In the closet with Brodie Hemmings-Sykes

Christchurch-based Brodie Hemmings-Sykes tells Natasha about her fascination for the forties, why she hoards vintage shoes, and how there’s nothing like the clunk of Bakelite bangles on her arm.

Brodie Hemmings-Sykes is the Cinderella of vintage shoes. Her petite size 5 feet can squeeze into the daintiest of 1940s slingbacks, peeptoe pumps, Oxfords and saddle shoes. While most of us have to resort to hairdryers, alcohol and newspaper stuffed in too-small-but-super-cute shoes in a bid to stretch them out, she can slide her tootsies straight in– and bag the vintage bargains!
Besides her enviable collection of footwear, the avid op shopper’s closet is a jumble of vintage, secondhand and homemade clothing. There’s no particular theme but she favours hooded housedresses, striking prints, classic coats, handknitted cardigans, Bakelite jewellery. She’s also partial to a bit of ’80s does 40s’.
Brodie’s not one to buy pricey modern reproductions– aside from her prized Freddie of Pinewood jeans that is. She prefers to whip up her own creations on her vintage Elna Supermatic sewing machine (which itself was an op-shop bargain at only $15!)
Keen to have a look inside Brodie’s wardobe? Read on!

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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?

Thank you. My wardrobe mainly consists of vintage, homemade or secondhand clothing. There isn’t a particular theme because I love different colours and styles but there are a lot of dresses and shoes.
I have a bit of an obsession with vintage shoes, particularly 1940s ones. I’m pretty lucky because I have size 5 feet which means that I struggle buying new shoes but I can fit a lot of vintage ones.

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

I love true vintage but it can be difficult to find in the right size and in good condition so I sew a lot of my clothes from vintage patterns and fabric. Where possible I use op-shopped notions and authentic sewing techniques because I want my clothing to look like true vintage.
I sew on a vintage green Elna Supermatic that I picked up from an op shop for $15. It’s from the 1950s and doesn’t do anything fancy but sews really well. I don’t buy a lot of new repro clothing as a lot of it is not my style. That being said, I do love my Freddies of Pinewood jeans.

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What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why?
My Bakelite is one of my prized possessions. I bought my first bangle in 2011 from eBay and have been hooked ever since. I love the colours and the carvings.

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There’s nothing quite like the clunk of a whole stack of Bakelite bangles on your arm.

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Any noteworthy recent purchases?

I recently bought a 1940s hooded housedress. A vintage hooded dress has been a holy grail of mine for a long time and I’ve sewn a few from vintage patterns but finding a real one was very exciting. I never thought I would find one in New Zealand, let alone in a vintage shop where I live. I got it from Menage a trois which is a long established vintage shop in a seaside suburb in Christchurch.

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How did you first become interested in vintage style?

My mum has always liked “old things” and has been op shopping for most of her life. I grew up in a house filled with secondhand and vintage things. She also sewed a lot of my clothes when I was a kid and helped me make my first dress from a vintage pattern. She is very creative and constantly has some project on the go. I get my love of vintage and crafting from her.

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

I love the fact that something I’m wearing has lived other lives. It’s fun to imagine who originally bought a dress and what they wore it for. The fit and the workmanship are also a major reason I wear vintage. Clothes today aren’t made to such a high standard and are not expected to last for 50 or 60 years. The sustainability and recycling aspect of wearing vintage or second hand clothing also appeals.

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

At the moment my favourite era is the 1940s. I used to wear a lot more 1950s and 60s styles but over the last few years my style has shifted a bit.

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What are your favourite shopping haunts?

For vintage clothing I do a lot of shopping online through Etsy and Instagram. I’ve also found some gems on Trademe. I love op shopping so I check out my local op shops a couple of times a month.
There are a few op shops within walking distance of where I work so I sometimes go on lunchtime op shopping expeditions.
There aren’t a lot of vintage shops in Christchurch but I like Madame Butterfly, Menage a Trois, and for homeware Quaint and the Curious.

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Do you have any general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

I do buy a lot of my vintage from overseas but the great thing about vintage and op shopping here is that there are hidden treasures. I’ve found 1940s dresses and shoes in op shops. It doesn’t happen a lot but it’s always nice to get those bargains. I think op shopping in Christchurch is pretty good. I don’t buy a lot of vintage clothing but get a lot of homewares, furniture and sewing supplies from op shops.

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

Now that I have a hooded dress, on my wishlist is a 1940s pantsuit in a bright colour.

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Who are some of your style icons and influences?

I get a lot of inspiration from people that I follow on Instagram, I love seeing the way that people wear vintage in their everyday regular lives.

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

I’m pretty sure the first piece of vintage I bought was a 1980s black velvet cocktail dress that I wore for an Audrey Hepburn costume to a school dance. I was probably 15 or 16 at the time. I actually still own it. I haven’t worn it in a long time but I’m too sentimental to get rid of it.

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

I used to feel more self-conscious when I first started wearing vintage but I don’t notice the strange looks I get any more. I usually get positive comments from members of the public. Sometimes people come up to me in the supermarket or wherever and tell me they love my outfit. I haven’t really had any negative experiences other than people staring.

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Do you wear vintage to work as well? If so, how is your style received in the workplace?

I do wear my vintage and handmade clothing to work. I work in an office with a smart casual dress code. I often have to attend meetings with external parties so need to look professional for those but that doesn’t stop me from wearing a vintage pencil skirt, blouse and heels. My workmates are great and often comment on my outfits or ask me if I’ve made what I’m wearing. I work an an industry that’s seen as very conservative but I’ve never had anything other than compliments about the way I dress.

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

My obsession with vintage definitely extends to other parts of my life. I like vintage furniture and homewares and would love a vintage car someday. For me the vintage obsession is about aesthetics and I don’t wish that I lived in another era. I love my smartphone and the internet and bad reality TV.

Follow Brodie on Instagram at @vintage_new_zealand

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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.

 

In the Closet with Sarah Corbet

Hamilton-based librarian Sarah Corbet talks to Natasha Francois about why she has a thing for trousers, how a turban teamed with a linen suit turns heads in Countdown and why she’s too poor to be a purist.

“When you work in a library, people almost seem to expect the stereotype of the twinset and pearls,” says Sarah Corbet.

The 43-year-old, who originally hails from Nottingham in the United Kingdom, loves being able to wear her own clothes to work.

Sartorially she looks like a cross between a woman supporting the war effort or one out to smash glass ceilings for girls in the typing pool, and says there’s nothing better than having her efforts noticed by those of a ‘certain vintage’!

“I get a real buzz off the older ladies that come in and tell me that they used to wear dresses like mine and style their hair like mine which is incredibly flattering coming straight from the source.”

Read on for a glimpse inside Sarah’s closet!

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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?

Mostly items from the 40s and 50s but there are also a lot of modern pieces that have, what I like to think of as the “essence” of these periods; clothing that evoke a time period that help to create the overall impression that I am just off to work on my war effort or break some glass ceilings for the gals back in the typing pool.

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

I’m too poor to be a purist and am incredibly jealous of those with both the budget and patience to be one. I am learning to be more discerning when it comes to vintage clothing and try to restrict myself to collecting items I know I will wear well and wear often. A wardrobe full of organza and tulle is fun and beautiful to look at but I’m not a Real Housewife so more day-wear is my current mission.

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

I have a late 1940s Paul Sachs crepe, camel brown dress with chocolate velvet trim that I adore. I also have a 40s pale lemon flocked gown that unfortunately has the dry rot so it now lives on permanent display in my bedroom.

She fits beautifully but is only really being held together by love. A lot of my most beloved pieces are quite delicate as by the time vintage clothes get to a price point that I can afford, they’re pretty thrashed.

I’ve worn somethings to death because they’ve become solid wardrobe staples and it can be heart breaking to have to permanently retire items.

The roulette wheel of vintage clothing can mean you will never see another piece like it, or that if you do, it inevitably won’t fit.

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Held together by love: The 40s pale lemon flocked gown that has dry rot so it lives on permanent display in her bedroom.

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How did you first become interested in vintage style?

I have always been a bit different when it comes to my own personal style. When I was a child I was obsessed with people like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and how they were both so fearless when it came to their identity. For most of my life music has had an intrinsic relationship with how I dressed.

In the late 80s I started getting into rock and alternative bands and even had a momentary Goth stage when I was about 14. All I would wear was black from head to toe, which I’m sure looked cool when I was sneaking underage into Rock City in Nottingham, but has left me now in later life with a weird aversion to wearing anything darker than navy blue.

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She’s so unusual: For most of her life,  music’s had an intrinsic relationship with how Sarah dresses.

The early 90s were my heydays when grunge arrived and I was at Art College so anything went really. My friends and I were in constant competition to create the most bizarre outfits and it wasn’t uncommon to see one of us wearing a chopped up 1950s wedding dress with a tiara and army boots (Courtney Love was our spirit animal at that time).

I’m ashamed to say that a lot of vintage didn’t make it out of the 90s thanks to me and my friends but even in those days all the more valuable and collectable items were becoming harder to find in charity shops.

I took a break from vintage in the early 2000s because of living the single girl Sex and the City life which meant trolling the high street for Carrie Bradshaw knock offs. Then I found myself in New Zealand which is a whole different story.

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

It’s the aesthetics of vintage clothing that appeal to me the most which is sadly missing from so much of the mass-produced “fast fashion” of modern times. It just feels so much more considered and artisanal and the quality of fabric and tailoring has often left me slack jawed. Wearing something that someone else is unlikely to own pleases the individualist in me also.

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Fiercely individual: Sarah enjoys standing out in a crowd.

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

I’m not an elitist or purist about any particular time period but I do love the classic tailoring of the 40s and 50s, especially the trousers. You can build an amazing look around a good pair of pants. The delicate line between masculine and feminine was manipulated so well at that time and essentially created a look that has endured through design over the past century.

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Enduring style: There’s nothing quite like a classic tailored pair of trousers.

Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?

I used to be a die-hard op shopper and there are plenty of those here in Hamilton but finding vintage out “in the wild” as they say is so hard these days. I used to get a lot of great pieces from Sarah O’Halloran when she was running Bellavintage but now that she’s shut up shop I have to do all the hard work myself (shakes lazy fist at world).

Eclectic in Nelson has the most beautiful vintage items if you’re ever lucky enough to be in that part of the country so when I am I like to treat myself and worry about paying rent later… TradeMe still occasionally throws up some treasures if you’re prepared to wade through all the “super rare” 1980s Dynasty dresses, but of course there’s always a bit of a bun fight for the good stuff.

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Sarah channels Katherine Hepburn.

Do you have general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

I love the Kiwi tradition of not throwing anything away if it’s still useful, which I guess comes from being in such an isolated part of the world. This means you’re never far away from an op shop or an antiques dealer, but in terms of vintage clothing you really have to look overseas, especially America and Europe for the truly fabulous stuff. The Internet has made the vintage market a lot more accessible here in New Zealand but it’s still a thrill when you stumble upon some unexpected treasure at the Sallies.

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Whose closet do you envy and why?

I LOVE Jessica Parker, (@noaccountingfortaste), whose outfits are a huge inspiration for what goes into my wardrobe. I’m also a big fan of a lot of drag queens because they have that fearlessness about them which I find inspirational.

Violet Chachki is the re-incarnation of every Hollywood starlet smashed into one tiny waist. Their whole life is just being a glamorous doll that people love to dress-up and that’s something I can totally relate to, she says writing this in her pyjamas.

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Glamour guru: Violet Chachki

Who are some of your style icons and influences?

I love trousers so it has to be Katherine Hepburn with a bit of Lauren Bacall thrown in. I’ve never been a girlie person so women that have a slight masculine edginess to them light little vintage fires inside me. Did I mention I love trousers?

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Masculine edge: Sarah likes to tread the delicate line between masculine and feminine.

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

It is a handmade 1950s dress made with a green, repeating rose design, cotton fabric. I bought it when I was about 16 years old for, I think, about nine pounds which in those days would have been a lot for me as a poor student. I still have it so it comes out occasionally for another showing each summer. And, yes amazingly it still fits! RIP my dreams of ever getting boobs.

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Librarian chic:  Sarah looks effortlessly elegant in her vintage threads.

How do members of the public react to your getups?

I do get a few compliments every now and then with the, of course, predictable “are you going to a costume/fancy dress party?” etc. Because I’m not trying to exactly recreate eras with what I wear or make historically accurate statements, it seems to be less jarring for most people. Although a turban with matching lipstick and a 1940s linen suit will turn heads in Countdown.

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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’m really lucky that I get to wear my own clothes to work. When you work in a library people almost seem to expect the stereotype of the twin set and pearls. I get a real buzz off the older ladies that come in and tell me that they used to wear dresses like mine and style their hair like mine which is incredibly flattering coming straight from the source. Although none of them have yet to donate to me said dresses I still live in hope that one day there still exists out there the mother lode of vintage with my name on it. A lot of the little kids just think I’m a Wiggle.

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

My home definitely reflects my taste for old used things which wasn’t really thought of as “vintage” back in the day; it was just buying second-hand. I’m a bit of a nomad so moving around a lot does prevent accumulating lots of collections of things but it also means you have to be selective with what you own and you can’t be too precious about stuff. I’ve settled in Hamilton for now but thanks to rental inspections and a housemate I haven’t been allowed to hoard my house to the rafters with doilies and knick-knacks.

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Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?

I think history has shown that I will give most things a try so who knows what my next vintage sartorial phase will be. I kind of like the idea of entering an “Elizabeth Taylor during her second marriage to Richard Burton” era where I wear nothing but kaftans and diamonds but I guess we’ll just have to watch this soon to be bejewelled space.

Follow Sarah on Instagram– where she goes by the moniker @professional_spinster

So, what do you think of Sarah’s sartorial style? What is your favourite outfit pictured? Let me know in the comments. 

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In the closet with Heather Benzie

In part four of our ‘In the Closet with’… series, Heather Benzie spills her sartorial secrets to Natasha Francois.

Vintage doyenne Heather Benzie has a knack for crafting authentic-looking 1940s and 50s high fashion outfits using a hodge podge of vintage, retro and modern items.

The Christchurch-based apparel manager happily mixes eras and has a particular interest in retro pieces which recall earlier eras such as 1930s does 70s items or 80s does 40s or 50s.

But you wouldn’t know this from looking at her. From head to toe, she’s the epitome of elegance and tailored perfection. She’s certainly no vintage snob but by the same token, doesn’t own a single piece of  ‘purpose-designed’ reproduction clothing.

Read on to find out about her eclectic wardrobe, her passion for formal day-wear and skirt suits, and why she believes 1980s clothing is the ‘vintage of the future’.  

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Being ladylike, as I do sometimes for fun, faking the 50s in a modern op shopped blazer. A good blazer is a good blazer, really.

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

I don’t think I own any actual purpose-designed repro. In general, manufactured reproductions and retail shopping don’t really interest me. What I like is the quirky, the individual and the fortuitous. I love to go hunting and see what I find and be inspired by it. And I do value my true vintage for age and authenticity: I suppose I like things that are a bit rare and special.

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The green and white ‘Snow Drop’ post, in a pretty polyester 60s blouse on a chilly early spring day …

But I am definitely not a vintage purist either. If I am wearing a good vintage dress or suit I like to keep my fairly accessories in keeping, but for every day I will happily mix up vintage, retro and modern items to create a look I like, and it might or might not be a historically accurate effect that I am after. And I am really interested in retro pieces which in turn reference earlier eras, like 30s-influenced 1970s fashion and 80s fashions which are similar to styles from the 40s or 50s. For one thing they are handy because you can wear them either way, but I am just fascinated by the overlaps and circularity of fashion. 

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A beautiful Chloe jacket I bought at the Recycle Boutique in Auckland – more expensive than vintage but exquisite really. The vintage of the future.

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

I have acquired a nice Lilli Ann suit and some lovely 1950s and 1960s dresses and suits which are always nice to wear for special occasions. They are always elegant and glamorous. One of my favourites is a teeny black silk velvet cheongsam which I will probably never squeeze into again … thank goodness for the everlasting photographic record of the internet! If I am buying proper vintage I try to follow the same guidelines I would for buying a new piece of clothing: is it beautiful or stylish (in my opinion), well designed, and well made of quality fabric?

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I love a little fierce 40s style: actually 80s vintage jacket and veiled hat. Don’t you just love veiled hats?? I do. Hurrah for 80s does 40s!

Any noteworthy recent purchases?

There are a couple of dresses I picked up recently which are quite different from each other but both of which I love. I recently added to my collection a long silk evening dress, maybe 60s, with a stunning Chinese style water lily print. It’s very elegant. And I bought an amazing 1980s velvet cocktail dress with amazing oversized shoulders and puffed sleeves which I love because it is so ’80s’ but it has a real high fashion flair to it – elegant too, in a different way. It’s what I call the vintage of the future: when the rest of the world catches up with me in appreciating 80s fashion I will have the market cornered! 

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One of my nicest things: an ivory cocktail suit. Tres Dior, non?

How did you first become interested in vintage style? Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?

I remember from quite a young age loving the the glamorous high style of the old movies which were still pretty standard fare on the telly. As a teenager in the 1980s I got interested in current fashion – it was the age of Madonna, British New Romanticism and punk, so a really fun, eclectic time. There was quite a strong retro element in popular culture, and my friends and I loved visiting the local op shops and mixing up our Glassons stuff with vintage 50s and 60s items, among other things. I used to wear my pencil skirts with op shop 60s cardis and my mother’s gloves and pearls or a silk cocktail jacket and brocade shoes from my Nana. I don’t think we called it ‘wearing vintage’: it was more just a way to stretch our small budgets and wardrobes with nice things!

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The closest I ever get to that immaculate pinup style! – pretty 60s wool frock from Dunedin Savemart, and a hat to minimise my naturally chaotic hair.

What is it about vintage clothing that appeals the most?

I am mostly driven by aesthetics and a kind of curiosity about fashion in general. I love a good outfit of any era and style and really appreciate when anyone puts thought into what they’re wearing. Vintage gives me opportunities to try out different aesthetics. I love co-ordinating all the elements from top to toe: it is like a puzzle you can put together in different ways. Sometimes I want to look smart, or cute or romantic or whatever, and sometimes I am just mucking around.

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I was inspired by Kate Bush’s video for The Hounds Of Love to photograph this romantic 80s Thornton Hall ball gown this way ..

Given that, the question of whether my clothes are a form of self expression is complicated. It is true that wearing different clothes makes you feel different (if you are interested Google ‘enclothed cognition’) and the fact that I experiment with lots of different looks probably indicates that I am happy with being several different people! I have said before that my clothes mostly express a desire to make the everyday just a little more fabulous and interesting!

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This lovely silk 70s wedding dress reminded me of the White Witch in the original Narnia illustrations, with its austere medieval styling.

My photographs are really important to me as a creative outlet. I don’t have time to do many at the moment and it makes me sad! When I have time I really love to photograph some of my clothes in a creative way. I am trying to show some cultural or even an emotional association of the clothing for me. For example, I styled a 1980s ballgown in a photo shoot inspired by a Kate Bush album, as an attempt to illustrate the new romantic spirit. It’s a very personal and impressionistic interpretation, though; not a documentary.

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

I wear clothes of lots of different eras: more than favourite eras I have favourite styles or genres that I gravitate towards. I adore formal daywear and love to wear a skirt suit with all the accessories – from any decade from the 40s to the 80s. The sharper and more glamorous the look, the better, so I do have a special yen for that high drama, fierce 40s, 50s and 80s style.

I take any opportunity to get dressed up in eveningwear too. I have a lot of elegant 50s and 60s frocks but I have started wearing more funky late 60s and 70s dresses, and of course I can’t resist a good 80s number!

For casual wear I mostly revert to various forms and eras of what you might call romantic and boho style, from 40s looks to current ones. 
If I were going to sum up my preferred style, it is either elegant and formal, or colourful and romantic. With a hint of preppy and the odd cute moment. Go figure. 

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A ravishing gold satin 50s gown against the golden autumn beauty of the Port Hills here in Christchurch.

Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?

I do the rounds of my local op shops when I can, buy a few things off Trademe and always visit Overflow in Mayfield when we head south. I don’t buy a lot of ‘retail’ vintage only because I’m tight with money. Some of my best things have been bought from friends in the vintage community, because I trust them. 

Do you have any general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

Well, it is easy to get envious about the seemingly bottomless pool of amazing vintage you see on overseas sites. But paradoxically the small size of the vintage community and stock in New Zealand keeps prices down, which is nice for a collector. I have bought beautiful true vintage suits and dresses off Trademe for a fraction of what the would sell for on an overseas site. And you can definitely still find bits of true vintage in the op shops and fairly inexpensive second hand shops. Sometimes I can’t believe what I find that has been overlooked or consigned as valueless. You do need patience, sharp eyes, some knowledge, and a bit of luck though.

Whose closet do you envy and why?

Marilyn Monroe’s maybe? Ava Gardner’s? 

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Ava Gardner

Who are some of your style icons and influences?

So many influences! I have certainly been influenced by the beauty and glamour of the classic movie stars of the 40s and 50s. My favourite designers are pretty diverse: Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren and Yves St Laurent spring to mind. Fashion advertising and pop culture of all sorts in recent decades interests me.

I don’t really follow any bloggers or such but I totally love Leandra Medine, aka Manrepeller, for the way she has divorced an interest in fashion from conventional notions of femininity, prettiness and sex appeal. I think that is my position, to some degree. Looking pretty is not, in and of itself, particularly interesting to me these days.

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Leandra Medine aka ‘Manrepeller’

Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?

Nude lipstick. Trackpants. Activewear unless I am actually running. Any form of imitation Ugg boots or boot slippers. Leggings as pants. Chunky gladiator sandals. Makeup modelled on that of a Khadashian. But that’s only me and what I personally consider attractive or suitable for me. I don’t care what other people wear: we are all different! That’s a good thing. 

What do you think of Heather’s vintage style? Let me know in the comments! xx

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In the closet with: Angela Carter

WELCOME TO PART ONE OF A NEW SERIES ABOUT WOMEN AND THEIR VINTAGE WARDROBES

“Fashion is a language. Some know it, some learn it, some never will – like an instinct.”
– Edith Head

Whangarei-based artist, blogger and seamstress Angela Carter shares her sartorial secrets with Natasha Francois.

With her sharp tailored silhouettes and angled  vintage hats, Angela Carter is one of those women who simply oozes style. She’s certainly one of the most ‘authentic looking’ vintage ladies I’ve ever seen at events. She looks like she could have just stepped out of a Dior advertisement or a gritty 1940s film noir.

 

The most amazing thing about her wardrobe however, is that it’s largely self-created. The couture-obsessed fashion fiend is sewing her way to her dream wardrobe, one vintage pattern at a time.

Read on to find out about her enviable wardrobe, why modern patterns don’t do it for her, and the power of a good hat. 

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Femme fatale: This film noir gown is one of her favourite dresses she’s made.

You have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour?
Thank you! I have a host of garments I have sewn, op shop pieces and ready to wear I have bought and looked after, way back when I was in regular paid employment, almost 10 years ago now, including quite a few hats, vintage gloves and scarves.
I have a few original vintage garments, a classic trench, a deep green wool coat, a full length leather coat, a couple of suits and dresses that I enjoy, but most of the time I’m wearing me made, supplemented with op shop finds.
My accessories are mostly vintage, I have way too many vintage gloves, scarves and items of custom jewellery, and hats! For me, I’m keen on a good design, good quality, and you can get that with some reproduction pieces.
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Look sharp: Angela wears a bolero and skirt suit she made last year.

You’re also a keen sewer, do you make most of your clothes?
 
Yes! I make enough to kit myself out for most days, I have staple garments that get a lot of wear, like my favourite ’40s slacks, variations on some elegant McCalls dresses, a classic 50s-shaped shirt, and some jumpsuits, which are my current favourites to wear.
I can’t resist making cocktail frocks though!
Dresses I have sewn
How long have you been sewing?
I used to sew as child, making doll clothes, toys, but found sewing at high school so boring, and so I dropped it as soon as I could.
I started again around 9 years ago, properly, when I realised I could create a wardrobe I would enjoy more that what was available to buy.
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Angela’s project for the Vintage Suit Sew Along.

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I had also had my first baby, and I was pretty sick of seeing off-the-rack clothes that were heavily marketed to surly looking teens and middle-aged women.
I just didn’t see myself in those clothes, so looked at styles that were fabulous and more individual.
I also had a limited budget, so started sewing as it was the most affordable way I could create my own style.
It helped that my mum still had my nana’s sewing machine and, as it turns out, quite a lot of fabric and haberdashery items.
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Three special projects.

Do you make your own patterns or use vintage ones? 
I know the basics of pattern drafting, but I use vintage patterns, often making style adjustments, flaring a pant leg or lengthening a sleeve to create a more varied wardrobe.
I can drape and shape well, but I have an extensive collection of patterns to work from, so that makes it easy!
I have a couple of patterns that I use at starting point if I need to grade up or down, I am fortunate that I am mostly standard proportion, so my adjustments are minimal.
I just love working with my old patterns, they are so beautiful.
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A few dresses she dreams of sewing.

What are you working on at the moment?
I work on multiple projects at a time, this year I plan to finish some garments that have been languishing on the shelves of my sewing room.
At the moment, I’m completing a Vogue Couturier pattern I started last year, which has some finishing details that have been challenging, mostly due to the fabric choice, a luxurious cream wool crepe (op shop score!).
Also on my ‘to finish’ list is a jumpsuit in black, a pair of slacks, to match a classic swing jacket I made this summer, on my ‘new projects’ list are a pair of pyjamas from a pattern that belonged to my nana, with a mandarin collar and ‘one piece’ pant legs, and a Vogue Special Design sheath dress using some soft upholstery fabric I picked up at an op shop – if I can can make it fit the small piece of fabric.
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“If I can make the pattern pieces fit, I plan to make this dress in this fabric I found in an op shop.”

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“I’m looking forward to some really snuggly pyjamas.”

Are you a vintage purist?
So far, I only sew from genuine vintage patterns, so that might make me a bit of a purist when it comes to my source patterns, I just prefer them now. I started sewing garments (as an adult) with a couple of early 60s and 70s patterns, and I haven’t looked back!
The 60s pattern I started with was a simple kimono sleeve wriggle dress, on unprinted pre-cut tissue paper, with different sized holes to represent the seam allowances, darts, straight grain etc.
I still find unprinted vintage patterns ideal to work with, no visual overload, and once you get your eye in, it’s easy. I also know the pattern companies various fit and style components that suit me, so basically, I use what I love and what works for my lifestyle.
Modern patterns just don’t do it for me!
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What are some of your most prized pieces in your collection?
 
Oh so many! I think of my ‘vintage collection’ so broadly, I have the pleasure to sew on my nana’s old Bernina, notions and a few stunning pieces of very vintage fabric inherited from both nanas. I have a couple of patterns I inherited from my nana, and some Couturier patterns that I scored on TradeMe a while back.
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Some of Angela’s nana’s patterns.

Vogue couturier design patternsVogue Couturier Design SuitsThese are really hard to find, and would fetch top dollar, so ‘investment’ pieces (cough) you could say.

As you might expect, Vintage Couturier and designer patterns were pricier, are rarer, have the most unusual features, they are sometimes very complex and well, they are so stylish!

Sewing from the Couturier patterns I have has been challenging and very rewarding.

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“Stunning Vogue Couturier Patterns, I love the way these women don’t give a damn!”

I also have a number of precious printed posters that my poppa screen printed in the 50s and 60s, these are so special, as I also worked in the signage and print industry in my twenties, there is a family connection there that makes them more special.
There are other random treasures too, like a globe, some pressed glass and other odd bits that remind me of family.
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“I love these women, they remind me of my mum, she used to draw women like this when she studied sewing at high school.”

Any noteworthy recent purchases?
Ooo I am on a bit of a ‘downsize’ the sewing room at the moment and I haven’t had any dream finds come up for a while.
Earlier this year I did pick up some stunning patterns, I have sewn up one, and have others on the ‘to make’ list.
I love this dress, and hope to make one of these coats for winter but I’m a little late starting. 
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Angela shows off a recent op shop score.

How did you first become interested in vintage style?
I used to be sort of anti-fashion, I am a bit shy, and internalised stuff about not attracting attention to myself, so other than being a bit of a goth teen, I was not that into fashion or clothes.
But growing up with two nanas who sewed, a mum who sewed, and loving all my grandparents old stuff, some of which I inherited, and are now special pieces to me, it was only a matter of time before it became a bit of a passion.
 
I got some of my angst out and started to think more about what I wore, I had had my babies, and had reached a point, where I knew myself, and was a bit ‘life is short’ I’m going to embrace the styles I love!
I was also out of the paid work force, I knew how to sew, fabric was easy to come by in op shops, so I just started sewing clothes I liked, learned along the way, found my style, and didn’t stop.
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Fabulous forties patterns.

How does it make you feel when you wear it?

I love to wear my makes. Most days I’m wearing something I have made, like my slacks from my most used 40s pattern, so comfy, and a great style.

I’m still working on that perfect fit, though most of the time, my clothes fit me well, and I chose fabric and colours I love.

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“I finished this dress this year, just in time for my nana’s funeral, sad days.”

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“I’m wearing vintage gold gloves, op shop score, my VVDO shoes, black, read and gold brocade, and my other nana’s flower brooch.”

Since I have been sewing my own, I rarely go to clothing stores, and when I am in malls (which I loathe!) I look around and wonder, how many people have sewn their own clothes? Or have a connection to what they wear?
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What are your favourite eras when it comes to clothes?
 
I gravitate to the 30s and 40s, I love jump suits, and the shapes that were popular during the war years, utilitarian yet chic.
There are so many things to love about past fashion trends and styles, so I dip into what I enjoy in the moment, sometimes that reflects what I’m reading or watching.
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“One of my jump suits, made with a 60s Vogue pattern.”

What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?
I have seen prices rise, and quality in secondhand and op shops drop, over the last ten years especially.
I think it’s a combination of rising rents (particularly in Auckland), op shopping becoming more trendy, and sometimes people forget that they are selling used goods – and that buying new all the time, is not an option for plenty of people, especially families, so it bugs me a bit.
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“A recent make, using a new to me vintage Butterick pattern, using fabric my nana gave me.”

 

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The finished result.

The drop in quality clothing, speaks to the huge problem of fast fashion, garments are not made to last, and are of low quality fabrics, they are less well cared for, most of the time, they swamp the op shops. That makes the special vintage finds even more exciting though.
I enjoy op shopping, you never know what you may find, but it requires a level of commitment, time and regularly visiting, that I don’t always have!
 
My grandparents and mum used to get up early for Saturday morning garage sales, which were great for bargains and meeting your neighbours, it’s a bit of a shame that is no longer a past time.
I have a great green wool coat I scored at a garage sale, took out the shoulder pads, and voila! one of my most worn garments.
 
Do you have any holy grail pieces? 
My holy grails are usually the rarer Vogue Couturier or Special Design patterns, I would love more 30s and 40s, they are hard to come by if you’re a bargain hunter like me!
I limit my buying to local auctions (like TM) though some really nice patterns can be found on eBay and Etsy, the cost of shipping from international sellers is prohibitive.
 
Whose closet do you envy and why?
Actually, none! I’m pretty happy with what I have.
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Who are some of your style icons and influences?
I love the work of Edith Head, she dressed a number of women on screen, so superbly, including some Hitchcock films I enjoy such as Vertigo, To Catch a Thief and Marnie, she used dress so cleverly to communicate.
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Costume designer Edith Head.

Diana Vreeland was a very interesting person, and I think she knew how to dress, and be herself, I admire her for her work and how she wasn’t just all about traditional beauty.
I find collaborations really intriguing, Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen, and Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn, these relationships seemed to help define a personality through dress.
How do members of the public react to your get-ups?
 You know, when I’m out, I forget that I might look a bit different. I often receive compliments from people, especially if I’m wearing a jumpsuit, I see a few onesies around, but jumpsuits, not so much!
If I go all-out hat, dress, pearls, people stare, and sometimes rush up and say, “Oh my god I have to say you look amazing!”
That’s the power of a good hat for you.
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Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?
Absolutely. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a child, and loved their old stuff, I learned about quality and care, and many of my memories are associated with their homes, the textiles and homewares that we used.
The fact that these items can still be found in use is a testimony to the quality of such pieces.
I use Crown Lynn for my tea and coffee, we listen to records, occasionally use a reel to reel player, we have a bit of a mix of analog and high tech, for movies and music at home.
We shop second hand for almost everything, so we chose carefully and go for mid century pieces of furniture when budget permits.
                       My make of Butterick 7653, my nana’s fascinator, and gloves.
My love of vintage is also about knowing where I come from.
I love history and the social~political side of dress, and how various social movements have been reflected in fashion. Like the move to evacuate children out of London during WW1 brought into the public eye the scale of poverty that many families were coping with, the clothing they wore said it all.
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I am a bit of a sci-fi nerd and collect and read John Wyndham books, and when I can put aside the glaring chauvinism of the period, I get into 40s-50s sci novels, by writers such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clark.
 
And film! I love classic cinema, noir film, Hitchcock, and 60s science fiction series like Star Trek TOS, and Batman, so awesome! I have spent a couple of months binge watching Batman with the kids, and the costume design and set design is spectacular.
 
I also love a good classic cocktail…that counts doesn’t it?
See more of Angela and her amazing style at the below links:
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“I love this dress, such great detailing in the sleeves and back, I’m wearing a hat I that I picked up at an op shop for $3, it had a terrific shape, but was a little dull and faded. So I revamped it with some black fabric and it comes out more now.”

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