There’s more to the Forties than victory rolls…

1940s, 1960s, 1970s, Ann Savage, forties fashion, Lauren Bacall, veronica lake

Not victory rolls. She has simply pinned loose curls on the top of her head. The effect is pretty, soft, natural and unforced. Woman’s Illustrated, August 1946.

A personal bugbear of mine, aside from the prevalence of cupcakes and ‘upcycling’ in allegedly ‘vintage’ contexts, is the dominance of the victory roll as a vintage look. I may make myself unpopular here, but frankly it is akin to assuming women in the Sixties only ever wore their hair in beehives – or that everyone was bothering with a Marcel wave in the Twenties. It is lovely to make an effort with your hair, and it is lovely to wear Forties clothes. Or, more likely in my case, Seventies clothes in a Forties style. But why on earth would you want to limit yourself to victory rolls, and why on earth would you want to look like every other allegedly ‘vintage’ woman walking around?

If you search ‘victory roll tutorial’ on Youtube, you get about 855 results (and counting…). That’s 855 people who think they have something new to teach you about doing a very specific style. So say 20 people follow each tutorial to the letter and frequently wear their hair that way, that makes over 17,000 people all desperately trying to create a hairstyle to look ‘unique’. Ok, so the maths is arbitary, but what it demonstrates is how very unoriginal it all is.

Lauren Bacall. No victory roll.

I realise that I am not the target audience for such things generally (in fact my hair is frequently set in what look like victory rolls purely so that I can unclip them in the morning and brush out for a loose-but-frankly-enormous hairstyle which can then be styled to suit any era I choose) – but I do wish that the perceived ‘vintage look’ wasn’t so rooted in a cartoon-like version of the Forties. Not everyone rolled their hair, not everyone wore red lipstick, not everyone bothered drawing a seam up the back of their legs. Most people were too busy/stressed/modest or even independently-minded enough to worry about such things.

I respect people for adopting an unusual look, whether it be vintage or any other subculture, and I respect anyone who makes an effort with their hair. But I have never, and will never, understand the way vintage has turned into a kind of uniform. I know I personally approach it as a way of creating my own style without anyone else’s rules in my head, and also because I have a stupidly stubborn (and geeky) interest in certain eras other people consider ludicrous. But while I sit, engrossed in magazines, films, music of the time, I don’t ever feel like I need to copy any of it slavishly to justify my own vintage-ness. If that is even something I want to define myself by. It is about self-expression, but an unfortunate number of people are expressing their conformity in my opinion. The moment I see a cast member from Made in Chelsea wearing a floppy felt Seventies-style hat, is the moment I put my own original hat to the back of my wardrobe.

On that note, I am still mulching down my feelings and opinions on Grayson Perry’s series about taste, which was a fascinating insight into what he deemed to be the very ‘middle class’ need to express non-conformity. But expressing in a way which is validated by everyone else’s admiration and acceptance of your ‘individualist’ choices. More musings on that at a later date.

Veronica Lake. No victory roll.

When I was a teenager, my mother laughed at me for wanting to wear black jumpers, long dip-dyed skirts and smudged kohl eyeliner. I said I wanted to look ‘different’, and she said ‘don’t you see that you look the same as every other teenager in their black clothes and smudged eyeliner?’. I didn’t, but I do now.

I look forward to the day when the victory rolls have been unpinned, the tea dresses cast off, the lipstick has become more muted and the general mood has moved on to something new. Personally, I haven’t ‘done’ Forties for a few years now, although I used to enjoy dabbling when the mood took me there. I even detect a certain amount of frustration and boredom from the people I know who do live and love the Forties look.

Ann Savage. No victory roll.

In part, I believe the burlesque scene is to blame. (I still cannot understand why nobody is doing jiggly Carry On-style Seventies burlesque in nylon ruffles and glossy pastel make-up – you’d make quite a name for yourself!). Although I would say this is through no fault of their own. Any business which is about the seduction of men (and women) in ten-minute bursts is naturally going to seem larger-than-life and somewhat cartoon-like. But is that what most people are actually aspiring to? Or are they using it as a shorthand? Like black and white Mondrian-esque dresses for ‘mod’, or cheap beaded shifts for ‘flapper’. And are they dressing this way because they are actually passionate about the era (easy enough to claim) or because they want to fit in with a scene?

Somehow the commercialisation of vintage is represented, to me, by the victory roll. Although it is by no means the only example.

I am trying not to judge people, I just want to understand why it is happening since the knock-on effect is a lack of understanding about vintage. I have actually lost count of the number of times someone has asked me if I ‘make’ the vintage I sell. So far I have managed to retain a sense of humour about it, but occasionally feel like I should rename my website Secondhand-a-Peel and officially reject the word vintage.

My approach is always to look at original pictures of normal women of the time – “primary sources” was always the mantra in history lessons – which is why My Dad’s Photos is such an immensely valuable resource for any Seventies-fiend. So I have included a few photographs from my own family’s photograph albums. These people worked for the Civil Service and were stationed up in Buxton during the war. I don’t know who half of them are, they were friends of my grandparents, but look how lovely they are. Some have rolls, some just have a nice set, some are just clipped off the face; variety is the spice of life.

The first photo is of my grandmother, and she is sporting a reverse roll! Go Nana, being all subversive there… I just wish she was still around so I could ask her what she made of it all.

Please do not reproduce these pictures without permission. Thank you.

Gratuitous photograph of the photographer of many of these photos, my Grandad. He was quite the dish…

Please do not reproduce these pictures without permission. Thank you.

We are not the first, and we will not be the last…

1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1960s, 1970s, biba, bill gibb, british boutique movement, bus stop, catherine buckley, cosmopolitan, ossie clark, yves saint laurent, zandra rhodes

I think it is safe to say that I love old clothes. I dream them, I live in them and I covet the ones I don’t have. But I am under no illusion that there is anything inherently unique or radical about this. The uniqueness comes from the impression of your personality in whatever you choose to wear. The fabrics, the colours, the shapes, these are the expression of my inner self in one, superficially superficial, way.

It is important to remember this: each generation thinks it invented sex, and I fear the same goes for ‘vintage’ clothing. This article makes for fascinatingly familiar reading. Commercialisation is the death knell each time, but in turn becomes the coveted piece of history for the next generation of disillusioned people (see the mention of Catherine Buckley’s old jacquard fabrics in the text of the article. My Buckley skirt is one of these pieces). The irony does not escape me; I wear clothes by Ossie Clark, Biba, Bus Stop… all of who were creating clothes heavily inspired by their own childhoods.

Just wanting a period look is not the important part, anyone can buy a reproduction and plenty of people will, the expression comes from the colours, fabrics, shapes and accoutrements you pick. There is absolutely nothing wrong with new clothing taking influence from old, although my thoughts on direct duplication are well known, but why would you limit yourself to the prints they have chosen this season? There are limitless possibilities when you look around you and take inspiration from a variety of sources other than from conventional fashion magazines or ‘how to’ guides.

That is partly the aim of this blog, and I hope to continue in such a vein for a long time yet…

The Cosmo Girl’s Guide to the Cast-Offs Cult… Cosmopolitan, August 1974.

Inspirational Images: Rita Hayworth

1940s, Inspirational Images, rita hayworth, underwear

Scanned from ‘Screen Goddesses’ by Tom Hutchinson

Icon: Simone Simon

1930s, 1940s, forties fashion, hollywood icons, picture spam, simone simon, Style Icons

Earlier this year, I saw the fantastic Cat People for the first time. This weekend, I initiated M into the slightly overly-sentimental and weepy world of Seventh Heaven (a film which largely works thanks to the performances of Simon and James Stewart). I find Simone Simon to be completely and utterly adorable and incredibly beautiful. I also like the fact that, despite a few attempts, she was unable to fit in with the Hollywood world and returned to France in the Forties; never marrying and living to the grand old age of 94.

Well knock me down with an ostrich feather….

1940s, 1970s, celia birtwell, kate moss, ossie clark, style on trial

(I’ve been meaning to publish this in response to the dénouement of Style on Trial for a while now, so here it is….)

The Seventies won out in the end. I thought it was a lost cause, quite frankly, because people are so biased against a decade they associate with polyester and bad taste. Irritatingly and blatantly ignoring the fact that man made fibres in various forms have been in steady use in clothing since the 1930s. And bad taste is always with us. As much in the Fifties and Sixties as it was in the Seventies and Eighties, our specs have just got rosier with time passing.
Wayne Hemingway’s impassioned plea for glam, punk, northern soul and disco was certainly appealing to me, but I could also see why Celia Birtwell would question whether any of those clothes look remotely appealing on older ladies. My response to that would have been that I know many women who still wear their Ossie dresses well into their forties and fifties and still look incredible. Everything permitting, I hope I’ll be one of those ladies myself. She commented that forties styles were far more wearable for people of all ages, possibly forgetting that the Seventies (and specifically the likes of her ex-hubby) incorporated a lot of forties silhouettes and styles, updating them and making them sexier and more modern. All of which look gorgeous on older women as well.

So, perhaps the Forties should have won? I certainly enjoyed Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen’s case for the decade, and was convinced that they would all vote for his era of choice. But in terms of the most rounded decade for fashion, I actually think the Seventies had it all.

Affordable clothing for those who wanted it, in the days before it was all farmed out to children in a sweatshop in Sri Lanka. Vivid, fun, sexy clothes for teenagers and twenty-somethings. Glamorous eveningwear and wearable separates for older, working women. Polyester has its place, and revolutionised the lot of the housewife, but you could just as easily get delicious crepes, jerseys and wool.

Platforms were infinitely superior to spindly little stiletto heels, and they didn’t have to be 6 inches high (unless you were a member of Slade or a very brave woman). Different styles and cultural groups or identities were plentiful. You could wear the general style of the era, or you could choose who you wanted to be.

Hair was fairly low maintenance if you so wished. And there was a style for all hair types. Every other decade (and trend within that decade) seems to have beaten everyone’s hair into submission to one overarching style. Likewise with make-up, there was a general look but fewer rules than before. The preferred female silhouette was natural. Curved but never to excess. Softness prevailed. No corsetted waists, but no severe straightness either.

Men actually cared about clothes. Not about labels in the way they do now. Clothes. They cared about fabric, colour, silhouette. They didn’t give a rat’s behind about looking overly feminine, and to my eye actually look more appealing and masculine in all their satin and tat.

Okay, perhaps not in the case of The Sweet….but I still adore them!

Ultimately it was the best attitude to style we’ve seen for a long time. Trying everything. Experimenting, being brave, making your own choices and not necessarily the same choice as anyone else. There was a good reason the New Romantics were harking back to Glam Rock and, to a lesser extent, disco. There was always a general ‘look’, but no one slavishly followed rules (unlike the mods, rockers, teddy boys and so on). You were expressing yourself.

While I don’t think any era can really be truly hailed as the greatest, and certainly style is a very subjective concept (the word stylish, in fact, makes me think of the word timeless….and thus, a bit dull and safe), I think the Seventies was a very brave but very well rounded choice to make.

Website Feature: Emma Domb Party Lines

1940s, emma domb, website listings

This dress is so vivid, slinky and confident that it almost looks too good to be true! The label says otherwise though: Party Lines by Domb, the very first label used by the Californian Queen of Party Dresses, Emma Domb.

It hugs your curves, the structure of the ruched waist enhancing the hourglass effect. I love the exotic print, grapes and flowers in vivid greens and purples. The one-shoulder design is beautifully executed and drapes elegantly.

It’s definitely designed for a confident siren and is perfect for lounging around drinking cocktails, with ruby red lips blazing and loosely curled hair cascading over your bare shoulder.

Available over at