Belfast Telegraph

She's shortlisted for top style award but mum Elaine's fab vintage look costs just a few pounds

Elaine Duffy may look like she stepped off the set of a classic MGM movie, dressed to the nines in period designer attire, but her vintage outfits often cost less than a cup of tea.

On average, the Londonderry mother spends around £100 on clothes and accessories each month, but in all her years of meticulous, tireless shopping, searching for that perfect vintage piece, she has rarely spent more than a tenner on anything.

And Elaine's incredible attention to detail, which even includes setting her hair everyday, hasn't gone unnoticed. In fact, she has made the final cut of Miss Vintage UK where she will be judged against other period-style fashionistas who live and breathe the bygone era.

She insists, though, that you don't need an A-lister's salary to recreate old school movie star glamour.

"I found a wee tea dress in a beautiful shop in Amsterdam once," says the 41-year-old single mother. "It was floral, Forties style, with lovely, short loose sleeves and just under the knees in length, all greens and reds. I got it for a few guilder, maybe around £5, so that was a particular bargain that I always remember. Most high streets have something to offer."

Elaine often spends her weekends rummaging around charity, vintage and antique stores in Derry's Yellow Yard and Bedlam emporiums, Belfast's Oxfam Vintage on Castle Street and Camden Market in London, when she gets the chance. Her evenings are most often passed "making do and mending" old pieces, upcycling being a particular passion of hers.

"My collections of handbags, shoes and vintage and reproduction dresses are always getting bigger. I have only a few authentic designer vintage pieces, as they can be expensive, so I most often wear reproductions. For me, it's about putting a look together, not about spending money. As a single parent, it's all about being frugal and managing my budget.

"I have a few lovely things in the line of jewellery, which were given to me, and some gorgeous handbags that I have found in charity shops for as low as £4 and up. My mum will often make me things from old patterns. It's not difficult to achieve the vintage look without breaking the bank."

In 2017, for the fourth year running, Elaine finds herself competing for the coveted title of Miss Vintage UK. The eye-catching, ostentatious Twinwood Vintage Festival of Music and Dance, which runs the annual Mr & Miss Vintage UK competition, takes place in August at the former RAF Twinwood Farm Airfield in Clapham, Bedfordshire, and is a highlight of the year for her and fans of Forties and Fifties culture like her.

"It's a truly lovely festival, full of like-minded people who love the music, the film and the fashion of that wonderful period, and I've made some amazing friends there over the past few years competing for Miss Vintage UK," adds Elaine, who works as a sale assistant in Marks & Spencer in Derry's Waterside.

And the people of her native city know her well. As they dash to work in cars and buses or grab a coffee with friends and family, if Elaine is in the vicinity, she rarely goes unnoticed. Very few if any of Derry's inhabitants will ever find themselves dressed quite as swish as her.

Elaine's adoration of all things vintage is derived, in the main, from her late grandmother, whom she affectionately refers to as Mamma. "As a child," she recalls, "while my incredibly loving and supportive parents, Anna and George, were working, I was looked after by my grandparents, Mamma and Dada.

"In their home, there were many beautiful things that they had collected over the years, framed photographs, units filled with China sets, which were often brought out for tea. And Mamma was always very well presented. Her style, her glamour, her red lipstick, the fact that she always wore high heels at home, she was a lady through and through.

"That history is deeply engrained in my psyche. There is no doubt that she was a major influence on my own style. I'm particularly drawn to the Forties and all that went with it and my wardrobe, not to mention my home, are reflections of my love for that era."

Elaine attended Thornhill Primary School in Londonderry and developed a love for the Forties and Fifties as a young girl by watching Golden Age Hollywood cinema classics and listening to period music, everything from Glenn Miller and the big band tradition to upbeat rock 'n' roll.

"Elvis was all we listened to at home, he was dad's favourite, and we also heard a lot of swing, rockabilly and War period big band stuff," she says.

"I always enjoyed watching old black and white movies with my family, classics likes Casablanca, and my favourite actors of that period were people like Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly and Bette Davis.

"What I loved most about the many actresses of that era was their style and class. The fashion then was just beautiful, with the likes of Coco Channel at the forefront. It amazed me that even though there wasn't much money floating around then, during and after the Second World War, people made do and mended what they had, lived within their means, and still managed to looked smart."

Elaine's interest in music saw her sign up for dance lessons as a young girl, and she subsequently studied dance at the Miss Mary Hill School of Ballet and with Ulster Youth Dance.

"My love for film and musicals inspired me to perform, dance and sing all my life," she says. "I've taken part in many pantos in St Columb's Hall and when I was younger I focused on ballet, contemporary dance and the performing arts."

In later years, Elaine caught the travel bug and left her performing days behind her, temporarily at least, to see the world. Adventures abroad began when she was 20, with Amsterdam as her base for a number of years.

"From there I ventured all around Europe, jetted to India, Thailand, Japan and Morocco. Maybe it came from my interest in film, but I've always wanted to see the world and for a while I settled in Portugal, where my daughter Keyla was born," she says.

The two have been living back home in Derry for the past seven years, and Elaine describes their relationship as "very close", enriched by friends, family and a shared love of fashion.

"As a single parent, I'm very blessed to have such supportive family, and Keyla, who is eight, is as yet the one and only grandchild," she says.

"Keyla and I enjoy just being with one another, shopping, riding our bikes, enjoying day trips by bus or train. Like me, Keyla loves her style, both modern and vintage, and she is the greatest love of my life. She enjoys dressing up and helping me pick my outfits, and her one of her favourite films is Singing in the Rain. She is definitely showing off her own vintage style more and more as time goes on, following in my footsteps. It must be in our blood."

And when she's at work in M&S, Elaine enjoys the interaction with customers that her job provides, admitting she does receive her fair share of attention when working at the tills.

"At work I always have my hair done in vintage style, which I do myself everyday. I also do the hairdos of many like-minded ladies in my town," she says. "Luckily enough, everyone likes my look and the fact that I keep myself very tidy and well-presented. Staff and customers seem to love it, particularly the older generation, as it brings back memories for them and they often share stories of when they were growing up.

"Younger children and young people will comment on my outfits, and it's been a great conversation starter over the years. I am sure I have quietly inspired others to do what they enjoy and present themselves how they see fit. I've only ever had positive feedback from everyone."

Elaine gets to indulge her love of dance and music at the Rumble Club in Sandino's cafe bar and the City of Derry Jazz Festival, which last week took over venues across the city. She keeps up to date with all things retro, shares photos and finds inspiration as a member of various Facebook groups.

Entry into the Twinwood Festival's Miss Vintage UK competition came about through a friend, who learned of the competition online and immediately thought of Elaine. Derry's finest has made the long list four years on the trot, making the latter stages twice and finishing runner up on her second attempt. A public vote ends on May 30, but she already has enough votes, it seems, to make it through to the judging panel, when 40 will be cut down to 10.

"It's an exciting thing to be a part of, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the other contestants are looking if I do manage to make the final," she says.

"It's a difficult competition to win, but I thought I'd give it another go.

"There's nothing stopping me. Hopefully I can do Derry and Northern Ireland proud this time around."

Elaine Duffy, from Londonderry, scours second-hand stores for dresses from the Forties and takes the time to set her hair every day before going to work at M&S. She tells Lee Henry about the granny who inspired her love of all things retro

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