Lovers of vintage often find that the addiction to bygone eras is wildly infectious.
What starts off as a collection of 1950’s frocks or a couple of 1970’s suits, soon becomes an entire wardrobe. Before long you’ll find that you want to wear exclusively vintage, your accessories will have to be vintage and you’ll be visiting a specialist hair salon and picking up pin-up style make-up tips from YouTube videos.
Oh so fabulous
The obsession rarely stops there, because wearing vintage feels so delicious and so fabulous. You’ll find yourself drooling over cake stands, teacups and charming milk jugs. Your crockery cupboards will be brimming with vintage-style oddments to match your wardrobe and jewellery collection. This infectious craze will take over the rest of your house.
It makes sense. Not only is it stylish and beautiful to look at but it is so economical and makes fabulous environmental sense. Buying vintage means that you’re reusing, it’s green and can be so very affordable. You can pick up furniture and kitchenware from charity shops and reclaim them with a little paint and some well-chosen fabric until they look unspeakably vintage.
So what started off as you coveting a pretty 1950s dress, has evolved into you collecting a house full of vintage and retro knick-knacks. But, if you really want to make visitors feel like they are stepping back in time, then you’ll have to go one step further. What about vintage wallpaper?
Papering over the cracks
Sadly, original vintage wallpaper is almost impossible to get hold of. Even if you could lay your hands on enough to paper a whole room, you may find it is not quite up to standard and may well be ravaged by time. Unless you fancy scouring the country for any unlikely house that hasn’t been redecorated since the 1950s, you are best focussing on reproduction wallpaper for your home.
If you are only going to paper one room in your home, then the kitchen is a great choice to start with.
Prior to the 1920s kitchens were unpapered as it was considered wasteful. Kitchens in wealthier homes were only seen by the staff, and poorer people could not afford wallpaper or worried that cooking fumes and steam would damage the paper.
In the 1920s we became a bit obsessed with sanitation and hygiene and it was very popular to paint kitchens white or to tile them with gleaming white tiles. This was to show up any hint of dirt and to portray high levels of cleanliness.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that wallpapering the kitchen became popular. Kitschy imagery was popular. It was supposed to keep the housewife cheery as she prepared the meals and toiled away for hours a day.
Images of domesticity, such as tea pots and kitchen implements, were in. Fruit (especially cherries and strawberries) was commonly seen and quaint cottage scenes or simplistic floral motifs featured strongly.
This trend continued until the 1960s, when more vibrant and psychedelic papers starting appearing, and in the 1970s the trend for tiling and painting the kitchen became more en vogue.
Out of the kitchen
When choosing wallpaper for the rest of the house it helps to know a little about its history.
Wallpaper was once thought of as a cheap alternative to “proper art” and paintings. Being much cheaper, easy to replace and quick to apply; those who couldn’t afford fine artwork would opt for wallpaper to add colour to their homes.
This distinction didn’t last, as those with money soon opted for the most expensive wall coverings; choosing precious metals, unusual designers, imports from overseas and fine fabrics when selecting their wall papers.
During the Second World War, wallpaper was considered a non-essential commodity and so style, ranges and types were limited. The wallpaper industry suffered greatly, as manufacturers were forced to use finer paper types and produce lower quality paper.
After the war, the demand for wallpaper returned and the market thrived. During this era many more exciting designs came out and people eagerly snapped up the new products.
Machine-age colours were particularly popular during this time – so if you fancy something from this era look out for reds, blacks, white and metallic silver designs.
The two main vintage wallpaper designs to indulge in are definitely the sweet homely feel of the 1940s-1950s or the striking geometric abstract designs from the 1960s.
You also need to decide if you want your wallpaper to look like genuine vintage paper or if you want wallpaper that shows vintage items. Both types are readily available, especially online and will really make a difference to a space.
If you are opting for a very busy design, such as a typical 1960’s pattern you may prefer to only paper one wall, and paint the remaining walls in a colour from the design. Busy prints can make a room appear smaller, can make things feel cluttered, unrelaxing, and are difficult to hang pictures on. If you want somewhere to display photographs or pictures, then you’ll definitely want to paint at least one wall in a more muted tone.
Because vintage wallpaper tends to be quite involved and detailed, it’s usually best to pick out the paper before you pick items for the rest of the room. Vintage wallpaper can be a feature in itself, and will only look its best if the rest of the furniture and décor has been chosen to fit with the theme.
If you are desperate for paper that looks like it was actually from the 1940s, rather than reproductions of the original, but cannot find anything from the era then you may like to use brand new paper and treat it to make it look older.
Carefully applied stain can add a softer look to brand new paper, or you could gently sand the surface for a more distressed look.
Personally I think new paper is great, and it will last a lot longer. You can always opt for softer tones to add a slightly sunbleached feel to the wall coverings. Now is the time to start going vintage with your wallpaper. Shabby chic furniture styles are all the rage, and the next step is definitely some beautiful vintage wall paper.
Where to find new vintage wallpaper
Little Greene are well-known for their paints but they also have a terrific range of wallpapers. From geometric patterns in traditional-looking hues, to patterns featuring plants and animals plus sea themes, Little Greene have put together a stupendous collection of papers that will complement any home. They also have a partnership with the National Trust.
Graham & Brown
Graham & Brown have curated a beautiful collection of vintage and art deco papers. They come in a wide range of geometric patterns in greens, blues, pearl whites and more. Rose gold is on trend at the moment and Graham & Brown have seized on this trend in some of their papers.
i want wallpaper
These folks only do wallpaper (as their name suggests) but they have a particularly strong collection of vintage, retro and trad wallpaper designs. As well as the commonly-seen washed-out greens and blues of the 50s and 60s they have quirky animal prints and many other designs that will make you smile!
Wallpaper from the 70s
If it’s the 1970s that turn you on, then Wallpaper from the 70s is the niche wallpaper site for you! They stock many bold and bright patterns in typical 70s colours. Be prepared for a smorgasbord of loud and louche patterns, including many botanicals and florals.
There is something about a vintage dress that never fades. I don’t mean the colour of course, I mean the style. The fashions that were oh-so-chic in their day maintain the same sense of class and sophistication today. Modern designers constantly revisit the popular styles of yesteryear and more and more of us find ourselves drawn into little vintage boutiques in the search of these retro treasures.
The embers of the vintage revival were reignited by Camden beauties such as Kate Moss. The forever-youthful supermodel seemed to feel a kinship with the style that aged as flawlessly as she did, realising that any dress you find in a vintage store is unlikely to be worn by anyone else. It’s simply the fastest way to a bespoke wardrobe.
But if you’re a newcomer to vintage dresswear, it’s sometimes a little confusing. So many eras, so many fashions. It’s not easy to know what to look out for. There are a few classic styles and silhouette types that make the most beautiful stand-out items. So, let’s dive in and take a tour of the most recognised and important vintage dress styles.
The flapper dress/1920s shift
This class creates a slim silhouette and incorporates beautiful beading, precious fabrics and longer length layered hems. All about the flapper dress.
The A-line dress
A-lines cling to the waist and fall into a fuller skirt. They are great for hiding fuller hips. A classic style that recurs through the decades.
The rock and roll swing dress
Think full-circle skirts and fitted bodices, a strong silhouette that emphasises a woman’s shape, oozing femininity.
The maxi dress
This was a 1970s favourite. Loose fitting, floor sweeping and unspeakably bohemian. Whether it has thin straps or long sleeves, the maxi is a summer staple.
The sheath dress
The sheath is a fitted slinky style that makes the perfect evening gown. The sheath style has been associated with most decades, with skirt lengths and sleeve details adding variation.
The shift dress
This is a 1960s classic. The straight cut doesn’t cling to the body, but the short hemline adds a touch of glamour. Great for girls who want to flaunt their pins but may be a little body-conscious.
The wiggle dress
The wiggle is the ultimate 1940s/50s secretary style dress – typified by Marilyn Monroe’s look. Fitted, sexy and uber feminine it radiates vintage charm. The wiggle dress is fitted right through, usually ends at the knees with the skirt being equally as tight.
The shirt dress
Popular through the 1930s to the 1960s in various guises though usually features central button fastenings, a belted waist, a fuller skirt and a crisp collar. There is a playfully feminine feel to this twist on a classic man’s shirt.
Wearing vintage is grown-up dressing up. It links us to our childhoods. Remember those halycon girlhood days, in and out of the dressing up box, matching shoes (far too big), with scarves, scarves with gloves, gloves with hats? Trying out different make-up styles from the teeny magazines?
Wearing vintage conjures up the same kind of excitement. It’s about trying on another life, for size. Fancy feeling as sexy as 50s pin-up girl? Or want to find out what the Land Girl from the Second World War might have felt like? With vintage, we can inhabit a different life for a day, then move onto another one. Be a film star today, and a factory girl tomorrow.
The clothesmaker’s art
One of the unexpected joys of vintage clothes is in the practical skills of repairs and alterations. Most of us are part of a generation where skills such as seamstressing and sewing were not handed down from our mothers and grandmothers. And probably weren’t taught at school. So, many women today are going out to the high street, or going online, to learn these incredibly useful and absorbing skills.
Knowing how to take in, let out, repair zips and buttons and even patch, are skills that a new generation of stylish women is keen to learn. Learning the art of altering and repairing vintage clothes is about much more than retro-fashion. There’s a practical element to it – these days few of us can afford to throw out great clothes. There’s even (dare I suggest?) a spiritual dimension – learning the basic skills of dressmaking link us to previous generations like no history book ever could. These are creative and absorbing skills, requiring patience, attention to detail and perseverance. The opposite of our day-to-day experience.
Women who wear vintage
Women who love vintage are people with imagination. They won’t succumb to the latest high-street trends. They value great design, excellence in manufacture, and longevity. They aren’t interested in our wasteful culture based on discarding our wardrobes once a year.
Women who love vintage don’t need catwalk-model figures and looks either. They look amazing because their clothes have a unique style, tailor-made for the individual woman. They know how to make the best of their figures – their busts, waists and legs, no matter what the size. They attract admiring looks on the high street because their style says something about them beyond where they choose to shop.
What kind of vintage clothes shopper are you?
Maybe, like me, when you visit a new town the first thing you do is find out where all the charity shops are. Maybe you are a specialist vintage shopaholic, seeking out the best vintage shops in the big cities of Britain. Maybe you’re a charity-shop devotee, hungry for the latest stock. Maybe you’re an online browser, continually searching for that elusive bargain.
I won’t deny that vintage clothes shopping takes time. The best things in life are not free, and when it comes to vintage, clothes might be very cheap in money-terms, but may take a substantial slice of time to find.
A shopping trip that ends empty-handed is disheartening but sometimes it’s the right thing. Women who love vintage won’t spend their money on useless clothes that they’ll never wear. They are not the creators of wardrobes full of unworn brand new clothes. On the contrary, they are the women who recycle the unwanted wardrobes of lesser (although maybe richer) women. Whom do we admire more?
Successfully buying and wearing vintage clothes means becoming something of a connoisseur. After a few missteps, on entering a shop, or visiting a vintage website, you’ll become alert to the key bargains to be had. You’ll understand the different fabrics, you’ll recognise the top designer labels. You’ll be knowledgeable about the clothes-making process. Modern clothes made in sweatshop factories far away will seem like an anathema to you. It all takes time, but the rewards are great.
Vintage clothes-shopping is an act of the imagination. A dream, fulfilled. A life beyond the workaday mundane. Vintage makes a statement about the kind of person you are and the kind of world you would like to live in – a world that is at once stylish, individual and at the same time cares about the past and cares about the future. Dressing-up was never so much fun.
Style is all about finding something new and fresh to wear. Styles quickly go out of fashion but as soon as you know it, they’re back in again – fashion, like life, goes in circles. But invariable, “new” high street styles are actually vintage looks given a modern twist. Take the polka dot dress. First emerged in the 50s, reinvented in the 60s. Part of Top Shop’s latest range today. All the latest designers are continually plagiarising fashion’s back-catalogue for ideas to contemporise. They find the best cuts, the best materials – they cherry-pick what worked from the decades of amazing styles.
In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s is that practicality was the aim of the game; it wasn’t about fancy gadgets that would be used once or twice. In the post-war era, kitchenware was built to last, not be used for a year or two and replaced. Some of those designs were so good they became style icons in their own right.
How many people have been into Grandma’s and found a 1950’s Swan colander? Beats your vulgar plastic version purchased from the local supermarket hands down, right?? And the plastic version probably only has a year or so left on its shelf life, whilst Grandma’s is hitting the mid-sixties age range.
In the grand scheme of good vintage brands, Swan is right up there for quality and reliability, and they produced everything from jelly moulds, jam pans, aluminium kettles, enamel pans and teapot sets amongst other things. Swan is possibly the Daddy of vintage kitchenalia and went on to be some of the first manufacturers to produce the toaster and a kettle containing an element as well as develop the world famous ‘Teasmade’ alongside co-subsidiary, Goblin.
The 1950s kitchen
The style: open-plan, fitted kitchens.
Brighter colours, greater convenience and great utility were the hallmarks of the 50s kitchen. Rounded “bubble” corners on shelving and doors.
The palette: bright pastel greens, blues and oranges.
New materials: linoleum, PVC and Formica began trending.
Influences: American diners, pop culture
The look: chequerboard lino flooring. Open plan. Chrome and plastic stacking chairs. Polka dot curtains.
Another key appliance of vintage kitchenalia that is conjured up in the mind’s eye is the big electric mixer, usually produced by Kenwood and absolutely screams 50’s housewife. The majority of these appliances left on the market are still in good working order, look great and are a hell of a lot cheaper than their modern counterparts.
A set of Salter scales is another great idea for a kitchen going for a throwback look. Known for their accuracy, these scales often sell for more than a brand new set from a department store, but their look and resilience to last through the decades makes the benefits of owning a vintage set of Salter scales far outweigh the pros for buying a new set, pardon the pun …
To demonstrate the style of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, Sadler is a brand to certainly look into. Their teapots, creamers, storage jars and sugar basins amongst other things certainly span the decades. Whether it be the somewhat brash colourings of the 60’s, the fun look of the 50’s or that smidge of chintz that the 40’s offered, a Sadler piece will be out there somewhere.
Unlike many moons ago, in this day and age, people can afford to spend money without worrying whether what they are buying has a practical implication, so opting to spend a few pounds on vintage tea tins such as Twinings, Tetley, Lyons and Typhoo is another option for a proper vintage look.
The key to combining vintage kitchenalia with a modern kitchen is playing around and choosing the right things, so that the overall look doesn’t become tacky or gimmicky but still manages to throw in some great nostalgia.
You can’t have missed the trend for injecting vintage chic with kitchenalia that throws back to the golden years of classic design. The kitchen is the heart of the home, so it’s well worth putting some thought into getting it just right. It’s easier than you might think. Any kitchen can be transformed using a few well-chosen vintage/retro objects. You don’t have to pay the earth – second-hand or refurbished items are just as good as brand new. It’s all about what you choose.
Everyone loves the revived look that interiors and exteriors take on in preparation for the much welcomed summer months. However, a spring clean is often the precursor to a bigger decorating make-over, and it could be one that involves a totally new feel and look to a home. Deciding on a style can be fun – you get an excuse to spend time leafing through glossy design magazines and visit stylish websites. It’s the best way to get ideas and draw inspiration when you want to revamp a home with well-chosen vintage furniture.
Many of us live in houses built in the Victorian or Edwardian eras, and want to recreate some of the atmosphere those early owners of the properties might have enjoyed. But you don’t need to go vintage right down to carpets and cushions. A better idea is to spend your budget on a small number of larger pieces – maybe a desk, set of chairs, wardrobe or dresser – and stick with modern materials with vintage designs for the carpets, curtains and soft furnishings.
The vintage look is a popular trend that’s stood the test time. If well thought through, vintage can add a certain cachet to a home. It’s possible to create a luxurious or cosy retro feel in your living room, kitchen or even bathrooms – think sumptuous copper bath tub surrounded by Biba style Kentia palms. Even on a small budget, it’s possible to achieve a great vintage look and have fun doing it too! To get started it’s a good idea to know about some of the main eras of vintage style.
The thirties were a very stylish decade, and about as far back as you can go before you’re in the realm of “antique”. You may want to create a Poirot-style opulent Agatha Christie ambiance. Or recreate a Jeeves and Wooster living room. Twenties and thirties furniture was characterised by clean lines, practical thinking, and a thoroughly “modern” break from the cluttered past of over-decorated Victoriana. Think bird’s eye maple desks, sumptuous walnut bedroom suites and for the lounge, think leather tub chairs paired with a Marcel Breuer style chrome chair or two. Geometric carpets and fabrics add the all important finishing touch.
Sedate Post War Trends
The post-war era brought austerity to Britain, and practicality and “built-to-last” was the uppermost in designer’s minds. It’s possible to find brilliantly made English retro furniture – Utility being one of the companies that in its heyday produced masses of utilitarian furniture. Although not to everyone’s taste back then, it’s enjoying a revival in these modern times. The great thing about retro English furniture is that because much of it had been overlooked up until recent times, it is more affordable than some Scandinavian vintage furniture that’s around.
Fifties Revival & Sixties Style
The fifties were pretty austere times for most – yet the 1951 Festival of Britain saw innovative furniture designs and futuristic objects that today, are extremely collectable. Companies like Metamec made stylish, colourful clocks whilst glassware was ultra kitsch – especially the Italian coloured glass fish that adorned many 1950’s fashionable homes. Today, the glassware is getting more and more collectible.
After the war, furniture makers like the Morris Furniture Group, began producing innovative designs. They were the brainchild of Neil Morris, son of the company’s founder. He pioneered fascinating new shapes for chairs and tables using the latest wood technology in laminated woods. Later, in the sixties, Neil Morris won awards for the now extremely collectible Bambi chair and Clouds occasional tables. Today, these items are snapped up when they appear on the market.
Other furniture makers of the time were Ercol, E Gomme, the company that produced G-Plan. Then there was Stag’s C-Range and later the Minstrel range of furniture, all of which is much sought after by people who want to recreate that retro look in the modern day home
The Scandinavian Influence
By the sixties, Scandinavian furniture makers began to make their mark all over the world. Again, furniture designs were innovative with teak and rosewood being a popular choices of wood. The teak Danish sideboard is one of the most popular vintage items of furniture today.
Sourcing retro furniture is that much easier with the advent of the Internet and it’s great fun deciding on which style to go for. There’s a heap of choices from furniture made out of exotic laminate woods to solid teak, rosewood. Then ther are the bentwoods made famous by the likes of Thonet and Alvar Aalto. It’s just a question of sitting down and deciding which would suit your lifestyle and budget. Then the fun really begins as you start sourcing the vintage furniture you want – not forgetting the all important retro objects too!