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.

Vintage Hair Inspiration: Veronica Lake

hair, Inspirational Images, veronica lake

My hair mood changes daily (last week I had an Austrian milkmaid moment) so my hair inspirations have to be quite varied in general. I was sorting through some of my books the other day and realised that a photo of Veronica Lake in a ‘Film Goddesses’ book I was given many moons ago, with her hair draped over a bearskin rug, must have been quite influential for me. She’s like the proto-Roxy Music girl, non? I have no intention of going blonde any time soon, unless I can magically get this nasty L’Oreal stuff out, but I do enjoy occasionally waving and side parting my hair….