Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Vintage stereotypes? who? Me?!

I was cogitating on the fact that there can be a great deal of conformity with vintage and retro inspired sub-cultures. I am impressed but faintly bemused by the activities of re-enactors, even more impressed by all those superb dancers and frankly intimidated by the sheer number of highly elegant people I meet. We are all, to some degree unique, even if it simply boils down to our DNA. But like other groups of people with similar interests there are totems and signs of allegiance which point to someone being retroesque with the accuracy of an exocet missile. What might these tribal markers be? What is the retro equivalent of say woad ? I list my own suggestions below.

1 Cherries. Not necessarily as in pies or coke, more as a visual garnish. Whilst pineapples are pleasantly Carmen Miranda and Chillies have their own red hot mama connotations it is the Cherry which is the only fruit. Those rockabilly chicks started it. Personally I hate cherries as sustainance, but I do have a dress covered in them.

2 Spiky things all over the carpet, behind the sofa, under the bed in fallen battalions and if you are really unlucky: in that beef hotpot you made for your other half last night. I refer of course to the kirby grips, bobby pins and vary other spiky little objects which we require for our pin curling and tress fastening. They are the essential foundations to our complex hair constructions. However they have a nasty habit of dissapearing when you need them and reappearing in legions when you want to tidy up. If you encounter them in a retro chap's lair, he is either cheating on you, you are moulting them or he is a cat burglar.

3 Colourful shoes, life is too short for black and brown. Red, orange, yellow and green. Vintage shoes usually reflect the daintiness of our grannies feet and our modern shovels require reproduction foorwear. They may be flat, high or wedged but we all have at least one pair of shoes that make a statement, one that is not always appreciated by others. One peerlessly stylish vintage chum of mine was told that her green wedges made her 'look like Kermit the Frog' and my mater tells me my taste in shoes 'shortens my legs'. But frogs or short legs we loves our shoeses. Remix specialise in great vintage styled shoes:

4 Tattoos. Bit of a controversy this. The retro-bores insist it isn't authentic and that Laura from Brief Encounter would drop her handbag in horror at the idea. The fifties rock types have embraced Las Vegas like trad tatts with enthusiasm. Many fall somewhere inbetween. So many find themselves in the scene via punk, garage, goth routes that many arrive inked. Personally I think, unless an actor or a passionate re-enactor drawings on your skin are fine. I'm going to write on friend's tattoos and post their suggestions so watch this space.

5 Vibrantly coloured hair. Let's face it. Our hair does not match the past. Women used to spend time on their locks and vintage clothes just don't cut the mustard without a strong hair colour. If you naturally have it, wonderbar, if not, it must be dyed. And what is the point of that if you don't actually have it dyed a discernably different colour? So we end up sitting in a salon with a pile of foul smelling gloop being deposited on our hair. Some have gallant gentleman who offer to do it at home. My lovely man has offered to do so but I suspect he simply wants to make my hair stick out at ridiculous sticky right angles and have a laugh.

6 A thick skin. Most of the comments you get when out and about are positive and even if Dita! being yelled at a brunette might lack originality it is hardly insulting. Humourous comments are fine but there is the odd rude or idiotic comment and more than a few stares. I am amused that a lady in red lipstick, a dress and a hat is more astounding to most than the most tattooed and pierced and punky cybergoth. Then you get strange comments from women who seem to resent the percieved effort you have made or regard your approach as being reactionary. Ironically it takes longer to be contemporarily dressy with all the hair straightening and leg browning and fake eyelash-applying. As for the accusation of reactionary or right wing tendencies, feminists made a stand so we could wear whatever we want rather than as little as possible. And I am a socialist to boot.

7 Cakes, and more specifically cup cakes and fairy cakes. They are breaking out all over the capital like sugar topped acne pustules. I prefer fairy cakes as there is only so much sponge cake I can stand. Cup cakes do have many advantages, they are in little cases so are portable, they should be cleaner to eat and they make great missiles (only joking). However many on the market (including some of the super expensive ones made by ex-models) are far too sweet and rather cloying. If you are not seven years old a decorative lump of pink stuff will be ok for about one mouthful. Absolutely the best around in terms of taste and visual flair (and I have nibbled a fair selection) are made by Sophie Jonas at :

Some of Sophie's cakes.

8 Bright red lipstick every vintage girl's gotta have it , especially Mac. Simply because Mac do good rich pigment matt sticks. I was planning to compose an 'every red lipstick in Selfridges' report but fear that I would rapidly end up looking like the scary clown in Stephen King's 'It'.

9 A 'signature' cocktail. I'm not suggesting there is anything wrong with a glass of wine, a jug of trappist brewed pilsner (although there is plenty wrong with mass produced lager) or a tankard of real ale. Indeed a tumbler of whisky, a la Mad Men has it's own appeal. Cocktails however match all outfits and eras. Thirties elegance? sip a Brandy Alexander. Forties zing? a Martini or Margarita. Fifties pzazz? a jamaican punch topped with pineapple and a plastic monkey. Again a certain strand of vintage lady is too concerned about her image, or feels her own grandmother went no further than a small sherry and demurrs. How dull. I really don't like people who are tee-total, it's my personal prejudice. There are, of course, those poor souls with no choice due to allergies and intolerances. But being tee-total isn't like being vegetarian or vegan. Most seem to adopt it because they are scared of themselves, have no faith in others or are religiously extreme. A friend of mine said yesterday that fruit juice is for vodka. Cocktails are for fun. Make mine a white lady!

10 Elnett hairspray. Whilst I would like to aspire to smell of any number of lovely fragrances from even lovelier bottles, my presence is, I fear betrayed by the niff of the wonder spray from France. Nothing works as well as Elnett and even the packaging is pleasingly retro. It holds hair rigid and brushes out most easily. Of course you can taste the stuff for ages but the smell is evocative of generations of women. Funnily enough it is one of the few hairsprays that doesn't make this mild asthmatic hack and cough. Bugs also dislike it which is rarely a bad thing.

Well those are Red Leg's suggestions as to what might constitute the vintage mavens 'must haves' but it is simply personal opinion, what do you think ladies?
Pip, Pip!


Katie Chutzpah said...

Fabulous Minna! You have it covered. A great vintage girl (like her tastes in wine and men) has got to have a fine nose for vintage fragrance - none of your celebrity-own-named perfumes or mass appeal eau de normal for her. I usually reject anything one can find in Boots or Superdrug.

Fleur de Guerre said...

Agreed on most of those points!

1. I find cherries on things to be a tad too rockabilly these days, but that is my own taste and not to be enforced on anyone else, least of all you.

2. Leaving a trail of kirby grips, yes.

3. Yes! I believe I am the Kermit to whom you refer?

4. Tattoos - I'm glad I didn't get any more, but I do like the very prim 40s clothed but tattooed look.

5. I am really dyeing (geddit) to have a peroxide blond streak put back in, but I am having my hair permed in a few weeks so it might be a bad idea. Exciting though!

6. Had one of those since I was a dreadlocked grungey teenager!

7. Sophies are undoubtedly the best cakes around.

8. But of course, and I got a new Ruby Woo yesterday!

9. Mine is currently an Aviation thanks to Mr Smith's (bad) influence.

10. My only disagreement. I think Elnett is crap! I love the smell, but it doesn't hold my barnet at all. May be my hair type of course. I prefer Tressemme Freeze Hold!

Great post Minn!

hannahasprey said...

I would add clip earrings, pearls and brooches to that list Minna. And the use of foundation underwear (although that is a little harder to spot on the street!).

Straight Talking Mama! said...

I don't think we've ever met but I like your style lady!

I don't know why my I must buy kirby grips by the truckload a year, I have ridicously bright red hair, I drink (perhaps too much) and I have shoes in every colour under the rainbow, fortunately I have teeny feet so some - not all - are vintage ones :o)

Nice post! Hope we meet some day

tiddleywink said...

Check, check, check, check, and check. I don't usually use bobby pins (your kirby grips) because I am incapable of doing anything decent with my hair, yet I still find them all over the house. My tattoos are subtle, although that was more by accident of location. My shoe collection is large and colorful, though I'm still lacking a good green. My hair is dyed blue-black and not-white-enough, which is a devilish task. My MAC is Russian Red, but I also desire a tube of Ruby Woo (and Besamé Red). My tender earlobes won't stand up to clip earrings, although Miss Hannahasprey is spot on there. I think the only things missing would be liquid eyeliner for the doe eyes of the'50s-'60s set, and darling handbags for all.

Caroline said...

Yup, I think you've covered it!

RE Kirby grips (in my flat I have the same problem with dressmaker's pins, only they're more painfil on the soles): there was a girl on the bus in front of me today with a proper pixie crop a la Carey Mulligan. But the back of her cropped head was COVERED in kirby grips - I counted and she had 23. Seriously, they weren't even gripping to anything in some cases - just to each other!

You just reminded me is all!

Helen Highwater said...

Hahahahah, so true. There are pins all over my house! If anyone took a metal detector to my last one then they'd think they'd found the equivalent of the Staffordshire Hoard, but then the give away scen of Tresemmé would soon alert them to their mistake.

I don't use Ellnette - silly reason really but my grandma used to use it and I can't smell it without being reminded of her, but it kind of makes me sad. :-/

And today I am wearing red shoes!

Retro Chick said...

I agree with all of those with the exception that I am also a tresemme freeze hold gal!

I only have one, non visible (when clothed!) tattoo, but I think some people look amazing with them, I always think of tattoos and cherries as more on the rockabilly end of the vintage scale I suppose. I like a bit of it when I'm in the mood though.

WDI said...

What, no tips to spot the olden days gent? I shall submit some of my own prerequisites then:

1. Pomade Every gent needs some form of proper grease to control his perfectly cut hair lest he resembles Echo (of the Bunnymen). Wax, mousse, hairspray and gel are for modern ladies, not vintage gents.

2. Straight Razor A dual-purpose tool for sculpting a gloriously tiny moustache and cutting down any slubberdegullion brazen enough to hurl abuse at us. You might not spot it but just assume it's there and we'll all get along fine.

3. Accessories We would be positively naked without watch chain, collar clip, tie bar, wallet chain, nipple tassels (from a particularly exciting encounter with a Dutch nun and a bottle of Pisco) pinky ring and snuff box.

4. Appreciation for Fully-Fashioned Stockings and associated underpinnings We know which side our bread is buttered.

5. A Healthy Disdain for Almost Everything Yes, most things are rubbish and we are distanced enough from the present to spot this glaring fact.

6. Vest A shirt will never achieve crispy whitness worn directly over blemished, misshapen and chimp-like flesh. A vest will look neat and help prevent one's shirt from untucking.

Meghan said...

Hah!! I've stopped showing my new shoes to my boyfriend/sister/mother, because the reaction is always abject horror. I don't *care* if you think they look orthopedic, I LOVE THEM. (And I have a pair of Remixes coming my way as I type...)

Kally said...

I also agree with everything except the Elnett! I won't buy from L'Oreal for vegan-related reasons, but am definitely a hairspray fiend!

I think you hit upon a good point that many ladies arrive at vintage via other subcultures - goth, punk or whatever... I myself sported a huge mohawk for many years and have quite a few tattoos and piercings, and find it very annoying how many vintage 'purists' there are around who are disdainful of such things. I for one am glad that we have the luxury of being able to choose whether to stay authentic or to mix and match according to personal taste!

Ah, the Kirby grips - where do they all go? I'm sure my bathroom plughole consumes at least one a day.

Angel said...

I love this post!!!

I left you an award here:

RedlegsinSoho said...

WDI: You forgot to mention the vintage man's willingness to lose his shirt/house/worldly goods in order to buy ladies presents. And drinks. And jewels. And cakes.

At least I hope I'm right!

M x

Anonymous said...

My goodness, I could do with a Brandy Alexander right now...

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