I’ve talked about how I came to fall in love with vintage style, so I thought for my fellow beginners out there I’d tell you how I started transitioning my wardrobe and my look from modern to vintage! Like I’ve discussed previously, prior to 2017 it had never occurred to me that it was physically possible to dress in styles from the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, I was wearing ‘modern with a vintage twist’ from brands like Princess Highway and Dangerfield. With the hectic lifestyle I was leading working in the film industry with very little down time, true vintage pieces were never an option for me – as much as I would have loved to own a wardrobe of original garments! At that time, I honestly didn’t know vintage reproduction or new vintage brands existed.
After I had to cease on-set camerawork, I returned to university and was working in an awful job at a film camera rental company, pushing through unbearable pain and fatigue to do so. Twice every day on my way to and from this miserable job, I would walk past a beautiful little boutique situated in a gorgeous old building with the most perfect 1940s and 50s dresses displayed in the window. I assumed they were true vintage, and every morning and every evening in my jeans and crew t-shirt I’d pass this store and stop for a moment, admiring the ever-changing displays. I told myself that when I finished studying and became a Neuropsychologist I would have a wardrobe full of beautiful garments like those. During a particularly frustrating week at work, a beautiful 1950s dusty pink floral dress with a boat neck collar and elbow length sleeves appeared in the window. I fell instantly in love, and every day that I passed it I loved it more. That Friday evening on my way home, I decided to go into the store and enquire about the dress. Walking into the store was like taking a trip back in time. Stunning handmade cotton dresses, skirts and blouses in period-perfect tones lined the walls. Incredible shoes the likes of which I had only seen in the wardrobe buses at work sat on displays and shelves underneath the garments. I asked the lovely woman behind the counter about them, and she said they were all vintage reproductions, or new designs based on popular vintage silhouettes. The store was Elise Design, and it was my first introduction to the world of vintage reproduction and new vintage. The gorgeous pink dress was my first reproduction piece. When I decided to start Brighton Bacall, owning a wardrobe full of Elise garments was (and still is) my ultimate dream.
Through Brighton Bacall and the wonderful world of Instagram, I was introduced to all of the incredible small businesses out there like the Elise Design boutique who focus on faithfully reproducing the styles of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, as well as so many other decades. With a couple of stunning 50s reproduction dresses from Elise Design recently added to my wardrobe, I decided to start my transition into full-time vintage style by adding more reproduction separates in with my existing clothes to give my wardrobe a slightly more authentic feel.
I left the hair, makeup and accessories challenges for later and focused on saving for a pair of Vivien of Holloway Katharine Trousers in charcoal. The Katherine Trousers would give me that unmistakable 1940s silhouette, and I had plenty of blouses that could pull off the look. At the time, I was watching Manhattan and channelled Helen’s simple and practical 40s look in my styling – I left my hair long and straight with a couple of simple twists on either side joining to a loose low bun. Paired with my new 40s high waisted trousers, whatever blouse I felt like wearing, and voila! Casual beginner 1940s look achieved. I was so in love with the Katherine trousers and the Hollywood starlet look they achieved, I received a second pair in burgundy a couple of weeks later for my birthday. I also received a pair of 1940s denim dungarees from Freddies of Pinewood, which could also be paired with any of my existing blouses for that 1940s ‘land army’ look.
After I had made a solid start on changing my wardrobe, I moved on to hair. My hair is thin, straight and naturally ‘balayage blonde’. I have never been able to get my hair to hold a curl using heat. I tried pincurls which I found way too difficult with my fatigue and the resulting fine motor movement issues. I finally found tutorials by Miss Victory Violet on wet sets, so I bought a set of rollers and gave it a go. And I failed. Miserably. So I gave it another go. And failed again. It took about 4 attempts before I learnt how to get the rollers sitting tight and neat against my head. It eventually ended in success, but then I had a new problem – the brush out. Months later I am still trying to gain control over my brush outs. A special shout out must go to the fabulous Miss Persephone, who so kindly took the time to guide me through my initial brushout disasters! I still never know how it’s going to turn out and am very much at the mercy of my hair. I am getting better though, and a word of advice – if you’re set on having vintage hair, get a vintage haircut! If you’re in Melbourne, I highly recommend vintage hair-whisperer Kitty Lane at The House of Lane. Her vintage cut made a world of difference, and my sets and brushouts are so much easier to tame now I’m starting with a properly shaped cut! She was also able to give me amazing setting and styling tips as well as advice on how to work with my own particular frizzy mane. If you’re not in Melbourne, have a hunt around for a vintage specialist hairdresser – trust me it is absolutely worth it!
While I continued swapping out my modern clothes for reproduction pieces and working on my brush outs, I started on makeup. I’ve never really liked wearing makeup to be honest, and I’ve never been any good at it. I don’t usually wear foundation anymore, because I find it makes my fibromyalgia worse so I normally just use a powder, some mascara, and eyeliner if I’m able (never winged – my hands shake way too much and even with a stamp I am never happy with the result). In the last couple of months, I have started to accompany my vintage outfits with lipstick for the first time in my life. It’s taking a lot of getting used to, especially as it’s a deliciously vibrant orangey-red replica of Marilyn Munroe’s favourite shade from Besame Cosmetics! Makeup’s not something I do every time I head out, it’s only really for my more dressed up vintage looks. If I’m wearing more casual or land army styles, I’ll usually go without.
Now that I have a basic understanding of how to achieve the 1930s / 1940s style I love, I’m starting to focus more on the details – trying to find authentic looking accessories and phasing out some of my less authentic blouses for reproduction blouses.
A really great bonus about the companies that specialise in reproduction clothing is they tend to be small businesses who make their clothes by hand with high quality natural materials (some use true vintage buttons!), and also carry deadstock accessories from time to time. I’m much happier to save up and pay more for a small number of handmade items, or items made from non-synthetic, period-correct fabric and support a small business than I am to buy a greater quantity of mass produced, cheaply made clothes that will only last a year or two of wear. Look, it’s all personal choice, you do you! I will say however that I still purchase wool products despite trying to live as vegan and earth-friendly as I can (again, this is just my choice – friendly almost-vegan here). The reason I do purchase wool products is wool helps calm my Fibromyalgia symptoms more than any medication I have found. I am willing to invest in handmade woollen clothing that will last me a lifetime and help me live a more comfortable life. Again, that’s just me. We’ve all got to live and let live!
So that’s where I’m at on my vintage journey. Still making changes, still learning, and most importantly – still having fun! If you’re looking to start your own vintage wardrobe, here are some of my favourite 1930s/1940s Reproduction brands to get you started:
Elise Design is an Australian vintage inspired brand based in Sydney and Melbourne. Their elegant and sophisticated garments are a mix of faithful ‘new vintage’ reproductions made from natural fabrics in traditional-looking prints, to more modern designs featuring a vintage twist. They are a small business full of the loveliest family of people, headed by designer Thu Nguyen, and all of their clothing is handmade by members of their team. While you can purchase an extensive range of items via their website and they do ship internationally, there’s far more finds in store. So if you are passing through Sydney or Melbourne make sure you head in store to say hello to the lovely ladies at Elise Design!
My picks: they have 1940s and 1950s style dresses to see you from everyday wear to that glamorous special occasion – and their hand-knitted woollen jumpers and cardigans for winter are a must!
Freddies of Pinewood is a UK-based reproduction brand specialising in 40s and 50s traditional non-stretch jeans. Their products are about as close to the real-deal as reproduction gets. From ‘land army’ style dungarees and war-era work blouses to beatnik jeans and tops, Freddies is your go-to for casual everyday reproduction vintage wear.
My picks: Dungaree Dolls, Home Companions and all of the Work Blouses and 40s Jackets. All. Of. Them.
If you love bold, vibrant, statement-making reproduction 1950s outfits, you will adore Vivien of Holloway. They offer a wide range of 40s and 50s style dresses, pants, tops, skirts and jackets in every colour imaginable. They are a UK based small business, and the people behind my favourite 1940s trousers – the ‘Katharine Trousers’.
My picks: Katharine Trousers in every colour, Kitty Dresses & Lana Dresses for some extra 40s Hollywood glamour!
If you have any questions, thoughts, or want to share your own pieces of advice for beginners, please let me know in the comments section below and I will get back to you! BB x