“Today, Matthew, I am the Sartorial Socialist”

Last week I did a giant pole vault over the perimeters of my comfort zone and landed firmly in uncharted territory: Protestlandia.

I live in Portsmouth. I am a mother with a lovely partner and a small, but nice home by the sea. I lead a pleasant life ensconced firmly in the middle classes. I buy and sell pretty things for a living.

But around me things are starting to erode. Little chips and drip drips. They may not be affecting me but what of the people who are already suffering from cuts that only serve to improve a balance sheet?

I’ve recently opened my eyes to the wider world. If you take your privileges for granted then you run the risk of losing them. So off we went – myself, my partner and a few friends – down to the protest against huge cuts to Domestic Violence services, taking place outside Portsmouth City Council.

Just before leaving I had pondered the challenges of going to an outdoor protest. Must be 1) warm and 2) have presence. Huge Emmanuelle-esque shoulders attached to a vintage tweed Laura Ashley riding coat and a hat did the trick – see this huge skirt? That’s my own portable perimeter. Always wear wide clothes when you don’t want your personal space to be compromised.

It was bitter weather but I was warmed to see that there were other ‘normal folk’ like me joining the politicians, seasoned protesters, various left-wing tribes and of course the ladies of the moment, Sisters Uncut.

To be honest, I also wanted to get a good look at Scott Harris. I wanted to study his face to see if there was a glimmer of remorse. You may have read about him here, here, here, and here. I would have felt this way had he been a councillor of any party.

Back to the protest. ‘After an hour of solidarity on the steps of our iconic Guildhall, we filed into the upper galleries of the council chamber. I was looking forward to hearing what everyone had to say. Unbeknownst to us we were in the row directly behind Sisters Uncut (it’s quite dark up there). When the confetti popper (not a ‘firearm’, nor a ‘weapon’) burst I must admit it did make us jump but only because we were at such close proximity.  We all burst out laughing.

There we were, three normal mamas (and one papa), agog at the guts and gumption of these youngsters. In my opinion these women are the Suffragettes of our era and I will never forget seeing them in action. I can only hope my one grows up with such conviction and courage in her heart.

The leader of the council left in a bit of huff. She looked annoyed, peeved, impatient…but not particularly scared as she later claimed.

The message sent out was loud and clear: these cuts are dangerous, the ‘provisions’ are insufficient and this is clearly the only way government will take notice.

Unfortunately we had to leave soon after said confetti shower since we all had children to collect from nursery/school and you can imagine trying to explain that one: ‘Sorry we are all currently being detained at her Majesty’s pleasure due to being confused with Sisters Uncut. Little Jemima will be picked up by her gran shortly’.

On the way out we witnessed members of Sisters Uncut being pushed back by the police. One of their own was being detained behind guarded doors. On her own, without any representation, by gung-ho guildhall security staff while police guarded the door. It felt over the top and heavy handed.

I thought that might have been the end of the show, but no. The real comedy villain appeared later on at the council meeting and I only heard about it via social media.

Introducing Councillor New; The Judy to Harris’s Punch.

His increasingly heated diatribe at Shona Dillon, the CEO of Domestic Violence Charity Aurora New Dawn, just gets shriller and odder. It all turns into a giant game of ‘he said, she said’.

He did this knowing Dillon had no right of reply. This is not the first time he has personally attacked her.  According to local political pundits, he is well known for being rude. I’m sure she felt truly ‘enlightened’. New makes me think more of a petulant child enjoying grassing up another, rather than an elected councillor. The naughty step for you New.

I’ll leave you to judge for yourselves.

So there you have it. We have a local council dedicated to cuts; merrily closing ranks to protect their own rotten apples, a bungling councillor who can’t use email, a national protest group having to resort to theatrics to get their message across and a councillor claiming a local domestic violence charity are somehow responsible for the actions of national juggernauts, Sisters Uncut.

And in the midst of all this Portsmouth is yet again in the national news for all the wrong reasons. They should move the whole shebang to the Kings Theatre and call it what it is: a pantomime.

Its totaly valid to feel this sad about the death of someone you never met.


Surprised by how you feel at today’s news? Well so was I.

It started with shock and disbelief and then the tears trickled into a hot sticky torrent. By 11 am I was home alone, blubbing.

I have to confess, the death of David Bowie hit me harder than any family death I have yet to experience (at this point I should add, they have been mercifully few and far between). With elderly relatives I felt sad for the spouses and children they left behind. Today this grief was my own.

I refuse to feel ashamed or embarrassed for feeling intensely sad at the passing of someone I didn’t know personally. I will not dismiss my own feelings. Enough people do that for me.

We have the freedom to choose who, and what, we care about.

Good art transcends the sensory experience. It creates and evoques memories. Hearing a song can pull you back quicker in time than time moves forward. If he accompanied and shaped your upbringing then it is personal. Bowie didn’t belong to me or you, but he lived in little pockets of our lives.

If you want to plaster Facebook with links and tributes, do it. You will feel better. And it’s ok to feel sad when there is one less thing out there to provide colour, escapism and emotional respite.

Someone has left the planet that made a lot of people feel better about being different.

Someone has gone who contributed a lot of beauty to this world.

We won’t be getting one of these again.

If that is not reason enough to be sad, then I don’t know what is.


REVIEW * Style Me Vintage, Home*.

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The lady to go to for vintage home wear and the organiser of arguable the best vintage fair for shopping in the UK has joined our Style Me Vintage family. Keeley Harris has penned Style Me Vintage, Homes (Pavilion books) an ode to all things house and home. Her book is beautifully designed, full of colour and laid out in the style I set with Style Me Vintage Clothes (decade by decade, introductions to vintage, suggestions where to shop).

I found it clearly written and satisfyingly devoid of hyperbole. Its is truly a feast for the eyes and my pics don’t do it justice. This book shows you how to do retro style with colour, not darkness and dust. As an avid collector myself, it’s the little snippets of previously unknown information that give me the instant hit of gratification. I admit I didn’t know that Art Deco is a term that was coined in the 60s. It simply never occurred to me to question the origins. You can tell the author is a lover of china. Lots of collectables that I have seen before are featured, which allowed me to put a name to pattern. A good friendly mix of practical and historical, I liked Keeleys’ helpful suggestions for alternatives: bamboo frames of all eras for a 20s living room for example. Keeley touches on one of my favourite thing: THAT 30s green – but why were so many things made in that colour?

SMVH is a visual feast, peppered with good knowledge and useful suggestions. I particularly liked the fact that she touched on modern visions of vintage style, such as Eclectic ( my own home) and Industrial – a style I first saw in France. I know first hand how hard it to cover decades of design in one book and I think Keeley has more than done this justice.

*PREVIEW* Style Me Vintage, 1940s by Liz Tregenza


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NB – no matter how high the res, WordPress is blurring all my pics – does anyone know how to sort this?

This week my publishers Pavilion and dear friend Liz are launching something a little bit different: A Style Me Vintage book dedicated to one era: the 1940s. There was only ever going to be one person to do this era justice. Having recently completed an MA on ‘British ready-to-wear 1946-66’, Liz knows this decade inside out. We are talking about the woman who can spot a Horrockses from a mile off, date it to the year and tell you the person who designed the print.

The 1940s is a divisive decade for vintage lovers. People either seem to love the ‘make do and mend’ element or loathe it. Reenactors can obsess over it yet it has been somewhat marketed as drab in this country.  This is about to change: Liz is on a mission to dispel myths.  The look and palate of her book are instantly 1940s  – but the drabness associated with this era is very much absent. Nor is it full of clichés or stereotypes and the abundance of novelty prints and evening dresses is a visual delight. The level of knowledge shared in this tome is astounding, but this will come as no surprise if you are a follower of her blog.

Liz effortlessly seams together the decade on both sides of pond, with nods towards trends in Germany and France. One forgets just how much went on fashion-wise in the 1940s. Being the decade primarily associated with wartime frugality in this country, we forget that the second half of the decade saw the explosion of another kind: The ‘New Look’. Liz dutifully takes us full throttle into post-war milestones and beyond.

As a dealer I love discovering information that helps to identify a dress. Who knew that black garments were rarely found in the UK as too much dye was needed? If that is not enough, Liz really flexes her historian muscles with her introductions on the Theatre of Fashion, Parisian scarf hats and the Zazous – an early French subculture. The book also covers weddings, swimwear, uniforms, as well as hair and make-up. In all, a complete compendium to the 1940s look.

Even if the 40s is not the era that most piques your interest, this is an excellent read for any vintage lover, history buff or fashion aficionado. This book is saturated with history, tips and insider knowledge that can only come from the rare, if not unique, combination of being a top notch fashion historian and fully paid up vintage lover, wearer and collector. This book certainly does not provide style at the expense of substance. This is just a hunch but I have a funny feeling this book is probably superior in its content than the one created to go alongside ‘Fashion on the Ration’ – the current exhibition at the Imperial War Museum… Style Me Vintage, 1940s  is published this Thursday by Pavilion.

Outfitting or Off-Putting – The Great Charity Shop Debate Continued…

The exorbitant sums that some charity shops now charge… Is it right? I’m beginning to think not. And not for the reasons previously touted elsewhere.

To put this into some context I frequent six to eight charity shops around two or three times a week. I estimate that I spend somewhere in the region of £300 a month in charity shops. According to my tax returns I have done this for years. It’s a nice feeling that 90% of what we need to live and run a business we can find second hand. I would not change it for a second. No one in their right mind would want a charity to make anything less than the value of their items. I have given a few of my favourites copies of my books to help them look out for brands and styles. I want them to keep going.

Yet sometimes I am put off by charity shops. I will admit it. I find some of them greedy and I sometimes find them unethical. Looking past the fact that some charity shop workers do not know that Atmosphere is Primark and that no item should be priced above a pound or two (EVERYWHERE) and that sparkly New Look shoes cannot be priced at £10.99 when they are in the sale in the actual shop for £7.99 (you should know better, Oxfam). Regardless of the fact that you cannot price something as ‘new’ just because it still has a price tag attached (where has it been?). There are some things I find unforgivable. There are two examples I wish to share. These happened in big brand high street chains.

1)      Last year I saw a stunning 50s tiara with attached wedding veil in a second hand shop. The shop in question had a ‘vintage section’ – more on that later. The veil was priced at £45. The tiara had spokes of aurora borealis and the netting, although not fine, was in good condition. It was not a particularly sophisticated piece but it was immaculate. I would have said a fair price would have been £25 – £30 (unless you are putting it in a West London wedding dress shop, but that’s a whole new blog – one I will explore at a later date.) They would not budge on the price and over time it went through a very sorry decline. First a spoke was pulled off. The next time the netting had a tear. By my third visit a second row of beads made an escape across the floor, I just could not witness the destruction anymore. I picked it up and pointed out to the manager that it was a shame that it was getting ruined ‘at least try and fix it?’ I reasoned, ‘before you have nothing less to sell. Or maybe reduce the price to reflect its condition’. It was removed from the shop floor, never to been seen again. Had it been priced a bit better the charity would have made a sale and a happy bride could have looked after it.

2)      Three days ago I went to another well-known charity shop with branches nationwide and witnessed another careless act. Volunteers were being ordered to remove the bric-a-brac that had been on the shelves for over a week…and bin it. Yes, throw it in the bin. It all went in an industrial waste bin on the pavement outside. Some of that stuff was perfectly usable and sellable. Here is an idea: why not reduce it a bit? Sell it for a pound or two instead of trying to get £3.99? I wouldn’t want my donations to end up in landfill. That’s not right in my book. This was done in front of customers. How is that going to encourage people to donate?

I’m going to touch on another contentious issue. The ‘vintage section’. The shop that had the aforementioned wedding tiara is full of 70s crimplene priced between £19.99 and £29.99 (actual value £10-15 TOPS) Yet in the non-vintage section I pulled out a silk 60s Norman Hartnell for far less. In the shop across the road the manageress was proudly showing me the Polly Peck dress she has priced at £20 yet elsewhere in the shop was a 1950s cotton novelty print St Michael skirt for £7.50. The problem is, good vintage looks timeless, whilst terrible ‘vintage’ that is  more obviously old and outdated seems to be priced higher. I guess my beef with charity shops that have a vintage section is that they seem to be running on guesswork.  In my humble, those pricing the products are not looking close enough at the items. They are seeing old, pricing high and ignoring quality and aesthetic. My other half has a similar issue with records. Little attention to condition and pricing based on one instance of an eBay Buy-It-Now.

We do have one chain down here who get it right most of the time: The Rowan’s Hospice – 1980’s Laura Ashleys for £10 and simple 1950s dresses for £20. More than happy to pay that. They obviously have someone on board who knows their stuff but, crucially, they also recognise that they need to balance their pricing if they want their items to actually sell. No wonder they have expanded across Hampshire at a rate of knots.

OK, so there are costly overheads and targets to meet. Fine, I understand that. I work in two shops. However the busiest ones I know are the no-nonsense indies that price everything equally and put it all out on the shop floor. If shops skim off all the interesting bits to sell to dealers, the internet or worse, or let them get damaged beyond any real use due to over pricing, what do they think is going to attract people into their shop? A £4 Primark top? I think not.

So what is the answer? I am genuinely interested. Do you work for a well-known chain of charity shop? I can only comment on what I know as a consumer. Or have you experienced something similar. Do you have a completely different view? Please comment below.

© Naomi Thompson
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