In the closet with: Bailey McCormack

Natasha Francois peeks into the wardrobe of Wellington’s Fanciforia Foxglove.

With looks to rival Jayne Mansfield and comic timing to match Lucille Ball, Fanciforia Foxglove, aka Bailey McCormack, flawlessly combines slapstick comedy and period-perfect style.

A communications manager by day, and burlesque performer (and publicist) by night, the 29-year-old Wellington denizen describes herself as a “vintage girl in a modern world, with the style of a silver screen queen but the sensibilities of a 21st century woman” .

When it comes to vintage hair styling, she’s a purist who swears by the ‘no heat’ method of pin curling. She believes in her technique so much that she holds classes to teach other women the lost art of pin curls. In her spare time, she teaches burlesque and co-produces the comedy show Lip Sync Battles Wellington.

And if that weren’t enough, she’s also involved with the coolest mass dog walking event in the country The Big Dog Walk with Lots of Dogs, and is a publicist for the upcoming variety show at the Opera House The Menagerie Deluxe.

Read on for a peek at her theatrical threads…

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You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet? What would we find within?

Goodness where to start! You would find everything from ostrich boa feathered burlesque costumes, to 1960s deadstock gowns, to custom made corsets; heaps of ’50s style high-waisted capris and even a rooster costume! (Long story) I think the best way to sum it up would be eclectic and theatrical.

I seem to acquire weird and wonderful items that I always try and make use of as a performer. But I would say most of my wardrobe is made up of op shop finds and the odd vintage store splash out.

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Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?

No, not a purist, but I do get more excited and enticed by true vintage items; I just love the thrill of discovering a gem from the past, especially if it’s an op shop bargain. I’m drawn to unique pieces that tell a story and evoke a sense of character.

However, I do find myself buying more and more repro these days as I feel there is better variety of styles and influences on the market currently. I tend to buy repro items for everyday or work wear as they are great for mixing and matching. I like my vintage items to be real ‘show stoppers’ such as evening wear and costume items.

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What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection?

I have many treasured items and I’m the sentimental type so it’s hard to single out a few but here goes:

 I have a gorgeous and impressive faux fur coat that looks real and garners an average of two comments a day from strangers on the street complementing it’s splendor. It simply demands attention, especially when worn with a fur hat. It’s my winter staple.

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I found a white vintage Edwardian style corset in a thrift store in San Francisco that I turned into a costume piece for a Lucille Ball inspired burlesque act. It required a lot of nipping and tucking, and I added numerous appliques, crystals and feathers but I love it because it’s custom and truly magnificent. I wanted it to look like a piece from the Ziegfeld Follies.

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I have a delightful coral vintage chorus girl/carnival dress with white fringing that looks like something Dolly Parton would have worn on stage in the 60s. It’s a costume piece and at one point was used for the Cuba Street Carnival Parade. I was gifted it from the owner of Wellington’s best vintage store Ziggurat in exchange for performing burlesque in her shop window for an event.

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I have a vintage black and white 1950s swimsuit my mum found in an op shop that I’ve had since I was about 16. It’s tailored to perfection with a built in bullet bra for true ‘va va voom’ factor, much like a 1960s Playboy bunny costume. It has a white panel on the front that actually looks like the shape of a silver fern.

Any noteworthy recent purchases?

I found the most gorgeous emerald green satin floor length dress for only $30 in an op shop. It has beading around the neckline and is just divine. It is handmade and quite rough around the edges, but all it needed was a bit of mending to resurrect it.

I don’t always go for quality and ‘mint’ condition; I’m attracted to bold and often badly sewn costume pieces because they have an amplified sense of drama. Plus, who doesn’t love a bargain! I’m willing to put in the effort for a damaged piece that has potential.

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How did you first become interested in vintage style?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? This is a hard one to answer for me because I feel like it’s in my blood. My mother, grandmother and aunt are all op shop queens – well before op shopping was cool. Firstly, because they grew up working class and it was more affordable, but they all appreciated vintage items (clothes, household items, furniture etc.) as precious relics from the past that kept with them a narrative.

Each item like a little window into the past. They all had an impeccable eye for quality and could sniff out a diamond in the rough from a mile away. They instilled these qualities in me too. To us, op shopping is not just a pastime; it’s a lifestyle, a religion.

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Coupled with that, I have a petite but curvy figure with proportions that were considered ideal for women in the 50s and 60s, but certainly not in the 90s or early 2000s when I was a teen!

As an awkward teen growing up in the era of low rider jeans, belly button rings and boob tubes, I instinctively understood that what was  considered ‘cool’ just didn’t suit my body shape and knew that was ok. I never felt ashamed of my body, I knew there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me. I just needed to go against the grain and change my style to feel comfortable in my own skin.

I must have been watching a lot of Trinny and Suzannah. I’m sure having a liberal upbringing and going to a Rudolf Steiner school where mufti was allowed and self-expression was encouraged no doubt helped foster this attitude.

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I definitely saw my shape represented in pictures of old Hollywood starlets and pinup girls of the 40s and 50s. So I started to emulate those women and have never felt more at home. But it wasn’t always smooth! In my last years of high school I was still finding my way and kind of got stuck in the 80s for a bit en route to the 40s. 50s and 60s. It was all side ponytails and loud colours for a while. I gained a reputation for being an ‘experimental dresser with a bold style’ that year.

What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?

The fit and attention to detail. They just do not make clothes like they used to! Especially if you have curves, vintage clothes are simply more flattering for a womanly figure. Plus so much care was put into making every item look beautiful and last forever.

I must also mention ‘the cinch’ which is something I’m known for always having. I won’t wear anything unless it is cinched at the waist in someway. As a short person, I feel swamped by anything too flowy or A line, so a belt, cinch lip or tapered waistline is a must for me. Even when I’m working out I knot t-shirts at the waist and wear high-waisted gym pants. I’m never off-brand.

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How does it make you feel when you wear it?

It depends on what I’m in! I often describe my style as ‘character dressing’. Some days I feel like being a French air hostess from the 60s, and other days I’m catwoman or a Russian spy.

Clothes and style are so powerful, they tell a story and inform how people judge you in many ways, But no matter what, they make me feel confident and at ease in my own skin. I’m a true believer in having a sense of fun, humour and play with style. I’m a naturally nostalgic person too, so wearing something from the past gives me great joy and honour.

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What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?

I really do appreciate anything from the 1800s to the 80s. I think the 70s is my least favourite because I feel it suits me the least – but I can appreciate 70s items on others and I do love other aspects of the 70s outside of the fashion.

But like many modern vintage enthusiasts ad pinups, I’m most comfortable wearing items from the 40s, 50s and 60s mainly because they are fundamentally designed to flatter my curvy figure the best.

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Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?

Any St Vincent de Paul op shop hands down. Of all the charity shops, St Vinnies staff are the least clued up about vintage. Bless their cotton socks! So I find you can score way better bargains in a St Vinnies store. Especially the ones in small towns.

Ziggurat in Wellington is just magnificent. The items are all really unique and of superb quality.

Thrift in Wellington is also a new favourite. The pricing is mid-range, but they also sell on your behalf so it’s a good place to take unwanted items and earn a bit of $$ for yourself.

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Etsy is a great addition to the scene. I love being able to trawl the entire world for vintage!I Even if most of the time I’m drooling over my laptop instead of actually purchasing. But I have bought the odd  some gems from Etsy, and it’s perfect for finding something really specific.

What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

Gone are the days when it was a secret only a few people were in on! I miss the times where shops were far less picked over. These days you have to go further out into the wops to find true gems for a good price, but it is more satisfying when you do because they are now so rare. I find the further south you go and the more rural, the better the chances.

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Vintage stores will always be more pricey, and they have to be to stay operating, but I’m glad we have them as they can be relied upon for special show stopping items. It’s nice to be able to see them in the flesh, even if it’s just to admire from a distance. But I am also saddened by the shift towards some stores only really stocking 80s and 90s styles as pieces from the 40s, 50s and 60s become more rare and coveted.

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What are your holy grail pieces? Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types?

I’m on the hunt for a vintage Lilli Ann 1940s blazer or a matchy matchy two piece blazer/skirt suit. I haven’t found any small enough to fit me yet, which is incidentally a problem for me, despite knowing many women were more my size in the 40s and 50s.

I am always into a good wiggle dress with a well tailored bust line and a cinched waist a la Jayne Mansfield. Any colour will do as long as it fits tight like a glove.

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Jayne Mansfield

I also love cute 40s and 50s summer sets, like sun tops with little short shorts. I feel like matching sets just aren’t a thing anymore, but they are just so darn adorable and set me in a frenzy of joy. Gingham, yellow, white and any kind of pastel are my go to colours.

I’m all about leopard at the moment too. I just can’t get enough of it. If I could get all of the aforementioned items in leopard I would die happy. I’m very Jayne Mansfield in that way.

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Whose closet do you envy and why?

Dita of course! She has gasp-worthy items from burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee and the most extravagant custom costumes and true vintage collection.

Also the aforementioned Jayne Mansfield. I adore her racy, bad girl 50s style full of wiggle dresses and fur trim.

Violet Chachki the drag queen! She is just killing me with her choices lately. Her aesthetic is really 40s and 50s with a high fashion twist and plenty of sequins of course.

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Dita Von Teese

There is a gorgeous Instagram pinup I follow called Miss Lark Bahar who is Elizabeth Taylor reincarnated. She has the best vintage wardrobe and models her items so beautifully, just nailing the vintage poses perfectly. Every detail is era perfect and just to die for.

Who are some of your style icons and influences?

All the classic old Hollywood like Betty Grable, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. But I also love Brigitte Bardot, Lucille Ball, Dolly Parton, Betty Brosmer and characters like Elly-Mae from the Beverley Hillbillies or burlesque performers like Lillian St. Cyr and Josephine Baker.

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Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?

I actually can’t. Vintage has just been such a huge part of my life,  I never actually had a significant first purchase moment. My mother even used to put me in Victorian dresses as a child, so my vintage palette was being trained and refined from day dot. I probably came out of the womb wearing a 40s sailor dress with a bow in my hair!

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How do members of the public react to your getups?

Very positively. When I entered Miss Pinup I ended up on the telly for basically being Wellington City Council’s sassiest dresser, which is where I worked at the time. The next morning, a nice lady who had seen me on TV came to my work and left a boa feather and some other vintage items because she thought I’d appreciate them! She was a complete stranger but wanted me to have them ‘so I could do them justice’ she said.

I get called Marilyn a lot which is fine with me. Sometimes when I am dressed very burlessquey I get unwanted male attention on the street, but I always stop, turn around and out sass them as a response. They never really expect to be challenged by so feel rather affronted when I do. The performer in me is never afraid to raise my voice and cause a scene on a busy street to make an example out of rude and entitled men.

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A lot of women come up to me and say that they admire my confidence and the way I put outfits together which is really sweet. They often go on to say they could never pull off ‘x, y or z’ , or they don’t have the right occasion to dress up etc – to which I say ‘why the hell not?’ and ‘life is occasion enough!’.

Style requires attitude but attitude can also comes from having a strong sense of self through style. They are inextricably linked. I appreciate any person who makes bold choices, whether they are vintage or not. I enjoy seeing people having fun, taking risks and making statements. Your outfit should say ‘helllooooo world! This is me’. 

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Do you wear vintage to work as well? What do you do and how is your style received in the workplace?

I absolutely do. I’ve been really lucky with my workplaces all totally accepting and in fact encouraging of how I dress.

I tend to stick with more classic silhouettes for workwear but offset that with bold colours and lots of accessories. For example, I will often go with a 1940s vibe, like a pencil skirt and a cardigan in winter so I’m very covered, but the pencil skirt will be hot pink and the cardigan will be mint green. I will then add a beret or a neck tie for added flare.

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To me, my workwear is ‘casual’ by my standards, but to others it is dressed up. I think people appreciate it when someone has put in a bit of effort to create a cohesive outfit from hat to shoes. It shows thought and creativity.

We are lucky in NZ because we have a more casual approach to work wear in general, so you can’t really get it too wrong unless you turn up in flip flops and a bikini top. Because I’m an extrovert/show off, this drive away from formality in the workplace actually makes me want to dress up more and stand out against the grain.

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Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?

Not yet….but I I’m making mental notes for things I’d like to collect for the future. Because I’m a big horse lover, I can certainly see myself collecting vintage equestrian items like stock pins, dressage top hats and jackets, paintings of aristocracy out in the hunting field and anything else horse related. I am just obsessed with all things equestrian. I have jodhpurs that I wear to work sometimes.

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Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?

I’m pretty much game for anything these days. Especially as a performer! I’ve even dressed up as Bryan from the Backstreet Boys for an act so I’m willing to go great lengths for comedic effect.

But for everyday life, you’d never see me wearing anything of the overly casual ‘normcore’ variety. Anything from the 90s or early 2000s that reminds me of my teen years just makes me shudder.

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