Vintage collectables #vintagestyle

Saw this recently at a Mill near us that is now a wedding venue. I’d love one of these!

I’ve got a guilty secret. Are you ready? Don’t tell anyone…

I love to collect old stuff. Whether it’s clothing, or jewellery, old books or magazines, accessories or postcards or new stuff recreated using old images or styles, I just love to sit and stare/gloat over it.

Birthday postcard, with 1920 postmark.

Part of the reason I write mysteries set in the 1930s and 1960s is because I love history and especially social and cultural history. As one of my characters in A Meeting With Murder says, my interest and pleasure is to be found in… ‘…Not the kings-and-queens type of history, no. What I liked was how ordinary people lived. What everyday life was like for normal people hundreds of years ago. I loved seeing the old kitchens, the bathrooms and even the servants’ quarters…’ And because of that, I’ve gradually accumulated a few vintage items.

1920s cloche hat made of navy felt with a beige cloth ribbon.

Happy shoppers in Jeannie’s store, getting ready for the 1940s weekend in Sheringham, Norfolk, Sept 2022

When we were on holiday in Norfolk last month, I found a shop called Colour Me Vintage in Sheringham, quite by chance, and I spent ages browsing and chatting with the owner, a lovely lady named Jeannie Read. I reluctantly resisted the urge to go really crazy and buy myself a WRENs uniform or a ballgown, but I did manage to nab this cute little 1920s cloche hat when my other half was looking the other way.

For me the most fascinating thing was that Jeannie sells ‘new’ vintage clothes. She is in touch with a fashion design student, a lady named Holly, who makes clothes from vintage patterns and sells them in the shop. I am thrilled that ‘vintage’ is so popular that people are buying these items to wear at parties or even for everyday wear. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything in my size, but still, my imagination was captured. It’s amazing to think that so many people are in love with styles that were old long before they were born.

Coty compact with powder puff design by Rene Lalique. (Yes, THAT Lalique, the glass bloke…)

You can get vintage bags, shoes, hats, other accessories such as jewellery and of course, make-up. Vintage-style new make-up is also quite the thing these days. I think designers and packagers realise that if we are going to spend our hard-earned cash, then we want something that is more than just functional, we want something that looks beautiful too, ‘eye-appeal’ so very important these days. We see something, we love it, we want it, it’s that simple. Bland and functional is OUT.

It’s not only older people who enjoy vintage styles!

As William Morris, designer, social activist and founder of the British Arts and Crafts Movement so famously said:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

It’s not enough for ‘things’ to be efficient, fit for purpose or utilitarian. We want glamour, we want gorgeous colours and lovely styles. We want to surround ourselves with items that please the eye and make the soul glad.

Don’t we?

Jones sewing machine. Gorgeous!

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Happy New Year! Let’s party like it’s… (insert decade of choice here)

There’s one thing we can say for sure about the changing taste of different decades. We might do it differently but we still do it. Party, I’m talking about, you smutty people. We humans have always loved a celebration. And no matter what we’re celebrating, that will definitely include music, and if at all possible we can all ‘get down and get with it’.

Here are a few playlist recommendations, depending on your era of choice.

If you fancy partying like it’s the 1740s, check out these bad boys, guaranteed to get you in the party mood as New Year comes around:

CPE Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in A Major (There are not enough harpsichord concertos if you ask me.)

Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia. I’ll admit this is not for everyone, especially if you’ve suffered under our oppressive yoke. Sorry about that. Blokes with a superiority complex, boats, flags and guns, what can you do? But it is a banging tune.

GF Handel’s Hercules Oratorio (no, I don’t know it either…)

CPE Bach’s Harpsichord Concertos in E and D minor, and in E major. I feel like CPE has got himself stuck in a rut here, but again, if you’re good at something, maybe it’s a good idea to stick with it.

And finally, Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor – a great end to a fabulous evening.

Or say you’re in the mood for something a little more modern, you could boogie down with my amateur sleuth Dottie Manderson and the best of them to these fabulous tunes from the 1930s:

My absolute favourite from the 1930s:

Midnight, The Stars and You. Such a romantic title, and romantic concept. What more does anyone need than those three things? This was brought to us by the Ray Nobel orchestra, featuring Al Bowlly (of course) on vocals. It was famously used in The Shining, and is the title of my next-but-one Dottie Manderson mystery, book 8 which should hopefully appear either at the end of 2022 or the middle of 2023.

Let’s not forget also, other 1930s crowd-pleasers such as Stormy Weather (another wonderful and evergreen song) by Leo Reissman and his orchestra and with Ethel Waters singing .

Then you could move on to Night and Day, a Cole Porter song from 1933, I love the Ella Fitzgerald version.

Or you might like another one by Al Bowlly – how about The Very Thought of You. another romantic one for close-up smooching in dim lighting. Ah!!

And you could round the evening off with a rousing chorus of one of the follwoing:

Judy Garland – Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Cab Calloway – Minnie the Moocher (not as good as his late-life version as per The Blues Brothers, in my opinion.)

Artie Shaw – Begin the Beguine – another perennial favourite, I absolutely love this one. Or if you want a different approach to this classic, you could try the really wonderful Louis Armstrong version…

And finally…

These Foolish Things – the Benny Goodman/Teddy Wilson version with Billie Holiday.

Not quite right for your bash? How about something from the 1960s? Get your beehive hair-dos and drainpipes ready…

Now you can really have some variety – try putting together a list featuring some of these great 60s tunes:

Daydream Believer – The Monkees

Concrete and Clay – Unit 4 + 2

Always Something There To Remind Me – Sandie Shore

Natural Born Bugie – Humble Pie

Nights in White Satin – Moody Blues

I Only Want To Be With You – Dusty Springfield

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles

Yeh Yeh – Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames

Do You Love Me – the Tremeloes

Maybe that’s a bit too up-to-the-minute for you and you want something a bit classier? How about some great dance music from the Regency era? This is the era that invented line-dancing, albeit somewhat more stately than we have now:

Let’s open with the amazing Beethoven piece for piano, Für Elise. That’ll really get ’em all out on the dancefloor.

Then next, maybe we’ll shake things up a bit with a singalong, the opera Adelina by Generali and Rossi

Or maybe an excerpt from an opera by Beethoven – he was The Man in the early 1810s, with Schubert close behind. This might be the perfect moment to play a bit from Symphony number 8 in F major. Let’s all hum along with the chorus…

For a bit of slow dancing with your beloved, you can’t beat Schubert’s String Quartet in C major.

Due to the rather lengthy nature of this kind of music, we’ll leave it there, closing the evening’s entertainment with Ferdinand Ries’s bestselling top-twenty hit, Concerto for Two Horns. (Admit it, you were missing the concertos, weren’t you?)

One thing is for sure, since time immemorial, humans have loved to come together to celebrate something–anything–and that has included music, dancing, big frocks, bigger hair and quite possibly alcohol.

Happy New Year! May 2022 be everything you long for. Just go easy on the resolutions.

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Stories for a 1930s audience.

Last week I took a look at the kind of advertising you might have found if browsing through an issue of Betty’s Paper, a popular magazine from the 1920s through to (I think) about the 1940s. It’s hard to find out much about the mag without doing some hardcore research (it might come to that), but I know it was at its peak in the 30s, and there are still quite a few issues left to be snapped up if you’re of a mind to buy this kind of memorabilia.

Betty’s Paper wasn’t the only one around. There was also Peg’s Paper (1919 to 40) English Woman’s Journal (1850s to 1910), The Gentlewoman (1890 to 1926), The Freewoman (1911 to 1912), The Lady’s Realm (1890s to 1914), Time and Tide (1920s to 1970s), Woman’s Journal (1920 to 2001) to name the most well known. There were others, often with a more targeted purpose, for example, campaigning women’s suffrage and letting women know what was happening in various groups. Mostly magazines were aimed at middle and upper class women, but Peg’s Paper, and Betty’s Paper were aimed at working class women, and had less educational and more purely entertaining content than other magazines.

Betty’s – and Peg’s – contained short fiction, sometimes as serials, that thrilled the imagination, and owed a great deal to the cinema. There were fashion and style tips, using actresses of the era as role models, and holding them up as examples of the right look to emulate, very much as all the media do today. We looked at the ads last week, and I concluded that, again just as now, many were fixated upon appearance: looking slim, budget fashion that stood up to scrutiny, easy health fixes for people who lived busy lives, working hard and with little time or money to spend on themselves. Perfect for the factory and domestic girls of the 1920s and 1930s.

But what were the stories like that were every week there to tantalise our girls as they took a quick tea break or read for ten minutes before going to sleep?

Firstly, I noticed that the stories were illustrated, a bit like a children’s comic. I know that still happens today, but these struck me as being more dramatic. The men often seem to loom over the women in a authoritative almost aggressive manner. The men also look very old compared to the younger-looking women. Pretty sure all these heroines are about 20 and all the heroes are about 48.

The headlines and taglines too were melodramatic and leaning towards the scandalous. I presume this was a good way to draw in readers and get them to spend their cash – Betty’s Paper was tuppence ‘Every Friday’. When wages were paid weekly in cash, I imagine this was one of the first ‘treats’ a girl would get herself before going home and giving most of her money to her parents.

Anyway – on to the stories. I’ve only got two issues (at the moment hahaha) but between these two issues of 36 pages each, there are eight stories, and seem to be serialised in two or three parts. Some of them masquerade as ‘real life stories’ (see me next week for more…) but the rest are presented as written by ‘well-known’ lady authors. The sensational headings are guaranteed to pique the interest of any normal woman: ‘One Hour of Love Then Tears’, ‘The Sin That Came Between Them’, ‘When Men Are Dangerous’, ‘But She Was Blamed’, and my particular favourite, ‘Back Street Blonde’, tagline ‘she was born to be a man’s girl’.

They read a bit like cautionary tales – be careful, be cautious, be modest, they seem to say. Keep away from MEN. And like Mary Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, they seem to hint vaguely at the dreadful fate that awaits a woman without virtue. This was probably useful information for a young woman with a little bit of her own money able to go out with her friends in the evening in the wicked city and not come home until – ooh – ten? eleven o’clock? The stories are about trying very hard to make a marriage work, about being honest, and morally upright, about protecting your home and family. So they are aspirational, inspirational and improving. But they can be a bit juicy, as this picture seems to show: ‘Guy held her close in his arms. ”I don’t care about anything else–I want you, Dawn,’ he whispered.” Oh Dawn, get out girl, while you can!

Mostly I’m in awe of the writers. Week after week they turned out 5000 words or maybe more, and (I assume) got paid for it. I’ve tried Googling some of the authors whose work features in these magazines: Denise Egerton (Secret Bride), Louise Randall (One Hour of Love – Then Tears), Stella Deans (The Sin That Came Between Them), Cynthia Loring (But She Was Blamed), Jasmine Day (Back Street Blonde). Of these, I’ve found a number of books from the 50s and 60s by a Denise Egerton, and they appear to be romance genre, so maybe it’s the same woman? I haven’t been able to find out anything about the others–who knows–maybe they were all Denise? Or possibly all these ‘lady writers’ were simply the pen names of a grizzled editor with pages to fill and a talent for writing totes emosh romance? I can picture him, tapping away at his typewriter until all hours, cigar ash spilling all down his shirt. I bet his real name was something like Isaac Peabody.

I think these stories offer an intriguing insight into the values and aspirations of working women in the 1920s and 1930s. They’ve actually been the subject of study in a number of British and American dissertations and publications, for example, Peg’s Paper was looked at in Class and Gender: The ‘Girls’weeklies’ by Billie Melman,  a section in ‘Women and The Popular Imagination in the Twenties.’  And in this article in The Guardian by Kathryn Hughes. 

But lest we forget, what they really were was an escape from the drudgery of everyday life for women with little opportunity to do anything other than dream.

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