Wednesday, 29 June 2011

La Petite Anglaise

When I was a student I spent six months in living in Paris as part of my degree in modern languages. It doesn't feel like it was that long ago but in fact it's nearly 11 years now. I had an absolute ball during my time there: I rented a tiny attic 'studio' (doesn't that word sound so much better than 'bedsit' which is exactly what it was!) up six flights of stairs (no lift) close to the Gare du Nord which I shared with a friend, studied French at the British Institute in Paris where my classroom had a picture postcard view of the Eiffel Tower and, in true Parisian style, spent a lot of time drinking petits cafes (cafe cremes were far too expensive) and being moody in cafes. I'd love to go back and do it all again. I still love the city - it's one of the most wonderful places I've been to. If anyone would like to whisk me back there for a weekend (major hint here) I'd be so happy! 

When not studying incredibly hard (ahem!) I did a lot of window shopping and generally wandering about through the streets of Paris and although I was actually a very skint student so rarely bought anything I developed a real love for French fashion, in particular a few of the high street shops that are probably the equivalent of Whistles over here, Comptoir des Cotonniers and Sandro to name a couple. Some of these brands have since come onto the UK high street to bring a little French chic to us Brits. I love the effortless style of many of these brands: there's something very 'French' about the clothes that's difficult to pin down. I think it's to do with the simplicity and the fact that they are not as 'fashion' focused as many of the UK brands: instead there's an emphasis on style that lasts longer than a season. 

I've recently discovered Maje but no matter how much I adore their clothes, I simply don't have the budget right now. I have plastering, garden gates and car repairs (ugh) to pay for. How depressingly grown up. Anyhow, someone in the North Leeds area who is conveniently the same size as me clearly is buying a lot of Maje clothes and then kindly depositing them in my local charity shop after one season and as a consequence I am now the proud owner of a cream silk blouse (will post at a later date) and the dress I'm wearing in these photos. I have to admit I saw it and thought acid yellow, really? But I have worn it so much and it's really easy to wear on those days when I have to look a little smarter. I imagine this dress would have cost over £100 new so at £5 it was a true bargain. 

yellow and grey Maje dress: £5, charity shop
cream tuxedo blazer: Twenty8twelve at Urban Outfitters
vintage Danish necklace: gift from my husband
brogues: Next
watch: Triwa

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Forgotten dresses

I have a lot of dresses in my wardrobe (over a hundred at the last count!) and I am only too keen for friends to borrow them and actually wear them. Since becoming a mum, my opportunities for putting on a dress and dancing are not as frequent as they used to be (please do not read this as necessarily being a bad thing!) and as a consequence lots of my pretty clothes are left just hanging sadly on their coathangers, waiting for someone to come and take them out!

A few weeks ago a friend came over and I encouraged much rifling through my wardrobe to find a dress for her to wear for a wedding. She tried on lots of my dresses and this, inevitably, led to me rediscovering a few old favourites that I haven't actually worn in some cases for years. This pink 1950s dress is a case in point. Actually, until my friend tried it on and took it home with her, I don't think I have ever worn it. I think, but am not completely sure, that I bought it from one of the 'Affordable Vintage Fairs' at Leeds University in about 2007, which was the peak of my vintage dress buying era! Does it not strike you as being like the sort of thing Betty Draper would wear in one of the early episodes of Mad Men. There's a cut-out bit at the back which is a really nice detail. It's made out of fabric which is quite thick so the skirt stays quite stiff which really gives it that 50s look. It's handmade by the looks of it too.

It finally got its first outing on Sunday when we went to the christening of one of our little girl's friends from swimming. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny June day. I'm also wearing a vintage 3-string necklace which is coral and orange but unfortunately it's tucked into the neck of the dress on the main photo and I didn't realise until I downloaded the photos.

pink 1950s dress: The Affordable Vintage Fair ( about £12 if I remember correctly!
coral and orange necklace: charity shop find many years ago, probably cost about £1
suede gladiator sandals: New Look
white beaded handbag: Accessorize
pink resin ring: Dinosaur Designs (gift)

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Dilemmas and details

Saturday just couldn't come around quick enough this week. I think everyone can relate to that feeling. You know it's been a busy week when you fall asleep during Mad Men at 9.15pm on a Friday night after one glass of wine.

Our Saturdays end up being incredibly busy though, despite the fact that we need to rest. We spent the afternoon shopping and sitting in the Leeds Museum cafe with a friend who has just come back from travelling round Asia. It was so lovely to catch up after such a long time. She looks so well and happy - the break has done her the world of good.

This post is a bit of a cheat's post - the only thing that's second hand/vintage is actually my brooch. The fact is I've religiously worn something second hand every day this week but haven't managed to get a photo of it until the evening, when, to be completely frank, the outfits weren't at their best so I haven't been able to post them. Still, at least it's something, plus, you know, it's my blog and I'll be making up the rules as I go along! I will try harder this week, honestly. This brooch is from the 1960s and it was a gift from my mum. She used to wear it herself as a teenager and in her early 20s. I love the slightly moody looking Modigliani-style girl in her slightly moody green, turquoise and brown enamel.I've had it for years now and I tend to wear it on coats and jackets. I quite like the contrast of a vintage brooch on a scruffy, utility-style jacket.

Over the past couple of weeks I've been reading reviews of Observer ethical living journalist Lucy Siegle's new book 'To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?' It looks like something that anyone with an interest in fashion should buy and it seems like it will make pretty uncomfortable reading. While shopping in the city today I felt completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of, well, STUFF, that we're being encouraged to buy. With both the ethical dilemma of the conditions people across the world work in to keep us up to date with our throwaway dresses and one-season fashions and the ecological impact, surely buying second hand and upcycling are the way forward. Wouldn't it be great to commit to only buying second hand for a period of time, say a year. I'm not sure I'm ready to do that right now but I'm going to buy the book so I'll come back to you once I've read it.

So, this brings me to today's not-really-at-all-second-hand-total-cheat's-outfit. My hair is completely in the 'growing out a short cut' zone but at least I am a blonde again, having thankfully waved goodbye to those dark days of brunette locks (bad pun totally intentional).

khaki coat: Gap
black cardigan: Gap
blouse: Topshop
skinny jeans: Topshop
gladiator sandals: New Look
green necklace: Marrakech souk
gold bag: Sydney markets (gift)
brooch: 1960s (gift from my mum - thanks, mum!)
bare-looking flower bed: Erm, yes that would be ours. Think we're letting down the street a little)

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Vintage by the kilo

I'm very embarrassed to admit this as I am somebody who is normally top to toe in SPF 30 with the merest hint of a sunny day but today I got sunburnt shoulders. Pretty badly sunburnt shoulders. It's been amazingly warm here and I dutifully slathered SPF 50 all over my daughter but forgot to do my own shoulders. I'm feeling pretty sheepish about it, particularly as I was berating my dad earlier today for being proud of his holiday tan. 'A tan is simply your skin showing sun damage', said I, smugly, unaware of the state my shoulders were getting into as I spoke. Anyway, there's not much I can do about it now, but there's definitely a lesson in there somewhere. Or even two: don't be smug and always put sunscreen on your shoulders. Live and learn, people.

I recently went to a vintage kilo sale over in Headingley, through a tip-off from a friend who is always beautifully and vintagely attired. After queuing in line for about half an hour I joined the masses of bargain hunters with sharpened elbows to delve through racks and racks and boxes and boxes of vintage clobber which is then paid for by the kilo (£15 per kilo in fact). Brilliant, I thought, having absolutely no concept of how much a kilo is in terms of clothing. It's actually about 4 items of clothing, which makes it pretty bargainous in anyone's books. So, being completely honest, it wasn't the greatest experience ever. There were a LOT of people there and there was also a lot of 'vintage' that was clearly not. However, there were gems to be had and this jacket was one of my finds. It's made from wool, French and, according to my internet research, from a 'leading ready to wear label in the 1980s'. It's incredibly versatile and I have been wearing it quite a bit recently as a change from my black blazer. I also got a coral puffed-sleeve tunic, a fuschia blouse with black buttons and a very strange polyester purple and turquoise thing, the latter of which was, in hindsight, a mistake. Perhaps there's a third lesson there?

These photos are not the greatest as I was running out of the house to my sewing course. Also I seem to be having a bit of a bad hair week at the moment due to the trials of growing out a short hairstyle. And yes, yes, yes I know, more leggings and tunics.

Wool jacket: Vintage Kilo Sale
stripey dress: French Connection
gold sandals: ASOS
cream belt: birthday present from my sisters

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Rain, names and stars

I bought this dress from a vintage fair at Fringe Bar in Paddington, Sydney. There seemed to be some sort of vintage/second hand/handmade fair there every Saturday and there were always great things to be found. My husband and I spent 7 months living in Australia in 2008/09 during a year out from our jobs. We had planned to travel round the world, but after taking in Japan and arriving in springtime Sydney we kind of didn't end up getting much further. No regrets though - one of the main reasons for us not moving on was that I was pregnant with my little girl and South America got a lot less appealing and was pretty much vetoed by my Doctor. We're saving that particular adventure for another day now.

Paddington is one of my favourite Sydney suburbs and we spent a lot of time mooching about the shops, cafes and markets there. I can't remember how much this dress cost, but I imagine it can't have been more than a few dollars. It's orange silk with little short sleeves, a kind of macrame neckline and a white star print all over it. For some reason it caught my eye when I opened my wardrobe this morning. I'm totally in my uniform today: dress, jeans, ballet shoes and a blazer. We spent the afternoon at my sister and her boyfriend's house with the rest of the family to celebrate lots of birthdays. The plan was to have a barbecue but the rain scuppered our plans.

I've just had a big rummage in my box of jewellery which lives under the bed and came across this long-forgotten Tatty Devine necklace with my name on. I tend to wear either my Alex Monroe Bumblebee or my Karen Walker necklace which has a little girl with a napsack on it every day so I often forget about my other jewellery. This necklace possibly falls into the 'am I too old to get away with this?' category as perhaps responsible grown ups don't go round with their names round their neck (apart from SATC's Carrie Bradshaw of course). Like I said yesterday, I'm not worried.

I tried to get a better photo but my camera battery ran out. I look a bit shocked as we had a lie-in until 9AM this morning as the little girl decided to sleep late. This is such a rare treat but I now feel tireder than ever. So weird how this is often the case. Any sleep experts care to explain this phenomenon?

silk dress: Fringe Bar vintage fair $10ish
black jeans: Urban Outfitters
cream cardigan: H&M
black ballet shoes: New Look
name necklace: Tatty Devine
rainy day: UK's finest

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Sunshine, new galleries and surprises

We're big fans of art galleries in this family and my little girl and I often go to the central one in Leeds for some 'culture'. I've used inverted commas because our visits normally take the following form: coffee and cake in the cafe followed by running round the permanent exhibition shouting 'tiger!', 'horseys!', 'cat!' and 'deer!' at the paintings and 'mummy', 'daddy' and 'grandma' at the scantily clad statues, emaciated Anthony Gormley sculptures and the statue of Queen Anne respectively. We then spend a long time drawing and moving round the pencils and pens in the activity room. I don't generally get to look at the art for very long. We went to see the recent Henry Moore exhibition a few times but the sculptures were just too inviting for little climbers and we were never able to linger. Despite this, going to galleries with my daughter is one of my favourite things to do: the amount of space available for running round and the visual stimulation everywhere plus the sheer number of people to look at make them ideal destinations for us. Plus they are generally free of charge, which is always nice! We're still at the stage where old ladies look and smile at us as we charge around - hopefully that won't change for a while yet! I guess she will hopefully not be doing the whole 'tiger' thing age 14...

The Hepworth has just opened in Wakefield and I've been wanting to go along and check it out. I mentioned to my little girl that we were going to go to an art gallery and she got very excited shouting 'art gallery - see a tiger!' which made me kind of nervous as to what her reaction would be with the absence of large stripey cats (a friend had already alerted me to this beforehand!). Luckily she wasn't too disappointed at the tiger no-show (we still saw some cows and horses, thankfully) and we had a great afternoon there. It's really geared up for little kids: we went to a story and singing session, smeared hummus all over the cafe, ran round the exhibition like penguins and played hard in the playground. Totally randomly we bumped into my Great Aunt (she lives round the corner so perhaps not so unexpected) and my Uncle (who lives in Newcastle so a real coincidence!). Lovely surprise, not least because I'd been trying to get hold of my Great Aunt to see if she wanted to meet us there.

I found this dress in my favourite local charity shop for £7. It's by Kimchi and Blue which is a brand I see in Urban Outfitters and it's very cute with puffed sleeves, a pleated front and a Peter Pan collar (is 31 too old to wear Peter Pan collars? They do seem kind of, well, 'young'. Oh well, I'm not going to get hung up on the whole 'dressing your age' thing just yet!). I really like little floral dresses: they're so simple to put on with leggings/tights and little pumps and comfortable for charging round art galleries too. I love the print on this one: you probably can't see too well in the photos but it's kind of a dusky pink and cream flower on a black background. I really don't love leggings at all, but I seem to wear them all the time with my dresses as it seems wrong to wear opaque tights in June (isn't there a rule about only wearing tights in months that have an 'r' in them? Or have I made this up!) and yet it's hardly ever warm enough here to wear a short dress with bare legs. Oh and to make the day even better, I have been smelling beautifully of roses thanks to my lovely friend sending me Paul Smith Rose perfume for my birthday. Love, love, love.

Kimchi and Blue dress: £7, the Wellfair shop, Moortown
denim shirt: Gap
leggings: I simply don't have the foggiest
ballet shoes: New Look
belt: ancient
locket: Urban Outfitters
watch: Triwa, present from my husband for my birthday!
bag: Marrakech souk (la-di-da!)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Royal weddings, not so royal weddings and 40s dresses

So apparently I've done 7 posts in 9 months, which is pretty lazy by anyone's standards! Not that I'm going to make any plans to blog more often, in fact, the next few months are going to be all about taking it easy and just enjoying life. I have a whole pile of vintage and second hand clothes to write about but as a busy working mum of a very active toddler it's hard to find the time. I'm making no most cases the problem is that by the time I get round to taking a photo I'm covered in baked beans, yoghurt or avocado.

My husband bought me this 1940s dress for my birthday this year. We got it from a vintage fair at Harewood House which was part of their Royal Wedding celebrations. After spending all morning watching Kate, William, Harry, Pippa et al, we nipped off during the service to spend a few hours making the most of the day off. The vintage fair was an added bonus! There were some amazing vintage wedding dresses, if you were in the market for that sort of thing (I wasn't especially, but supposing one day the husband and I renew our vows??!?)

I always love 1940s dresses, but they are usually among the most expensive items at vintage fairs. I'm not sure why that is: perhaps they are more difficult to come by than dresses from other periods, such as the 1970s? I spotted this one on the rack and just HAD to try it on. Oh, and obviously, it fitted perfectly so I just HAD to have it! The lovely husband really liked it too, and suggested he buy it for me as a birthday present. I'm not sure what the fabric is, but it's amazing to wear and the skirt is pleated and swings beautifully. I love the fact it's so demure and ladylike. It seems like it's a pretty timeless dress that I'll be able to wear for years to come.

I wore it for the first time on Saturday (despite it not yet being my birthday - shhhhhh) for the wedding of some friends of ours. It was a fantastic wedding, possibly the most original I've ever been to. It's hard to make a wedding truly personal but these friends really achieved it - even having a wedding band made up of the bride and groom's dads, uncle and sisters PLUS a unicorn cake buffet presided over by a shop mannequin called Ken.

I felt like the dress needed red lipstick which as someone who only ever uses Lucas' Papaw Ointment on her lips is a huge thing. How do people wear red lipstick? It takes such dedication and I spend the whole time being afraid that it's on my teeth or round my mouth as soon as I've had a drink. I would love to the kind of polished girl who always has immaculate make up but I guess I'm just never going to be like that (see above re: baked beans, yoghurt and avocado on my clothes) even at the grand old age of 31. Oh well, life's too short to have neat make up, right?

(Oh, and if anyone was wondering, I managed to go the whole night without getting food or drink of any kind on my dress - something to do with my little girl staying overnight at my brother in law's house and me being the designated driver?)

1940s dress: vintage fair
white sandals: Kurt Geiger about four years' ago (barely worn: I'm not really a white sandals kind of girl either!)
corsage round wrist: Sportsgirl, Sydney
Oh, and I used my vintage black handbag, bought in Newtown, Sydney but I forgot to take a photo of it