly curated collection of objects.

I’d been looking for an antique cameo necklace for a while as my high street takes on the design just weren’t cutting it. Has anyone else had it with high street jewellery? You just have to look at a Topshop ring and it’s turned your finger green; I’ve still been donning my once-beloved high street cameo despite its now definite copper colour.

This gorgeous silver antique cameo necklace is exactly what I’ve been looking for. The friendly salesman informed me that it was Art Deco, one of the periods of design I find most inspiring. I expected it to be a lot more but it was only £28, which I think is pretty amazing considering its age and fantastic condition. If you’re in Edinburgh, definitely pop in to take a look as Cabaret is a real treasure trove.

p.s. a wee preview of an outfit – more on that tomorrow!

Ring of Roses

With Florence’s style fresh in my mind, and the absence of either vintage Edwardian delicate lace dresses or the privilege of being dressed by Frida Giannini on a daily basis, I’m channeling whimsy in my own way. I picked up this fairytale inspired floral hairband from Topshop a couple of months ago, and I’ve been wearing it all Summer long to add a hippy vibe to my wardrobe.

Vintage Festival Part 2

A few more images from the Vintage Festival. Possibly the highlight of our summer and certainly of our stay in London. Here are some more pictures of some items that caught my eye; post about my purchases to follow soon.

This beautiful mint green typewriter was sold from a real treasure trove of a stall at the Festival that was full of the most stunning antique wares. It dated from the 1920s and was a bargain at £35 for such a beautiful antique. I do regret not buying it as I’ve always really wanted a vintage typewriter (I love writing, I love vintage…) but with our bags to take back home on the train already fit to bursting common sense prevailed. I’ve also heard stories of people finding them in charity shops for as little as £2 so fingers crossed I’ll stumble across one some time.

Sadly, this gorgeous red coat is for a little girl and wouldn't fit me. Isn't it beautiful? I love the velvet detailing.

Rummaging through an amazing stall that had pretty 1950s prom dresses and twinsets

Absolutely love these vintage suitcases.

How cute is this vintage camera in its made to measure leather case?

A suitcase full of vintage scarves

One stall had some fantastic Ossie Clark dresses. The black and mint versions were my favourite but they were going for £300 - £500 a pop.

More suitcases and trinkets at a fabulously curated stall.

One of the craft areas


Fantastic views

The North South Divide - one of the excellent themed bars

Florence + the Machine – What the Water Gave Me

Florence + the Machine fans have been eagerly anticipating a new album which was widely believed to be released in 2012. Imagine the excitement then, when it was announced yesterday that the second album will be out in November. There was even greater excitement when this news was accompanied by a new song, What the Water Gave Me.

I’ve listened to it a few times and already have it stuck in my head (in a good way). It’s just hauntingly beautiful and pleasingly catchy. With a title taken from a Frida Kahlo painting and a lyrical allusion to Virginia Woolf – ‘pockets full of stones’ refers to the artist’s untimely suicide – this certainly sounds like a recipe for being branded as pretentious by internet trolls. I certainly squealed just a little bit when I heard about the Woolf reference. I’m an English geek, out and proud of it. However, in typical Florence fashion, images of suicide and declarations of undying love are mixed with enough melody to support the drama of the lyrics and the powerful vocals.

It Looks Rosie 22/8/11

I thought it was a while since I’d done an outfit post, so here’s what I wore today! I found this beautiful midi dress in Absolute Vintage on Hanbury Street, just off Brick Lane in East London. The eclectic boutique is absolutely packed with rail upon rail of gorgeous vintage clothing. The heaving rails of colourful bargains are arranged by shade – a great idea if like me you edit vintage offerings by colour, fabric and pattern. The shop also houses hundreds of pairs of retro shoes, vintage bags and other accessories such as glamorous fascinators and gloves.

The choice was a little overwhelming but this multicoloured floral design caught my attention. The unique abstract floral print, jewel tones and pleat details sold it to me. At £25 it is a bit less of a bargain than some of my other vintage gems, but I still think it was reasonable for such a gorgeous dress in fantastic condition. I love the attention to detail with the covered buttons fastening the back of the dress and adorning the sleeves. I’ve grown to love midi lengths and the just below the knee cut of this dress is extremely elegant. I wouldn’t normally wear a higher neckline but the nipped in waist and emphasis on the shoulders balance it out. A demure new wardrobe favourite – perfect with bare legs and a denim jacket for now and with opaque tights and tough leather jacket once the days get colder.

Dress- Absolute Vintage
Belt- vintage
Jacket-vintage Levi’s
Loafers- Topshop

The Pringle Archive Project 1815-2011

Luxury knitwear doesn’t get more iconic than Pringle of Scotland. The heritage company, founded in 1815, has recently collaborated with London’s top fashion school Central St Martins.

In recent years, the tradition-focused brand has been updated with vibrant colour and modern cuts, first by Creative Director Claire Waight Keller and then by former Balenciaga designer and recently appointed Creative Director Alistair Carr. Still faithful to the brand’s traditional roots, the updated offerings have proven a hit and this most recent collaboration encapsulates Pringle’s unique take on modern heritage.

Pringle of Scotland has an established collaborative relationship with CSM: earlier this year, BA Fashion History & Theory students were involved in the archive project researching and cataloguing the company archive at Pringle HQ in Hawick. Supervised by course director Alistair O’Neill, students examined archive pieces, images, printed memorabilia and British Pathe footage and held a delightful ‘Day of Record’ where 300 local residents brought anything Pringle-related along.

The creation of the brand’s iconic Argyle pattern and popularisation of the twinset are key moments not just for Pringle but for fashion generally. The knitwear’s growing reputation is charted via the long-time association with women’s sportswear, especially golf, and the endorsement of the Royal Family. The findings of this research are currently on display at the Pringle of Scotland 1815 – 2011 Exhibition with a fascinating selection of photographs. It really showed how fashionable and youthful the brand was in the 60s and 70s at odds with the prim and proper connotations the label has tried to shift in recent years.

CSM MA Fashion students were asked to design a capsule collection of knitwear based on the archive findings for the second part of the project. Five students’ designs make up the collection of womens and menswear. Although the students worked independently, there is a sense of continuity to the collection: students enjoyed experimenting with the twinset and argyle print. The collection is certainly true to Pringle of Scotland’s roots, reinterpreting the archive in a vibrant and contemporary style.

The collection by MA students is on tour as a pop-up shop around the country and is currently housed on the second floor at Harvey Nichols Edinburgh until Wednesday 24 August – if you haven’t seen it yet then I’d strongly encourage you to go along. A fascinating exhibit of the brand’s unique history, it is encouraging to see such a show of support to emerging talent.

Beautiful archive pieces

The Vintage Kilo Sale

Calling all vintage lovers and bargain hunters: if you haven’t already heard of the Vintage Kilo Sale then listen up. The unique event is the result of a collaboration between Glass Onion Vintage Wholesale and Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair. The premise is simple: browse the rails (organised by type of clothing), queue, weigh and pay. If you are willing to rummage then there are some serious bargains to be found – vintage at the Sale is priced at an affordable £15 per kilo.

When we were in London, I was lucky enough to attend the Vintage Kilo Sale at The Rag Factory just off Brick Lane. It certainly lived up to the hype. My strategy was threefold: 1) hunt for dresses – I knew I would wear these the most; 2) don’t be afraid to buy something that’s not 100% perfect, at this price hems can be altered and imperfections can be mended; 3) however, check thoroughly for things you can’t sort – stains, rips, tears etc.

The Sale was a little chaotic, the small room was boiling hot and packed with people but I had my mission and was determined to have a proper rummage. Some of the best things I found after a thorough root around in the big boxes underneath the rails. Another tip: prepare to have a little wait. There was a long queue and quite a wait to gain entry to the sale, and then the queue to pay was even longer, snaking all the way through to the entrance. However, it was well worth the time we spent queuing for my unique finds.

I ruthlessly edited the racks and came away with two kilos of vintage (£30). For this, I got four dresses and two shirts – £5 an item, almost unheard of in the vintage world and certainly not on the High Street. Below is a dress I picked up at the fair; I wouldn’t normally pick up this colour but the baby yellow/ cream hue seemed just right for summer. The beautiful movement of the button-through style, as well as its delicate floral print, side splits and elegant ballerina hem and elbow-length sleeves sold it to me. There was a small hole in the back near the shoulder which was easily fixed, and the buttons were a little loose after much wear, which was simply remedied by a few stitches.

I also bought a similar style of dress in pale pink, a burgundy floral long-sleeved midi dress, an oversized denim shirt and a bottle green needlecord shirt. The dress I wore to the Vintage Festival is also from the Kilo Sale, the seventies C&A bargain was perfect for the day. The midi length, Peter Pan collar and ditsy print are all really current but it’s so satisfying to find the retro real deal. It’s enough to put you off the High Street for good.

Dress- vintage
Jacket- vintage Levi’s
Shoes- Topshop
Bag- vintage


In the last year or so, loafers have lost their Sloane Ranger connotations and have become the cool girl’s shoe of choice thanks to Front Row favourites such as Alexa Chung. Fashion constantly amuses me for this reason;  the shoe is losing its association with posh preppiness and is being embraced for its simple elegance. References to 1940s glamour abounded at the Autumn/ Winter shows, and what better accompaniment to demure midi lenghts, flirty tea dresses and opulent fantasy fur stoles than a prim and propper loafer? The shoe’s reinvention has certainly been achieved: add a little nostalgic glamour to the everyday.

Loafers: Topshop (I was lucky enough to find the last 5 in the Oxford Circus store when the 20% student discount was in place, after hunting for this pair for months.)