Dawn O’Porter
Friday, 29 August 2014

STYLE with a STORY

Forget throwaway fashion – Dawn O’Porter is making a stand to get women back into beautiful vintage clothes.

Written by Melonie Clarke
I love vintage and second-hand clothing. In fact, I smile every time I open my wardrobe and see my own collection. So interviewing vintage aficionado Dawn O’Porter is an exciting prospect.

The television presenter and writer, who is also married to much-loved actor Chris O’Dowd (she added the ‘O’ to her surname when they wed), is on a mission to get Britain buying vintage. Her latest book is full of know-how, covering everything from taking up hemlines and adding buttons and zips to turning vintage finds into the perfect outfit.

For me, much of the appeal of vintage comes from imagining all the adventures the items have been on. Dawn agrees. ‘I love the discovery and the “I found this” feeling,’ she says. ‘I like the nostalgia of it. I love to think about who had it before, the life it led before I put it on.

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‘If it’s a cute 1950s day dress, a woman probably made it herself and it all feels very safe and prim. I just like fantasising about where the outfits have been. Especially the 1960s, when you think about what the clothes did for women and the idea that this would have been the first short skirt that maybe someone’s ever worn. It’s quite exciting.’

Her enthusiasm reflects her family background. ‘My aunt and uncle worked in the fashion industry in London in the 1960s,’ she says. ‘My auntie window-dressed a lot on Oxford Street, for Selfridges and places like that. It’s always been talked about around the dining-room table, so I think it’s always been in me.’

So which era is she most passionate about? ‘I do love them all, but definitely the 1960s. I’ve just always been drawn to it, which comes from my parents talking about it when I was a teenager. But I love the image of it; I love how modern it is still because of the space-age look. It still feels like we’re projecting thousands of years into the future, but it’s from half a century ago. I think it’s the most exciting decade for women and what they wore and what the clothes represented.’

The price of vintage items varies widely, but with many costing hundreds of pounds, is collecting vintage merely for those with cash to burn? ‘I think it’s exactly the same as walking down the high street – any kind of shopping. If you go into H&M you’ll get something for £10, but if you go to Bond Street you’ll get something for £2,000.

‘Different shops have different prices. At Beyond Retro, for example, you can pick up a great sundress for £16. There’s designer vintage and there’s cheap vintage.’

If the 1960s tops the fashion hit parade, are there any decades that should be consigned to the style sin bin? ‘I’m not into the 1990s at all,’ Dawn admits. ‘I look back on my teenage photos and I’m like, this is absolutely horrendous. I think there was a real lack of style in the 1990s. I find a lot of it very tacky.’

And are there any forgotten treasures? ‘You don’t see an awful lot of 1930s clothing. It’s very, very, elegant – skirts are mid-length; it’s a very tubular look. We could have a bit more of that. I think more office suits would look great in 1930s style.’

But whatever era you prefer, vintage lovers, including Dawn, have a common foe: the clothes moth. ‘Anything that you think might have moths, put it straight in the freezer for three days. That kills them,’ she says.

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The other problem is that some items can be rather delicate. ‘I was hosting an event last year and wore this amazing little 1960s A-line dress that I loved. But halfway through the event, I hugged someone and it split down the back. It was a bit tight on my boobs; you need to check the tension around the zip sometimes. If it looks a little frayed, take it to the dry-cleaner and get a new zip put in, because that is the classic thing – you’ll reach forward and the back of the dress will open.’

And if you’re not into vintage already, why should you start? ‘For that feeling of discovering a piece of clothing that no one else will have. The chances of seeing anybody else in it are so tiny.

‘I think the throwaway culture of the high street is depressing,’ she adds. ‘The fact that everyone can have so much, so cheaply, has taken away from the way women value their clothes. Women used to fi nd a dress or make a dress and take care of it. That’s why so much vintage is in good condition – because clothes were so well taken care of and properly made.

‘If you love fashion, wearing vintage gives you such a good feeling, and I think we should get that back into clothing. Women should wear clothes that they feel proud of.’

This Old Thing: Fall In Love With Vintage Clothes, by Dawn O’Porter, is published by Hot Key Books, priced £20.

Dawn’s vintage fashion address book

Birmingham
Cow 82-85 Digbeth High Street: 0121-643 8989, www.wearecow.com

Brighton
Dirty Harry 6 Sydney Street: 01273-607527, www.dirtyharryltd.com

Dublin
The Harlequin 13 Castle Market: 00-353 1671 0202, www.theharlequinvintage.com

Edinburgh
Herman Brown 151 West Port: 0131-228 2589, www.hermanbrown.co.uk

Exeter
The Real McCoy 21 McCoys Arcade, Fore Street: 01392-410481, www.therealmccoy.co.uk

Liverpool
69A 75 Renshaw Street: 0151-708 8873, www.69aliverpool.co.uk

London
Annie’s Antiques 12 Camden Passage, N1: 020-7359 0796, www.anniesvintageclothing.co.uk

Manchester
Pop Boutique 34-36 Oldham Street: 0161-236 5797, www.pop-boutique.com

Newcastle
Attica Vintage 2 Old George Yard, Off High Bridge: 0191-261 4062, www.atticavintage.co.uk

Salisbury
Foxtrot Vintage Clothing 47 Fisherton Street: 01722-326633, www.foxtrotvintage-clothing.com

DESIGNERS TO LOOK OUT FOR

1920s: Jean Patou
A French designer specialising in sportswear. He was the first designer to put his monogram on his clothes: a J and P outlined the pockets. 

1930s: Robert Piguet
Swiss-born French designer who embraced theatrical 1930s romanticism, employing high-cap sleeves, large yokes and high collars. 

1940s: Norman Hartnell
British designer known for his re ned and feminine designs. 

1950s: Jacques Fath
The ‘little prince of haute couture’.

1960s: Mary Quant
British fashion designer and icon who brought in the miniskirt and hot pants, and became an instrumental figure in mod fashion. 

1970s: Diane von Fürstenberg
Belgian-born American designer who became famous for the wrap dress. 

1980s: Betty Jackson
Her Victorian in… uences helped integrate vintage style into fashion’s mainstream.


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