Written by Julie Balloo

Lifestyle

Too vintage for vintage?

Lifelong fan of retro fashion Julie Balloo ponders the theory that a woman should never wear the clothes of her youth.

Julie Balloo

Julie in one of her vintage outfits.

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.

vintage pink satin skirtI 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.

My local vintage is shop is here http://retrouvevintage.co.uk/
My friend Angie’s shop is here https://www.facebook.com/reuzevintage

@julieballoo

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Written by Julie Balloo

I am a former standup and now write stories and stage/radio scripts. My long- time collaborator is Jenny Eclair.