I’ve always had a thing about vintage clothes. I think it's a fascination for the dressing-up box that has never quite left me. As a student often bought my clothes in charity shops and second-hand shops, wearing vintage dresses and blouses before the phrase ‘vintage’ was widely used for other people's old clothes. When I was writing Invitation To The Boss's Ball I thought about some of the lovely dresses and blouses I had bought in various ‘retro’ shops, and I realised that I had owned more than just a couple of vintage items. At one time they had made up a major part of my wardrobe.
Here’s a pic of me in a 1950s dress that was a particular favourite in the late 80s. This was taken on my honeymoon, when I visited Venice. I don’t have the dress any more, unfortunately. It eventually disintegrated, but I wore it until it fell apart.
As I looked back through my photo albums, I discovered many more photos of vintage clothing I’d worn. Here’s one of me at my 21st birthday party, wearing a home-made peach lace cocktail dress I found in a shop near where I went to college. The satin bow round the waist was just the most amazing fabric. When Alice's admires the cocktail dress in the opening paragraphs of the book, it was this bow I was thinking about as I wrote:
"The old oyster-coloured satin had the most wonderful texture—smooth but not slippery, like modern imitations, stiff and reassuringly heavy. Anyone who saw the cocktail dress would just have itched to touch it, and this is what Alice did, letting her fingertips explore it fully, lingering on the crease of the sash as it folded into a bow just under the bust line."
As well as my charity shop finds there were the items I hijacked from my mother’s wardrobe. I still have two suede jackets of hers from the 60s, one brown, one bottle-green. Wish I could still fit into them. I have to confess to being a 'goth' in my latter teenage years, which happened to be around the time that Madonna first burst onto the pop scene. (Okay, seriously giving my age away here!) I dressed like many of my friends who had straight hair, but they teased me mercilessly for trying to look like Madonna - which I hotly denied, of course. I reckon it must be the curly hair - it added a different dimension to the look. But when I found this picture of myself in my mum's suede-fronted green jacket, I had to admit my friends might just have had a point. Oh well, being compared to someone who is now one of the world's most successful female artists isn't too shabby really, is it?
This picture was taken at a fancy dress party which had a 60s theme. The velvet and chiffon dress was one from that very decade, passed down to me by my grandmother. She recognised my penchant for old and unusual clothes, even though she often tutted at my fashion choices. The dress was originally knee length, but I shortened it to get an even stronger 60s look. Wish I hadn't now. Don't think I will ever be brave enough (or young enough) to wear it that short again.
At the very beginning of Invitation To The Boss's Ball, my vintage clothing aficionado heroine is unpacking a box that her partner has brought back from a house clearance:
"Alice carefully lifted a peacock-blue taffeta evening cape out of the box and when she saw what was underneath it, she froze. There they were, just sitting there—the perfect pair of shoes."
I have to own up to possessing that very peacock-blue cape. It's gorgeous, with vibrant blue watermarked taffeta on the outside, and a matching white taffeta lining. It has a little silver button at the collar and tailored slits in the front to elegantly slip your wrists through. Trying it on, you have to resist the urge to swan around like Grace Kelly. At least I do. Never had the courage or the occasion to wear it, though. Too worried about looking like a superhero who's lost her way. Maybe one day.