Lifelong fan of retro fashion Julie Balloo ponders the theory that a woman should never wear the clothes of her youth.
I have loved vintage clothes ever since, aged three, I was given access to the ‘dress-up box’ and proceeded to parade about in my mother’s stilettos and my granny’s old petticoats.
Old clothes became a window to the past for me. I was always a very imaginative little girl and the dress-up box became my own personal time machine.
When I was about six the old lady who lived up the road, and who always looked 95, gave me a black velvet cloak circa 1890 she had worn as a girl. I wore it well into my teens.
When our high school threw a 50s ball in the mid-70s, I was elated that my mum had kept her gowns from the period and made sure I told everyone who would listen that my steel blue satin dress with starched petticoat was an original and MORE THAN 25 years old.
When I inherited a silk Hawaiian shirt all the way from Hawaii, a gift to my mother from one of her many flamboyant single male friends in the 50s, I lived in it until it literally fell apart sometime in the early 80s.
I bought 30s nightgowns in the late 70s and dyed them black and wore them with Doc Marten boots. I haunted vintage shops and snapped up delicious bargains such as an early Bakelite handbag, a 30s black silk dress, a gorgeous Holly Golightly broad-brimmed black hat and a 20s embroidered silk kimono, which was often worn clubbing during my faux-Shanghai period.
Back in the 80s my flatmate and best friend Angie and I would set ourselves the Saturday challenge. We’d head to Camden Market with just a fiver and buy ourselves a complete outfit to wear out clubbing that night. This was before the market was a victim of commercialism and there were some amazing and unique vintage opportunities up for the taking. Angie always won, which is why these days she runs a very successful vintage clothing store of her own.
I incorporated vintage into major events in my life. Sixties white patent leather laced boots at my wedding, a 50s corseted black dress with fake (I hope) rabbit fur décolletage for my mother’s funeral. I continued to pop into shops and fairs for various treasures until I hit 40, then something stopped me. I had Vintagephobia!
“I don’t plan on sashaying through Hackney dressed in a crinoline looking like Aunt Pittypat from Gone with the Wind, just a simple late-40s pencil skirt teamed with matching jacket. Where’s the harm?”
Apparently there is a saying that when a woman gets older she should no longer wear clothing from the decade of her youth. (Although we baby boomers are living longer and that word youth is ever-expanding.)
I assume by youth it means my 20s. So no worries then. I was in my 20s during the unforgiving 80s which I think we can all agree was the fashion no-go area of the last 500 years. Everything was hideous, apart from a glimmer of hope from the New Romantics. I didn’t mind the shoulder pads as they were a nod to the 40s, so almost vintage to me. As a dancer/aerobics freak I already had a stash of leggings, headbands and legwarmers which meant the Fame/Let’s Get Physical style was simply an extension of my exercise regime back then.
But lately, now I am in my 50s, I have been lured back to vintage. It’s nothing to do with the economy as good vintage is pricey but my age dilemma is worse than ever.
I recently overheard a woman in her 60s remarking at a vintage fair that at her age if she were to don a kaftan she would be sectioned. “I’d look like a mad old bat!” she exclaimed. And, though the sales assistants tried to dissuade her, I just nodded. She caught my eye and we both appeared wistful for a moment. Yes, mad old bat-tery is a difficult habit to break.
But what if you do it with aplomb? Be confident in knowing you may look a bit daft but at least you’re stylish. I don’t mean the old lady purple hat syndrome, though I did actually recently purchase a divine purple hat to go with a moss crêpe item from the 40s.
I have decided if it suits me and the clothes are still in good nick, so what? As long as it’s not too theatrical; I don’t plan on sashaying through Hackney dressed in a crinoline looking like Aunt Pittypat from Gone with the Wind, just a simple late-40s pencil skirt teamed with matching jacket. Where’s the harm?
On the plus side, I have now reached the age when my clothes from my youth are considered vintage, so with no daughters to hand down to I am selling them on. Out came the 70s flared jeans and suede fringed bag, my mother’s 60s net swimsuit, the glorious chandelier earrings from the 80s and everything else I have ever collected that is still in one piece. Off they went to be sold on at the designer vintage stores that have appeared all over London.
So, I am getting good prices for an honest day’s work and am I spending my earnings on cheap tat from Primarni? Hell no – back over the counter it goes as I leave with yet another gorgeous outfit from a former decade.
Vintage, I salute you. Quality clothes will outlive your average woman and this is how it should be.877 Views
I am a former standup and now write stories and stage/radio scripts. My long- time collaborator is Jenny Eclair.