Friday, 30 July 2010

Is Christina Hendricks a size role model.

A bit of a hoo hah recently, once again about that vitally important subject, women's vital statistics. You wouldn't think we were at war or that there was a recession on or that we are being governed by idiots; which brings me neatly to the origin of the fuss, Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, who held up Hendrick's outline as an ideal shape for women. "Christina Hendricks is absolutely fabulous," she stated holding up the Mad Men actresses size 14 figure as one young women should 'aspire' to.

Quite rightly there has been a backlash from those who say there is nothing wrong with being very slender and from others that point out that women should not slavishly mold their size on anyone. Both reasonable points. But what has annoyed me personally have been some of the other suggestions and inferences.

One is that Ms Hendricks size is unattainable and that size 14, being by implication a 'fat' size, means you don't have a waist. Just a big stomach. It is quite true that on Mad Men the actress is squeezed into corsetry. This has been pointed out with some glee by certain commentators. This leads me to my first point. Surely changing your shape with foundation garments is more healthy, reasonable and convenient than starving or liposuction? And aren't those corsets, well sexy?

The other issue is shape. Obviously if you were naturally a petite slim 10 and you fattened yourself up you could not guarantee where the weight will go and you could end up barrel shaped. However if you are naturally in the 12-14 size range it seems likely that you will be curvaceous in the hourglass sense. Being a 14 does not automatically equate to being round. It is a natural size to be. My natural size is, and has always been either a size 12 or 14. I didn't swell up to get there, I grew up into this size from being a child to a teenager. And in any case only in a hopelessly screwed up culture would she be described as anything but quite trim.

What is difficult to emulate is Ms Hendricks creamy complexion, beautiful features and marvelous hair. However my opinion is that by being a different body shape to that generally promoted by body fascists her presence is welcome even though personally I would rather young women aspired to education and success. In any case I'll let the lady herself have the last word:

Minn x

Thursday, 29 July 2010

New BLOG: The Retrometropolitan: food, booze, reviews.

Dear all, I have started a new blog for reviews of bars, restaurants and hotels. This is so that the lovely loves who pop in here to read about booze and food do not also have to wade through vintage rolls and shoes, Lord love em! The posts will be expanded versions of the reviews here. Please have a look and pass the word around!

Thank the Lord I am not a copywriter....

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Shoreditch Soho House on a sunny afternoon..

Exterior of Shoreditch Soho House

Last weekend I went to Shoreditch Soho House. When this opened in Shoreditch it was the final nail in the coffin for any impression that the area was still ‘bohemian’ or that particularly over-used soubriquet ‘edgy’. How can it be when the wealthy media types that are Soho House’s core constituency regard it as fashionable? That is not to say the area has been gentrified. I still had to hurl profanities at two complete strangers whilst walking through the place. It is a grotty bit of London and Commercial Road is a long way from Notting Hill. Shoreditch Soho House is in a large erstwhile industrial warehouse type building overlooking the Overground depot so not a particularly glamorous locale either.

However that being said I do get this outpost of Soho House. It is always a pleasure to visit Soho House in Soho as I am invariably in excellent company and find the staff, drinks and food good. However I am ambivalent about the clientele (my fault, probably just a bit too ‘old Soho’ around the edges). Also I never liked, apart from the mirrored bar area, the interior. Too dull and Conranesque for me. Never liked the combination of Georgian and mid-century styles which feel like a numbing down of 17th century flamboyance. I also feel it lacks the loucheness of other modern Soho Clubs. Soho House does not seem to feel so much like a club as an leisure amenity, members seem to know the staff but not each other.

Soho Shoreditch house is, I think, am attractive place. Not so much the roof side pool area. I think pools on roofs are a fantastic idea, and this one is nice as is the inspired concept of placing an open plan windowy bar beside it. However it was obviously a poseur’s paradise and the people around it looked a bit Eurotrashy. Still more pools and gardens on London roofs, please. It is a GOOD THING.

The Soho House Pool.

The floor below was more my cup of tea; runs the span of the building and includes a bar, a games room, a large rustic looking restaurant with pizza ovens and then another all-purpose room. This floor was a pleasure. The industrial elements, 30’s style squared utilitarian windows, concrete and exposed brick were set off with what can only be described as a rustic urban aesthetic. It worked well. The bar, set in a central Island and surrounded by seating and more windows had a touch of 70’s brutalist chic about it.

Seating in the 'Square Bar'.

The bearded one mentioned ‘airport lounge’ but in a good way. I really liked this room and we started off there, sadly we didn’t stay as some very industrial drilling on the floor below was disturbing us. Next to the bar is a games room, including a billiard table and working old school sit-down electric games console tables. These include, I was informed, Space Invaders! More points scored. Sadly it was overrun by small noisy kids so it wasn’t us scoring, although thankfully they are not allowed into bar areas and not a common occurrence. Still, a good space and a ‘clubby’ idea.

The Restaurant.

The restaurant is curiously woody, with a wall of green plants and flowers and long communal bench type tables. A wall of pale blue wood is nod to that mimsy distressed French rustic style that runs rampant across Sophie Dahl kitchens and overpriced boutiques throughout West London. I would have preferred to see the urban feel continued but perhaps that is what it takes to sell food to the chattering classes these days. It wasn’t busy when I was there but the pizza ovens built into brick walls were roaring away. We ended up in the final area, a kind of drawing room space full of large pink womb like sofas. A relaxing area but rather soporific: my friends were falling asleep. Mind you that could have been down to the quality of my scintillating conversation.

Womb-like big pink sofa room.

I genuinely liked the way Shoreditch Soho House looked, it had great views over London and distinctly different spaces. It is wonderful to see old industrial buildings turned into public and leisure spaces and the club had been designed with thought and attention. The elements I am not convinced by in the Soho branch work well in a building that is more adaptable, and as my friend pointed out less hampered by issues of planning permission. It was quiet when I went but I imagine that on a Friday night it has a lively buzzing feel. And whilst space invaders are welcome, bankers apparently are not. Which must make it a welcome haven in that area. I’d like to see it during an evening rather than on a warm slow summer Sunday afternoon. I’d still rather be a member of a small friendly boozy club or an old Pall Mall institution. However if I was more modern in my outlook the Shoreditch outpost would be the kind of place I’d enjoy spending some time in. I'm hoping for a pizza next time....

View of Games Room through well-stocked shelf wall.

M x

Friday, 23 July 2010

A weighty issue...

One would expect weight to be a different kind of issue for afficianados of vintage style. Anyone who peruses the fashion plates and photographs of the past can see that the female form has always been a movable feast. It moves from the rubenesque Edwardians, to the masculine twenties through athleticism, rationed spareness and thence back to the rounded pneumatic fifties. But that is only half the story because during these eras women of all shapes adapted. Flappers bound their bosoms, Hollywood idols padded their shoulders and teenagers wasped their waists. As many of us are retro-magpies and share the same disposition to physical variety as our ancestresses we should surely be more appreciative and less judgemental than those who don't share our affection for the past. However having read some of the heated exchanges on other blogs concerning dieting, the shapes of celebrities and bariatric surgery I am not sure.

A dancer in the slim-line twenties.

Did anyone ever call Mae West 'fat'?

I should declare myself here, I am not thin but then again nor am I fat. I rest in that average hinterland of a UK size 12-14 so I have no real axe to grind except for preference, I would hate to be a size 6 or without my decolletage. However I know that it is usual for women to have thighs that touch, to have a far higher level of body fat than men, to have a small yet prominent tummy and to need to store that fat as efficiently and quickly as possible. It is one of the factors that contributes to our longer life expectancy compared to the gents. I also know that there is nothing wrong with being naturally thin, but that it is, like being rotund, the far end of a spectrum. A variation just like being very tall or very short. But what I think has happened is that thin has been adopted as a norm by many women. Its equivalent at the other end, fatness is no less appropriate but is now regarded as abnormal.

How can this be regarded as acceptable or normative....

And this regarded as undesirable?

At the weekend I heard a group of (admittedly very young) vintage chaps make negative comments about curvy ladies whilst their badly dressed girlfriends looked thin and ill. There are women who would, with an extra stone or so be transformed for the better in the same way that I might look better a stone lighter or not. But it is, quite correctly, not said to them or about them. I don’t berate the very thin with their reluctance to eat pies, because this would be ignorant and I would have no cognisance of that persons life. Many of my thin vintage friends are beautiful as are my curvaceous ones. My personal opinion is that certain retro styles, like anything else, look better on certain forms or have to be adapted by people with different figures. However my personal opinion is that the thin need fitted clothes, there are loads of girls in big loose tea dresses looking like scrawny orphans. Not the look a thirties or forties lady was really aiming at. It always seems to me that the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s fashions give the larger lady an edge. Gowns with gathers, embellishment and movement sit better on hips and boobs. Having said that none of it works without a waist (off I go again!).

Now here is a woman 'filling' her clothes.

And the very slender Coco looking wonderful.

Ultimately however the fact of the matter is that by choosing clothes from the past we can suit ourselves. The birdlike can slip into elegant fifties suits, the large can look creamy and ample in fifties fashions, the angular can enjoy draping and the curvy sharp 40’s suits. Any of these, with a needle and thread, a sympathetic vintage repro maker or a sharp eye can fit most of us whatever the size. I imagine a reluctance to be forced into buying whatever rubbish is in fashion and choosing our style is another motivation for our retroesque choices. Yet some people are willing to fall in with the herd on size. No one wants to encourage the morbidly obese, but depending on the individual, being a size 8 is not superior to being a size 18 in any way whatsoever. In fact the only thing that is superior in being a size 12 as opposed to a size 28 are the potential health risks involved. Slimness infers no moral superiority. Appending negative assumptions, falling in with media stupidity and judging women on their size rather than their intelligence are things that this feminist certainly wants to try and avoid. We can leave it to men and commerce to undermine us. Certainly vintagely inclined ladies should be immune to this. Meanwhile I think it is time for a bit of sausage charming…..

Any thing to add? Please do! xx

Thursday, 22 July 2010

La Perla Covent Garden

On Monday, having caved in and bought another dress from Collectif I decided it was safer to stay away from tempting Vintage corners and have a drink. I was also in the company of Katie Chutzpah and she has a habit of leading me astray. On this case, as it was sunny, we strayed into La Perla, a Mexican bar/restaurant right next to the venerable Rules.

Mexican booze is something I know a little about. Apart from those cocktail shaking years I have actually been, albeit some years ago, to Mexico. Tijuana is a crazy place but the tequila is good. There is something also of a vintage vibe about those rich but denuded colours, the murky saffron yellows, dun turquoises and gooey pinks you find in Mexican establishments that is romantic in a kind of down Argentine way (but further North). There is plenty of this colour scheme at La Perla and on a Monday afternoon it had what trendier people than I would describe as a 'chilled vibe'.

There was only one drink to have, a traditional margarita in its more rustic form. Shaken with ice, edged with salt and served in a chunky tumbler. It came with the obligatory tortilla chips and salsa. It is a nice airy space, bar at the front, tables for eating at the back. It is obviously popular, as the afternoon wore on into early evening a detectable buzz started to hum. Our one or two drink intentions were lost, especially when a friend turned up and kindly bought us a few more.

I can recommend La Perla. The drinks were good (they have a happy hour (4-7)but we were happy all afternoon..) the staff friendly and it makes a very good and altogether more stylish alternative to the rubbishy mega barns that have started to appear in parts of the area. I didn't eat but a friend has assured me their prawn fajitas are wonderful. So pop on your capri pants and your best sombrero and get down there.

Monday, 19 July 2010


High fashion kimono then....

And now....not a lot of difference really.

I lived in Japan for a considerable time, close to a decade and during that period I had several run-ins with the Kimono. 'Run-in' is not quite the right word as I chose to study kimono, or rather the practice of wearing one. Which since I have no co-ordination, zero talent for tying knots and swear a lot proved to be foolhardy. On the other hand I was for various reasons expected to wear one on occasion. I persevered with the classes, provided by an elegant widow and her charming friends for a couple of years, partially because of the company. I found older Japanese women, away from the men to be earthy and funny. I missed the company of women. As a foreigner however I did have to fight against the Japanese tendency to get carried away by the concept of a foreigner in their native clothing and to subsequently dress me up like a dolly. The first thing I had to get the hang of was the furisode, the full-on long sleeved ornate kimono designed for teenagers and unmarried young women. I was neither. I generally managed to get away with wearing a dark one at least. I ultimately bought a more sensible tomesode which better suited my age and status, with shorter sleeves, in a soft sage green painted with flowers it suited me far better.
Elegant tomesode type kimono.

Kimono are very simple articles in themselves, but the underthings and the method of wearing them, not to mention the etiquette is complex. Some accuse the Japanese of complicating simplicity on purpose. I don't think this is fair. As much part of the mix is a joy in the process of dressing as an activity and in dressing up in an exceptional way. Something that any retro-orientated lady can appreciate.

A set of just the basic underpinnings for a kimono, I had a small suitcase full.

The underpinnings can be quite inelegant. Amongst the reams of plastic clips, strips of plastic and sheets of laminated board I saw old towels, cotton wool and even sanitary pads utilised as body padding. As you work up from kimono undies, to plain cotton under-kimonos, to silk ones things become exponentially more luxurious. The aimed for result is sleek, elegant and tubular surface; designed to show off the Japanese woman's traditional straight up-down shape. Japanese women are historically rather boyish, their physical hotspots are an elegant long neck, a slim wrist or pretty small feet. The kimono is designed to highlight these attributes. It is less successful on a curvy westerner, although fortunately I do have a long neck and slim wrists. I was never sure it looked particularly good on me, although often the associated hairdressing did. The Japanese are masters of the up-do. I also appreciated the help with my posture, the obi (kimono belt) is a firm construction and holds your back straight.

Yours truly in her Sunday best.

The historical oddities of the kimono made it fun, the purse worn tucked in the front is for medicines/narcotics. Several times I had to wear an ornamental small dagger, once upon a time it would have been far from ornamental as Samurai women were handy with daggers and expected to defend themselves. Wear a kimono fastened over the wrong side and you are apeing the dead; someone will very rapidly run up and refasten it for you which can bewilder unsuspecting visitors. Collars that hang down the back too low have an element of the loose and fast woman about them. Lots of other things amused me too, like the young woman who once secreted a half-full bottle of wine in the long sleeve of her furisode as we left a formal event. It joined a packet of cigarettes and small box of condoms.

I wore the summer kimono or yukata a lot. It can best described as the cheap flirty sister of the formal kimono. Inexpensive, they come in a wonderful range of designs, some entirely frivolous such as the 'flying hotdog' pattern or ET emblazoned ones that I saw in Tokyo.

'Ganguro' girls display how sub-cultures make traditional dress their own, note the freebie fans.

The yukata belt is quick to tie and the reasonable cost means it is possible to own several. As a garment it is suitable for the stifling heat and humidity I used to endure in the summers. Made in light cotton it has an open space under the arms and a fan can be tucked into your obi. There is always a fan to tuck in as most summer festivals see companies giving them away by the dozen. My favourite came from a good Korean restaurant. Problem was everytime I fanned myself I experienced the need to eat spring onion pancakes. Yukata are very flexible stylistically. I have one that is covered with lucky chinese cats in a range of willow pattern blues. I have a more high quality example in a very traditional white and scarlet graphic pattern and finally I have my 'goth' version: black with fireflies and a wide purple and black obi. Rules are not followed slavishly with Yukata, they can be punked up or subverted. They also look good on the boys, who tend to buy them in a more conservative palette although the odd dandy will step out in dragon prints and sunglasses.

Couple strolling through Disney theme park in their yukatas.

I do miss the opportunity to wear these, what is a practical outfit in Japan is fancy dress here. My formal kimonos rarely escape their paper wrappings and wooden boxes. Quite apart from the terror of spilling something on one I am not sure after all these years that I could remember how to fold one up properly. But it was a pleasure to wear one when I had the chance....

Girls dressed in their summer yukata.

Chap Olympiad 2010

The contestants await their fate..

The Chap Olympiad has come and gone, again and once more the Internet is awash with photographs; it is a very photogenic event. I am remarkably unphotogenic, I will always look like a double chinned housemistress enjoying a private joke.

Vivien of Holloway frock, vintage bolero jacket, hair by Betty.

But despite this I enjoy my one day of sanctuary, ensconced in a little green oasis of fecund Bloomsbury amongst hordes of other people that think (some) of modern life is rubbish. As you join the queue, or circumvent it (I’m a Magellan of queue circumnavigation) you are immediately struck by three things: the stylishness of the vast majority of the attendees, the friendliness and the familiar faces. There are people you only seem to see at the Chap Olympics. A familiar refrain is ‘where do they all come from?’ Well they come from all over the place. As do the photographers. Chap Olympians wonder who will win the Getty picture steeple chase every year….

My experience of the event varies, once I had to deal with a profoundly drunk bearded one who could only stand up when supported by a couple of burlesque dollies. Another saw a triumph in the gin martini relay, enhanced by a hat so large my unphotogenic face was largely hidden. Then there was a hot Saturday in Hampstead which basically involved sitting on a blanket knocking back cava and nibbling quails eggs until I was incapable of movement or indeed thought.

The Chap Olympiad has a number of things to recommend it, apart from the variety of potential experiences. One is that its resolute promoting of amateurism, eccentric sporting and events cocks an elegant snook at the revolting orgy of corporate arrogant dullardism that infuses all major sporting events. We don’t need their cocacolaMacanike extravaganzas in citizen murdering nations. Stuff ‘em.

Is it Bloomsbury or Casablanca.

We want the cucumber discus, and jugs of pink cocktails and twirly taches. In the spirit of this, whilst the organisers lay on the props and some vague semblance of organisation (albeit of the Dad’s Army variety of organisation) those in attendance make the entertainment.

Fleur de Guerre and the ultimate winner of the event square off.

There is pleasure in observing the well dressed hordes. NOT in ‘costume’, something I wish the meedja could get their heads around but in their Sunday/Saturday any damned day of the week best.

Then the snippets of conversation are endlessly amusing. There are the dogs in neckties, men in bathing costumes plus stevedores, dandies and vintage poppets strewn across the acreage gossiping, making arch comments or indeed talking absolute rubbish: in an elegant inebriated way. Several hundred tickets were sold and people were drinking steadily all day (hurrah!) yet there was not a single fight (well apart from the competitors).

As one virgin Olympian noted people were overwhelmingly friendly and genuinely interesting. It would not be going too far to say it is a joyful occasion. The Chap Olympiad crowd burst into song, impromptu umbrella duels and flamboyant congas at the drop of a top hat.

The gathering of the tribes that takes place is also refreshing: steam punks, tweedy gents, tattooed rock chicks and Victorian flaneurs loll about in what the editor of the chap, Gustav Temple, might describe as a state of ‘chumradery’.

Of course all is not perfect. The cakes sold out. And not even the Chap Magazine can legislate against the presence of the odd annoying charmless ‘look at me’ bore. Whilst gentlemen attendees had almost all made an effort a few young ladies had decided that as they were young and pretty they would just turn up in festival style crap. Lads, if you invite them next year, be kind and treat ‘em to a tea dress they looked like Poundland plastic tulips in a sea of real daisies.

However the sight of decadent ruin at 9pm when those having to return to the outposts of Chapdom had departed was reassuring. Dancing continued on the stage. Bodies lolled around on the grass, wine and cocktails were being consumed. Even the debris was stylish….

Some of the photos on here are from taras curiak's flickr account.

Powderpuff Girls Salon.

Powderpuff girls doing the make up thang properly..

However I could list the horrors and pitfalls of cosmetic application when yours truly tries it, in fact I will, just a few:

False eyelashes. A sod to apply. I think there is an unfriendly eyelash goddess, a spikey gluey fugitive creature that makes your hands shake and your tweezers jab and ensures the things just won’t go on when you have a big night out and a taxi waiting. Then you can never be sure they are actually on. I once looked down at a drink to find a repulsive caterpillar floating in it and made a fuss. It was naturally my kamikaze eyelash.

Little plastic boxes that are hard to open, especially with long fingernails. Even once you do prise them open all the little itsy bitsy applicators fly out. One usually hurls itself inevitably into the toilet, the sink or the gaping jaws of hell.

Bright red lipstick no matter how carefully applied migrates to the surface of your teeth making you look like a messy vampire. Also when you drunkenly ram the top of your lipstick back on, without twisting lipstick down it will always be your favourite, most expensive stick that is reduced to a mucky messy stump.

Once you find the perfect failsafe shade of eyeshadow or lip colour the cosmetic company will promptly discontinue it and replace it with dead corpse nude. And in your mind no colour will ever look that good.

When applying nail varnish you will get an attack of sneezes, have an irristible urge to scratch your ear or be forced to rescue a kitten or something. Shall I just describe this as the dreaded nail varnish smudge paradox?

Katie Chutzpah had already reviewed the Powderpuff girl salon in her blog, and having worked out they are just around the corner from my favourite barnet fixer I decided to have my face put on for me. Which I did, whilst nibbling a biscuit and drinking tea. The interior of the premises is pleasingly girly and retro decorated in a fifties palette of feminine pastel shades. The ladies wear kitsch retro uniforms and cute pill-box hats and it is run by the rather elegant Katie Reynolds. This is a welcome migration from the East by this company as some of us are just innately West End Girls.

Dream dressing table.

They offer a number of services ranging from manicures, through to make-up and on to hair. I had the 15 mins 'in a jiffy' make-up which cost £15.00. Vintage themed looks are their mainstay and they have literature to help customers choose their look. As I was sitting there in a full circle skirt and petticoat a fiftiesish look was applied. What a luxury to let someone else, very efficiently, get on with it. In terms of confidence, time saved and fun the price and end-product were good. The lady applying mine was happy to give advice and kind enough to trim my unruly brows. I am also impressed with their eyelash applying service, you get two pairs of eyelashes, and one of these is applied for you, which seems a good deal at a tenner considering that a decent pair of false eyelashes cost this. The speedy hairdo's at £15 pounds seemed also good value for girls in a hurry.

Powderpuff Salon interior.

Moreover it is pleasant to be sat in a feminine stylish environment. I'm sure this, the good looks of the staff and the fact that they have leaflets and advice on retro looks encourages visitors to experiment. It had a friendly atmosphere and I felt the environment encouraged the customers to be chatty (and those that know me know I am far from monosyllabic). To be honest all I need now in Covent Garden is a Wallace and Gromit like machine to drop me into the perfect vintage frock, the 'right dress' rather than the 'wrong trousers'!

Minn x

Monday, 12 July 2010

Redleg's Tourist Agency.

I am a member of a rare breed: the born and bred been ‘ere for centuries gor’ blimey time for a ruby’ Londoner. Apologies to any non-Brits I have just confused. This means I get asked what to do in London by those visiting for the first time. It makes sense, whenever I travel the advice and kindness of locals always radically improves the experience. I thought it might be an idea to post some suggestions. I also thought there would be a different itinerary for those visiting who want to put a vintage slant on their stay. It was quite interesting thinking it up. You could go on forever in a similar vein; London for Socialists, London for Alcoholics, London for the Lazy, London for the Dandy… Still I will start off with a couple of itineraries for different visitors. Naturally I take no responsibility for mishaps, closures or attacks by footpads. It is slanted towards the lady, but in the natural way of things we are in charge anyway. As long as you chaps get some decent food and a few libations along the way…

Mayfair/Piccadilly based itinerary for deco/30’s/40’s fan.

Breakfast: The Wolseley on Green Park. Originally a Wolseley car show room it is now an opulent Austrian style dining room. Despite this it is quintessentially London and functions as one of its sitting rooms. Have coffee from a silver tea pot and the Eggs Benedict. Or if you are feeling brave; a full English. Watch out for famous diners. Pricey but worth it.

Morning: Jump on the tube to South Kensington and go to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Look at the fashion collection, the jewellery and the Japanese rooms. The medieval display is remarkable although that may be taking vintage a little too far. Free.

Luncheon: Back to Green Park and to Bentleys for Oysters and fish. Pricey but good and may have a set, cheaper lunch menu.

Afternoon: If sunny have a wander through Mayfair, Jermyn Street and Savile Row are all close by. Or head into Green Park and St James Park, feed the ducks and hire a deckchair for a kip. If rainy or cold jump on the Bakerloo Line at Piccadilly and head over to the Imperial War Museum, uniforms, the home-front and missiles….Free.

Dinner: The Dean Street Townhouse Hotel to try some of that English food (it is better than you think). Medium price

Evening: Go to a play, there will always be a Coward revival or a period musical to catch. At the moment the hot retro ticket has to be the 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre. Reasonable.

Late: Whatever retro club or event is happening (and there will be one). If not sure the Pigalle Club has a pleasing fifties supper club feel, cocktails and often a retro dj spinning the shellac. Price varies.

Best Afternoon Tea in area is at the Lanesborough Hotel which takes place in a wonderful frivolous room that looks like it was designed and decorated by Cecil Beaton.
Best shopping for souvenirs (and best toilets): Fortnum and Masons.
Best booze: Dukes Hotel for their legendary Martinis.

"I should have been born in....."

Not 'what's your poison'? but 'what's your decade'?

This is a question often posed on forums and within chat rooms aimed at vintage friendly web surfers, the answers can be revealing and expose as much about the contemporary world as any individual historical period. History and Nostalgia are different entities. The love of a particular period often stems from a desire for things from a real or imaginary past or dissatisfaction with the present. Some express a reactionary rejection of elements of modern life or merely a tendency towards romanticism. For others it can be triggered by a love of a particular thing, say a musician or a certain car. In other cases people who are backwards-loving are also forward-looking, actively grabbing the past and inserting it into their otherwise completely ‘here and now’ lives. This is particularly the case for women. Some do seem to want to return to cake baking and being kept; whatever floats your boat. Very few however would want to return to the curtailed, narrowed and often frustrated lives of their mothers and grandmothers. Those who lurk and loiter in web forums are by their very nature modern human beings. I think that many and I include myself, do not in slavishly follow the style and habits of particular bygone decades although every group contains its ‘fundamentalists’. However I do believe that most express a marked preference for one specific decade or era. I am going to talk about mine and hope for some comments and discussions about why you consider a particular time calls to you…

If anyone fancies running this up for me get in touch...

I’m fond of the licentious Georgian era and also the 1890’s. I suspect this is because being a libertarian I prefer periods that are more tolerant of sexual misbehaviour and artistic creativity. However my favourite period is, and has always been the thirties. I suspect it has the edge over the previously mentioned periods because there are photographs, films and recordings which take us back to those times more viscerally than books, engravings and documents can. Simultaneously it is far enough removed to be beguiling and fugitive.

Applying lippy 30's style.

The question is why the 1930’s rather than say, the 1940’s? My figure would probably be more suited to fifties fashion (which I like) and I have the freckly plainish face of a forties Land Girl so I have not been drawn to a period that makes me just look good. I suspect the germination of my love of the period is my relationship with my grandmothers. I was regaled with stories of triumphs at dance competitions, Errol Flynn’s good looks, various mishaps and romantic scrapes. I loved old people’s houses in the 1980’s, full of heavy brown furniture, deco clocks, studio portraits, antimacassars and tiled hallways. All accompanied by the smell of furniture polish and the faint whiff of lavender and meat pies. I always buy Imperial Leather soap because it evokes their homes. My paternal grandmother’s dressing table was a frowzy masterpiece of grubby glamour with elegant looking little glass pots of powder and cold-cream (she was a rather chaotic Cornish woman who had a habit of baking her door keys by accident). I feel as if I missed something.

This is what you call work wear.

My mother has a bundle of photographs of relatives most of whom cannot now be reliably named. They lean against cars dressed as pierrots or stand on the beach in daring beach costumes. That English 1930’s fantasy of creamy colours, afternoon teas and wind breakers just charms me to death. Elegant little hotels where you dressed for dinner, took cream teas, ate crab sandwiches, walked along the prom and attended concerts in the Winter Gardens.

The other major factor is the sheer in your face glamour of the era. I’m a Londoner from a glamorous city and am very vulnerable to its appeal. The twenties are stylish but the thirties for me, particularly the early thirties have more glitz. I think of Anthony Powell’s characters rushing from party to party in Mayfair, lindy hopping in Harlem and tea dances at the Alhambra. Paradoxically the clich├ęd idea of ‘gathering storm clouds’ also contributes to the appeal of the decade. Things are generally at their most alluring just before they fade and die and the 30’s are much like the golden summers that preceded the Great War. The 30’s however are deeply bohemian, vorticism, abstraction and surrealism, women smoking and wearing trousers, jazz, writing and travel. It not only saw the horrors of fascism develop but also life enhancing movements such as socialism and trade unionism grow.

Buffet car.

In the same way that the Victorians made efforts to build and create things that were rich, embellished and made of quality materials so did the thirties designer and maker. They take the rather more brittle decorative glamour of the twenties and twist it into something solidly darker and more threatening. It is an era of dyed hair, shimmering dresses, severe but beautifully tailored suits and cigarette holders. It is Marlene Dietrich in furs, marble floors and fabulous hats. It is the artificiality that appeals initially but there is a dark comprehension behind the frivolity. The thirties are mysterious, in the forties all was laid bare.

Where we used to dance.

I love the thirties approach to travel. Sleeper trains, well just trains in general. Sleek metallic aeroplanes, oh, and of course, steamers down the Nile (yes a leisured Poirot world minus the murders would suit me very nicely thank you). Then there is entertainment, glamorous supper clubs, Italian restaurants in Soho, cocktail bars (nearly all of my favourite tipples date from this period) and both sedate and furious dancing to smoochy smooth numbers and hot jazz. London was both bohemian and classy, full of refugees and grandees. And the men looked soooo gorgeous. I imagine my thirties Chapette home, jazz on the record player, a beautiful lilac silk walled dressing room and a glass cocktail cabinet; fully stocked of course.

Dining on board.

Of course this is a fantasist’s view, and we would all naturally be rich and leisured in our favoured eras. The thirties was a poor decade, full of death, struggle and finally disaster. Yet in my mind it is always an effortlessly stylish world full of Wodehouse characters, femme fatales, glamorous hotel lobbies and perfect Brandy Alexanders. And if can smuggle just an element of it into my 21st century world I’ll try my utmost to.

But what about you? For some vintage is, and I quote my friend Darhling: ‘mini skirts and trilbies’. It is a passing trend. Many vintage poppets in a fine 30’s bias dress would have no idea what a ‘black shirt’ or indeed a ‘black short’ was. It doesn’t really matter. But for those of you out there that admire, borrow from, hanker after or live a little of the past in their now lives, what was the catalyst or the things that brought you there. It would be interesting to know so please comment!

C'mon you lot, comment!


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