I've always been a huge reader, and I was lucky that my mum had a huge collection of children's books from the mid-20th century and earlier. I particularly loved the Victorian books, all of which seemed to contain some sort of brief description of a poor orphan's threadbare cotton dress, or of an poor little rich girl's leather case packed with plush velvets and laces. I obsessed over those passages and wrote my own 'books' where I'd spend half the word count describing lavish wardrobes.
Tell us about your background in vintage clothing and collecting?
When I was 12 or so I learned how to sew at school, and started trawling opshops for textiles to practice dressmaking with. And a few years later when I was about 14, my friend Maggie took me to my first proper vintage shop - Tete-a-Tete, in Christchurch - and I've been a vintage fiend ever since. I had always thought that clothes were absolutely magical - I feel like fashion shares with architecture the dual characteristics of being utterly necessary and shamelessly beautiful- so discovering properly curated vintage was a hugely important to me.
Getting dressed is a hugely powerful thing and I'm so glad that I found a way to do it that excites me.
So I became a bit of a regular at Tete-a-Tete throughout my teenage years, and I began spending most of my money from my Saturday job on vintage. I just bought whatever appealed to me without focusing on any era or look, and the passion with which Warren and Vanessa (now of Two Squirrels Vintage) curated their amazing shop kept me coming back every week. It's now been about a decade of buying vintage for me, with a huge number of pieces passing through my wardrobe, and my love of old clothes is just getting stronger.
The first thing I remember getting from Tete-a-Tete was a great 1960s A-line dress in a mint green paisley print, which I sent my mum in to buy for me for Christmas! The first thing I remember buying with my own money is the orange and pink floral 1950s swimsuit that I talk more about below.
What do you love most about vintage clothing?
I really love everything about vintage - I love the cuts of 1950s garments, the way they make me look, the bright and rich colours, the unique patterns, the durability, and the hunt and love that goes into vintage collecting.
Are there specific items/eras that you concentrate on collecting? Why?
I mainly wear your classic 1950s pieces - most of my wardrobe consists of printed cotton dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts. I feel like 50s cuts look best on me out of all eras, and I love the bright colours and often painterly or illustrative prints. I do wear the odd (second-hand) modern piece - mainly Gorman and Karen Walker - and I'm not a 'vintage lifestyler'. I'm really just in it for the aesthetics!
I feel like bargains are a lot harder to find now than even five years ago. There is a finite resource of vintage, of course, and as more people become interested and the internet connects us more closely, 1950s especially becomes harder to find at a lower price point.
However, I think looking often and taking risks are my top tips for finding pieces on a budget, whether you're looking on eBay, Etsy, in opshops, on Facebook or in vintage stores. There is a Recycle Boutique on my walk home from work, so I stop in at least twice a week and scout around the racks for vintage pieces. I also check my regular online spots frequently, as great vintage pieces don't sit around for long.
Also, if something is very cheap and poorly photographed, but you've got a hunch that it's a piece of true vintage, just buy it and take the risk - I've got some stunning 50s pieces from online sellers with horrendous photos and no idea what they're selling.
It also helps to have vintage-loving friends. I've become close to some vintage gals around the world, from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York, and it's massively helpful to have someone who knows your taste and size sending you links to online sales and offering you first dibs on items from their own wardrobes. I've done some incredible trades with my fellow fifties gals from around the globe.
Any tips for readers on what to look for when shopping for vintage fashion and accessories?
I think knowing your style goes a long way, but if you're still developing your look and not sure what to go for, again I say go often and try on anything and everything that interests you. It's taken me many years to build up my wardrobe and refine my taste and look - you're not going to be able to curate a perfect vintage collection overnight, so enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
It's not particularly exciting, but I'd save this simple broderie 1970s blouse because it's the only piece my mum has ever sewn. She made it in high school in Home Economics and I adore it and wear it frequently with cotton 50s skirts.
There are a few things I could have picked for this, and I considered photographing all of my many many rose prints together, but I decided to photograph a selection of my Horrockses dresses as a little collection. Horrockses was a high-end textile and clothing producer that was famous for its bright floral prints and made its garments to an incredibly high quality. I only have a dozen or so Horrockses as they are highly collectible and not frequently my size, but they're such brilliant dresses that epitomise everything I love about 1950s design and textiles, and I get a lot of wear from them.
I don't have any items with particularly exciting provenance in terms of previous owners unfortunately - neither of my grandmothers kept anything from their youth, so no family heirlooms here. All I have is some nice stories about how garments came to live in my wardrobe, and this is a favourite: when I was a student, I volunteered at an opshop in my neighbourhood. When I landed my first 'big girl' job, my boss gave me this beautiful copper rose border print dress as a gift to say congratulations. It's a favourite that I have nearly worn to death.
Well, I feel slightly guilty when I look at these skirts due to their combined value! I desperately wanted one of these 1950s love letters panel skirts for years, but they fetch a high price. I finally caved and bought the cream one recently from a lovely Etsy seller, and a week later I swapped with a friend in the USA for the black one. These are one of the last things I had been desperately searching for, and seeing them hanging up makes me feel like my wardrobe is nearly complete!
I think it was this 1950s floral skirted swimsuit when I was 14 or so. It's absolutely tiny but I fit it back then. Here's a photo of me wearing it when my band played a gig in the Botanic Gardens when I was 16 or so!
I have plenty of garments that fit into this category thanks to the length of my vintage wearing life and my always-growing love of cheese, beer and cured meats! A favourite is this incredible cat-print 1950s dress I received in a swap with my very stylish friend Kelly in Sydney - we've done a lot of trades as we're different sizes but with similar taste. I love animal prints and this is one of the best.
I'm not huge on accessories - I generally just go for my trusty Cambridge Satchel and a velvet hair ribbon - but this vintage engraved bracelet that my mum gave me for my 21st birthday is very special to me. Her mum had a similar one that ended up covered in dental dents from my mum and her siblings chewing it as children! I just realised I've mentioned my mum a lot in these answers - clearly I am massively sentimental and sappy when it comes to clothing.