I’m afraid I simply cannot bite my tongue and let this go. It feels like barely a moment since I was last ranting about Ossie Clark relaunches, although in fact it was back in 2008. Back then, we were fobbed off with tales of ‘Houses’ and quality and how nobody was just going to copy Ossie’s original designs. So how long did that relaunch last? Three seasons. And what were the clothes like? Ebay is currently flooded with these lousy scraps of fabric bearing the name of a man who had nothing to do with them.
Now here we are again. Ossie Clark at Debenhams. You might wonder why I didn’t kick up an angry song and dance about the House of Fraser usage of the Biba brand for purely commercial ends. To be honest, like many people I have something approaching Biba relaunch fatigue. Frankly I’m almost at the point of vintage fatigue, thanks to the endless pilfering of ‘inspirations’ which are frequently little more than duplications (see Kate Moss for Topshop… in fact, see Topshop. Full stop.) and the, albeit fair enough, archive collections by Laura Ashley and River Island’s Chelsea Girl. I may or may not have walked past a House of Fraser store window, decked with faux Biba, and flipped the finger. It didn’t seem worth blogging about though. I just sit and judge from a distance.
Back to the matter at hand, however. Ossie Clark at Debenhams? What next? Thea Porter at Boohoo.com? Bill Gibb at ASOS? Why have the rights to the Ossie Clark name once again been sold to someone thoroughly undeserving (this time to Alison Mansell Ltd)? Why is the identity of a dead man being stolen to sell cheap, nasty, derivative clothes for the profit of big business? Why is nobody in the fashion world questioning it?
On both Vogue.co.uk and Elleuk.com, press releases were regurgitated with fervour. Cosmopolitan got it hideously wrong with talk of ‘boho hippy chic’ (do some research and learn some new words…). The Debenhams blog piled on the insults by not even being able to spell Ossie’s name correctly. Clark. Not Clarke. I repeat, do some research. People on twitter were retweeting with suitably snivelling cries of ‘fashion happiness!’ ‘can’t wait!’ and ‘exciting stuff!’. Phrases such as “Ossie relaunches” are bandied about, despite the fact that a dead man cannot relaunch himself.
“mixture of new designs alongside a limited run of previously unreleased and remastered vintage pieces”
Previously unreleased? Is there a cupboard full of ‘demo’ Ossies out there somewhere? And please don’t use the word ‘remastered’ when you really mean “duplicated in a cheaper fabric”. Excuse me while I weep into my moss crepe sleeve…
Ossie was not a brand. He was a genius. An unreliable, infuriating, naturally talented genius. An individual who never sought to and, in fact, never managed to create a viable business, nor a brand, nor a ‘house’. He never played by the rules. He could barely keep himself together long enough to do anything for anyone else. He fell out with just about everyone who ever tried to control or tame him. The work we know best was work reluctantly done for Radley, after they swooped in to rescue Alice Pollock’s flailing Quorum business. The work of which he was proudest was done for the Quorum collections, or as one-off commissions from friends and the famous faces he attracted.
He was a maverick and a genius, and to use his name as though he were some random King’s Road boutique is an insult to his memory.
But then this isn’t about respect or regard, it’s not even about fashion. This is about cash. Pure and simple. The Ossie name commands high prices in the vintage world. I should know. But those high prices are because the pieces are finite. There will never be any more original Ossie Clarks than there currently are. People pay those prices because they want something designed by the man himself, with the history and quality that they hold within their fibres and stitches.
I know. Isn’t it awful. Vintage Ossie Clark will never be cheap and plentiful. Boo hoo. I work hard to afford to own the pieces I own myself. And I am not a wealthy person, I am so very far from it. I sell other pieces to people who also work hard and save, and save, to buy a piece for themselves. Producing something cheap and new under the same name will not redress this. You still won’t own a piece of Ossie Clark, I promise you.
Debenhams and Alison Mansell Ltd do not care about fashion history. They do not care about clothes. They certainly do not care about Ossie Clark. They only want your money. But when the fashion industry is looping around on itself like a spirograph, and there are no places left to go, then they take their opportunities wherever they can. And if that means trampling all over the name and legacy of a dead man, then trample they will.
And if you doubt what I say about the quality, please take a moment to look at the dress they have been using as their sole image so far. It speaks for itself.
Edited to note that the Daily Mail featured quotes from this blog in an article about the controversy, seemingly inspired by a column by Janet Street-Porter (also in the Mail) in which she also strongly criticised this relaunch.
Am I missing something? Don’t get me wrong, I am largely content that designers seem to be tiring of the wholesale plundering of what often looks like my own private archive of Sixties and Seventies boutique design. But I am really starting to wonder if the relentless copying has resulted in a fashion world which no longer knows how to make clothes.
It even reminds me of those dark days in the late Eighties/early Nineties when most established designers rested on their boomtime laurels and gave us tedium in the name of ‘minimalism’. The only interesting design from that period, in my mind, is the work by a very few rebellious types such as Pam Hogg, Gaultier, Moschino and Westwood (and countless other Hyper Hyper-based London stars without the requisite funding for big shows and publicity).
I repeat. Am I missing something? Why are they designing this? Why are people wetting themselves over it in the fashion press and blogland? Who is buying this? Who is roused from slumber for long enough to order these collections for their boutiques and department stores? Why is Stella McCartney still in business?
I could produce this in my sleep with cheap remnants of fabric ‘sourced’ in the bins of Fabricland. There is no skill in the tailoring, no sense of a knowledge of colour usage and the overall silhouette is struggling bag lady. Actually, no, that is offensive to struggling bag ladies. They know how to throw pieces together for effect.
Now I know I am so far away from the target audience that I might as well be blogging from the moon but, from my vintage bunker, it does makes me wonder about what the target audience could possibly be?
As someone who occasionally works as a dresser for shows at London Fashion Week, I am not coming from a position of total ignorance. I have seen them up close, in all their ill-fitting, bizarrely-made non-glory. The models and designers are always a delight to work with, but many of the hangers-on are vile. And I wonder if the hangers-on are the problem. Including the audiences and press. People are so overawed by their proximity to ‘glamour’ and publicity, they simply don’t care what is on the menu. If a designer asked my opinion (which of course they wouldn’t bother with since – to them – I am only a dresser, not an individual with a firm knowledge of fashion history and my own collection of museum-worthy frocks) I would tell them the truth. Constructive criticism. And constructive criticism seems to have disappeared somewhere along the way.
A poor collection is reviewed as “good”, with a few duds and a few shining lights. To me, the shining lights are only moderately preferable to the total duds. It’s rather like looking at a selection of party food from Iceland and finding the one morsel you might actually want to risk eating.
If our clothes tell a story, or are a reflection of our personality, then I think the majority of fashion-led people have lost their sparkle and flair. Economics? Ennui? Or increasing homogenisation thanks to social media? When icons are easily picked up, duplicated and then dropped within a few weeks, where is there left to go? Fashion innovation is starting to look like bad upcycling.
I don’t hate everything I have seen, but criticism should go where criticism is due. The entire catwalk phenomenon needs shaking up and clothes need to be better. There is nothing wrong with a signature style; a new season does not have to mean an entirely new vision. The true visionaries are the idiosyncratic outcasts with flair and a strong sense of self, and it is about time people started to realise this.
…Topshop didn’t exist. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. It sprang from the loins of the Peter Robinson department store, which was originally located near the present Oxford Circus flagship site. Like a greedy devil child, it surpassed and devoured its progenitor.
This rant is brought to you by this gorgeous illustration from Vogue, April 1970. If only I could saunter up to Oxford Circus, enter an old-fashioned department store and buy myself such a delicious Ossie Clark dress today, I’d be a happy lady.
…is it wrong to secretly be longing for it to be autumn?
Perhaps I bore too easily. More likely, it’s because I can’t bear being too hot. And, also, because I bore easily. I love my summer dresses, and there’s nothing quite like being able to leave the house without a jacket, cardigan and sometimes even sans shawl. But that very human tendency to want what you can’t have means that I start looking longingly at my long-sleeved crepe, velvet and polyester dresses, all taking a well-earned summer holiday. I keep having to bare my legs to the world. I miss tights! I also long to come out the other side of ‘ironing season’. Because I’m extremely pernickety and I insist on ironing all my cotton dresses, so that is rather my own fault. But still…
It also means that, gripped by the blindingly bad mood of a Really Bad Week (last week), I somehow wander into the shops and somehow buy the pair of buckled suede purple platforms I’ve been coveting since they appeared in store in June (when I was, officially, looking for a pretty pair of sandals for my holiday). Somehow I justify this by the fact that I waited three weeks, and that they might disappear by a more appropriate buying time. It’s less ridiculous to buy them in July than in June. I’ve had my summer holiday, ergo I can start thinking about an autumn getaway and the pretty suede shoes I might need for that. Ahem.
On a more practical, businesslike level, it also means I am gripped by confusion on what to list over at Vintage-a-Peel. Summer is pretty much silly season for vintage. No one is around and no one is really buying summer stuff once mid-July hits. At least, that’s always been the received wisdom. But, as a business, I cannot take a school holiday-length break from the world and come back in September with all my velvets and crepes. So I have to keep going.
High Street and designer shops are horribly clever. They know, that you know, that they will ensure that the most covetable pieces are going to sell out before you are ready. And so you pounce, and they can actually make money in hot and stinky August (after they’ve made their money in hot and stinky July when you’re throwing money at their summer sales. Often featuring items which have been in the summer sales for three years running as well).
I still haven’t come to any conclusion about this, in case you were wondering whether I had discovered the answer, I am just musing aloud. But, in case anyone feels the same way, I just wanted to make my confession. I’m really looking forward to the autumn.
Outfit by Polly Peck. Boots by Noddy’s Nipple in The Kensington Market.
[not so crazy about this outfit, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to credit those boots to the delightfully named 'Noddy's Nipple']
Advertisement feature from Vogue for Acrilan fabrics by various manufacturers. Make-up by Max Factor and photos by Barry Lategan.
Today was the earliest I’ve ever voted in an election. I had a Doctor’s appointment at 9, and I went round to the polling station straight afterwards. Partly in a slightly grumpy, jaded ‘got to get it out of the way’ kind of way. But also, partly, as a protest against the onslaught I knew would happen as soon as I logged onto facebook, twitter etc etc.
I appreciate that politicians and aspiring politicians want to tell you to vote for them. It’s annoying, but it’s part of the job. What really, REALLY gets my goat is that the modern media enables the masses to spread brief, highly biased and ignorant messages about why you should vote for ANYONE but so-and-so.
It’s my vote, I’ll do what I want with it, thank you very much. Tell me why I should vote for someone, and I’ll listen to you. But tell me that I should, under no circumstances, vote Conservative? That’s akin to bullying. Imagine if there were people stood outside polling stations yelling ‘don’t you dare vote Conservative – anyone but them!!’. I’m fairly sure that would be considered illegal, non?
I have no intention of voting Conservative. But I reserve the right to do so if I wish, and not be screeched at by people online. And besides, if you’re telling me to vote for ANYONE but the Tories, does that mean I should go in and tick the box marked BNP? Or UKIP? I loathe them, but I respect their right to exist. We live in a free country, it’s a free vote and I will do as I please.
I voted knowing full well that it wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference, considering the area in which I reside. But we should be determined to do it, even in that kind of situation. It is sobering to think that, less than 100 years ago, we women would not have had the right to do so.
Thank you very much, Jerry!
En route back from the dentist [oh yeah, I have to have yet another wisdom tooth removed. Score will now be Removed Wisdom Teeth: 5, Remaining Wisdom Teeth: 1. Am toothsome freak.], I actually ventured into the shops. It felt weird. I felt a bit shaky. I started to hate people again. I really don’t hate people at all, I’m always happy to be chatting to someone new and I’m always polite to anyone I meet. But I hate people when they shop.
I think I’m just spoilt now. I’m pretty much entirely vintage orientated (around 95% if you will) except for a handful of modern things for which I run in, squeak, pick up, buy and run out again. I cannot deal with changing rooms; I haven’t bought new jeans in a good couple of years for this reason. If the queue for the till is more than four people I put things down and run out again. In fact, I did that with two pairs of sunglasses today. I know my measurements off by heart, so why on earth should I have to take three different sizes in each piece I’m interested in into the changing rooms because shops can’t get a grip on sizing?
My heart sinks when I see a rail full of the same thing. Or things clubbed together to create this season’s ‘look’. Where’s the fun in that? The sudden vogue for stripes makes me (Queen of Stripes) want to bung mine in a box until they’ve all gone away. [I'm alarmed by the sudden belly top phenomenon. Can it really be over 15 years since I craved such things myself? Cheap nylon ra-ra skirts and belly tops make me want to take a pair of scissors to the rails of the high street. And they'd look much better for it.]
See? Spoilt. Utterly.
I expect the thrill of the unknown, of the great discovery just around the corner. I’m also spoilt in that, when I am expected to enter proper shops with friends, I can at least window shop in comfort in Westwood or wherever. The prices might make my eyes water, but there’s all sorts of varied, well made pieces which make my heart skip a beat and aren’t made from 100% polyester. The staff are bonkers and lovely, and want to smooch your backside just to make a sale (makes a change from surly teenagers in Topshop, non?). And you can be sure I’ll be heading straight home to check out ‘ending soonest’ eBay auctions for Westwood; it takes the edge off the tears of poverty. Boohoo.
Today I was really quite shocked. Have things got worse on the high street, or have I just been away too long? Sizing issues are definitely getting worse (and I can tell purely from looking at them, nothing was going to induce me into a changing room…), prices are pretty ridiculous for quality no better than Primark. Who I loathe, but at least their prices are honest in relation to the quality.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who browses websites, like Topshop.com, thinks ‘ooh, that’s kinda nice’ then goes in store and cannot restrain an involuntary and very audible ‘bleurghhhhhh’ when they actually pick it off the rail. See above. £50 for a viscose Ossie copy? Viscose used to be nice. Some of my favouritest Jeff Banks pieces have been viscose. It felt like a walking fire hazard. And no amount of Sure would rescue you from sweating like a bitch in it. What’s wrong with these people??
The worst thing of all, though, is the fabric. Even when you might possibly find something in a natural fibre, more often than not, it’s been lined in polyester. Or the nastiest stretch nylon. Errrr…..why? Why not just line in cheap cotton? At least then you can just wash and iron to your heart’s content and your skin will be able to breathe. A couple of frocks I contemplated buying, with the intention of hacking out the aforementioned ny-lining. Then I caught myself and slapped my own wrist. £25 for something I’m going to have to alter to make it wearable? Kill me now. I should be mooching around vintage shops for something which looks the same and won’t make me boil in the bag.
That said, it’s not all bad. Topshop offered up a black bodysuit which will go nicely with a whole host of gorgeous vintage skirts I already own (and surely some I have yet to acquire) and I’ve fallen in love with a pair of shoes in M&S. They’re wildly impractical (Wedges? Shiny? Colour block? They won’t go with anything, my feet will sweat and I’ll probably fall over! I must be brave and resist temptation to buy the safer blue version. I might as well buy these gorgeous blue buckled heels.) but I love them. And they look much better on a foot than these photos make them look, I can assure you.
I had to physically remove myself from the temptation and be going back when I’ve thought about it good and proper. Because, frankly, my heart really wants to buy these Terry De Havillands from TinTrunk’s Etsy shop:
I cannot tell you what my favourite dress is, because I can’t decide. Some are favourites for sentimental reasons, others because they make me feel amazing and some I will probably never wear but are favourites in a purely aesthetic way; little works of art by favourite designers. I am perfectly happy that I can’t decide, and I intend to keep it that way. The hunt for the ‘favourite’ or ‘perfect’ dress is what keeps a vintage-girl going.
The other night I briefly attended a belated launch and signing for the book My Favourite Dress, based on the exhibition at the Fashion and Textile museum a few years ago. It’s a lovely, gorgeously-made book, don’t get me wrong. But, to me, it is very indicative of why I, for the most part, dislike the fashion industry. With a few exceptions, mainly the non-designers, the contributors picked the safest pieces they possibly could. I saw more interesting garments at the event itself. I should point out emphatically that this is no criticism of the people behind the book, it is a criticism of many of the designer contributors.
I suppose it’s fair to say that I’m probably not going to give a rat’s behind about what dress Ralph Lauren or Donna Karan has decided is their best EVAH, since I find them amongst the dreariest of designers at the best of times, but this was a perfect opportunity to prove me wrong. Honestly, with a platform to prove once and for all that you might just possibly be a Good Designer – despite a career built on producing the safest of the safe, you really ought to be showing me the most idiosyncratic (or, at least, technically brilliant) work of art you ever committed to fabric. Even Galliano chose a yawn-worthy piece, which came from a collection I otherwise adored so much I clipped photos to put in a scrapbook.
Of course it’s entirely subjective; I clearly have a taste for the showy and flamboyant. But it does stem from the same tendencies which lead to endless seasonal articles in magazines and newspapers about ‘timeless elegance’ and ‘effortless chic’ which usually means a little black dress or a simple cotton shift. And beige. Possibly the most offensive thing the fashion world ever gave us. Yeah, we know they’re timeless and whathaveyou but they’re just as dating and have a similar shelf-life to a frilly nylon hostess dress.
Gazing across rails in charity shops, I get a distinct sensation of ‘yuck, that is SO 2003′ when I see a boring black corset dress. Which is really no different to the sensation of ‘yuck, that is sooooo Seventies’ we might once have felt gazing upon rails of Varons, Ossies and Gibbs. But in 20 years time, when people are starting to crave that ‘noughties’ look, I doubt they’ll be picking up plain black corset dresses. In the same way that a plain black Ossie ‘Model T Ford’ shirt dress is less desirable than a ruffled, brightly-coloured, Celia-printed chiffon. I can’t imagine Ossie or Bill Gibb ever picking out a simple black shift as their favourite dress.
I suppose my point is simply that too many modern designers play it safe. You can see this in most of their collections anyway, but the point is proved by the fact that they’re so damn lousy at picking a decent example of their own work. You get the feeling that they were thinking too much about ‘posterity’ rather than having any particular emotional reaction to a piece, which was meant to be the point behind the whole exercise. Pick something which actually stirs your soul, not something which you think everyone else will like.
Of course, the world would be a very dreary place if we were always running around in PVC mini dresses with bacofoil trimmings; as much as it would be if we were following the Generic Fashionista’s definition of ‘effortlessly chic’ and ‘timelessly elegant’ all the time. I must confess, and pre-empt anyone who might remember such things, to having used both terms to describe vintage pieces, but I’m more inclined to use them about a dress with the most momentously huge sleeves or the most extravagant ruffles known to man. To me, that is chic and elegant.
Ahhhh…subjectivity. How I adore thee.
Wandering around H&M on Boxing Day [Why on earth anyone else goes shopping on Boxing Day is beyond me. I was working two shows that day and had time to kill between them. No casual shopper has any excuse for being anywhere other than under a pile of chocolate wrappers, awesome presents and preferably a big fluffy duvet on Boxing Day. It's an insult to people who would dearly love to be doing all those things, but can't. Insanity.] I caught sight of yet another yawn-tastic Ossie rip-off. If you don’t believe me, go in there and see one up-close; it’s a duplicate, right down to the large expanse of flesh in the back, ‘mock’-crepe and wrap cut.
Somehow it managed to annoy me more than many have lately. Perhaps it’s because it’s Jimmy Choo for H&M. It’s bad enough for a dress designer to ‘take inspiration from’ another designer, but when you’re peddling frocks on the name of a shoe designer, then copying Ossie’s luscious ‘Cuddly’ dress is just an audaciously tacky thing to do (not to mention an astonishing breach of creative copyright).
Shame on you H&M. Shame on you Jimmy Choo (or Tamara Mellon or whoever it is behind this shambles). Saying that -elsewhere in store- I did buy a lovely pair of sparkly black lace tights with red flowers printed on them, so I’ve slightly [and grudgingly] forgiven H&M.
[Blogging really will be this sparse and sporadic until all Nuts have been cracked, but I'm still here...just about! Hope you all had a lovely Christmas.]
Does this phrase fill you with as much fury as it does me? I’ve been getting it for most of my adult life, and even a little before that. I hadn’t had a bad run of it lately, actually, but something about my face combined with wintry weather seems to bring it out of them. Perhaps the cold winds just blow my face into more of a scowl than usual? Running into M&S in Bath to grab a much needed sandwich, admittedly I was feeling pretty ropey that day (a bout of flu I’m still trying to shake off), some idiot behind a desk on the way in to the store barks ‘SMILE!!!!’ at me. Too busy and sick to retort. Then last week, heading out to work, some random guy in the street and again with the ‘SMILE!!!!!’. In too much of a rush, still sick and way too cold to retort. I swear the next person is getting an almighty rant out of me.
This is possibly my biggest bugbear. Why? Why should I smile as I walk down the street? To whom do I owe this? I might have just been told I have a month to live. My pet hamster might just have breathed its last. I might be thinking very happy thoughts about my boyfriend. Honestly, it’s none of your business whether I’m smiling or not. I’m eternally polite to people in shops, behind counters at the bank or post office and those poor unfortunates who have to offer me things down the phone. I switch it on when I need to but I can’t and won’t do it full-time; skipping down the street, grinning at everyone.
I just have one of those faces. I have a very big smile but in repose, I possibly look like a bit of a sulky moo – that’s just the way my face is!
I’m certainly wondering if it’s a winter chat-up line thing. They’re more creative in the summer. A few months ago, down in Brighton, I was accosted by an [albeit very pleasant] inebriated chap who told me I looked like a ‘porcelain doll’. Considering how creepy they can look, I’m not quite sure about it as a compliment but I takes what I can gets. It actually, and rather spookily, happened just as I had been moaning about the random comments you seem to get from London blokes. ‘That’s a very summery dress love!’. ‘That’s a very green hat!’. Why yes it is, sir, do you have a degree in Stating the Bleeding Obvious or are you self-taught?
Are these men so starved of female company that ‘smile!’ and just a slightly sinister ‘sexyyyyy’ (London Lite distributor. Perhaps that’s why they’ve gone bust?) are the best chat up lines they can muster these days? Do they expect me to turn around, smile, drop my knickers and jump on them? Does this approach work for all the other laydeez?
Oh how I long to be chatted up by a Gareth Hunt-a-like, or even Peter Wyngarde at a push, who uses words like ‘panties’ and actually says ‘helloooooooo’ before rolling out the chat-up-cheese. Because at least then there’s enough time for me to formulate a pithy response and slap them around the chops.
Sigh. Learn some decent chat up lines. Learn some indecent ones. Just don’t tell me to SMILE!!!
In honour of this little rant, and as a reward for bearing with me thus far, here are some photos of the gorgeous Dolores Costello. I can’t seem to find any convincing smiley photos of her, which is really rather lovely and unusual. You should never have to pretend to be happy and carefree, that’s what I think.
[A.k.a thrift shops for my American readers.]
I think a lot of people assume I spend vast amounts of time hunting around charity shops for my own clothes and stock. In fact I know a lot of people assume this when I first tell them what I do for a living. “Oh, do you get a lot of it from charity shops?”. It’s a loaded question, because they really want to be judgemental about my prices.
Indeed the days of finding any decent vintage, for oneself or for others, are well and truly over. What I reply, with a suitable tone of disgust, is “Chance’d be a fine thing!”.
Perhaps some people find the idea of talking about rummaging around in a charity shop to be a distasteful concept. But a Bill Gibb, for example, is still a fantastic Bill Gibb whether you’ve got it direct from its fabulous original owner, from a vintage website or whether you’ve found it in amongst a rail of Marks and Spencer old lady dresses. Its fabulousness defies charity shop ‘taint’, as some people might see it.
[Indeed, I speak from experience. My sole Gibb collection piece was a charity shop find. Can you just imagine? Seeing that huge draping sleeve hanging out from a rail of tat, seeing that gigantic beautiful label when you've lunged for the aforementioned sleeve. You just know it's going to be fab.]
As a ‘dealer’ (oh that’s a horridly tainted name for a profession isn’t it? I always imagine Ian McShane when I hear that word, in vile Lovejoy form rather than in his 60s youth when he was quite a hottie!), I would much rather purchase from a charity shop where I know the money will be helping children/people with cancer/ill-treated animals etc etc. The price is irrelevant, I’m happy to pay as big for it in a charity shop as I am on someone’s vintage site. So long as the shop workers are educated properly in labels and eras, I don’t mind the price.
However, in recent years British charity shops have rather shot themselves in the foot. They’ve sanitised themselves. They try to look like a swishy boutique. A step above vintage shops in fact. More like one of those dreadful provincial ’boutiques’ which haven’t updated their stock since 1983 (but they do have the awesome tangerine-skinned mannequins which I slightly covet!).
From conversations with the manager of a former favourite haunt (in my pre-emmapeelpants days) where I found my first Varons and many other beloved pieces I still can’t bear to sell or donate no matter how tatty they get, I know that the people running them had a dreadful habit of chucking out the vintage stuff in favour of tatty, bobbly Topshop jerseys from two seasons ago. Simply because Topshop was ‘modern’ and that’s what they thought people wanted. Au contraire.
Now with the explosion of vintage on eBay and the WWW, they realise their dreadful mistakes of 5-10 years ago. But with fewer pieces even being donated in the first place (even the most elderly of ladies will realise she can get a few pounds if her daughter puts them on eBay), and the best stuff being siphoned off to Oxfam online and their ilk, they have little vintage of any value or importance. But because it’s ‘old’, it’s now valuable. So no-name polyester maxi nightmares are priced at £25 with ‘VINTAGE’ scribbled on the hang tag in a written ‘up yours’ to anyone who might like to question the pricing with the manager.
Strip lighting, modern shop fittings. It’s all so nasty and commercial, but without the goods to back it up. And who is paying for the refits? It’s either the charity or the shopper with those inflated prices. To be honest, I so rarely visit charity shops anymore because so few have remained as they once were. In fact, there are more vintage shops I know which have retained that shabby, aladdin’s cave glamour of charity shops past….. I don’t want to be assaulted with nasty lighting and colour-organised rails, I want to rummage in dark corners and come out triumphantly clutching something I love.
I would never have been able to keep afloat as a vintage business even if all charity shops had remained like this, my other sources have always been more important. But I got a personal thrill from the charity shops. As a vintage girl, as someone who likes to wear something old, something different. That buzz, that flutter in the stomach when you feel a sliver of moss crepe as you rifle the rails. Most of my charity shop gear ended up in my own wardrobe anyway, there’s something about having discovered something yourself which means you become far more emotionally attached anyway! I still fondly remember a black velvet jacket I bought for £2 when I was 14 and wore until it literally fell apart. I couldn’t throw it away, but my mum did it for me (a regular argument we used to have was about her tendency to throw away the tatty things I thought I might rescue one day!)
The reason I’m ranting about this now is that today I wandered up the road from my flat, a direction I rarely need to go in, because I was dropping off some dry-cleaning and I sauntered into a charity shop I’ve been past countless times on the bus and never entered. This time I entered and I felt like I’d gone back in time. This was a proper charity shop. No fancy fittings, just the beautiful shabby interiors of whatever shop it used to be. Rails and rails. No organisation. No sizing. No colour coordination. Trunks full of ‘stuff’. You get the feeling they pretty much put out anything which gets donated. It had that dusty, musty atmosphere. The lighting was low. They’d cobbled together a gorgeous little changing room at the end with draped scarves and one of those fancy net drapes for your bed. They had old film posters on the wall beside the stairs up to their backroom. One of them was for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which I’m very tempted to go back and ask if it’s actually for sale.
It wasn’t exactly vintage heaven. I found two dresses. One was a Pierre Cardin which I put back because it was terrible, but I bought the other one. And that was another revelation. The pricing for the non-vintage, non-designer stuff is standard. They can’t be bothered to price everything individually, takes too much time and therefore they’re able to put out much more stuff than other charity shops. I tentatively asked about the vintage rail which she said was ‘slightly more’, cue that sinking feeling of dread in my stomach. It was going to be £25 for anything vaguely vintage wasn’t it? Oh no, they have a bit of a look over the frock and give you a very reasonable price.
It’s a lovely yellow plunging Jean Allen. And yes, it’s going in my own wardrobe