Monday, 29 February 2016

Favourite five: fiction about mid-century women



On this leap year day, where women traditionally propose instead of men (my ring emoji didn't get a great reception this morning though ;) ), it feels rather appropriate to look at the history of gender roles in fiction. (Although, partly, I just wanted to put up a post on 29th February as it was my first opportunity to since starting this blog in March 2012!) As much as I love vintage style, I'm one of the thousands of sensible women who can do so without for a minute wanting to live back in the time it was everyday fashion. It honestly baffles me that any woman on the planet would want to actually live back in a time of such gender inequality, but this aside, I'm absolutely fascinated by what it must have been like. If I had the opportunity to visit the past - just visit, mind - I'd take it in a heartbeat.

I'm also a bookworm by nature and when you mix this fascination with a love of reading, inevitably you get someone who reads a lot of stories about women's experience of the past (and spent the entirety of my degree analysing them!). I always find it quite interesting, though, how certain eras are the darlings of historical fiction and I haven't come across many stories set in the 50s and 60s. 30s and 40s sure - there's (understandably) a lot of fiction set in the interwar years, during WWII or just after it - but either I'm not looking hard enough or there's less for the latter years.

This being said, they are out there and here are some of my favourites...

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
This is the book that became a Penguin Classic simply because Don Draper was pictured reading it in Mad Men. In fact, although my memory is hazy that may well have been how I came across it too, but either way, when I heard there was a book following the lives of four women in the early 50s who work at a publishing house (like me!) in New York I couldn't really buy it fast enough! It was very hard for me not to identify with Caroline - the ambitious one who wants to make something of herself in the working world. 

This isn't the greatest work of literature you're ever going to read, it's kind of more like a soap in book form (apart from Caroline's story, which is more multi-faceted and many suspect is autobiographical), but it is an engaging read that centres around the idea of marriage as the ultimate aspiration at this time. I've seen a lot of people say this is a marmite book, but I firmly fall into the 'love' camp. If you're as intrigued as I am to glimpse what life as a working woman in New York in this time might have been like, you'll no doubt be as equally enthralled by it.

Valley of the Dolls
There's parallels with this one to The Best of Everything as it also follows multiple women's lives in New York - this time three - and it's also not exactly a literary masterpiece, but veers even more on the side of soap sensationalism. If I'm in the mood for it, that's no bad thing as far as I'm concerned - and clearly readers in the 60s felt the same as this book was a bestseller back in the day. This time the women are in the world of show business - and I purposely left the world 'glamorous' out there as you see for yourself that it's anything but.

In many ways this is a depressing story, but that's not going to come as a surprise considering the 'dolls' in the title refer to drugs and the women's dependence on them as they try to make lives for themselves. This book is less 'like real life' because of its Hollywood setting, but it's addictive and it still has something powerful to tell us about what felt important to women at this time, from where I'm standing. Before anyone asks, I haven't seen the film yet but hope to catch it on Netflix some day!

The best books about mid-century women's history - particularly the 1950s

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Could a list like this not include this book? Said to be a semi-autobiographical account of Sylvia Plath's adolescence, it starts in New York in 1953 and follows the story of 19-year-old Esther, who gradually sinks further and further into the depths of depression - yes, much like the real Plath. It's not a cheerful read by any means as you'd expect, but in terms of giving an idea of a woman's life in the 50s it could practically be taught in a history lesson.

It's all here - the crushing unfairness of gender inequality, the taboo of lesbianism, the limited career options, the use of electroshocks to treat mental illness, the middle-class claustrophobia... And Esther is such a developed character, and the story-telling is so good, that you can't help but become immersed in her world. Aside from the narrative, which drags you along out of morbid curiousity as much as anything else, the writing is utterly beautiful. I guess you can trust a poet to fill her prose full of imaginative metaphors and create a world you can feel as much as picture. I (shockingly!) only read this book this year, but it claims a place in my all-time top 20 favourites, for sure.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith (formerly The Price of Salt)
Yes, I'll admit, I read this one recently because I found out about the book through the film release, but it earns its place as a) it was written about female experience during the early 50s and b) it's good. It's also pretty heartbreaking - and I haven't seen the film yet but if it follows the book at all closely it'll be tissues at the ready... It charts a lesbian love story as the protagonist falls for the mysterious Carol and, being the 50s, the challenges that follow from not conforming to the heterosexual expectations of society.

It's a completely different angle from the other books here and I appreciate it for that. The plot is slower than I usually like, but it's beautifully written and the characters are absorbing. Having read the afterword, I know parts of the plot early on had their roots in the author's real experience, which fascinates me almost as much as trying to conjure up images of Carol, who is clearly the kind of 50s lady who would have been impeccably dressed at all times.

Tigers in Red Weather
Now, I would call this one quite 'literary' too, but it's also, unlike the other four books here, published recently as historical fiction by an author who didn't live through the time, so it's not bringing quite the same spin on things here. It also spans a longer period, starting at the end of WWII and going up through to the end of the 60s, with two cousins at the start of new marriages kicking the story off. I quite liked that this book is rather dark and plot-driven - I saw a review that said it starts off a bit Valley of the Dolls before it takes a whole new turn, which is perhaps not doing it justice but is not too inaccurate a description.

Now, I read this one a while ago and I don't remember taking away a lot in terms of understanding life at the time, which considering all of the above is probably what you'd expect. But actually, I wanted to include it here because I remembered enjoying it and I liked the sultry lazy hot summer in the 50s backdrop, and there also is something to say about the time period's impact on the cousins' lives - but largely this is more about the family drama itself. If you like intriguing plots, I recommend it.


So that's my top five... which brings me to the hidden agenda of this post; what have I missed? Tell me your favourite fiction about women in the 50s and 60s! (By the way, I could probably write an even longer post about fiction set around WWII and maybe I will some day if you all like this one!)

PS Amber, I'm sorry about stealing your 'glittery gold Red or Dead glasses on books' idea for the pictures - it was just too pretty not to!


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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Outfit: good in green

It's not been a conscious choice, but I just don't wear that much green. The longer I write this blog the more I realise what my favourite clothing colours are and green just ain't one of them - oh, unless you're talking mint green and then I'm all over it.

I had the opportunity to change my green-hatin' ways in the shape of this Dolly & Dotty dress and I'm really glad I did. This dress has completely different material to my other Dolly & Dotty dress, it's not the same kind of stiff cotton, but is much softer. It creases easily, which is not ideal, but apart from that it's a great dress to wear around the house or doing chores because of how comfortable it is. It also sized slightly larger than my other dress, but I'd say the fit is pretty spot on with your typical UK size 8. Like the other one, it's also a great length for the petite among us.

As I mentioned before, one of the great things about this brand is how they provide matching belts for the dresses and the option to buy a matching headscarf too. So, considering how low their prices are, it's only too easy to kit yourself out in a cute outfit like this. Some might say dangerously easy... How spoilt for repro choice we are in the UK!

Dolly & Dotty Poppy dress in green checkered

Dolly & Dotty dress and matching headband

Dolly & Dotty Poppy dress in green checkered

Dolly & Dotty Poppy dress in green checkered

Dolly & Dotty Poppy dress in green checkered

Dolly & Dotty dress and matching headband

Dolly & Dotty Poppy dress in green checkered

Vintage metal hoops from Chronically Vintage

Dolly & Dotty dress and matching headband

Dolly & Dotty Poppy dress in green checkered
Headscarf: c/o Dolly & Dotty
Earrings: vintage c/o Chronically Vintage
Cardigan: 'Paloma' Hell Bunny
Dress: 'Poppy' c/o Dolly & Dotty
Shoes: very old


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Sunday, 21 February 2016

London Edge 2016 and the spring/summer beauties to come...

So, those of you that have stuck with me for the past year or longer will know that last February I pushed myself right out of my comfort zone and went to my first blogger event, which just happened to be at the London Edge alternative fashion show (read all about it here). It was a scary thing to do, as I'm by nature a pretty classic introvert, but it was such a good day that when I was thinking of my 'experience' (yep, still going on about those) for this month, this was the obvious choice for me.

What I loved about last year was getting to see all the new repro ranges for spring and summer - my favourite seasons hands down - in some cases before the brands had even released their lookbooks. The other thing that was great about last year was the company, but unfortunately Porcelina couldn't make it again, but luckily for me my lovely friend could. So, I had a photographer (get me) and the moral support needed to be brave and put myself out there again - and off we went.

Again, I absolutely loved being able to see the new ranges up close and I hope you enjoy my take on what to watch out for, which I've split it into fashion and accessories...

Fashion

The Collectif stand at London Edge 2016
On the Collectif stand

You all know I'm going to start with my first repro love, Collectif. Their stand was again humongous and absolutely packed full of not only SS16 pieces, but also AW16. It took me a while - and speaking to their lovely marketing lady - to realise AW was there too, which was a first for them. I already knew you could expect absolutely oodles more of what they do best for the warmer months as I'd seen their product preview shots already, but it was amazing seeing all the bright and pastel coloured clothes together. 

Live models at Collectif stand, London Edge
Collectif

The Collectif stand at London Edge 2016
Collectif

Flamingo bag on the Collectif stand at London Edge 2016
Collectif

Lulu Hun shoes on the Collectif stand at London Edge 2016
Lulu Hun

The staff on the stand were all wearing a gorgeous mint green cardigan with strawberry embroidery on that I already had my eye on - mint green and strawberries? Oh Collectif, how did you know? And you heard it hear first, ladies... the strawberry wicker bag is going to return! It will be joined by the adorable flamingo bag you can see in the photo. The Bright & Beautiful range is also going to explode with new goodies over the coming months; I'm really impressed with how rapidly this range is expanding - and such unique pieces too.

Oh and if you want to see my full outfit, here I am standing right next to the Collectif / Bright & Beautiful stand, in a Collectif skirt - what else?).

CiCi Marie at London Edge 2016

Another summer range I can't wait to launch is Voodoo Vixen's. I actually didn't spend a lot of time on this stand, but did look it over to try to hunt down the pieces I'd seen in their previews. 

Pineapple dress and lemon bag on the Voodoo Vixen stand at London Edge 2016
Voodoo Vixen

Seahorses on the Voodoo Vixen stand at London Edge 2016
Voodoo Vixen

Disappointingly, the ones I particularly had my eye on I didn't see - I might have just missed them, mind you. But, you've got to love that pineapple print and adorable lemon bag! I love seahorses too, so I was a big fan of their new cardigan. If you haven't seen the previews yet, do check out Facebook - it will be worth your time.

Dancing Days by Banned at London Edge 2016
Banned Dancing Days

It's at this point that I should mention that I didn't visit every single stand, as my friend and I wanted to get home at a decent time, it being a Sunday an' all and she living a 2+ hour train-ride home. So my coverage is by no means extensive! However, I can tell you that you should watch out for Banned's Dancing Days range, which I caught some glimpses of on the catwalk. 

Dancing Days by Banned at London Edge 2016
Banned Dancing Days

Dancing Days by Banned at London Edge 2016
Banned Dancing Days

I wouldn't say anything they're producing is groundbreaking, but I would say they have some lovely shapes and patterns and you know with Banned that you're going to get decent quality for a good price. And they make shoes too, which is always a bonus, because matching is good. And bags, which I'll come to...

I have to say, I'm not sure if I can resist capris that have a print this cute on them...

Dancing Days by Banned at London Edge 2016
Banned

Another one of my favourites that we spent a lot of time browsing was Victory Parade. I loved their amazing range of prints last year and this year they had many of the same PLUS loads more unique designs. You really can't beat this brand for patterns; they have virtually anything you can dream of. I learned while on this stand that their products are made to order in Manchester, which explains why they're quite pricey compared to other repro. 

Victory Parade at London Edge 2016
Victory Parade

They're also a pretty small operation, which probably likewise explains why you don't see them working with bloggers all that much. I learned - with total dismay - that the chocolate pattern I've set my heart on (see pic in last year's post) is about to run out. I couldn't bear to miss it... So if you follow my Instagram or Facebook page, you'll know how that story ended (hint: not with me being rich). Anyway, my friend fell head over heels for this adorable bunny and mushroom print.

Victory Parade at London Edge 2016
Victory Parade

Special mention as well for Dolly & Dotty, whose stand was small, but so packed with goodies it was hard to see everything. So many prints!

Dolly & Dotty at London Edge 2016
Dolly & Dotty

Accessories

So the first thing to say, before I go any further, is I met the bag love of my life on the Hell Bunny stand. That's right, Hell Bunny are about to release their FIRST bag range. At first glance I didn't really care for them - they're mostly on the kitschy side and not too dissimilar from what other brands are producing. And then I looked again... and I saw this:

Hell Bunny mint green bag at London Edge 2016
Hell Bunny bag

This sparkly (not showing at all well in the photo as sparkles never do), mint green frame bag of my dreams was staring right back at me. With every last inch of my resolve, I didn't steal it (even though it matched my skirt SO well it was practically asking for it), but vowed that we would meet again. Don't know where, don't know when... 

Banned heart bag at London Edge 2016
Banned bags

I also fell for the majority of Banned's bag range too, but particularly this charming heart-shaped wicker bag. Which some of you might think looks am awful lot like Voodoo Vixen's recent design  and I think that's true, but I always prefer white accents to black for wicker (and summer generally), so Banned won the battle of the heart-shaped wicker bags, for me.

CiCi meets Cam at Bow and Crossbones stand at London Edge 2016
CiCi with Cam, Bow and Crossbones

Moving on from bags, we come to jewellery and a lovely chat was had on the Bow and Crossbones stand with (frankly gorgeous) owner, Cam. I learned that her company has now been going for ten years and is just her and her husband, which is seriously impressive to me as BOY does she have a huge range! So much sparkly fakelite... So many colours and shapes... and, also, seahorses! How did everyone know I love seahorses? I hope to up my jewellery game even more this year and I think Bow and Crossbones are going to be one of my top choices for range and affordability.

Bow and Crossbones stand at London Edge 2016
Bow and Crossbones

Bow and Crossbones stand at London Edge 2016
Bow and Crossbones

And finally, although as I say by no means extensively, we have Erstwilder's stand. So many brooches it was impossible to even work out how many different styles were there. A lot, is all I know. And don't they look so impressive when put together like this?

Erstwilder stand at London Edge 2016
Erstwilder

The Pinup Picnic brooch
CiCi with a new SS16 Erstwilder Pinup Picnic brooch

The stall owner (who I knew to be a distributor, not Erstwilder themselves), looked a bit confused about the brooch I was sporting that day being, as it is, from a batch that hasn't released in the UK yet. She's so cute though, and she matched my skirt, so I felt it only fair to introduce her to her brooch sisters and brothers. I could happily wear pretty much all of them... But if I have to pick favourites of the designs that are releasing in the near future, it is by miles the brand new Pin-up Picnic range, which my brooch is from (and in fact shares the same name). If you love Erstwilder and you love food, you are not going to be disappointed.

The Pinup Picnic brooch
Erstwilder's Pinup Picnic brooch

CiCi on the Erstwilder stand at London Edge 2016
Errrr....

So there we go, these are the highlights from my day. Anything here take your fancy...? And if you went, what did I miss?!


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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Outfit: purple rain

If there was ever an object I couldn't live without, it would be an umbrella. I don't know what it's like for people outside the UK, but I never - and I mean never - leave house without one. Doesn't matter what season it is, you never know when you're about to get wet over here. 

True story: B downloaded an app called Rain Alarm, which pretty accurately predicts when there'll be a shower and alerts you so you can get the heck indoors. Only, the darn thing went off so often that he had to turn the notifications off. It became kind of hilarious - every time his phone buzzed it was because of a nearby cloud rather than, you know, a human contacting him or something. When he was still using it, I remember vividly when we were down by the coast on a glorious sunshiny day, taking a stroll along a cliff top with not a cloud in the sky... the minute we sat down on a bench to admire the view Rain Alarm told us we were about to get soaked. We were incredulous, but let's just say the app had the last laugh. Until he muted it (ha!). Now, we just leave our random soakings to chance and bad British luck again like everyone else around here.

This was all a lot of preamble to tell you that I frankly couldn't not have a brooch with a girl holding an umbrella on it. I am that person with their umbrella out at the first tiny drop of rain who everyone looks at like 'Geez, stop being such a princess... your hair's already gone fluffy anyway' (little do they know how much worse it can get). So, this brooch is one of Erstwilder's popular styles and they release it in a different colourway every now and then and, well, I quite liked this one in the new range that launched today (check out the amazing Pinup Picnic brooches by the way), partly because I don't have a lot of purple. Although, this is slowly changing as I happened to snag a purple skirt in Collectif's amazing winter sale for a mere £6 a few weeks ago. By the way, this Tammy style is absolutely perfect for the short among us - I'm glad I snapped this one up (note: I'm wearing it with my PUG canvas underskirt here). 

While I don't have enough purple in my closet yet, I certainly do have plenty of rain in my life...









Beret: Boohoo (old)
Belt: Hell Bunny
Bracelet: c/o Chronically Vintage
Skirt: Collectif
Tights: old
Shoes: 'Chorus Voice' Clarks (check eBay)
Bag: Collectif (similar)



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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Four retro-inspired hairstyles for berets (from under 5 to 15 minutes)

It's no secret that I adore berets and they might just be one of the very few things I actually like about winter. When the warmer months roll round again, after so much time living in these hats at the weekend, I find myself having to re-learn how to style my hair again without having a beret to fall back on if it all goes a bit wrong.

I've been playing around a little with different ways to style my hair around my berets and I think I've hit on my favourite four styles. I'm essentially always looking to cut corners on styling my hair, so none of these take that long at all. If I had to have a fifth style, it would probably be just on top of curled hair, but as my success rate with curls is pretty low and it really does take me ages, I only wanted to mention four that were fail-safe and fast! The great thing about having a 'do with a beret is the extra volume they give on the top of the head - as someone who's always striving to create more height with my mountains of fine, flat hair, it's a bit of a relief to have a hat do it for me...

The 40s roll
(Pictures of full outfit here)

1940s hairstyle mini victory roll with beret

Time: 10-15 minutes

I don't wear 40s looks very often, but as I've got a couple of 40s-style coats, it's quite nice to have this 'do up my sleeves. It's a bit fiddly, as any roll is really, but the good news is that you don't have to do two of them a la victory rolls, so no worries about getting things that even. You can see I don't really care if my clips show either, which helps...

Put your beret on first so you know what space you're working with, and tilt it over to one side slightly at an angle back off your head on the side that will have the roll. Then, just grab the hair that's over your ear, wrap it around two fingers to start the roll and wind it back against your head. Pin in the middle - as you can clearly see I have - and that's all there is to it. It's actually a lot easier if your hair is considerably shorter than mine, so it's one for everyone. I add some curls to the ends of my hair and off I go...

1940s hairstyle mini victory roll with beret

The 50s-inspired bun up-do
(Pictures of full outfit here)

1950s inspired hair bun with beret

Time: 5-15 minutes

I think of this as a more 50s 'do for its elegant, feminine look that is very much built around the hat and the fact it's quite glamorous. This is also easier to do once the beret is already on so you can position the bun correctly and not, like I once did, find I'd done the bun too high meaning the beret couldn't sit on my head!

Why the strange time guidelines? Well, this bun can be achieved in one of two ways.  Once you've made a low side pony that is around the height of the middle of your ear and tied towards the back of the side of your head (where the centre of my bun is above), you have two choices: 1) you could use a hair donut to achieve this kind of volume, which is much easier to do with hair much shorter than mine or 2) you can make rolls of hair about 3cm wide and pin them in stages all around the centre point (the hair tie) until you get the above. The latter is far more fiddly, but I don't find it easy to use hair donuts with such long hair.

1950s inspired hair bun with beret

The 60s side-pony
(Watch this space for full outfit)

1960s mod style side ponytail with beret

Time: Under 5 minutes

Oh, this one is so super easy and looks so cute and mod, don'tcha think? Anyway, who can resist this simple, yet oh-so-darling pony with a hat?

I surely don't need to explain how to do this one, as it's literally just tying your hair in a low side pony and whacking a beret on your head. Well, not literally whacking as that might hurt, but that's about how complicated this is. I don't even straighten my hair first, just blow dry it roughly straight, with some of its natural wave coming through. Sometimes I'll give the pony a bit of backcombing to make it look a bit fuller. And ta-da! Stylish, but a monkey could do it.

1960s mod style side ponytail with beret

The sort-of 60s plait
(Pictures of full outfit here)

1960s Twiggy inspired side plait with beret

Time: Under 5 minutes

There's a lot of pictures of Twiggy with a big ol' plait in the 60s, so I'm going with that as my retro inspiration, but the truth is I just really like plaits, particularly paired with berets.

Not only does the above look cute, but it's super fast and easy to do because you just plait your hair to the side of your head and then put a beret on top. It literally couldn't be any easier (unless you're doing the ponytail above). This style is going to work better if you have hair down past your shoulders like I do, as once you plait hair to the side like this it springs up a bit and I think the longer the plait, the better it looks. But that could just be my opinion and if you can plait it to the side you can do it! In the winter, this is my go-to lazy-hair day look.

1960s Twiggy inspired side plait with beret

Oh and here's a bonus photo of what I was talking about the start - simply on top of loose, curled (the ends in this case as that's about what I can do) hair. I never shared this outfit set, taken late in 2014, but sometimes that's the way it goes... Bonus points if you spotted that this dress is also featured in one of the above looks!
 Beret worn with loosely curled hair

Got any tips for other ways to wear berets?


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