'A ball gown is your dream, and it must make you a dream... I think it is just as necessary in a woman's wardrobe as a suit. And it is wonderful for morale...' Christian Dior

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Get Cape. Wear Cape.

Having worn the same cape for the last seven years (Oxfam, £20, rips all through the lining and a button missing but love it more every winter) thought it was about time I invested in a new one. Came across this in Lotta Vintage in Madrid last week. It was a hot day, I was wearing a sundress and while I did feel ridiculous coating myself in Norwegian wool - sure enough, back in Blighty, six days later, it's autumn, it's freezing, it's cape time. 

When you think about it, capes are one of the few advantages of our rubbish weather. I've never been able to get that excited over the purchase of a new 'winter coat'. It's like admitting defeat, that you're going to spend the next six months inside a thick, dark, depressing cocoon.  Don't even get me started on black winter coats. Capes on the other hand are playful and fun, the possibilities (like say, flying) are endless and they pretty much make an outfit. You could be wearing a fluorescent tie-dye blouse and a moth-eaten skirt underneath and it wouldn't matter. The cape does all the talking.

Even better when the cape has a striking pattern or unusual clasps. It's worth scouring second hand shops and vintage shops because there are some amazing ones out there that you just wouldn't find on the high street.

Lotta Vintage is one of my favourite shops in Madrid. The staff are lovely (and don't seem too offended by my lack of Spanish!) the clothes are quirky and the decor really cute and personalised with old records and dress patterns. I've been buying bits over the last few years because it's so timeless yet unusual. My favourite ever handbag (made of plastic bags in the 1960s) comes from here.

From Lotta Vintage, to Biba Vintage (not that one, but still cute) and Pepita Is Dead, Madrid definitely has a vintage scene to rival Milan or Paris. The area around Tribunal is a must if you've got an afternoon to browse around the pretty little leafy streets.

Yep, Madrid may not be a fashion capital, but it does do a lovely cape... and has a vintage cafe. How many cities can say that?

Monday, 22 August 2011

It's Blitz

I know why they call shopping retail therapy, but it doesn't hurt to remind myself once in a while. So off I went on Saturday to what's dubbing itself the 'Vintage Department Store' - Blitz, just off Brick Lane in Shoreditch. I say just off Brick Lane, it wasn't the easiest place to find on a rainy day. It's kind of tucked away on the unassuming Hanbury Street and with its unremarkable doorway, you could easily walk past. That's the trouble with name tag association (I might have just made that phrase up). 'Department store' conjures up images of grand old multi-storey buildings, with elaborate window displays and bright lights to lure you in. You expect big things. So maybe from the outside I was let down by Blitz, but that soon changed once I was inside.

The ground floor is really spacious with initial rails of womenswear - maxi jumpsuits, denim cut-off shorts, polka dot blouses, pleated skirts, cleverly (and subtly) a lot of key trends for spring/summer. To the right is a coffee station with a book shop and then towards the back, a record store with more rails of clothes and vintage furniture. If that were it (as I, erm, first thought it was) it would be cool concept boutique but a long way off being a department store. That's when I clocked the stairs...

The lower ground floor is amazing, the kind of space where you don't know where to look because there is just so much going on. It really reminded me of the vintage department stores they have in Paris or Milan where you can while a way a few hours just catching flies in your gob. They had some really cute summer dresses (and cheap too for London, about 30-40 quid on average a dress). So I piled into the changing room with about ten of them before it dawned on me we're coming to the end of August and it's unlikely I'll be able to wear them until the next freaky heat wave (and who even knows when that'll be). So, I left empty handed but that's the nature of vintage shopping. And it's an excuse to go back very soon. Highly recommend it. 

So my 'therapy' mission continued, and as I always say, when in doubt, buy shoes. 

I picked up these sky-scrapers in Office later that afternoon. I've found recently I've been living in (and probably ruining in the process) my leopard print wedges from Office, so I really wanted to invest in something similar (comfort and height-wise) but that was a bit more versatile. I love them, but man, my carves ache from wearing them on Saturday night! I didn't realise breaking in new heels could hurt anything other than your actual feet...

So this is them teamed with leggings and a floral tunic I found in Urban Outfitters in the re-worked section. It's not my usual style at all but a change is as good as a rest. And let's face it I won't be going on another Vietnam jaunt any time soon...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

... And breathe

I can't get enough of brogues. They look good with a 1950s full skirt, a pair of skinny jeans, printed harem pants and micro mini shorts. You can wear them with black opaques and white stripy ankle socks (just not at the same time). And they get you around London. How many shoes can say that? (Yes, florescent leather/cork wedges, I'm talking to you). They're the ultimate wardrobe staple and they're timeless, so having a collection of them is like having a well-loved pile of worn and torn hardbacks on your bookshelf - each one tells a different story.

On my shelf at present: the Office pair that look like they belong to Mr Silly, but actually belong to Fearne Cotton (and as a result I couldn't wear for a few months), the battered and bruised brogues of a dead man (see previous post, Dead Man's Shoes for the full story) and my beloved designed-by-my-own-fair-hand-in-Vietnam pair. 

Summertime, though, (sorry brogues) poses obvious problems. Bare legs come out and feet need to breathe. On Saturday, I found the ultimate solution in TopShop. Arise, the summer brogue!

I should probably add here that I hate baring my feet. I have toes so freaky my first boyfriend called them finger toes (yep, they're long like fingers, creepy). I really dislike having them on show and as a result I've never found a pair of sandals I've felt completely comfortable in. All year round I hide them in my brogues and this summer, long may it continue.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Wedding dancer

I left buying a dress for my brother's wedding to the very last minute. All thoughts of the perfect vintage ensemble are forced to the back of your mind when you're running around Oxford Street after work every night in the week before the big day. It wasn't like I hadn't been looking, I just didn't come across 'the' dress like I imagined I would. Before I knew it, I was panic-buying the same dress in two different sizes in Oasis and ringing around five branches of Topshop to track down a size seven pair of cream t-bars. Not my finest hour. The whole experience reminded me how predictable and exasperating our high street can be. Having traipsed between Hobbs and Whistles (too expensive), Warehouse (too informal) and Monsoon (too mumsy), I could now probably describe every design in stock this season. And it wouldn't take very long because they're all the bloody same. 

Anyway, rant over because the panic-buy pulled off and Oasis was a revelation. Love all the candy colours and unusual cuts in at the moment. And well, if a real vintage gown didn't find me in time, then this 1970's mint green mini-dress was a welcome substitute.

And perfect for dancing. Although I don't particularly need or want the photographic/video evidence. The flared sleeves certainly revealed some interesting moves.

Because the dress had quite a lot going on, all that was needed to accessorise it was some simple gold earrings and some killer heels. I went for these patent peach Mary Janes from Topshop (pictured on their second outing, last night at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club from which they're now scuffed at the front. That'll teach me for trying to climb a pole).

Monday, 2 May 2011

Made in Vietnam

I got back from my travels to discover that summer had come early and that my latest purchase - a tailored made-to-measure black jacket - would probably look a bit out of place. I went out in Liverpool on my first weekend back and wore it regardless. It's not hard to look out of place there, trust me. And I had had plenty of practice in Vietnam anyway. There's westerners and then there's milk-bottle skinned, white haired tall girls... so many locals wanted their photo taken with me, it felt like what I imagine being famous does. Throw in a hangover and it wasn't pretty. Charlie Sheen springs to mind.

Hoi An and its maze of tailor-lined streets was definitely a highlight of the holiday (and I only got lost once). You can basically have any design made from any fabric, in any colour. You describe it, or show them a picture from a magazine (or bring along an item to have replicated), go back for a fitting later in the day and the item is ready to collect 24 hours later. I was only in Hoi An for three days, any longer and it would have been dangerous. My sister is currently on the lookout for her wedding dress. I've told her it would probably be cheaper to jump on a plane to Vietnam with a tear from a magazine than agonise over expensive London boutiques, but I probably shouldn't give her any ideas, I'm planning on doing that myself...

I limited myself to the black jacket ($90) and a pair of black and white brogues (a replica of a pair I used to have and loved so much I wore out wearing them on impractical walks). The jacket I made up as I was going along. I wanted something slightly boyfriend-style to wear with jeans and slightly tux-like to wear on smart occasions. You pay for half of it on arrival and the other half on collection so it's a bit nerve-wracking, especially when, like me, you're a bit hungover when you 'commission' it so to speak and haven't properly thought it through. I love it now, but when I first saw the finished jacket I panicked and hated it (!). Serves me right I suppose. Plus I was flustered and boiling hot trying it on in the middle of the shop over denim cut offs and a sweat stained vest. Never a good look.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Good morning, Vietnam

I'm going to Vietnam on Friday on my own to try and 'find myself'... or something. I'm not sure two weeks is long enough to do that, but having never been abroad alone or away anywhere for longer than seven days before, it should be an adequate shock to the system. I'm already feeling quite daunted. Not about the long flight (I'm a grumpy little madam and quite looking forward to some time to myself), not about making friends with strangers or getting food poisoning, but about (if you haven't already guessed) the sartorial dilemmas!

The guide from the travel agent advises 'modest' clothing. Those who know me (and even those who don't) know that's not really a word in my vocabulary. I like wearing hot pants to work with brightly coloured tights, vintage jumpsuits I've squeezed into but that were probably designed for a doll, not a person, and my current favourite shoes are five-inch leopard-print wedges.

But, alas, it's going to be bloody humid and it is respectful in certain areas to cover your knees and shoulders. I don't want to freak anyone out, or worse, get thrown out for wearing a neon pink minidress, really, do I. An excuse for a new spring/summer wardrobe, if ever there was one...

 Discovered two things over the last week - that the British High Street is actually pretty great and that I love the seventies trend. I was looking for the perfect maxi skirt when I came across these wide floral flares in Miss Selfridge of all places. (£45) I always feel a bit weird going in there because I used to shop there when I was about 14,  but these were easily the nicest I came across (and there are a lot out there at the moment). They're really comfy and light too.

I bought a cream see-through blouse to cover my shoulders in said certain areas. Obviously I will wear a top underneath it at all times, obviously! It's longer at the back and post-holiday will look great with jeans or denim shorts (preferably with a cream/white camisole underneath). That was also from Miss Selfridge, £35. The hat is from TopShop.

It reminds me a little bit of the lady on the cover of 'Travel in Vogue' which I've been reading to give me inspiration in travel writing.

The latest in a very long line of jumpsuits. Strapless and ruffled, it's still fairly modest, no? This was from Henry Holland for Debenhams (£38) and it looks a lot more flattering in the flesh!

Love the ruffled detail. It's a really soft cotton that won't crease in the rucksack, either.

Dreaming of walking along a sandy beach, presumably. Never in a million years thought I would try on, let alone buy white shorts, but the shape of these (TopShop, £37) is really cute and flattering, even on milk bottle legs...

You can never have too many skinny belts either. This one would work wrapped around a pleated skirt or to nip in a summer dress around the waist, for a nice contrast to florals.

And for the flight... my first pair of Converse. If that's not modest, I don't know what is. At least I tried... Going to visit a tailors in Hoi An on the trip to have something made. Who knows what I'll be wearing in the next post. Ciao (or however they say it in Vietnam - I should probably look that up) for now.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Dirty Blonde

Last weekend I was in Madrid with an afternoon set aside for vintage shopping and I didn't find a single thing and this weekend, I hungoverly crawled out my flat down Stoke Newington Church Street not on the lookout for anything other than a big plate of hash browns and came back with a pleated cream midi-dress, a 1970s blouse, an oversized cashmere Betty Jackson cardie, a handmade necklace, a second-hand brooch, an antique desk lamp and a lampshade. Sometimes life just doesn't make any sense. And when I'm next in Madrid, I'll do well to remember not to go shopping in siesta hours... 

So this is the midi-dress, from Dirty Blonde, a welcome break from the norm (and unusually on trend for me!) as I live in sixties minis. The pleats are springy and perfect for dancing. 

Last night I teamed it with bright green heels and a vintage green scarf tied around my waist as a belt. I used to try and avoid pale colours because of my skin tone (not to mention white hair) but I've never been big on rules, and I think neutral colours work really well when broken up with bright accessories.

The only problem - the bane of vintage shopping - is the dress's size. It didn't bother me when I was squeezing the buttons closed in the changing room, nor when I nearly hyperventilated trying to take the thing off. It didn't even bother me on the dance floor when I couldn't wave my hands in the air (not that that's ever a good look). The moment the niggle kicked in? When the guy I was sharing a smoke with turned to me and said, 'I'm not being funny but what bra size are you? Your dress looks kinda tight.'