Those of you who have read this blog before probably know I’ve become far more into my vintage in the past year – to the point of writing all about how it’s not impossible for bigger girls to do so.
I don’t wear vintage – or even repro – every day. I don’t stick to a particular decade, either, though I’m broadly mid-century. But bit by bit, I wear more and more vintage or retro pieces or shapes, and it’s started to have an effect on me in ways I didn’t necessarily anticipate. I’ve noticed quite a few things are changing. For example…
As a child, my hair was straight. As an adult it is still straight… up to about the tops of my ears, at which point it suddenly turns into tumbling ringlets, as if mirroring the kind of vertiginous take off and stomach-churning spirals I always avoid in a theme park ride. But it is also very fine, breaking easily and up until recently it was only through copious usage of L’Oreal Elvive Fibrology Shampoo that I could get it to do anything at all.
Then my vintage-enabling friend (her again! I love her) suggested a bit of pincurling. Now… I love me a luscious set of Victory Rolls – more at the side than the front; that sort of hair-bagel fringe thing unsettles me – but I’m also well aware of my lack of both talent and patience when it comes to hair styling – not to mention being very wary of using harsh or heavy products on my special snowflake tresses. Still, there are plenty of ways to pull off a bit of vintage inspired pincurling while still rocking a more modern look – usually by flattening the curl against the scalp and securing loosely with just one or two pins. I even experimented with popping on a scarf and sleeping in them once, though naturally the only time I ever pull off impressive mid-century glossy curls afterwards is when I pin up carelessly at 6am out of bad hair day desperation, leave it in all day and am quickly unpinning just before bed – so only my husband sees it. Typical.
Best of all, my hair has much more volume since I started pinning it regularly; constantly lifting the hair at the root but not pulling it into a hairband means it seems to have more body through the crown. I use a touch of curl-supporting mousse if I’m leaving it to air dry, or a bit of straightening heat protector if I’m blow drying (the curls half fall out under a hairdryer, so I tend to blow dry straight). If I’m pincurling for all day, I will usually liberally spritz on some super strong hairspray, which keeps in the curls after unpinning but also has a slightly drying effect which can increase volume too – though it’s perhaps not as great for the hair.
One of my typical pinned looks can be seen in this very moody post-theatre shot in Angel – I ❤ that 1960s gold lurex frock, too.
My makeup / skincare routine
I’m not sure this can entirely be attributed to wearing more vintage, but the fact is when you’re wearing a nice dress you do seem to end up wanting to do up your face to match. I do, anyway. I’ve never been big on heavy foundations etc, and I’ll probably do a separate post on my experiments with BB creams and the like to achieve a smooth but not heavily made up look. I have, however, branched out into richer, more colourful lipsticks; I’ve wanted to for a LONG time, but somehow didn’t really have the confidence to go for it until I was more confidently owning my whole look(s).
With that, came the desire to properly remove strongly pigmented reds and more regularly painted on eye flicks from my face every night, as opposed to cleansing a bit more… haphazardly. Again, I’ll likely blog separately about my favourites and things I’m trying out, but I will say that Clinique’s Take The Day Off balm cleanser and Pixi Glow Tonic are both permanent features.
There’s a scale of soul-sapping shopping experiences for every person, I think. For me, jeans were near the top until I discovered Uniqlo and Lady K Loves, who fulfil my high street and retro needs perfectly respectively. The current second place on the list belongs to coat shopping, which is nearly impossible (like the old joke, you can have something fast, good and cheap if you pick two; with coats it’s seemingly impossible to go for stylish, properly warm and decent length all that the same time). Shoes are – have always been – at the very top. As a child my feet were wide and flattish, and I ended up with arch supports; as an adult, I’ve inherited the b-word (can’t say it, too hideous) from my father’s side of the family and everything that isn’t a super-cushioned trainer will hurt eventually. I don’t really go for heels heels (at almost 5’9″ I’ve long been told I ‘don’t need to’, as if height is all that heels are for), so the majority of my footwear BV (Before Vintage) was trainers or plain, flat Ecco boots and the odd pair of low heels worn mainly indoors to reduce pain.
But I simply can’t wear a pretty, tight-fitting pencil dress and clumpy boots. There are women who would WORK that look; I’m not one. So, gradually, my shoe collection has expanded. I’ve found a small number of Sensible Shoe Brands that don’t look quite as orthopaedic as they feel in various heel heights up to 3″ (Ecco features quite a lot, as do some M&S wider fit and the occasional Clarks). Each has had to go through a staggered, extensive and plaster-ridden breaking in programme, and each has had to be fully justified as to a regular, recurring role in my wardrobe or it’s simply not worth the effort.
The sporty slip-ons. The gold ballet flats that go with virtually anything. The 6-year-old M&S brown shoe-boots still being pressed into regular service. My first pair of clogs which were chosen specifically for the stretchable leather and are still undergoing the foot-moulding process. Some high-school Geography teacher sandals (sorry Ms. Hall, but you know it’s true). I was overjoyed when my mum gave me these super soft Parex summer peep-toes which didn’t fit her comfortably but worked on me and erred on the side of retro rather than retirement. Gradually, all the types of shoe I thought I’d have to give up on for good are working their way back in, largely due to the freedom of going for more old-fashioned designs (because they go much better with my old-school or just plain old clothing). By changing my look, I have more scope to once again be both comfortable and stylish.
I’m not quite ready for Hotter yet, though. I’ll get there.
I swore blind I was never going to wear a slip. I grew up observing my mum’s very 1960s approach to layers, which always, always includes a simple slip because she never wears trousers. I am always cold, so I don’t mind an extra layer, but I’ve spent years trying to come to terms with properly fitting, snug clothes and I wasn’t about to go adding an extra layer of BULK.
Except I’m an idiot, because slips do anything but. In fact, every dress looks sleeker and better with the addition of a basic slip – I prefer cotton, but also have non-static artificial fibres and they’re very slinky too. They’re also a dead cheap undergarment to buy, unlike bras.
And speaking of bras… look. If you’re buying a dress made to fit over bullet bras and girdles then the least you’re going to have to do is embrace the pointy boob look. If you head strait for vintage favourite What Katie Did (and I suggest you do) please read their fitting advice. Old-style bras do not contain elastic, and therefore your usual back size may well be out by up to 4″, which has a knock-on effect as cup size is not static but relative to the back measurement (if you didn’t know, 32A, 34B, 36C and 38D are all the exact same cup size – it’s the broadness of the back that’s different and may in turn make the bust appear bigger or smaller). It is simply incredible how much better a 1950s fit and flare dress looks when you put the right body architecture under it. This is nothing to do with being bigger here or “flattering” there – it just makes your body shape correspond much better to the darts and lines in the cut.
My feelings about myself
I’ve mentioned before that buying clothes by measurement, rather than by massively variable size, has a quite extraordinary effect in helping to divorce clothes from self-worth. I can’t pretend that I look in the mirror and love every bit of me every day, but I do know that I can be a fair bit more dispassionate than I used to be – and that I feel far more confident sharing photos of myself, trying new looks out and generally taking up space. It’s not something, I think, that can only be attributed to vintage – I’ve also come a long way professionally and personally in the last few years, and being a mum does seem to automatically reduce the number of, erm, ducks you give about anyone else’s opinion – but starting to more carefully select the way I look and what that says about me to the world is weirdly powerful. It feels like all this is a bit fluffy until you say it out loud and think: well, what could be more important for a sense of self than to afford it a language of expression? I feel very privileged that I have both the means of attaining this language and a crowd of family, friends and colleagues who are receptive and supportive, which I don’t think one can take for granted… but now I am sounding a bit melodramatic, so we’ll draw a line there.
I’d love to know if anyone reading this (is anyone reading this?!) has felt the same in taking those first steps into the vintage world and presenting themselves differently. Or are you a longtime addict who can relate to any of this? Or perhaps you just think this is very personal to me, rather than in any way universal. Whichever way, it would be great to hear what you think.
No disclosure: there are no PR samples or gifts included. L’Oreal has been a client of my workplace; never one of mine.