In the Closet with Frith Wilkinson

Welcome to the eighth installment of our In the Closet with series! This week Natasha steps inside the wardrobe of painter Frith Wilkinson.
Golden Bay, a remote community in the South Island, is well-known as a haven for alternative lifestylers, artisans and folk living off the grid, so it’s no surprise that self expression and eccentricity are embraced there.
 
Despite the alternative fashion and hippie style that abounds, it’s still pretty rare to see locals decked out in head-to-toe vintage – except for 47-year-old watercolour artist Frith Wilkinson, that is!
Her Instagram feed is awash with spellbinding vintage ensembles with a particular emphasis on 1930s and 40s tailoring, turbans, vintage knitwear, high-waisted trousers, interesting necklines and lush silk velvet evening dresses.
 
Frith’s been dressing up in some way or other since childhood (she used to dress as a boy when she was young) and has never been one to worry about fitting in.
When she first upped sticks and moved to the country, she swore she’d never wear gumboots, but she’s now a convert! As an artist, she spends a great deal of time in overalls but loves to don vintage in her down time.
 
” I definitely don’t wear vintage while painting. I’ve never felt pressure from other artists to dress down, in fact it’s the artists I know who tend to be the ones who like to dress up, although not necessarily living in vintage.”
 
Although she considers herself an introvert, she believes dressing up is the perfect foil to her other, more earnest pursuits of art, reading and film.
 
Read on to see more of Frith’s “masculine with a feminine edge” style!
 
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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?
 

I have been collecting vintage clothing for over two decades now so I have a fairly large collection which consists mostly of 1930s, 1940s and some 1950s clothes, accessories and shoes.  There’s seems to be a disproportionate amount of green, it’s my favourite colour…in all hues. There are also a lot of 1930s and 40s knits…it’s an obsession.

 

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

I’m not a purist, although I do prefer true vintage as one of the things I love about vintage clothing is the history of the pieces. I like to imagine the lives their previous owners have lived. But I do have some reproductions. They’re mostly made from vintage fabric and wool using vintage patterns.  Also, true vintage pieces are often unaffordable for me nowadays.

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These shoes are from the 1940s.
 

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

I have quite a few favourites so it’s hard to choose.

One would be a 1930s knitted dress in a dusty salmon pink with embroidered flowers called Olive. I purchased it off Vanessa from @twosquirrelsvintage. It’s called Olive after the woman who knitted her.

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Another are a 1940s dress and top made by a local woman, Thelma, and gifted to me by her niece who still lives in Thelma’s house. They are exquisite and beautifully made.

Also a knitted bolero and matching beret set made, designed and gifted to me by the lovely @squidneyknits who I met through Instagram.

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Frith wears a late 1940s suit.

Any noteworthy recent purchases?

I love my 1930s silk velvet dress with embroidered arms which I purchased for a song (which is rare nowadays). I mended some of the embroidery which had disintegrated, and now it’s like new.
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My 1930s silk velvet dress with embroidered arms

 How did you first become interested in vintage style?

I first became interested in the 1980s when I was in my teens. You could wear something unique and it was so cheap. There were still a lot of great vintage scores then as it wasn’t popular like it is today.

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What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you?

What appeals the most is the cut, the beautiful fabrics, the stories they hold, and that it’s better for the environment. Also, nobody else will be wearing the same thing as you.

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How does it make you feel when you wear it?

I feel very comfortable wearing vintage as it suits my body shape. It is a little like fantasy as well, I have a nostalgia for the fashion and the way women dressed in the past, and I feel altered and transported in a way when I’m wearing it. It makes me happy.

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“This is one of the pieces local woman Thelma made in the late 1930s.”
What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?
 

My favourite eras are the late 1930s to mid 1940s. I also like aspects of the 50s, but prefer the less “pretty” styles. I tend to like clothes that are feminine but with a masculine edge  to them.

 

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An example of an out fit made from original 1930s rayon crepe (trousers) and vintage wool using 1930s patterns 
Where are your favourite shopping haunts?
 
My favourite places to shop (other than Instagram and Etsy) are Ménage a Trois in Christchurch. It’s like an old-school vintage shop with lots of treasures, and Shelley is just lovely. The Mayfield Store in Mayfield, South Canterbury and Eclectic in Nelson. 
 
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What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

 

 It seems to be harder each year to find good vintage in New Zealand and the good pieces are usually unaffordable for me now. You still find some gems occasionally though.

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

Not sure about holy grail pieces or labels, but I do love vintage rayon crepe, cold rayon , wool crepes and silk velvet. My favourite outfit types depends on my mood. Usually something 1940s with a bit of a masculine edge.

I love high-waisted 1930s and 40s trousers, they’re my go-to and a staple of my wardrobe. I nearly always wear a hat of some type, either a beret or turban/headscarf. And I adore vintage knits from the 1930s and 40s.

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Whose closet do you envy?

I don’t know if I could say I envy anybodies closet as I’m happy with my own, but I love Katherine Hepburn style.

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Who are some of your style icons and influences?

I really don’t have any style icons. I do love old clothing catalogues like Sears though. Also old patterns and magazines.  They  have great suggestions for outfit styling. 

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

I think the first vintage piece I bought was a 1940s rayon jersey dress from Tasman Traders in Christchurch. I must have been about 14 or 15 and I wore it for years.

 

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How do members of the public react to your get-ups?
 

Most people are lovely and really appreciate someone dressing up. I really only get positive comments. The only thing that I use to find annoying was when I worked in a wee chocolate shop, people often asked about my costume, which is kind of understandable really. I often get stopped by strangers who like to complement me on my style.

 

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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?

No, I work as an artist so I mostly live in overalls. I do open my studio to the public in the summer months and so I’ll dress up then.

 

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

Not really. I live in a tiny house with a very small budget, so I just stick to clothing. Although most things in my home are second hand or thrifted  If I could, I would definitely fill my house with beautiful old things and drive an old car.

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This knitted set was knitted for me as a gift from Sydney (she lives in New York) of @squidneyknits. Having never met me before, she decided that she wanted to design and knit something for me..it’s one of the loveliest things anyone’s ever done for me. I’ve met so many lovely people on Instagram who have a shared love of vintage. Since this, Sydney has also knit me a gorgeous vest for Christmas from a 1940s pattern.

Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?

Stilettos or a bikini.  
Can’t get enough of Frith’s style? Follow her on Instagram now!

WE WANT YOU!

Do you have a killer vintage wardrobe and would like to be featured on the blog? Contact us now!
 
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This is one of the pieces local woman Thelma made in the late 1930s.

 

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