She’s Back!

 Style  Comments Off on She’s Back!
Mar 152015
 

You may or may not have noticed a deafening silence from this direction last Sunday.  There were tumbleweeds blowing through the ether.*  Miss Wednesday has been somewhat indisposed and therefore her weekly blog didn’t happen.  Not only did she have nothing about which she could fashion a blog, she had been struggling to even sit up in bed to actually type it.  Admittedly, by Sunday she was starting to get better but it still wasn’t good.

So she had a nice relaxing bath, as is her usual Sunday morning ritual, enveloped in a haze of rose-scented Floris, sustained by gin and good coffee and entertained by slightly soggy copies of Tatler and Vogue.

[Please imagine a lovely picture of a luxurious Edwardian bathroom, complete with tub full of bubbles.  That’s what is supposed to be here, only with left-over lurgy still loitering, it proved to be a challenge too far.]

That’s when the fury started.  Now, obviously, it wasn’t the Tatler causing it – perish the thought.  That publication has given Miss W nothing but delight since she started reading it at school, back when Noah was in the sixth form.  It wasn’t even Vogue.  No, it was a little booklet/brochure enclosed with Vogue and showcasing the SS15 collection from a fashion label that had best remain anonymous.

Now Miss Wednesday was brought up in a world where quality and value were synonymous.  If you bought quality, you automatically obtained good value.  (We’re not talking “ridiculously overpriced luxury” here, just proper, well-crafted, good quality.)  And when you bought something new, it was expected to look new when you bought it and – very importantly – to last a good long time, ageing gracefully once it lost its novelty and newness, to became a well-worn, loved and trusted old friend.

So what’s with this vogue for buying things that already look, well, knackered?  Why would you want to spend your hard-earned cash on something that is pretty much worn out before you even get chance to wear it in?  Doesn’t compute with Miss Wednesday at all.  In between coughing, sneezing and swigging (medicinal) gin, she grumbled very loudly at pretty much every page of that brochure.  Especially when she noticed the elasticated and drawstring waists…

Incidentally, the same principles apply with husbands.  Either bag a nice new one and expect to wear him in and keep him forever or pick up a dodgy old one, expect him to look, well, “worn in” (although don’t make the mistake of expecting him to be properly trained; if he’s back on the market, it’s almost certainly because he isn’t) and definitely don’t think he’ll see you out.  Of course, if that’s your plan. Anna Nicole…

 

*Well, actually, they were dog hair dust bunnies but Miss Wednesday has never been domesticated and considers animal hair to be excellent insulation.

A Small, Scarlet Miracle

 Cosmetics, Style  Comments Off on A Small, Scarlet Miracle
Feb 222015
 

A couple of weeks ago, Miss Wednesday was finally forced to venture into the Looe branch of Boots the Chemist.  She took Miss Sara as backup and they carefully checked whether The Assistant From The Depths of Hell was behind the till.  She wasn’t, so they confidently approached the cosmetics aisle.  It’s only a tiny branch of Boots and doesn’t have a wide selection of anything, but there is a small stand of Bourjois cosmetics, which is an old brand that combines history, excellent quality and very reasonable prices and Miss Wednesday likes it.

There was a dilemma.  As per usual, Boots had a 3 for 2 offer on and Miss Wednesday required 3 items, 2 eyeshadows and a concealer.  The problem was that the range of little round pots of eyeshadow appeared to have been greatly reduced and neither of the requisite colours were there.  They did, however, have the Smoky Stories Quad Eyeshadow Palette, which had 2 of the right colours and another 2 more exciting ones to boot, so that was a result.  Except that took the total of products to 2.  So what was Miss Wednesday to pick for her freebie?

She narrowed down the selection to a choice of 2 lipsticks.  One bright red and one very nude.  Did Miss Wednesday really need another red lipstick, bearing in mind that she’s very, very picky about red lipstick and usually gives them away after one wearing, even when they come from Chanel?  But could she pull off the nude lipstick look?  If you’ve ever witnessed her behaviour when (the very lovely) Claudia Winkleman appears on the television – “Claudia, darling, you’ve forgotten your lipstick again!” – then you’d probably say no.  So she put the red lipstick in the basket, dealt with the (thankfully) very nice lady behind the till, and added the lipstick to her cosmetics stash when she got home.

Weirdly for Miss Wednesday, the lipstick sat in the box for a couple of weeks.  Normally she can’t wait to try anything new but this winter she’s been devoted to her Dior Rouge Nude Illusion 779, and just couldn’t bring herself to forsake it.  But at last she did.

The new one is a Bourjois Rouge Edition lipstick in colour number 13, Jet Set.  It’s red.  Very red.  Doesn’t appear overly blue- or orange-based, but the very pale Miss Wednesday can wear either and it is actually a very nice red.  The packaging is mainly black plastic and doesn’t look particularly swish and the product smells like, well, lipstick.  Nothing out of the ordinary so far.  It’s not going to beat Besame there.  Goes on smoothly, nice texture, good colour and coverage over a base of a red Max Factor lip pencil and face powder.  So far, so good.

Red lipstick

Bourjois Rouge Edition Number 13, Jet Set.

 

The lippy went on at about 10.30am.  Miss Wednesday’s day involved a rampage over the moor with the Alfhound, the making of a couple of frocks, several cups of coffee, some nuts from her Graze box and one perfunctory re-application before leaving work.  At nearly 9pm, after a cup of tea and dinner, she glanced in a mirror and was stunned to find that the colour was almost all still there.  But there was something else, something even more amazing.

It was all still on her lips.  This one, ladies and gentlemen, is not a bleeder.  Not even a fine feathering.  And that, on a 46 year old is little short of miraculous.  Or witchcraft.  Either way, she won’t be parting with this lipstick in a hurry and suggests that if you’re keen on a red lippy but struggle with the bleeding issue, you might want to give this one a try.

Miss Wednesday is not connected with Boots or Bourjois in any way, shape or form.  But she does love good make-up.  And a bargain.

Nov 092014
 

Last week’s blog post proved a tad controversial in some quarters and an eye-opener in others.  I wanted to get people thinking and it seems – certainly from the stats on my various social media accounts – that I’ve achieved that.  But following on from my whinge about the swamping of the market to the detriment of the smaller (and more ethical) businesses, here’s the next part of the problem.  Read, digest, discuss.  I like a good debate.

I whinged at length about the flooding of the ‘big cheapo brands’ drowning and washing away the smaller ones.  Why is it such a problem?  Surely, if the smaller brands can’t compete – and much of life is about survival of the fittest – then it’s their own fault, isn’t it?  Well, no.  Not when the playing field is so uneven and the public so reluctant to open their eyes and see what is actually happening.

I’m all in favour of choice.  If we all wore the same thing, life would become incredibly bland.  I love life’s rich tapestry and I’m all for plenty of choices in the marketplace.  The more the merrier in my book!  I’ve never wanted to look like anyone else (except, perhaps, Isabella Rossellini, but even then not in her clothing choices).  Individualism is a good thing in my book.

But the World Domination Plan of the big cheapo brands actually ruin that.  Way back when, in the “good old days”, most basic staples were – relatively – more expensive than they are now, making people have to think more about how they spent their money.  They had a finite amount of money (credit was rare and credit cards hadn’t been invented) and had to really budget and consider – crucially – just how long a purchased item would last and whether it was worth the money.  People expected to pay a fair price for a fair product.   The throwaway society hadn’t been invented.  I wonder what my Great Aunt Gladys would think of life now?  She was a tailoress and made most of my family’s clothes.  My brother had properly tailored long trousers to wear to school in the winter (we’re talking late 50s and early 60s, when many young schoolboys had to put up with short trousers all year round) and Aunt Gladys taught my mother to recognise quality fabric, good construction and finish and garments that would last, even if they were a little more expensive.  My mother, in turn, used to flip up garments in shops when we went shopping and a sharp intake of breath would ensue if seams, hems or finishing weren’t up to scratch.   If you could afford better quality, then you bought it because it offered better value.  Clothes were worn time and time again and expected, with the right care, to last.  In order to “ring the changes”, people became inventive and wore them in different ways, with different things and added accessories.  This creativity seems to have all but disappeared and now people just want new clothing all the time and equate cheapness with value.  This is a fundamental flaw in reasoning.

Of course, not everybody can afford to pay £100 upwards for a frock.  I realise this.  I know plenty of people, however, who screech at the very idea of paying even £75 for a frock but those same people go out shopping every Saturday, coming back with bags full of clothes from the main emporia of tat.  I’m willing to wager a fair wedge that if you add up the cost of the garments in their bulging wardrobes, it would far outweigh the few items I buy each year.  I think it’s also a fair bet that (a) if you work out a ‘price per wear’ value for those garments, they are likely to be considerably more expensive than my treasured and well-worn stuff, (b) most of them will be much, much newer and (c) a high number will have never been worn at all.  I have garments in my cupboard that date back to the 1980s.  My classic Burberry mac, for instance, dates from circa 1983.  I’m not its first owner and probably won’t be its last as it is still going very strong and I have a list of people who want me to leave it to them in my Will.  I have a scarf/shawl I bought from Harrods for the exorbitant price of £12.50 back in December 1984.  The friend with me at the time was horrified.  I wonder what she’d say if I pointed out that I still have it and still wear it.  My favourite coat dates back to 1989 and still looks a million dollars when I wear it.  It was expensive but I have worn it and worn it and worn it and it will go on for many years yet.  Hell, it should see me out.  I might even be buried in it!  Well, if it isn’t spirited away by one of the people who have already “put their sticker on it”.

I also realise that many people see no reason to buy one quality frock when they can buy, say, 4 cheapo ones for the practically the same money.  Why buy one of mine, for example?  Well, because mine are individually made to order and tend to fit the purchaser, for a start.  I’ve seen a lot – and I mean a lot – of the cheapo frocks, that people bring in to me, asking if I can “make them fit”.  I’ve looked, I’ve been horrified and I’ve turned every single one away.  No.  I can’t sort them out because the cut and manufacture of the dresses isn’t up to scratch in the first place.  The reason they poke at the neck is because the neckline has just been turned over and, basically, hemmed.  There are no linings, no facings, no understitching; nothing to ensure the neckline works properly.  Looks lovely on a mannequin but doesn’t work on a real body.  At least, not when that body does something ridiculous like, er, move.  And the reason there’s something not quite right about the waistline is because the manufacturer has shifted one or more pattern pieces off the grain of the fabric in order to squeeze out more dresses.  Woven fabric is solid in two directions.  When you start cutting across those threads at an angle, the fabric starts to move and becomes stretchy.  This is fine when it has been deliberately cut on the bias as part of the design (much of the beautiful, slinky fit and draping of 1930s clothing is achieved this way) but when it’s not meant to do that, it becomes a problem.  How many tops – t-shirts especially – have you seen where the sleeves have twisted, especially after washing?  It’s because the manufacturer has skimped and cut the fabric where it shouldn’t have been cut instead of using a bit more fabric and doing it properly.  It’s “never mind the quality, feel the width” again.  Does it really  matter with a £2 t-shirt from Primark?  Well, yes.  It does.  You add up the price of all those rubbish t-shirts you’ve worn a couple of times and then had to ditch because they’re unwearable.  Maybe you could have bought one that was well-made in a quality fabric that you would still be wearing – and looking good in – several years down the line.

Of course, if you persist in buying only the cheapo stuff, you may not have that quality option in future.  Not unless you’re willing to shell out a lot more money and I do mean a lot.  At the moment, we have a middle ground with excellent options  – check out Miss Fortune and Lady K Loves  for starters – in between the exploitative cheap stuff and the expensive brands.  But if the cheapo brands win out, the middle ground will simply disappear so there will be no real option for buying quality unless you can shell out a vast amount of money and your chances of purchasing anything other than mainstream fast fashion will be virtually nil.  Not everybody wants to look the same but at some point they may have little choice and that would be disastrous for both the alternative scene (which encompasses more than just vintage/retro) and the planet, as resources are plundered with no regard to economies, the environment and the lives of the people being paid so little to produce sub-standard rubbish to satisfy the first world thirst for more.

Please don’t let that happen.

Nov 022014
 

Last week, I read a status from a friend on Facebook that really struck a chord with me:-

“So hard when my business is struggling and I keep seeing my friends liking and sharing posts from one of the main cheapo, poor quality, overseas made brands that are putting me out of business.”

Ouch.  I feel that pain.  Because it’s happening a lot.  And I’m seeing it from people I thought actually cared about the same things I care about.  About supporting British business and industry.  About buying the best quality they can afford and thinking about their purchases rather than, “Never mind the quality, feel the width”.

It actually makes me feel sick* when I see someone I consider a close friend helping advertise these fly-by-night companies, who mostly import cheap copies from China and have them labelled as their own designs.  I think about the friends and contacts I have in the fashion industry who have worked hard to build up their retro brands and doggedly stuck to their principles – having everything done in the UK and doing their bit to support British manufacturing, even though it undoubtedly costs more – also feeling sick as they watch their friends and customers marketing this stuff for those companies who don’t give a hoot about ethics, supporting this country’s economy or even about the customers who adore the retro/vintage/rockabilly/psychobilly look and scene.  What will these “brands” be doing when the whim of fashion turns to something “new”?  Where will those people who are longtime devotees of the look get their clothing then?  Because I can assure you that those big, cheapo brands are bandwagon jumpers and they will drop the current look for the next big thing quicker than a yummy mummy with the whiff of a new “designer” fragrance.  They haven’t worked long hours perfecting their craft, their designs and their skills.  They haven’t searched and researched in order to bring you quality products manufactured with integrity.  They copied the ideas of those designers who put in the hours and work, handed them over to sweatshops in far flung lands, no doubt squeezed the margins on those factories and are now flooding the market with “their” products.

Woman in retro frock at desk and frowning

Miss Wednesday sweating blood in her workshop. Doing the stuff that isn’t sewing. Yes, she’s grumpy.

I’ve noticed a huge change in the pages of Vintage Life magazine since some of these “brands” started swamping the marketplace.  The pages are now filled with “look books” from the likes of them and most of the smaller advertisers have disappeared.  Where have they gone?  I shudder to think.  There used to be at least 8 pages of “classified” adverts for smaller British brands.  Now there are 2.  And while we’re on the subject of advertising, you know all those features with pretty products from different companies?  Little pictures of delicious items that the magazine have been clever enough to track down and want to share with their lovely readership?  Doesn’t work like that.  In order to have your product included in one of those “What we’re loving this month!” features, you are expected to pay a lot of money.  It doesn’t look like paid for advertising but I can assure you that it is.  And it’s expensive.  Most of the smaller companies can’t afford it, which is why you see the same few big names cropping up time and time again, including some from the US.

So there’s the irony.  Those big companies with their huge advertising budgets who are swamping the market, are also getting the “liker and sharers” to do their advertising for them.  Double whammy!  How they must rub their hands with glee.  “All we have to do is offer one of our cheap as chips products and thousands upon thousands of people are spreading the word for us!  It’s cost us, ooh, less than a tenner!  Result!”  And that’s if they do actually give away all the frocks they are offering…  There’s a lot of fakery goes on with Facebook.  Plenty of accounts aren’t actually real.  It’s a huge problem.

The boutiques are also hit by the swamping tactics.  As the market becomes flooded with these wares, the smaller, middle-ground companies get pushed out and people expect to buy a frock for £24.99 so the boutiques have little choice but to stock those products instead.  Obviously they need to shift a lot of those products in order to pay the rent and overheads on their premises, let alone make a living but if that’s what the customer demands…  Of course, it isn’t long before the boutiques are forced to give up and close their doors.  This is happening all over the country, which is taking away jobs and livelihoods and removing choice from the consumer.

So please, think about what you buy and think about what you’re “liking and sharing” on social media too.  Consider the wider implications of your actions because those ripples go a long way and their consequences may well not be to your liking.

Next week, the importance of that choice.  And coming soon there will be a links page entitled “Miss Wednesday Loves…”  It will be chock-a-block with loveliness of excellent quality and wonderful design and, frankly, spilling over with integrity, although not in a “flappy sandals and knit-your-own-yoghurt” way.  Your go-to resource for all the things that – gasp! – Miss Wednesday cannot provide.  Watch this space.

 

* It should be pointed out, however, that whilst it is a horrid feeling, it’s tempered by the knowledge that none of the people I consider friends will have done this maliciously and therefore it’s never made a blind bit of difference to my feelings towards them and their friendship.

 

“Will You Be My Bridesmaid?”

 Frocks, Style, Weddings  Comments Off on “Will You Be My Bridesmaid?”
Oct 122014
 

Also known as “Fifteen years of friendship down the drain…”

The bridesmaid thing.  Is it a blessing or a curse?  An opportunity to have a wonderful, friendship-sealing rite of passage with your closest friends/nearest and dearest or The Sweetest Revenge Opportunity Ever?

I get a lot of enquiries about bridesmaids’ dresses.  A lot.  Oh yes.  Most come from the bride to be and/or her mother.  Mostly they are nice and want something pretty but slightly unusual and ‘vintage-style’.  Something that isn’t prom/evening wear or in satin/chiffon/organza.   Mostly I am able to oblige them with exactly what they are wanting, even if they haven’t been able to quite put it into words.  Sometimes there is no way on this earth I am going to be able to work with either the bride or the mother and nothing I can do will actually make them happy.  That’s when my order book becomes over-full and fabric unavailable…   But usually I can help.

The thing with bridesmaids is that they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and outlooks.  It is an absolute minefield for the kind and caring bride to try to negotiate the terrain and keep each and every one of her attendants happy in a frock that will fit, suit, match the theme/colour scheme and not scare the vicar.  Enough to put you off getting married anywhere other than in secret with a couple of witnesses grabbed off the street.  (Regular readers will know that I had the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as attendants at my wedding.  Much easier and more fun.  And no, not a euphemism for various family members I detest, either!)

Of course, the majority of wedding consultations start out in a less than happy mood.  When there is more than one bridesmaid, they are invariably all worried about what is going to happen, what the others may want or not want and what they are likely to end up with.  They don’t want to upset the other bridesmaids and they certainly don’t want to upset the bride.  If I had a pound for every time I heard, “I’m just going to turn up and wear whatever you want me to wear,” uttered with a sigh, then I’d be smiling all the way to the bank.  Unfortunately, nobody ever coughs up that pound, nor does that sentence fill me – or the bride – with joy.  On the contrary, it’s when the feeling of Impending Doom deepens, blackens and threatens the swallow up the room and everyone in it.  Weddings should be joyful occasions and nobody wants a bridesmaid who is really unhappy with her frock or is there on sufferance.  Every female member of that wedding party should be wearing something that makes her want to dance.  Which is where I come in…

Happily, most of the people who come to see me about bridal stuff want “something different”; it’s quite rare for me to be confronted with “everything is to be traditional and done by the book”, which is probably my worst nightmare.  Weddings should be fun.  Have I said that already?  I’ll repeat it anyway.  Weddings should be fun.  And the participants should be comfortable.  To that end, I have a few styles that I know work very well for bridesmaid dresses.  The Leah and Diana styles (halter neck or cap sleeved, princess seamed, straight or sweetheart neckline) are the most obvious choices and very popular, especially as the bodices are shirred at the back, delivering excellent fit and the potential for devouring an extra slice of wedding cake in comfort.  Not everybody wants a halter neck, so the Diana gives a little more shoulder coverage.

Halterneck retro 50s style full skirted frock in yellow fabric with printed cherry pattern

Leah halter neck style, in yellow cherry print fabric.

 

Retro 50s style frock with cap sleeves in black fabric with bright pink roses

Diana full skirted style, with straight neckline (can also be done with sweetheart) and cap sleeves.

But then, there are always ladies who worry – probably more than they should – about their arms.  And tummies.  Hips.  Shoulders.  Oh, every bit of them.  At this point, I usually recommend a burkha.  When they’re over the shock of that and realise I’m joking, I point them in the direction of Verity, my pseudo-1940s style with the slight empire line and the full circle skirt.

Yesterday’s clients were a hoot.  Lovely ladies but not at all happy about the prospect of finding the perfect style to suit them all.  The dress they all – allegedly – wanted wasn’t going to work, as another dressmaker had already told them.  They said they “liked the style” of Diana but their faces clearly said, “Not that much…”  Sleeves were mentioned.   I waved to Verity and they all assumed an expression of horror.  Now, I know that poor Verity wasn’t on the best mannequin (Gladys, my lingerie model, who is difficult at the best of times, and is the mannequin on the right hand side in the following picture) and wasn’t sporting a petticoat, so probably didn’t look her most enticing.  But the reaction was hysterical.  “Oh, I don’t like that at all!” came from the bride.  Quickly followed by, “It makes me think of 1940s…”  Yes!  It’s supposed to!  “… Those things that cleaners wore.  Crossed over at the front.  Hideous.  Sorry.  I really don’t like it.”  Cracking description, albeit not how I see the frock.  Chief Bridesmaid was more succinct.  “Looks like a preg tent.”

Retro style frock in navy spot fabric with sleeves and crossover bodice

Verity in navy pin spot fabric.

At this point I did my best not to double up on the floor laughing.  I have never heard the expression “preg tent” before but I am certainly storing that one up for future usage.  Oh yes.

I’m not sure how Chief Bridesmaid was persuaded to don said “preg tent” but she was.  Petticoat was slipped over her head (she wasn’t going through the rigmarole of getting her kit off to try a cleaner’s overall!) and Verity followed.  Zipped up the back.  Expression changed.  She looked in the mirror and realised she looked fabulous.  She twirled.  She smiled.  Twirled a bit more and beamed. Everybody else beamed.  The bride was gobsmacked and changed her mind completely about the style.  All of a sudden, it ticked all the boxes.   The other bridesmaids did their best to try it on (wrong size, not their fault) and pronounced themselves equally enamoured.  And they all smiled.

Now all I have to do is source the perfect fabrics, because they’re all having the same design but different colours.  Very precise different colours.  Did they come armed with knowledge of the exact Pantones?  No.  Of course not.  (And, frankly, the day a bridal party does that is the day I run away screaming!)  But they are off to B&Q to arm themselves with those paint colour cards.  Easy.

Me?  I’m off fabric shopping, which I enjoy.  I’ll be looking for specifics when I rock up at the London Textile Fair in January, not just inspiration.  Excellent.

Meanwhile, the bridal party have the fun of deciding what colour petticoats (I’m recommending a pop of something vivid underneath their pastel frocks) and finding The Perfect Shoes.  The right style, colour and ones they can walk and dance in.  All day and night.

Now that we’ve settled on the style, I think I have the easier task…