Wednesday, 3 June 2015

To Bed With Grand Music and the Second World War Home Front in women's Hats

Vogue, 1 August 1940, via

I've recently finished Marghanita Laski's To Bed With Grand Music, a dark, witty tale charting the 'fall' of a woman, set on the British home front of the Second World War. Originally published in 1946, it's obvious why this book was shocking at the time - it still is. There is no keeping the home fires burning, no scrimping or saving, making do and mending. We're left uncertain whether the anti-heroine, Deborah, will be given her due comeuppance.

Laski conjures up a London not being battered by bombs, but getting battered in cocktail bars, a city populated by people who get dressed up to go out and have serial affairs. It's strikingly similar to the New York conjured up in Dawn Powell''s A Time To Be Born "when the true signs of war were the lavish plumage of the women". The true sign of war in To Bed With Grand Music is - to borrow the description of Juliet Gardiner, who has written the foreword for the Persephone edition of the book - the "frivolous hats".

Today, in a fairly hatless society, it's hard to grasp the social nuances attached to hat wearing in the past. After all, most women still wore them: a sample taken in central London in 1940 noted that 79 out of 100 women still wore hats (turbans and scarves were counted separately).

But, despite it being normal and, indeed, probably "proper" to wear a hat (or perhaps because of the latter), judgements on hat wearing in the first half of the twentieth century often seemed to take on something of a moral flavour. Catherine Horwood's excellent Keeping Up Appearances: Fashion and Class Between the Wars notes how in the 1930s, women's supposedly frivolous attitude to hats were the constant butt of cartoons. Although a social necessity, they were seen to encompass the weakness of the female gender: extravagance, frivolity and indecision.

There's something of that judgment too, in this 10 March 1941 report from the Observer:

"One of the curiosities of this war is the lack of accommodation of the head to warlike conditions. Alone the turban shows some consciousness of a period in which efficiency is all-important ... the general hat seems to be something flighty".

Perhaps no surprise then that, in To Bed With Grand Music, the start of flighty Deborah's downfall is marked by spending "a couple of weeks' salary on a hat that would never do for daytime wear at all".

At the turning point of her affair with Joe - before she decides to be unfaithful to her husband for the first time - she goes into an "extremely expensive hatshop" with him. Like the hat buyer described by Horwood, she is torn with indecision about which model to buy. But it appears she doesn't have to decide after all. Just as Joe allows her to maintain her pretence of being a dutiful wife and mother while enjoying the perks of being the mistress of a married man, he solves her hat problems by buying her both, reassuring her "But you don't have to decide."

1943, via 

Deborah yearns "for sophistication, for sleek black frocks, and, more than anything else, for an immense variety of expensively nonsensical hats." The hats become a symbol of her "sophisticated" lifestyle, and her simultaneous plunge into debt.

Laski's criticism of Deborah is clear. She describes her choice in headwear as "tarty hats". Deborah's hat is one of the first things noted by her mother on meeting her newly sophisticated daughter. And Deborah is clearly aware of their connotations too. She deliberately doesn't wear one when going to seduce the "innocent" Ken Matthews.

In the press at the time, the flamboyance of women's hats were, on one hand, defended as a way to keep up morale. Grace Margaret Morton, for example, described them as an "expression of an effort to put a bit of gaiety into a world burdened with problems" in 1943.

But, while hats were one of the few items of women's clothing not to be rationed, they were widely expensive. By 1944, the Observer was noting the shift from hats to the more practical scarves and bandeau amongst women, no doubt for their practicality. And wearing a frivolous hat would have been an obvious indication that perhaps you weren't working away, doing your bit for the war effort (alas, try as Deborah may to justify it, I don't think her job of flogging dodgy antiques to visiting G.I.s  would be counted as a helpful contribution at all).

Woman's Own, 1945, via

That viewpoint is backed up by an article in the Observer from 15 October 1944 where "A Woman Reporter" writes: "The exaggerated hat fashions recently shown in Paris and Lisbon have had their effect on the trade in Britain. Although women consider these foreign fashions unsuitable to all but a fully leisured life and much too spectacular, their appearance has stimulated the hat trade."

It's hard not to read this report without linking this desire for spectacular hats with the desire illustrated by Deborah for a less conventional lot in life - especially when the reporter notes there has been increased orders for "more thrilling models". How many more women were there like Deborah wanting to escape the dreariness of wartime for something more thrilling - whether at the level of buying a fancier hat, or going to the extremes that Deborah does? And there are hints that even Deborah's mother, the solidly respectable wife of a Leeds councillor better watch out. The report also includes the note that "even provincial stores" were being "more enterprising in buys than four years ago"

Is there a moral to be found in To Bed With Grand Music? It's hard to say - I find it hard to believe Laski would rather Deborah stayed at home instead and made her son miserable. But there's definitely a lesson that can be taken away from this book, and that's to choose your hats carefully.

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Sunday, 3 May 2015

Last-Year Reads: Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes by Virginia Nicholson

When I read Virginia Nicholson's Singled Out a few years ago, the story of the 'surplus women' of the interwar period, it not shifted the way I thought about that time, but also about the associations that come with the word 'spinster'. I know a lot more about the 1950s than I did the interwar years, but I was certain that Nicholson would find enough stories to make reading Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes a worthwhile read, especially after I'd enjoyed Rachel Cooke's Her Brilliant Career so much.

Although Nicholson does feature a few 'excellent women' herself, in the main it's a reminder of what was going on with the majority of Britain's female population while a trailblazing few forged ahead, how a generation of women were raised and educated to conform to the faithful ideal of being wives, mothers and consumers. Their aspirations were supposed to be limited to providing a well-kept, peaceful home and children for their husband. There was also the promotion of an ideal 'look' of loveliness and femininity: this was the decade that saw the launch of 'Miss World' and a boom in the popularity of modelling and grooming schools, such as Lucie Clayton.

Although the amount of working women was rising - in 1951 22% of married women had jobs and it would increase by almost 10% over decade - the work they were doing was extremely limited. In 1955, one poor woman working for a gas board was tasked with adding 33 and a third per cent profit on every estimate that came in. Every day for a year.

There are plenty of stories that make you howl with frustration, such as Lorna Arnold, who had an amazing career in the Foreign Office during the Second World War but stepped down straight after, simply because it didn't occur to her to stay on in a 'man's job'. Or the unplanned pregnancies and, sometimes unplanned marriages, that resulted from a refusal to talk about sex.

Nicholson builds her themes - and gently but persuasively argues her point - through the use of many different case studies. In Singled Out she admits her reliance on diaries and biographies did skew her story slightly as the diary keepers and the published authors are more likely to come from the middle to upper classes. Because the 1950s is still relatively recent, in this book she's been able to accompany these written accounts with her own interviews. One of my favourite case studies was Rose. A teddy girl in the 1950s, Rose recently came under the spotlight because she features in an early set of photographs by Ken Russell (which I wrote about here). Rose is quoted describing how they decided to dress a certain way to capture the attention of the teddy boys:

“We turned up wearing the turned-up drainpipe jeans. Plastic belts round them. And blouses buttoned up with a wing collar. Then we added in cameo brooches, and a scarf, tailored jackets with wide lapels and velvet collars, white ankle socks and flat black shoes with a little bow on the front. Envelope bag.”

Despite what must have been their somewhat shocking appearance, Rose insists: “We weren’t bad girls … We never broke the law. We weren’t drinkers and we didn’t go to pubs.” She did end up marrying her teddy boy, however, and remembers the 1950s as the happiest time in her life.

In the midst of the other depressing statistics, there are other glimmers of happiness in the book. Fiona Calder is a young woman who comes down from Glasgow to work in the art department of a women's magazine and lives the fun and bohemian dream.

And there are other examples of people who put their unhappiness and dissatisfaction to good use. Maureen Nicol, an intelligent woman, finding herself alone and unfilled, established the "Liberal-Minded Housebound Wives Register" (today the "National Women's Register") connecting like-minded women in similar situations.

Mary Quant's Bazaar, as captured in 1955. Via

There were also signs that suggested things were changing - albeit still slowly - be it Mary Quant's Bazaar boutique opening in 1955 or at even more of a grass roots level. Betty Stucley started a youth club for East End of London tenement dwelling teenagers. Their look was certainly not the one being promoted in the magazines: “The tough girls wore blue jeens, with the names of their favourite rave, screen fan, embroidered down the legs, dazzle socks, satin blouses, duffle coats, earrings and make-up." It was, she noted, "particularly interesting" that they "have spread their influence upwards, so that Dior and Hardy Amies gave Teddy touches to some of their women’s clothes." She concluded, "It is a good sign that that new young have the enterprise to design their own clothes, and the courage to wear them.”

Would it be this same mixture of courage and enterprise that helped London swing in the sixties? And to what extent did those changes trickle through to the rest of the country? I'd love it if that was what Virginia Nicholson decided to explore next.

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Friday, 3 April 2015

Last-Week Links: 3 April 2015

I love the Easter weekend: the pleasure of leisure without the hysteria of Christmas. If the holiday has you running to the coast (I write while looking out at the greyest sky imaginable), may I suggest you pick up a copy of Amber Jane Butchart's newly released Nautical Chic book? It covers stripes, yes, and bell-bottoms but every other permutation of seaside style you could think of, from sou'westers to mermaids to tattooed sailors and even dazzle fashions (I had the delightful job of copyediting the book, so can vouch for the amazing range of material Amber has included). Given that - somewhat astonishingly - there's never been a book on this topic before, there's been lots of great press: this Telegraph article gives a great overview.  One important question, though - what on earth am I going to wear to the book launch?!

In more work news, and entirely suitable for Easter reading, is the new issue of The Simple Things. It's a breath of spring goodness, celebrating the joys of record players, walking, garden sheds and Alice in Wonderful. I've a special soft spot - or should that be a runny spot - for Dave and Alex, the wonderful couple behind the 12 Dozen Eggcups project. There's just a sample of their work shown above, taken from the magazine.

The issue also has feature with the always-inspirational queen of the circus Nell Gifford. She's one of the great women I got to interview when I was working on Oh Comely. Another favourite, Pat Albeck, was the subject of Desert Island Discs recently. You can catch up with that programme here.


* An amazing online collection of British photography.

* Being an expat boosts creativity in the fashion industry apparently. Applicable to all creativity?

* Lose yourself for hours in this collection of photos and memories of New York after midnight.

* Lena Dunham film for &Other Stories? Dream collab!

* One of the best Mad Men looks ever. Buy Jane's 1967 Travilla here.

* And more dream shopping. 60 outfits from Celia Birtwell's Ossie Clark archive are being auctioned in June.

* Over on my other blog, Fancies, this week: Mod fashion, wallpapers and Pretty in Pink, featuring this Duckie brooch.

Have an eggs-ellent Easter!

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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Last-Year Reads: Style Me Vintage 1940s

Following on from Fashion on the Ration, here's another new book release on 1940s fashion. This one is a completely different proposal however, being one of Pavilion's hugely popular 'Style Me Vintage' series. It's a series I associate more with a 'vintage' lifestyle look, rather than proper fashion history (which they do really well - Style Me Vintage Hair finally helped me master the 1950s 'do' I dreamt about), so I was interested to see how this volume, written by curator Liz Tregenza, would work.

Style Me Vintage 1940s completely won me over. Although the fashion history element may cover familiar turf for those who have an interest in the subject, this is a great example of how to make an introductory book accessible and visually appealing without dumbing down - other publishers of 'decades' books please take note!

Liz's background and MA-training subtly comes through throughout the book. She's clearly wary of making sweeping statements about the period. So you can copy an early 1940s make-up tutorial (yep, the book still has those), but includes a later version too. Trends aren't just talked about as a homogenous mass, you can a brief survey of German and French wartime fashions, as well as what was happening in Britain and the US. Even zazous get a mention.

It's well worth the money if you want to start collecting the period - there are brief lists of jewellery, shoe, compact brands and the like, as well as a more detailed focus on particular labels. I was pleased to see the spread on Horrockses, as I first became aware of Liz thanks to an enthusiastic comment she left on my post about the label back in 2010. There's also a great list of shops - both stocking vintage and repro - at the back.

It is slightly different from most fashion history books, as Liz is not the mysterious, anonymous narrator. She's a model for some of the outfits for starters - which she does brilliantly, as you'd probably guess if you follow her on Instagram. Then there's the brilliant pictures of her Nanna in full-on forties fashion mood, which help add another level to the book. Her genuine interest in the period is palpable.

And - perhaps essential for this kind of book - it's stuffed full of eye-candy. I love the dress on p.76 and the shoes on pp.134/5 just for starters. I encourage you to buy your own copy if you're curious to see what I mean.

Will more decades follow in this series I wonder? They're bound to if this book is successful as it should be. The authors of those other books have a lot to live up to.

*Pavilion were kind enough to send me a copy.*

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Friday, 20 March 2015

Last-Week Links: 20 March 2015

It really feels like the year has begun now. At almost a quarter a way through, it really should! But there's something about blue skies that helps with plan making, and something about deadlines that speeds things up, and I've been enjoying both recently.

I've also been doing lots of reading. Aside from Fashion on the Ration, I really enjoyed Tracey Thorn's Bedsit Queen, a gentle, thoughtful book about being a girl in a band. Happiness by Design is the book I keep recommending to people - it's really made me think about what makes me happy and how I can try and introduce more of that into the everyday ... still working on that! You can see all the books I've read so far this year here...

If you are flying off anywhere on EasyJet before the end of March, look out for me in their magazine. At the start of the year I was lucky enough to return to Porto and explore their great food scene for the feature. I highly recommend the eclairs from Leitaria da Quinta do Pa├žo, which do come in colours other than orange!


* The picture at the top of this post is unmistakably the model Bettina, who sadly died earlier this month. I wrote about her influence on fashion here.

* Another of my 'Last-Year Girls' is Marisa Berenson. Love this interview with her - and that they ask her about her Dressing Up book.

* The amazing story of 21 Callot Soeurs dresses.

* There's going to be a TV series about Eileen Ford. Hope they do the 1940s stuff justice!

* A cracking Top Ten books about women in the 1950s. When I saw this list online, I was already in the middle of The Years of Grace, as it was referenced in The Last Debutante (post to follow on The Years of Grace, it's great stuff!). I'm now on the author's own Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes.

* My new favourite internet site is Public Domain Review. It's full of vintage gems such as this 1947 "Are You Popular?" social advice film.

* Know a badly dressed man? This site should help.

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Monday, 16 March 2015

Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum, London

Within the space of a couple of weeks, five different people contacted me to tell me about the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at London's Imperial War Museum. I’m obviously entirely predictable when it comes to 1940s fashions! I was already eagerly prepped, having been racing through the excellent accompanying book to the show by Julie Summers, ahead of seeing the show.

Early 1940s fashions have become an interest of mine over the last few years (see this post, for example, or this one) and what was surprisingly refreshing about this show was that it focuses solely on Britain, allowing the book and show to hone on the detail that – understandably – often has to be omitted in wider reference books. Having come to the period largely through personal stories, such as Love Lessons, I also enjoyed that the first person accounts that can be found in the IWM’s collection of diaries, letters and archives play an essential part in both display and book.

Pupils of a London County Council dressmaking class in Brixton, London, hold a fashion parade to show their friends and family what they have learnt. © IWM (D 12897)

As expected, Fashion on the Ration celebrates the stylish improvisation the lack of materials necessitated – the same inventiveness that has proved inspirational for countless subsequent editorials and collections. What I’d previously overlooked – and is marked in this display – is that about a third of the population of Britain were entitled to wear uniform during the Second World War. That’s not just the armed forces, but also factory workers, dockworkers, policemen and women and the like, meaning it became entirely normal to see uniforms on the street. Vere Hodgson described the excitement in London in 1943:

“Piccadilly is such a thrilling place these days. All the uniforms of all the nations jostle you on the pavement … girls too in their service uniforms by the hundred. Few fashionables – because all the pretty girls are in battle dress.”

Even for those women not in uniform, wartime living necessitated adaptation of their usual dress standards. One grandmother, after her first night time visit to the air raid shelter, insisted that next time she would have to be wearing trousers. Other times it was the material that was compromised. This amazing bra and knickers set made from a silk escape map still looks wearable today, but – as steel and rubber became increasingly hard to come by – the millions of corset wearers felt their loss keenly – and loudly.

A display of Utility clothes in a shop. All these clothes were designed by Norman Hartnell. © IWM (D 10727)

Undoubtedly, the female population were more equipped to be able to ‘Make Do and Mend’ than we would be today. Eileen Gurney was housewife and an avid dressmaker. She described her outfits in letters to her husband in painstaking detail. One, on display in the exhibition, features an illustration of how she adapted the line of an old coat to make it look more current. Gurney was an avid reader of Vogue, taking pride in recreating its latest looks on her budget. In fact, when rationing was first introduced in 1941, she was quite pleased as she felt that, finally, her clothes might be able to compete with those who shopped from the magazine’s pages.

British Vogue September 1944, via

What’s apparent in Fashion on the Ration is just how influential Vogue and other women’s magazines were in this period. When “woodies” were introduced – shoes with wooden soles to replace hard to come by rubber – The Lady gave advice on how to walk in them: “If you find yourself walking a bit duck-footed in the first few days, concentrate on placing your toes in a pigeon position and you’ll find your muscles will soon co-operate and you’ll be walking the right way once more.”

In another example, when there were concerns about the safety of women with long hair working with machinery, Whitehall called in Vogue. And, following their spread that featured the “trim heads” of Deborah Kerr and Coral Browne and proclaimed the joys of shorter hair “for neatness, easy cleanliness and good looks”, Eileen Gurney, for one, wrote to her husband telling him that she’d restyled her hair into a short bob.

British Vogue, June 1941, via

British Vogue had to adapt its material to changing needs. Another feature, for example, featured a diary of a war bride, proving how it was possible to prepare for your wedding in only five days. One of the most moving objects in the exhibition is a tiny cream wedding dress, made from pre-War silk, that was worn by fifteen different women for their weddings during the war.

Another champion enabling the white wedding was Barbara Cartland – then working as an advisor to young women needing new support in their new lives in the services – helped establish a ‘wedding dress pool’ at the War Office. Its purchases were frequently supplemented by her own income, as she “understood that those dresses were made of more than satin and tulle, lace and crepe de chine; they were made of dreams, and one cannot sell dreams cheaply.”

Two models on a rooftop in Bloomsbury, London, wearing wartime fashions in 1943. © IWM (D 14818)

Never before had the government exerted so much authority over its citizen’s wardrobes. As well as corsets and stockings, the austerity regime meant everything from men’s trouser turn-ups to skirt pleats were scrutinized. Utility, introduced in 1942, aimed to produce designs of affordable good quality, with minimum wastage.

With designers such as Molyneux, Norman Hartnell and Edward Molyneux all producing designs for the scheme, it was the first time ‘designer’ dressing was open to all. Looking at their clothes in the exhibition, they remain pretty desirable – mainly because of their lovely use of colour and pattern. Even that’s controlled cleverly, employing fabric using smaller repeated patterns so less fabric is wasted in the cutting.

At a YWCA mobile club, members of the ATS crowd up to the counter to buy cosmetics, tissues, sewing kits and notepaper. © IWM (D 13493)

Having a well-dressed population was seen as being essential to morale, but it became harder and harder to achieve as the war drew on. Women were encouraged to use make-up (“Beauty is Duty”) but even that involved battling shortages. Vogue changed tack and encouraged its readers to use “four fundamental cosmetics … which don’t come out of jars and bottles”. These were sleep, a proper diet, exercise and relaxation – all easy to come by, no doubt, when you’re a women struggling to look after your family, probably working too as well as partaking in regular voluntary work.

Even after the war ended, rationing stayed in place in one form or the other until 1949, with new items remaining hard to come by. One 1946 advert for Church’s shoes shown in the exhibition proclaims how their new shoes are “just arriving. We wish there were more”. After all this restriction, it’s easy to see how scandalous but thrilling the swathes of material used for Dior’s New Look must have looked. And what a death knoll it must have seemed for the likes of Eric Newby’s family wholesale business after struggling through the war years.

While I am unconvinced by the exhibition's conclusion of the parallels between 1940s and today’s fashions, both the Fashion on the Ration exhibition and the book are a brilliant insight into everyday British lives in this period, and the important role that fashion and appearance can play in the every day.

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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Talking Vintage with Nzinga Russell

After my chat with vintage collector Nicky Albrechtsen, I thought it would be interesting to talk to more people who make their living through vintage clothing. Nzinga Russell is the entrepreneur behind a subscription service with a difference - signing-up to Style by Portobello, means you'll receive a box filled with vintage accessories picked by Russell directly from London's Portobello market each month. Let's find out more...

Tell me a little about the concept of Style by Portobello
Style By Portobello is a vintage accessories subscription service. Every month, for £35 our subscribers receive a Bello Box containing up to three unique vintage pieces, all of which are sourced from the fab vintage traders at Portobello Road market.

I adore vintage and the shopping process of uncovering those one-off gems so I have a real passion for getting as many people to try vintage as possible. Style By Portobello allows those that already love vintage to receive pieces they know they'll love every month. The concept also serves as a great entry point into vintage for those who love the high street but are really keen to try vintage but just don't know where to start.

By subscribing they get to benefit from the great style that vintage offers without the task of having to find the pieces themselves. I like to think that I have a bit of a knack for spotting a hidden gem amongst the clutter. I love that feeling when you know you have found something amazing. I want our subscribers to feel like that every month when they open their Bello Box. I also adore Portobello Road itself so this venture allows me to open up Portobello to the rest of the country, especially to those who don't live in London and don't get to visit.

What's so special about Portobello Market?
It is simply the best place to find amazing vintage pieces. The place has a great atmosphere. The diversity of the local people, the stall holders, vintage dealers, the great off-beat restaurants and bars, the homegrown talent in terms of new designer boutiques. It's such a melting pot. The place oozes cultural and fashion history.

Each market day has a different atmosphere as well as different parts of the market itself. My favourite days are:
- Friday is for the serious vintage hunters. Prices range from great bargains to sky high for designer finds. It's great for those who know their vintage but it's still totally accessible.

- Saturday is the busiest and biggest market day. Along with the locals you've got tourists who flock from the world over and spread their sense of excitement. You can shop vintage as well as new up and coming designers. Music is blaring and the cafes are packed. Great buzz all round. Perfect for people watching. I love seeing how the locals style their looks.

- Sunday is a real locals day. You may find more second hand bits as opposed to vintage and it's more of a smaller, intimate affair. Everyone knows everyone and there's a real relaxed community feel.

How did you discover/get into vintage?
My very stylish mother was the first to introduce me to vintage just by virtue of the fact that I would raid her wardrobe and nab her original 1970s Butler & Wilson earrings or borrow her original Biba pieces. She only ever buys quality so everything lasts. Thus her wardrobe was a real treasure trove for me with her vintage denims of all shades and washes and the amazing Italian leather belts and bags she collected on her travels. I found it all so exciting because with vintage it was so easy to be stylish and original. She even had some of my Grandmother's special pieces so I was able to experiment with gorgeous bags and jewellery from the 50s and 60s. I then had a wonderful friend who is still very much like my older sister. She would go vintage hunting every weekend and I would tag along. Whenever we meet the first thing we do is go vintage shopping, down the 'Bello of course!!

How big is your personal vintage collection?
I would say that it's embarrassingly large. This is probably the same for most vintage lovers as there is always something original to buy on the rails. I never throw anything away so my wardrobes are bulging and I also have a lot in storage. Vintage never goes out of fashion which is just marvellous. You can literally keep pieces forever. So I try to rotate my wardrobe and do a clear out every six months where I go through what I have at home and what I have in storage and then swap things over. I never get tired of vintage bags, belts, jewellery and shoes. With any of these pieces you can revolutionise a pretty average outfit. It's a quick fix way to give your look that 'stand out' factor. However I also can never have enough vintage jackets, dresses, coats and tops. Even in terms of the eras I love, I'm quite eclectic. I have a lot of 60s, 70s and a good amount of 80s.

How did you decide to turn this into a business?
When I'd wear great vintage pieces I'd always get friends and strangers asking where I had found my pieces. When I'd say Portobello Road, their faces would light up. They'd say how much they love Portobello but don't have the knack for finding those special pieces that they know are there. Or they'd say that they love the market but live too far away to be able to go more than once in a blue moon. It struck my how great it would be if, no matter where you lived or whether you loved the thrill of the chase or hated rummaging, you could always have access to beautiful vintage pieces. 

Having had a stall at the market years ago and still having maintained those great contacts and relationships, I knew I'd be able to source wonderful things for a wider audience. We all know that subscription services have taken off so when I started exploring the idea as a business more thoroughly I realised that there wasn't anything like Style By Portobello on the market. So it's great to be the UK's first vintage accessories subscription offering. On top of all this, the concept is a great way of supporting the market and the traders.

Do you have a favourite vintage piece in your collection?
It's extremely hard to choose a favourite: my favourites change every few months! I will be obsessed with an item for weeks and then there'll be a new purchase or something else that I'll discover anew in my wardrobe. I would say, however, that there is a belt that I have had for years. It's a fantastically high quality brown leather belt from the 70s with a worn bronze ram's head as the buckle. It's amazing and I have never seen anything like it since adding it to my collection. It's definitely a wardrobe staple of mine. The quality of the leather goes without saying as it has definitely stood the test of time. The more worn and aged it becomes, the better it looks. The bronze ram's head it heavy and sturdy and never tarnishes

Another firm favourite is a pair of gold, 80s leopard head earrings encrusted with diamante. They are just so over the top. I wear them all the time. In terms of clothing, my favourite dress right now is a 70s floral piece (the one I am wearing in the photo above). The colours are just so bold and outrageous and the oversized collar is fantastic. It looks great in a/w or s/s. It's so versatile and unique. I love truly it. Who knows what my favourite will be next month.

What's the easiest way to include vintage into a contemporary wardrobe?
I love this question and I think it is a really important one. I think combining amazing vintage pieces with high street staples is the key to keeping your look contemporary and unique. The easiest way to include vintage into a contemporary wardrobe is with accessories. With one statement piece you can turn an outfit from average to outstanding. So I would say that a gorgeous vintage bag is a necessity. Each decade has some great shapes to offer so you'll always be able to find something that suits you. 

Next, I would say that finding a statement vintage necklace will really stand you in good stead and take a high street look to the next level. The 60s is a great era for jewellery as well as the 80s. If you're not a vintage novice and are already sold on the benefits of vintage clothing then sourcing a statement dress or jacket will do wonders for your wardrobe.

Ever seen a piece of vintage you've been sorry to pass by/let slip through your fingers?
No, not really. If I didn't buy it then it must have been because I didn't love it enough. There's so much amazing vintage out there that I have to be quite philosophical when it comes to missing out.

What is a typical day's work for you?
As I have two children, a typical day's work for me from Monday to Thursday starts before they wake up. I furiously work through as much basic business admin as I can before they wake up. Once I have got the children off to nursery I go back to my home office. The first part of the day involves continuing with the more mundane side of running your own business such as more admin, replying to routine emails and phone calls and having meetings. I'm currently pregnant with my third child so missing lunch is not an option! 

After lunch I do the fun stuff that lies at the heart of why I love running my own business. I brainstorm marketing ideas, continuously think of ways to delight our subscribers and then the most important time for me is what I call 'inspiration time'. I really believe that on a daily basis one needs to step back from the day to day tasks, get out of the office and experience the world outside. This is where the really great ideas come from. There's so much in my local area of Notting Hill and Portobello Road to inspire me so I max out on local galleries, exhibitions and culture. This time can also include reading a really interesting article or meeting a very inspirational person. It's then pick up time from nursery. Family dinner time with my husband and the kids is very rarely compromised, then once the kids are in bed I usually do another two to three hours work. 

Then Friday and Saturdays are pure indulgence. I am down at the market as soon as I can be, touching base with my favourite stall holders and sourcing amazing stock for our subscribers' Bello Boxes. I catch up on local news, pop into my favourite eateries and just soak up the atmosphere. It's hard work running your own business but it gives you a freedom and flexibility that can't be beaten.

What advice would you give to someone beginning to experiment with vintage?
I would say have fun and always buy quality pieces as they will last. When it comes to accessories, be as adventurous as you dare and when it comes to clothing, completely ignore size labels. TRY IT ON!

Thanks Nzinga! Feeling inspired? You can find out more about Style by Portobello here or follow them on Twitter here.

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