Friday, 10 February 2012

'Style Me Vintage, Clothes: A Guide to Sourcing and Creating Retro Looks'

I must admit that when I buy books about fashion or design they tend to be monographs about particular designers or art and design history related. This makes sense as I have a degree in Art History. I haven’t really been tempted by many of the guides to vintage/shabby chic/retro style type tomes, partially because I am probably past needing them having hopefully learnt from my many mistakes. However there are a couple of things that put me off some of those already published.  One is that advising me to look out for vintage Dior or pieces of collectable Ossie Clarke is just  pointless, I don’t have the money and if I wanted to know about them I would refer to a fashion historian not some vintage ‘expert’. Another is styling, I hate seeing that gawky modern fashion pose and gormless stare beloved by the contemporary fashion world combined with a thirties day dress. Also I don’t like ‘fancy dress’ styling, you know sticking someone in a wig or having them throw a ‘pin-up pose’.  The final thing is tone, that ‘imperious’ assertion that certain things have to be worn in a certain way because that is 'how it was done' in some past decade that often rears it's head is the worst. As a historian that really peeves me.  Or you get the breathy amateur approach which is to writing what cup cakes are to baked goods.  You can imagine that it is with trepidation I received Naomi Thompson’s new book: 'Style Me Vintage, Clothes: A Guide to Sourcing and Creating Retro Looks.' She is a friend and I know she knows her stuff, but publishers and editors can wreak havoc on even the sanest prose; happily I am impressed.

The author in her cossie.

The book is part of a set of publications which aim to help introduce elements of vintage style, sort of how to ‘be vintage’ or ‘buy vintage’ or even just ‘look vintagy’ and with it’s pretty design and light touch it is, I feel  very accessible to people just dipping their toes into polkadot-infested waters. However the dainty booklook is a bit of a Trojan horse because slipped into its pages is a lot of serious, useful and downright educational material. For example the vital details about checking for holes, inspecting armpits and counting the buttons are clearly explained. The dodgy element of vintage; the pitfalls of being conned into paying for a ‘vintage’ dress that has overlocking, a zip, and care instructions are all mentioned.  This is however nestled away in the recesses of text that expresses the author’s enthusiasm for enjoying clothes and her tone is friendly and conspiratorial rather than didactic, something emphasised by the occasional reference to her own life experiences. Naomi tends to enthuse about all the enjoyment to be had styling clothes rather than elucidating rules or condemning any particular approach. The whole point is not to slavishly follow some cult of 'what is vintage' but to find your own way, something this slim volume somewhat subversively encourages.  Possibly that is why she has kindly included this blog in the resources section of the book. If her publishers are interested in 'Style Me Vintage: The Dark Side' they know where to find me!

Fleur in swirl dress

The book is divided up into decades, and covers vintage fashion (20’s – 60’s) and retro collectable fashions (70’s – 80’s). The book also provides useful advice on accessories. The aim seems to be more to give readers a general feel for the things that condense the feel of a period. What is refreshing here is the use of real enthusiasts as models, not just some volunteers who work for the publishers which has been the case with some previous books on the subject.  This works because the clothes are worn by ordinary women who love them. Christina Wilson's photographs for the book are lovely and it would not let the top of anyone's coffee table down.  The poses quote the eras discussed and the magazine-like punchy page design gives the impression of a book you dip in and out of rather than having to study and digest.  What I particularly appreciated was that whilst Naomi stresses the uniqueness, history, collectability and high quality of  genuine vintage the usefulness of good repro brands and regular trawls of High Street stores is also mentioned. That makes this book useful to those who may not be able to afford authentic vintage or live in areas where markets and fairs are not readily accessible. This egalitarian approach is reflected by the fact that the book refers the reader to vintage dealers, repro brands and resources they can use to find their own way into styles from the past. 

If I have any criticism it is that this book could have been longer but as it is the volume is useful, well written and has considerable charm. I don’t think that anyone could read it and not be tempted to invest in, at the very least, a pair of gloves or a vintage brooch.

It can be purchased from good bookshops or via Amazon here:


LollyWillowes said...

I, too, am past the age for needing this for're looking at the one time child who was massively put out that Victorian pinafores were no longer de rigueur...but now you have reviewed it I might buy it for a young friend of mine who likes all things old and quirky etc.
I know what you mean about the whole designer thing..rolls eyes...where do these people think we are supposed to find the money from? And while we are at it, why didn't I have some rich relative who had the Bar suit to hand down to me? Sooo unfair!

Anonymous said...

I would buy your book!

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