There’s a little sale for my Facebook followers. Click on the icon on the Home Page to find it. Always worth following my Facebook page as that’s where all the latest news goes first!
You know that nice theory where everyone is nice to everyone regardless of race, colour, creed, orientation, shoe size? The one that would make our world a very different – much nicer place – if everybody truly subscribed to it? Well, it’s another of the bees in my bonnet. (Yes, there are quite a few of them!)
And people who don’t subscribe to it really rattle my cage. Like those ‘ladies’ who work in my building who go all quiet and refuse to acknowledge my cheery greeting but scuttle away and then giggle behind their hands like school children. Well, like school children are actually taught not to do. And I know why they do it; it’s because I look very different both from them and what they would consider normal. I dress in retro-style clothing, often with fluffy petticoats and to them that’s out of their comfort zone. So they treat me like I’m an alien. Which, in these days of multi-cultural society, isn’t really acceptable, is it? I could understand them taking evasive action if I was drunk or dirty and smelled bad. I’m none of these things. (At least, not very often!) I could even understand it if I had some dreadful deformity, like elephantiasis, as people often just don’t know how to react or what to say so as not to cause offence and therefore flee in order to get out of an uncomfortable situation. But I’m a perfectly ordinary woman, in the same age group as them. Nothing about me is particularly remarkable. I’m pretty small and insignificant. Hell, I’m five foot one and a tealeaf (that tealeaf is very important to a pixie) and 46 years old – that makes me so boring that I’m practically invisible! Maybe they just don’t see me? But no, they see me alright. They see me smile and they hear me speak to them. They just choose not to respond to me but to treat me with derision and/or contempt.
Of course, I consider myself lucky that this is all they do. I’m not on the receiving end of the horrendous abuse that caused the death of the beautiful Sophie Lancaster, who was basically kicked and stamped to death in a public park for dressing like a goth. It’s okay, I’m an adult and I’m big enough and ugly enough to cope with other adults who really should grow up. And, if we’re being honest, should try dressing a little better then they currently do, especially in a professional/office work environment. (Don’t get me started on their ‘fashion choices’!) But the irony of the situation? Those ladies work for an organisation that works for and with adults with learning disabilities. People who often look different from the ‘norm’. And one of the main things they spout about on their website is equality. Next time I find I’ve inadvertently cornered them in the kitchen, I may well ask about their organisation and its equality policy. That should be fun…
But please don’t think that their behaviour is the norm because, happily, it is not. The vast majority of people that I encounter – and most of my customers say the same – are highly complimentary. I’ve lost count of the times people have come up to me in the street, the supermarket, all over the place, to say, “You look fantastic!” and other things of that ilk. Dressing the way I do is usually appreciated – and not just by old men! So many people say, “I wish I had the courage to dress like you,” and “We really should make more of an effort.” Yes. Make that effort. In my book, it’s all part of courtesy to others and making the world a nicer place and that, I think, is really quite important. Along with responding to a cheery greeting and not acting like a schoolgirl bully.
Wear that frock, hold your head high and make the world a nicer place.
I’m often asked what inspires me to create my “vintage-style”, “retro” frocks and to dress the way I do. Did I get into it at college? Am I a particular fan of, say, jiving or lindy hop? Swing? Twentieth century re-enactment? Well, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, I like all of that stuff and more and no, none of that was the direct inspiration, although it all plays a part.
Picture it; Hampshire, 1977. (Sorry, went a bit “Golden Girls” there!) My family had recently moved to the mainland from the lovely Isle of Wight. I didn’t like it and struggled to fit into a village with large areas of rural poverty after an idyllic early childhood on the, admittedly very old fashioned, island where it always seemed to be sunny and people were always smiling. One Saturday afternoon, on my long way back from the sweet shop, I wandered into the local “Institute” where a jumble sale was in progress and there, on a table with a lot of other old clothes was a blue child’s frock with a tiny white sprigged flower print, a white collar and a huge skirt. It was a dream of a dress and I immediately coughed up the remainder of my pocket money to secure it. Now, being a fairly old frock and a child’s one, it wasn’t in the best of condition. All that gathered fabric in the skirt had to be affixed to the bodice and because there was so much of it, it was heavy and the stitching had broken and pulled away. Fortunately for me, my mother was – and still is – extremely adept with a sewing machine and could fix it, which she did. Time and time again, because I loved that frock. It twirled, you see. Beautifully. Hands on hips, waist or flung out to the sides, give a bit of a spin and – wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Cue happiness. And right there a fixation with massive skirts took root and never went away.
A few years later, my mother’s favourite aunt, the one who was a tailoress and taught her to sew, passed away and mother inherited the house and contents. To say that Great Aunt Gladys was a hoarder was possibly the understatement of the century. Don’t get me wrong, the house wasn’t a sordid, piled high mess like you see in documentaries on Channel 4; everything was neat as neat could be. But there was so much of it. Nothing much modern and for a child who had an interest in history, it was a treasure trove. Especially the small pile of ancient magazines…
Oh, those fashion illustrations! The joy! At last, after just over a decade of fighting both my mother and, occasionally, my sister over just about every sartorial decision they tried to foist upon me (I still remember being especially traumatised by the puce flared trousers – “But they’re really fashionable!” “Noooooooooo!!!”), at last I had a point of reference and could say, “There! Frocks! Like that!” I devoured the pictures of stylish ladies in their beautifully cut suits and dresses. I longed for a perfect, deep red silk sheath dress, nipped in at the waist and around the knees, to be worn with perfectly constructed early 1950s black suede court shoes, like those in the dressing up wardrobe of my Isle of Wight friend, Anne. (What Anne had just seen as her mother’s “old stuff for playing with”, had been some of the most perfect garments I have ever seen and those shoes are probably responsible for the wall of boxes at the back of one of my wardrobes today!) Plus Aunty Glad’s house was stuffed full of beautiful Art Deco things, including some original 1920s and 30s dresses, that my mother eventually sent to a museum. (I was never allowed to wear those but I can still picture them.) The 1970s were not a good decade for fashion. Having a fairly solitary childhood, punctuated by occasional encounters with much older siblings and parents and an almost complete lack of peer pressure regarding clothing choices proved a blessing!
At the age of 14, a couple of years after Great Aunt Gladys died, I bought my first Vogue magazine in WHSmiths in Winchester. August 1982, to be exact. I’ve never forgotten the cover, even if the Vogue archive has!
I felt a bit guilty at buying it, when all the girls at school were still reading “Jackie” (I read that too, obviously, or I’d never have grown up into such a well-rounded individual) but Vogue was just wonderful to a girl with a head full of dreams of proper tailoring and couture. A subscription quickly followed. Fortunately for me, the 1980s were a time of glamour, fun and constant reinvention of just about every decade that went before so ‘retro’ was often in style. Yes, the girls at school thought I was a little odd but, frankly, I wasn’t that bothered; I knew what I liked and that was that.
And I still do. My interest in history was always mostly in the area of fashion history, what people wore and why, and that has proved both fascinating and useful as I can see where most garments get their inspiration or construction. Vogue magazine continues to be my favouritest favourite, even when I don’t like a lot of the featured garments or looks, I like to see where fashion is going and how the Vogue stylists put it together. Plus the photography is a dream. And every time I see something that wouldn’t look out of place in one of Aunt Gladys’s old magazines or photos, I smile to myself. A good, classic garment that flatters the wearer and fits properly never goes out of style.
I’ve been pondering some new frocks. It’s about time I added a new style or two to the to the collection and I’ve just taken delivery of some delicious new fabrics so I decided this week to just Get On With It and start a new one. I’d like to say it’s been fun. It hasn’t. Why do I invariably cut for models who are tiny waisted, amply bosomed and about 6 feet tall? Especially when I think that I’m cleverly cutting the sample frock in my size? My waist isn’t bad but the rest of it doesn’t even fit where it touches. And for a woman who does made to measure every day, I’m obviously completely delusional about my size and shape! Back to the drawing board…
Fabric’s pretty, though, isn’t it? Obviously the bit unders the scissors is showing the wrong side but you can just seen the colours from the roll at the back. Palest shell pink with pink and plum roses and a touch of purple on some of the leaves. Yes, you got me; it was the purple that did it.
So there I was, new design in head, cutting and stitching madly when I was felled like a poleaxed rhino by a picture of Brigitte Bardot. Okay, I don’t have a major thing for Mlle Bardot but I fell head over heels in love with the frock she was wearing. And, best of all, it would look stunning recreated in one of my new fabrics.
I’d originally imagined a late 40s/early 50s style wrap/waterfall frock in this – and that still might happen – but that amazing frock is going to have to be made in it too, even if I only ever make one because nobody orders it. (Not that that has ever happened but there’s always a first time and I do worry.)
Which brings me to the “old favourites” part of my blog. Are you a constant mover-onner or a ‘tried and trusted is best’ person? I think I’m a bit of both. It’s well known that if I find a style of shoe that I like, then I tend to buy it in every colour. Other than brown. (But occasionally brown, too.) I haven’t done this with frocks to the same extent. I have more than one circle skirt (obviously) and 2 “Dianas” (the first sample, which changed after I road-tested it and a slightly recut one with a sweetheart neckline) but most of my other frocks are singular. This doesn’t appear to be the same for my customers. Some have a tendency to buy the same style over and over again, just in different prints. One customer is devoted to Sophia, a halterneck style I first did several summers ago and have basically phased out in favour of Leah. She likes it so I continue to make it. Another customer likes Diana in just about every fabric. But just lately I was taken by surprise by quite a few customers, who have most of the styles I make in their wardrobes, saying, “You know, my favourite is still Frances. There’s something so simple and easy to wear about it.” Well, it’s a simple style, a bit of a faff to make (lots of lining up and understitching) and not the easiest to fit to everybody, but I never imagined it would be as loved as it is. And that makes me happy.
Tell me your favourite Wednesday March style. And what styles you’d like to see in the future. I’d like to know…
I know, I know. There you are, waiting patiently on Sunday morning for This Week’s Wittering and it fails to arrive. Huge disappointment and your entire week is ruined or at the very least set off on the wrong foot. Please accept my apologies. I was a tad under the weather and the blog post I’d been working on still isn’t ready. It’s one that is close to my heart and therefore very important to get right so I’ll land that one on you another day.
So here we have a short but sweet wittering inspired by me actually Going Out last Saturday night. Yes, that’s right, I went out. Out, out. Food, wine, music, dancing, friends, good times… Yes, it was all there, along with a lengthy prize-giving in Cornish dialect (always entertaining but probably for the wrong reasons) and a mercifully shorter than usual raffle. And, I’m happy to say, this year the attendees had raised their game somewhat. I’ve been to this particular occasion (an awards presentation for a local league) for the past few years and when I started attending, the standard of dress was shockingly low. You’d think, living in the arse end of nowhere, surrounded by sheep, beligerant ponies and a lot of rocks and mud, people would make a bit of an effort whenever the rare chance presented itself but, alas, that didn’t seem to be the case. This year, however, there was a much higher standard. Okay, it wasn’t brilliant and I know that my Liverpudlian friends would still be horrified but it was better than usual.
Needless to say, I am fully retro-frocked and petticoated up every year. No exceptions. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I wasn’t so that’s that. This year I wore the New Frock, which is now named “Constance”. It can’t stay being called the New Frock because there is another one on the way. But I digress and teasing you isn’t kind…
So, the point of the post. What on earth is it that makes ladies of a certain age think that it’s okay to guy themselves up in Very Short Frocks? Especially leopard-print Very Short Frocks. Okay, that’s mean. I’m quite partial to a bit of leopard but, seriously? Leopard print mini-dress? When you’re over 50? What are you THINKING?! No, love, you’re not Tina Turner.
So how come Ms Turner could break the “rules” with impunity? Well, aside from the fact she had seriously good legs (old knees are not pretty and are best covered) and was wearing a stage costume, she also had seriously good attitude. That woman could wear pretty much anything on stage and get away with it. Doing the same is nigh on impossible for normal people at the best of times, let alone at a carvery dinner with a prize-giving ceremony and raffle. There are, possibly, some people who could carry it off. This lady was not one of them. Had she stalked in on killer heels, hips forward, head held high and owned the room, then yes, bravo; you go for it, love. As it was, she shuffled around, physically holding down the sides of her skirt, glued to the side of her friend and doing her best to pretend she wasn’t feeling really, really uncomfortable.
Moral of the story? If you have to ask – either yourself or a friend – “Is it too [anything]…?” then it almost certainly is. Bin it and wear something that doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. Because if you feel uncomfortable in something, it isn’t going to make you want to dance. And if you don’t want to dance, then what’s the point?