Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

The fashion show that left me feeling vintage

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

There’s a conspiracy going on to make me feel very old. I’m convinced of it. Here’s my evidence. Read it and weep.

As the Belfast Telegraph’s catwalk commentator, I’m always hot on the heels of any fashion shows around Northern Ireland and this week I was asked by my editor to cover an event happening at the Ulster Museum.

War on Want, the overseas aid charity, had reached its 50th anniversary and to celebrate they were putting on a show of vintage fashion items that had been collected in its 13 stores over that period. All proceeds for the ticket sales were of course going to the charity. What a wonderful idea I thought as I set off, trusty notebook in hand.

It was only when I got there and started browsing through the clothes rails backstage before the show that I was struck by a strong sense of déjà vu. And not just for the retro fashion either.

I suddenly remembered that I’d done this all before.

Twenty years ago, when I’d just moved to Belfast and was starting out as a fashion correspondent, I had been sent by a different editor and a different newspaper to do my first ever fashion show report.

War on Want, the overseas aid charity, had reached its 30th anniversary and, to celebrate, they were putting on a show of vintage fashion items that had been collected in its 13 stores over that period. What a wonderful idea I remember thinking, as I set off, trusty notebook in hand.

So, back to the present, there I was again, two decades and countless fashion trends later. In that stretch of time, I’d gone from being a rookie reporter to a grand-dame de la mode. Indeed, the very prototype outfit I had worn that day in 1991 — a black and white houndstooth suit with bumper shoulder pads and a peplum waist (I remember it well because it was my only “smart” outfit at the time) was now hanging on a rail marked “Vintage”.

It was both enthralling and depressing to see so many different styles and trends, all in one room, most of which I’d lived through or had some recollection of in my lifetime.

The hat my grandma wore for special occasions — a pill box made from purple woven raffia — was there on the earliest rail. I recalled it so clearly because she told me she’d made it herself from Quality Street wrappers. I believed her, of course, because I was only four years old and for years afterwards, every Christmas, I used to save all the glossy cellophane from the big purple ones just for her.

Fast forward another decade and there was the same ensemble I’d worn on my 18th birthday in 1981, at the very start of the New Romantic era, possibly the most tragic of all the fashion trends I’d fallen victim to.

Oh, that sparkly lame jacket with narrow lapels and rolled-up sleeves! Oh NO those glittery knickerbockers and winkle-picker boots! Oh DEAR LORD, that satin blouse with a gigantic ruffle spilling from the neckline and voluminous bishop sleeves! Oh the humanity!

It was all there, the full kit and caboodle, every wardrobe malfunction I’d ever had from the bell-bottom flares my mum had made from upholstery velvet remnants to the Madonna-style lace corset I’d squeezed myself into at Manchester University Freshers Ball.

I looked down at what I was wearing — a simple black blouse, stretch Lycra skirt and knee-high suede boots — and it seemed so very demure and tasteful in comparison. But I wondered to myself, will I be cringeing at this too, when I’m covering War on Want’s 60th?

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