Monday, 19 October 2009

Cinderella's Dress

My geeky heroine, Alice, has a vintage fashion makeover during the course of Invitation To The Boss’s Ball. She sees herself as a bit of a stick insect (not a problem I’ve ever had, unfortunately) but I wanted to show that all shapes and sizes can have issues about their bodies and that all of us can be beautiful and sexy. I think ‘sexy’ is more about what’s on the inside, anyway.

The best era of dress to suit Alice would have either been a flapper dress from the Twenties, or something bias cut from the Thirties. Since the ball she was attending had a theme of ‘Old Hollywood Glamour’ I chose the latter, thinking of stars such as Carole Lombard and Ginger Rogers when my imagination got to work on Alice’s attire. I don’t actually have a picture of the dress because it’s a combination of different ideas I saw when I was doing my research. The colour had to be deep, dark green, like the first picture, but I think the style was probably more like the other pictures, something that would flatter a willowy figure.

Why green? It’s my favourite colour – especially dark green. It’s possible that when I thought “Thirties” and “green dress” that I subliminally thought of Kiera Knightly’s dress in Atonement, but I haven’t seen the film and the green I had in mind was much darker. However, when I googled “green thirties dress” and tons of movie stills popped up, I decided this picture captured something of the wistful, romantic feel I wanted for some of the ball scenes and I used it as my computer wallpaper while I was writing the book.

Initially, I just pictured a pair of fabulous vintage shoes as Alice’s footwear, something satin or sparkly, but when I came across this picture, I knew they were perfect. Glass heels! Perfect for Cinderella! Of course, the heels aren’t really glass, they’re Lucite – a type of Perspex. In my mind, the heels on Alice’s shoes were entirely clear, unlike the shoes in the picture, which are only partly Lucite. Seriously, if these vintage shoes had been in my size, I would have bought them in an instant.

A change of clothes wasn’t all that Alice needed. If an ugly ducking is going to be a swan, she needs a complete makeover. I could have gone for a coiled and waved hairdo (see the top picture of Carole Lombard), but I decided that it wasn’t dramatic enough. The image that sprung instantly to mind was of movie star Veronica Lake, famed for her sexy peek-a-boo side parting. It was just the thing to knock not only Cameron’s socks off but the breath right out of his lungs.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Love Affair With Vintage Fashion

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.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Invitation To The Boss's Ball - Vintage Fashion

I can’t really blog about Invitation To The Boss’s Ball without mentioning the glorious vintage clothing. My heroine, Alice, is going into business with her best friend, the owner of a market stall that sells vintage clothing. Their dream is to open a shop of their own – somewhere out of the wind and rain, with four walls and an office.

Here are some pictures of the sort of things I envisaged Alice and her friend Coreen wearing through out the book.

In the original version of my book there was an opening scene where Alice realised her current boyfriend, Paul, was nowhere close to Prince Charming. He ruined her lovely olive-green dress by chucking a wrapped up doner kebab in her lap. Unfortunately, the scene went by the way of the cutting-room floor during the revisions process. Still love the dress, though.

As Alice has to find some office wear when she movs her party-planning project into Cameron's offices, I could imagine her wearing cute little cardigans and silk embroidered blouse like this. Since she was used to wearing jeans, trainers and old fleece jackets, I wanted her to discover her feminine side. I also wanted her to stand out from the high-powered business suits and killer heels of Cameron's female employees.

Alice's friend, Coreen, is a true vintage fashionista. She loves dressing like a 40s or 50s pin-up girl. For some reason, always seemed to be wearing red shoes when she appeared in the book. I didn't plan that but it seemed to go with her personality, so I kept it in. (I'm hoping to write Coreen a little romance of her own sometime soon.) Anyway, Coreen's outfit for the ball was, as Alice puts it, "a little black dress that was fifties restraint and pure sin all at the same time". Here's the picture that was the inspiration for Coreen's party dress.

Of course, the girls aren't the only ones who get to wear some vintage fashion thoughout the course of the book. Alice gives Cameron the gift of some cufflinks. In my mind they were octagonal, like the ones on the right, but with tiger's eye stones set into them. Alice sees Cameron's platinum cufflinks as he takes them off to put her ones in and she's reminded that they are truly from two different worlds. How could she have been so stupid as to think she had anything to give him? Cameron, on the other hand, is thinking how wonderfully unique his gift is - rather like the enigmatic redhead to gave them to him.

The other half of Cameron's present from Alice is a tie. His was dark, dark green, not brown like the one in the photo here. It's not until things are going badly, badly wrong that Cameron finds out there is a secret contained in what looks like a boring old tie, and Alice turns it against him, telling him: ‘This is the kind of woman you need. Always ready, always glamorous, never having an ‘off’ day. Who cares if she isn’t real? She’ll never ask anything of you, never ask you for a piece of your soul. In short, she’ll always be your perfect woman.’

Lastly, here's the dress Alice wears in the final scene, where she goes to the V&A to see the new vintage clothing exhibition. I love this dress! It's just so cute. And just so Alice.

Of course, you may have noticed that I've left two vital pieces out of this list: Alice's fabulous emerald silk vintage gown and her glass-heeled shoes. There was so much I could say about Alice's makeover for the ball that I decided to dedicate a whole post to it. Watch out for that soon.