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Why we're all rocking retro to timeless fashion styles

Three local women explain why they are inspired by looks from different eras

By Helen Carson

Published 11/06/2015

History woman: Fiona Mellon loves the Sixties style
History woman: Fiona Mellon loves the Sixties style
Marie McCrory
Red alert: Jennie Watson wears her hair in bright colours all the time

Retro fashion is having a revival with more women looking to their style sisters from bygone eras when it comes to fashion, hair and make-up.

From the unconventional flappers of the 1920s with their cropped hair and androgynous fashion pioneered by Coco Chanel to the burst of bold colour embraced by post-war women who wanted ruby red lips, full-petticoated skirts and sexy high heels.

Fashion across the decades reflects more than just taste in clothes, but also the changing attitudes of women and the evolution of both female style and emancipation. In the Swinging Sixties, the sexual revolution and the arrival of the birth control pill coincided with the rise of hemlines and the popularity of the Mary Quant mini-skirt, while in the Seventies, the punk movement was less a musical genre than a state of mind.

In recent years there has been a re-emergence of several key sub-cultures such as the mod scene, while popular television shows like Downton Abbey, Mad Men, The Hour and Call The Midwife have also shone the spotlight on retro fashion.

We speak to three local ladies who are fans of vintage style to find out why the past influences their present day.

'My art teacher had every issue of Vogue from the 1950s and 1960s'

Marie McCrory, who is a learning mentor and lives in south Belfast with her 18-year-old son Dominic, has been a fan of retro clothing since her school days. She says:

"I first became interested in vintage fashion when I was at school - I love everything from the 1920s to the 1960s. My art teacher used to allow me to eat my lunch in her room and she had a cupboard full of Vogue magazines - every single issue - from the 1950s to the 1960s. I would spend my lunch hour looking at the magazines, although I have always been interested in fashion and its history. I made my own school formal dress in the 1980s which was a 1920s style. I learned to sew at school and, because authentic vintage clothes can be hard to find, I often make my own as there are lots of original dress making patterns still available from the 1940s and 1950s.

When I was a teenager I used to buy my clothes from American Madness in Belfast which sold lots of original retro clothing, like Levi jeans. I also bought a lot of punk clothes at Ripoff in Belfast. When my son Dominic was younger he wanted a pair of bondage trousers so I took him there - the woman in the shop said she remembered me coming in when I'd been at school.

About 15 years ago I was at a club called Lady Luck in London and that is where I first saw people really living a retro lifestyle. They were all dressed according to the era which was the 1920s and were dancing the Charleston. The club members were really the first to do this, recreating in such detail the fashion and dances from days gone by.

Since then, I became interested in the music and dance too and I am part of Eight to the Bar dance group. We perform at vintage events all the time and again, performing to music from the 1920s to the 1960s, and like the club in London everyone comes along dressed era-appropriate.

It can be difficult to get vintage clothes, though the internet has opened up a global market, and I have bought original items on eBay and Places like Afflex Palace in Manchester and Camden Market in London are great too. I recently bought two original 1930s dresses online and a beautiful suede coat from the 1920s.

Getting your hands on original clothes is difficult as they are becoming rarer. It is also getting harder to find a size that fits which is why I also like buying good reproductions which can be pretty authentic in terms of the detail. Most of the dresses I have now are from America.

I have thought about why I like vintage clothing — it reminds me of old Hollywood movie stars like Rita Hayworth and Liz Taylor (below), who always looked so stylish and glamorous. And there is nothing like the feeling when you find something that fits you and know that you’re not going to run into anyone else wearing the same outfit.

You can pay thousands of pounds for beaded vintage dresses which I couldn’t afford, but you can pick up original 1920s dresses on eBay for around £24 — it may not have the intricate beadwork, but will be a beautiful example of clothing from that era. You just don’t see clothes of that quality anymore — even the colours of vintage items seem to stay true. I have spent £100 on one item — a jacket in London — I had bargained him down from £145. It can be hit and miss, though, as I once treated myself to a dress from America which I bought online for £95. It turned out to be too tight in the underarm.

I do like modern clothes, especially those which have been influenced by vintage style like peg trousers and kimonos which are so fashionable now — those are the sort of things I would buy, and mix them up with retro pieces. If something has a really good cut and can be worn everyday, it’s all about good design to me. A brand like Chanel, which is famous for its simplicity, is as popular now as it was decades ago. One item that has been bettered in terms of design is palazzo pants — in patterns from the 1920s and 30s the crotch is always too low — it’s a design flaw that has been corrected over the years.”

‘I am on eBay every day, it’s like a treasure hunt’

Jennie Watson (35), from Carrickfergus, an auxiliary nurse at Belfast City Hospital, fell in love with fashion from the 1940s, 50s and 60s when she was just a teenager. She says:

"When I go out at the weekend, I go all out with what I wear, mixing modern fashion with retro pieces. A lot of the clothes I buy are reproductions, but I do have original dresses, mostly bought on eBay which I spend hours scouring everyday for vintage clothes.

There is not much need for dressing up in my job, but I wear my hair in bright colours all the time — anything between a Paloma Faith (below) red and Vivienne Westwood orange. Keeping my hair this colour is a big commitment and the colour will need done every six weeks. I did have a very short Betty fringe, but now I have waves, not traditional Victory waves, but slightly softer.

I love heels, high-waisted skirts, white shirts — and I always have a good handbag. Again I have a mix of eras from vintage to modern Vivienne Westwood. When it comes to colour, I nearly always wear red, white and black — I also like green which looks great with my red hair. Patterns are a big part of my look so anything with stripes, polka dots or cherries.

My most recent buy is an original 1950s dress off eBay, which I discovered after searching through literally thousands of items. It is sky blue with an under skirt in even lighter blue with a chiffon overlay and a chiffon bolero-style shoulder covering. It was £40 and was a bargain-and-a-half. I think the seller didn’t realise what it was, but I knew how important it was. I am on eBay every day looking for gems like that, it’s like a treasure hunt — I really don’t go out to the shops as I work at night. Around 95% of the clothes I have are bought online and I spend about £40-£50 a month. If you want to wear something personal to you, then eBay is great. I do shop on the High Street, too, I love All Saints clothes and you can get leather jackets and Converse trainers in the shops. You can’t beat Topshop for plain white shirts and vests.

I have absolutely no idea why I love retro fashion, but I have liked these styles since I was 15 and started buying second hand clothes from charity shops — much to my mum’s horror. She would say to me when I bought a dress that is like something my granny would wear. I remember wanting a swimsuit with a little skirt on it, and she was shocked at me preferring an old-fashioned style.

I also shopped at American Madness when I was younger. I like the look and love the fact when I wear an outfit there will be no one else wearing the same thing.

If I’m going out for the night I like to get my make-up done at MAC, by one of my favourite make-up artists Paula Fraser or Nuala Campbell. If I’m doing it myself, I always wear pale foundation, heavy black eyeliner and Russian Red Lipstick by MAC.

When I go out for the evening with my friends I will go wherever there is something on, be that The Merchant Hotel, the Duke of York or the Black Box — people are always nice to me and will come over and ask me about my look.”

‘I picked an elegant and wearable fashion era’

Fiona Mellon (46), business manager for cosmetic brand Illamasqua at Debenhams in Belfast, lives in Lurgan with her husband Michael Dennison and their two children Alexander (10) and eight-year-old Tobias. The swinging 1960s appeals to Fiona who loves the music and the clothes. She says:

"I come from a theatrical family so, for as long as I can remember, I loved watching films and was influenced by them, especially the fashion. I’ve loved jazz and the music of the 1960s since I was 12 years old thanks to my dad who was a huge fan of The Kinks, and that happened long before I was a mod. Most of my mod friends got into the music and clothes because of The Jam, but I didn’t even realise The Kinks were part of that movement.

The clothes of that era have been part of my life for a long time, too. One of the first outfits I ever wore was my mum’s going away outfit when she married my dad in 1966 — it was a peach and cream vintage shift dress, it was very plain and simple — it was for my first ever disco in the 1980s. I did wear make-up even though I wasn’t allowed to, but I always had a box of Quickies make-up wipes with me to take it off, should I need to. I wore a little bit of powder, eye liner and a pearlised pink lipstick which I bought with my pocket money, so it was the cheapest of the cheap. I couldn’t borrow anything from my mum as she didn’t really wear make-up and she has olive skin so it wouldn’t have worked on my pale complexion.

I was very lucky as my aunt was a tailor, so I just sent her a picture and she could make my clothes. I also shopped in places like Rumours in Dublin and had clothes that didn’t fit altered.

The clothes at that time — in the 1980s — were all so tacky. All my friends had bubble perms — and they thought I was strange with my Cleopatra-style bob.

I wanted to be different so I picked a fashion era that I thought was elegant and wearable — when I looked at my friends they were wearing day-glo and sloppy T-shirts. At only 5ft tall, those over-sized clothes swamped me. As a teenager I was trying to find my style niche, and some people never found theirs, but I did and have stuck with it ever since. I love the music, the bands and the people associated with the 1960s — it is like a family to me.

I found clothes that I liked in second-hand shops which would have the odd designer label and some nice pieces — you never knew what you would find. Now, I won’t spend more than £40 on a vintage dress simply because it is second-hand and has been worn. These items can be really expensive but I won’t go over my budget unless it is something I really fall in love with and it is in immaculate condition.

I love the colour green and the different shades it comes in — I have to wear black for work so I like colour when I’m going out. Orange and cream are favourites and I love purple, but it doesn’t love me, it just doesn’t look right next to my skin — it’s not my colour.

My best find is a beautiful pair of vintage red suede shoes I bought on eBay. A friend of mine spotted them and I was the only person she knew with feet small enough to fit them — I’m a size three. They cost me £11.20 from the seller in England. I do spend a lot of time online looking for good buys — half an hour everyday — to find the 1960s styles that suit me.

My make up now is more or less the same as I have been wearing my eyeliner this way since I was 13, but I don’t wear pink pearlised lipstick anymore.”

Belfast Telegraph

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