The Common Headscarf

Walk into any vintage clothes shop in London and chances are there’ll be a basket in the corner piled high with a delicious selection of headscarves. Aside from providing the most comfortable sort of bedding a furry creature could wish for (the cat in Beyond Retro, Brick Lane will vouch for this…) these baskets are veritable treasure-troves for the perpetually short of cash. The scarves are so cheap you see. So, SO cheap!

And real and extraordinary bargains are to be had – as I found upon selecting a particularly delightful silky specimen some months back for a couple of pounds. Imagine my delight when, several weeks later, close and quite random inspection lead me to discover the tiniest most sneakily hidden writing within this scarf’s paisley twists…. LIBERTY!

Now I’m not saying that I now own something worth a whole lotta dollar (as I imagine my American chums might say) but a certain smugness has certainly abounded within me since this discovery. What fine taste I must have to have picked out a Liberty from such a great quantity of scarves!

Needless to say, I have since become a bit of a headscarf nut and spend far too much time rummaging around these aforementioned baskets in EVERY vintage store I come across. No more Liberty triumphs as of yet… but who’s to say what’ll crop up next? I am all eager anticipation!

So, whilst the Liberty sort are few and far between, the common vintage headscarf is not scarce. What I would say, though, is that the number of people that I see wearing headscarves in any way other than THIS is scarce.

Rhi Headscarf

Thanks, Rihanna for illustrating my example 😉

Now don’t get me wrong, I like this look very much. In fact, I’ve sported it myself a fair few times. The only point I’d like to make is that this styling seems to evoke more of an 80s vibe than anything else.

And the headscarf has so much in terms of styling options for the vintage enthusiast!!

Below is a wee summary of the headscarf and it’s various stylings throughout the (vintage) ages:

Clara BowKicking off in the 1920s, the original IT girl, Clara Bow rocked a particularly cool headscarf. In one of her most iconic photos, she wears the scarf tied around her head, knotted to the side, her hair pouffing and spilling over the top and the scarf ends draping gently over her shoulder. What a minx!

The 1930s were a little void of the headscarf (according to my research) so we’ll nimbly skip over them and move on to the 40s …

Rosie the RiveterDuring the war period, it was all about the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ look. Headscarves became a practical solution for preventing locks getting tangled in machinery as our girls kept the country going whilst the men were away fighting. The fact that this styling looked pretty darn cute is, I assume, a happy co-incidence.

Scarf 1 scarf 4scarf 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rosie (as I affectionately call this styling) is the look I adopt most frequently when wearing a headscarf  – It’s simple to execute, can hide a whole lot of unwashed hair and, provided that it’s secured with a few killer-strong kirby grips, will last through an entire night of dancing  – which is testament indeed.

Grace Kelly HeadscarfAs we move into the 1950s, the headscarf becomes more of a glamourous accessory than a safety necessity. Think Grace Kelly, sitting in the passenger seat of an impossibly beautiful sports car as it is raced across the sublime landscapes of Monaco by a Cary Grant type. The headscarf serves two purposes here:

1. It keeps a lady’s hair looking immaculate rather than wildly windswept.

2. It looks effortlessly classy – particularly when accompanied by a pair of upswept sunglasses…

Later  decades give us yet more variations of headscarf styling but I can’t stop to go through all of them now though  – I’m off to find a dashing chap on the Riviera… and yes, the LIBERTY is coming with me…

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The Well-Heeled Lady

The vintage shoe. A tricky beast if ever there was one. Often fragile, invariably too-small-to-even-consider-squeezing-your-foot-into, frequently downright ugly YET smacking so utterly of the past that an outfit can be instantly transformed by their addition… I am at once enthralled and repulsed by the shoes of yesteryear.

We’ll get the repulsion out of the way first. This feeling is triggered within me by one style of vintage shoe more than any other : the wedge. I’m not talking 1950s espadrille wedge here. Oh, no – I like those. Just bought a pair, in fact. No. I’m talking 1940s dowdy, low wedge. Oh, this shoe is a monster! A veritable monster!

1940s wedge shoe advert

Rather like the crocs of today (of which I do NOT approve…), I can see only one reason why anyone would ever venture to wear the 1940s wedge: Comfort. Wedges are, after all, notoriously comfortable and I shan’t deny them that. But what use is seeking comfort when style is completely thrown to the dogs in the process?!

If I’m going to buy some shoes of vintage ilk for dancing (rather than stick to my lovely-but-scruffy duck-taped pumps), then I’m near as damn it going to find something glamorous. Comfort? Pah! What 1940s fashionista in her right mind needs comfort?

Actually, it seems that maybe some of them do. That’s if the Swing Dance shoe supply websites are anything to go by. Wedges galore, I tell you! Yuk!

wedge 4

To give them credit, some of these swing shoe suppliers do try to mask the fact that the wedges are, er, wedges. They dress them up in fancy colours, add punched leather detailing, or tassel them up in a spectacular fashion, hoping beyond hope that such details will distract customers from their ugly structure. Needless to say I’m not going to be persuaded by their efforts.

Wedges 5

I can’t expect everyone to have such immaculate standards though. Whilst not mentioning any names (discretion is paramount in a Young Lady) I will confess to having spotted an acquaintance of mine (a very well dressed acquaintance, no less!) sporting a pair of wedges on the social dance floor. Now, I’m sure she had an absolutely marvelous time and was really able to dance hard and long to several songs on the trot without once thinking of her poor feet… but REALLY… is such comfort worth it?

The more I think about it, the more my answer to this is an unresounding, arms folded, foot stamping ‘NO’.

Right. Rant over. Onwards and upwards into the dizzying world of high heels.

There are a fair few vintage shoe myths lurking out there – one of which I’m going to bust right now. For those of you who think the forties were a time for demure heels and frumpy wedges only, think again! Every 1940s wannabe should know about the platform and it’s place in this incredible decade. Think Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Jeanne Tierney. 1940s Hollywood was awash with starlets in platforms. And they looked totally fabulous.

1940s platform court shoes

I’ve noticed a few 1940s style platforms emerging on the high street this season too… Hobb’s aptly named Ava looks particularly authentic. They have a slightly heavy ugliness about them which is (dare I say it..? ) a quite charming 1940s characteristic.

Hobbs' Ava Platform

And now we come to the question of authentic V reproduction. I’ve a steadily growing collection of genuine vintage shoes. Every time I buy a new pair, I have every intention of wearing them. Every time I get my new pair home, I lovingly arrange them on a shelf in my room. Every time it would be appropriate to wear the aforementioned vintage shoes, I have a mild panic that they’ll get ruined and opt to wear some modern repros instead. Fail? Probably. But they do look very pretty on my shelf…

You see for me, more often than not, vintage dressing goes hand in hand with dancing. Which in turn goes hand in hand with being trodden on. Which in it’s own turn goes hand in hand with rapid destruction of footwear. Anything fragile would be a gonner quicker than you could say Charlie Barnett and his Orchestra.

It’s at this point that I would like to preach the wonders of vintage reproduction footwear – of which Remix Vintage Shoes is the hands down, out-and-out winner. Their designs are exact replicas of footwear from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Their website leaves a lot to be desired but their collections are second to none. Remix shoes are pricey. Very pricey. But you’ll feel so terribly authentic when you wear them that all thoughts of money (or the lack there of, following your purchase) will fly from you mind. Revival Retro is the only place I’ve yet to find in the UK that stocks Remix shoes and they have a terrific collection. The shop’s owner, Rowena is an absolute gem who knows everything there is to know about vintage dressing. Go there! (It’s certainly where I’ll be heading on payday… got my eye on a bit of green croc skin… )

Remix Miranda shoe

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Brrrrrr.

I love a Victorian house. I do, I do, I absolutely do.

Give me a quaint, tiled fireplace, a few sash windows, lots of high ceilinged rooms with moulded cornices and a gazillion flights of steep stairs and I’m sold. Now I think on it, I’m really very easy to please. For how many thousands of such houses do I spy in london that fit this exact bill? Very, very many, I assure you.

In fact, I have often wondered whether perfect happiness does not lie within the very structure of the period home. Many’s the time I’ve looked across the road from my 19th century haven at the monstrous post war flats and pitied their residents. For where’s the joy in such architecture? (This is a trick question. There is, quite simply, none).

So imagine my surprise when, this very week, I’ve started to long for a modern flat. Yep, you read correctly: a MODERN FLAT. Something perfectly soulless, utterly bland, monstrously boxy and … wonderfully warm.

Oh yes, the cold has finally frozen all my aesthetic sense.  I’ll forgo charm and character. I’ll turn my back on wooden floors and charming alcoves. I’ll learn to love chunky little windows and galley kitchens. I will, I will. My toes and fingers are on strike until I do all of the above, you see. And one can’t cope very well without one’s toes and fingers.

After all, a cold house is a miserable house.

You know your house is cold when you wake up in the morning and your breath billows out in great puffs before your eyes. You know the heating isn’t doing it’s job when you have to spend the night submerged beneath your blanket in order to stop your face from freezing  solid. And you know you’ve somehow missed a trick when you come home and realise that it’s actually colder INSIDE that out.

And boy, am I familiar with all the above.

Before you jump to conclusions, let me stress: I’m no student. I no longer live in such abject poverty that the heating is never allowed on. Those days are done with and I don’t miss them one jot.

My housemates and I use the heating with gusto. In fact, we’re that often envied bunch of tenants who have a ‘bills included‘ arrangement with our landlord. Oh yes, the heating’s on. It’s on ALL the time. But does that make one iota of difference to the temperature of our beautiful Victorian house? NO, sir-ee. Because period houses and warmth are like… errr… water and olive oil: they don’t mix.

Such trifling matters as heat insulation are understandably seldom considered in the creation of beauty. And they certainly weren’t considered by the Victorian Architect. I’m usually grateful for the utter disregard for practicalities in the pursuit of beauty … but in this bitter, bitter cold, all I dream of is double glazing, thick wads of roof insulation and draft-proofing…

Now here’s something for the scientists out there to help me with… I was always led to believe that heat rises. I have also always been told that a small room is easier to keep warm than a large one. I am right to believe these facts, non? So why, oh why, upon entering my bedroom (which is teeny-tiny and almost at the very top of my many storied Victorian house) am I hit with an icy blast of cold air? I have a functioning radiator in there for goodness sake! I bled it this year! The room should be a snug as anything!

Truth is, I fear, even a good old radiator is not enough to keep the Victorian house warm.

On the premis that the radiators do SOMETHING to raise the general temperature of the house (although goodness knows what this something is), I ask you: how on earth did we cope before central heating? As I doubt you will reply, I shall answer my own question:  firstly, central heating was around (admittedly in a very primative way) a lot earlier than you might think. The 1870s, no less. A coal or oil fired furnace was set up in the basement and the heat would then rise through floor vents. Can’t see many floor vents in my house though so I’m guessing the family living here would have had to stick with the little fire places.

You know the sort I mean – those beautiful, original decorative cast iron fire places that every estate agent will flag up with enthusiasm as though it’s presence alone is reason to by the house they are showing you. Believe it or not, these fire places once had a practical purpose beyond that of cinching a sale. They’d have been stoked with coal rather than wood unless you lived in a woody area (which I imagine even 150 years ago, London wasn’t) and would have looked quite the part in a room be-decked with William Morris wallpaper and various Victorian fripperies.

Victorian Room

Well, that’s how I like to think of them. Reality is that they were probably smokey, pokey little things – the sort that you have to shuffle up close to in order to appreciate the heat but that, once shuffled close, become unbearably burny hot.

Scenes of Dickens’ Dombey and Son spring to mind, where a poor baby Dombey junior was placed

immediately in front of the fire, and close to it, as if his constitution were close to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown.

That’s the problem with these Victorian fires – it’s all or nothing.

But what else, apart form this (admittedly, pretty useless) fire, would have warmed our cockles on a cold winter’s day?

Today we have hot water bottles, lucky ones amongst us have electric blankets. Back then there were bed-warmers and, well, that seems about it. I guess the ladies would have had all their many layers of skirts and what-not but apart from that, I can’t see much else in the way staying warm. A hot cup of cocoa maybe?

Truth be told, it was probably blooming miserable. And, for perhaps the first time ever, I’m mighty glad to be living in 2013 – even if I do live in a cold, cold house. At least I’ve got my electric blanket.

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Feed a Cold, Starve a Flu

Actually, I find feeding a most excellent remedy for both cold AND flu. None of this starving nonsense, thankyouverymuch. Ice cream, chocolate, lemony drizzled cakes and bourbon biscuits… all most helpful in making a poor, sick gal feel better – cold OR flu.

But that’s not all. Oh, no. The food is just the beginning. When illness hits, I like to think of myself as a most ready and willing patient. I keep a stash of pills at my bedside: paracetemol, ibruprofen, sudafed, actifed… (the list goes on but these are my favourites). I like the round, sugar-coated capsules over the powdery oblongs and I’m still more than a little partial to the sugary, sickly sweetness of Panadol. The pink one, preferably.

In addition to official medicines, I’m now developing rather a fondness for the massively placebic (yes, I think I have just invented that word), yet gloriously addictive BERROCCA. Because what better way to make oneself feel A-OK than to drown out the resident bug with gallons of luminous, fizzy orange liquid? Expensive, luminous fizzy orange liquid at that. Yes, Berrocca is my new thing. Its funny taste lets you know that it’s good for you and the sense of triumph that one feels upon managing to stomach an entire glass of the stuff is up there with the best senses of triumph. Thank heavens for Boots and their 2for1 offers or Berrocca would have me quite out of pocket.

Needless to say, when I woke up this morning with a tight throat, I didn’t hesitate to pack my bag with all of the aforementioned cold-essentials.

How on earth would I have coped back in the vintage-day you might ask? Well, the exact same thought ran through my head as I peddled my way to work, my pannier weighed down with pots of Berrocca tablets, packets of pills and lots of sugary comfort food. All that extra weight really slowed up my commute and I can ill afford even an extra minute or two in my morning rush across the park to work. Aside from this, a lady should really never be seen carrying more than can fit into a neat alligator handbag.

So how did they make do back in the 30s and 40s? Well, I’m sure I’m not the only one to presume that treatments for colds were of a more natural ilk back then – and that we stuck to just one or two treatments. Most certainly, classics like the good old honey and lemon formula would have been high on the list of cures for the sore of throat.

I’ve also come across several recipes for the horribly pungent sounding Onion Syrup which was apparently a common treatment for a cough. Pretty nasty sounding stuff if you ask me.

Goose fat, too, seemed to be a handy thing to have around. When pasted into one’s chest and back with brown paper, it was thought to cure a cold (although why brown paper, exactly, I’m not sure…). In addition, swallowing a spoonful of goose-grease was thought to be a most excellent cure for a sore throat. So, depending on your ailment, you could be rendered a greasy, slippery, health and safety hazard (mostly to yourself) or spend the day with your throat clogged with fat.

As for the latter option, let’s just be sensible now, shall we? There is a reason why we’re not supposed to put fat down the kitchen-sink drain. It gets clogged. We should therefore really take a moment to consider our actions before we attempt the same act to our body’s equivalent of the kitchen-sink drain: the throat. What on earth made people think the results will be any different?

And then there was that warm alcohol, toddy-hot, yummy-sounding spiced thing….yes, something like that… Always keen to try new and exciting remedies I thought I’d have a bash at this one last year. For some reason I was sure the main ingredients were rum and milk and proceeded to concoct my ‘medicine’ from a mixture of the two.

Bleeeugggh.

Yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk YUK.

Ooh, it was far from naughty treat I was expecting! Turns out I’d got the recipe all wrong. My cold addled brain had somehow jumbled a hot-toddy (who’s main ingredient is whiskey or brandy, not rum, I might add…) with the warm milk children are given to help them sleep. Quite the mistake, it turns out – for the result made me feel positively worse.

Alongside the natural remedies for colds from the 30s and 40s I’ve discovered that there was also a surprising amount of pills and potions already pouring into the market.

Some have stood the test of time and have recognisable equivalents today:

Then and now….

And also these:

Now and then….

Other medicines offered at the time seem altogether more homespun, often laughable and, on occasion, slightly worrying.

For example, I find the stated colour (black) of these pills makes me a little nervous. Isn’t back the colour of doom? Such a colour will, in the very least, leave its unpleasant trace really quite noticeably on ones pearly whites. The Smith’s Brother’s obviously didn’t think about that.

I’m also pretty sure that 666 is the sign of the devil…….

Then there was the strange claim by the Pine Bros that ‘Dry Throat Breeds Germs of Coughs and Colds’. Not only does this statement distress me grammatically but it’s also rather odd and, might I add, *ahem* scientifically incorrect.

A throat in peak physical condition is not dry and a dry throat is most certainly uncomfortable. But to infer that a ‘Dry throat’ is the very condition that will accelerate the reproductive rate of germs (as the Pine Bros do here) is quite, quite wrong! As any 14 year-old worth their salt could tell you, bacteria (of which germs often consist) like warm, damp conditions. Consequently (and in contrast to the advert across the way to these words) I’d say a dry throat would be a most excellent deterrent to the breeding of germs and that it should be positively encouraged at times when colds are rife in the community. It’s the wet throat that we should be wary of…

And there you have it. I’m off to make a hot toddy – and I’ll be following a recipe this time…

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I’ll Have What She’s Having.

Food is good in so many ways. mmm mmmmmm.

Eat the right stuff and you’ll wave goodbye to rickety legs, hollow cheeks and scurvy skin. You’re hair will have that shiny bounce of the L’Oreal girls’ and your nails will be ridgeless and strong. Eat your heart out, acrylics.

* Eat the wrong stuff and you’ll get fat and acquire blocked arteries but we won’t dwell on that today.

You see, food is a jolly important part of life and, to be quite frank, I wouldn’t be without it. But is it important enough to sing about?

Oliver certainly thought so. And if a diet of gruel can inspire music then we really shouldn’t be surprised when we hear songs about cake, pork chops and, er, ‘celery stalks at midnight’. Because they’re all out there.

Intriguingly,  it seems that the Swing Era produced more than its fair share of songs whose lyrics focus on food.

What could possibly have befallen the singers and songwriters of the 20s, 30s and 40s to make them quite so keen to extol the virtues of potato chips, doughnuts and banana splits, you might ask?

Of course, we can approach the matter like esteemed professors of History – always a fun game. You know the sort of people I mean – those who are cultivated in highly respected, long-standing universities. Universities built with the all important red bricks that everyone raves about, and that put on formal dinners, and which only accept students who make a Scout’s Honour promise that they will be high achieving genii and dedicate their lives to hard work and study.

We can don a tweed suit, stitch leather patches to our elbows (study-wear should always be reinforced) and while away the hours in a wood panelled library that smells of dust and leather bindings and learned people.

We’d look at society’s increasing prosperity during the first half of the 20th century, at the increasing availability of food and at a culture that was enjoying more and more leisure (read: eating) time. We would break for tea and scones at 4pm to discuss our findings and maybe have a quick punt on the canal before returning to our study.

Research of this manner would all be very well and good (I do like tea and scones)  but I prefer sandstone to red brick and I only ever wear tweed in the country. We’re in London  now and must behave accordingly. (According behaviour, in this instance, is to realise that all is not what it seems in the world of foodie lyrics…)

Oh, those Swing musicians were crafty!  Sure, they were hungry. But hungry for what, exactly?

When the Four Clefs sing of liking pie and cake, don’t be fooled. That delicious sounding jelly-roll is not what you think it is! Not at all! Being an absolute lady, I shan’t talk about its true meaning in this post. Click here to find a perfectly succinct explanation.

(Excitingly bizarre video accompanying this recording…!)

To further my ‘hidden meaning’ point, have a listen to Julia Lee’s The Spinach Song. When she tells us that she ‘didn’t like it the first time’ she’s referring to quite a different green substance to that which is in the title. The sort of substance that is often found growing in student houses. And I don’t mean mould.

When Nat King Cole asks for Frim Fram sauce with ‘shafafa on the side’… well, do you really know what shafafa is?! One only needs to see where the camera cuts at  0.50 and to look at Nat’s expression at 2.18 to see that it may not be something one can buy. Not in a respectable café, anyway…

And Slim Gaillard’s potato chips? Were they just potato chips? Were they?

(well, actually, I think they were)

Anyway, it’s food (ha!) for thought. Jolly good songs, all of them, too. But if the very thought of their secret meanings leaves you feeling quite overcome with shock, then spare your blushes and make like the Historian. I promise you, you’ll have quite a fun time sitting quietly in the library. Tweed is really very warm so you won’t catch a chill despite the lack of heating. And the tea and scone break will provide a most pleasant interlude.

For those brave enough to pursue the matter of hidden meanings further, I’ve compiled a list of links to some more foodie songs from the Swing Era. Make of them what you will…

Shoot the Sherbet to me Herbert – Edith Wright

That Chick’s too young to Fry – Louis Jordan

Tutti Frutti – Slim Gaillard

Cole Slaw – Louis Jordan

It must be Jelly cos Jam don’t Shake Like That – Ray McKinley

Beans and Cornbread – Louis Jordan

Banana Split for my Baby – Louis Prima

Dunkin’ Bagel – Slim Gaillard

Salt Peanuts – Dizzy Gillespie

Celery Stalks at Midnight – Will Bradley

And, to finish off,  a couple on drinking …

Black Coffee – cover by The Careless Lovers

Bad, Bad Whiskey – Amos Milburn

Rum and Coca Cola – The Andrews Sisters

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The Devolution of Sunday Best

Sunday Best, Sunday Best, Sunday Best. What an oddly familiar yet strangely alien pairing of words. There’s some fashion history buried in there somewhere – and I’ll unravel that in a minute. But to me, she of the here and now, Young Lady of London 2012,  Sunday Best is something of a contradiction in terms.

Sunday is the day that I crash, you see. There is no ‘Best’ about it. It is the last  day of the week and a regrettable yet inevitable consequence of the previous six.

Far from being an occasion where I might don my very finest attire, I often don’t even make it out of my pyjamas on a Sunday. The idea of changing into something more appropriate for daylight hours seems quite, quite pointless if I plan to go no further than my living room.

So about the house I potter in my pjs, bemoaning my state of fatigue to anyone who’ll listen and attempting (but rarely completing) the same series of tedious chores that present themselves to me every week, every Sunday.

Monotony is a truly abhorrent trait. And it is a trait so horribly present in the aforementioned chores (washing, tidying, cleaning etc etc…) that I sometimes wish Sunday would disappear from the calendar altogether.

An alternative to the expulsion of Sundays would come in the form of a first-rate manservant and perhaps a young and eager maid (I’d have none of these disillusioned folk we’re presented with on the likes of Downton Abbey – my servants would know their place and stick to it).

Call me old-fashioned but I have always felt a certain need for domestic help. Having one or two servants (for that is all I would need) would alleviate so much of the hassle from my life and make the very act of living a more pleasant experience. It would leave me to live Sunday with the same glorious abandon as I live Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. AND I’d have a neat pile of fresh clothes, a sparkling house and breakfast in bed at the end of it. Now show me a young lady who wouldn’t agree to that as a set-up!

But I digress. Back to topic: where did this ‘Sunday Best’ come from? And where has it gone?

Well, there isn’t an awful lot on the old www about this so I’ve had to go for the traditional method of enquiry amongst real people.

My findings? It was Sunday Service and all that jazz that triggered it. (Well, maybe not the jazz, actually. There might well have been Hymns, though). Yep, that’s where dressing your very best on a Sunday seems to have come from: Sunday Service. Everyone wanted to look their best before God – and as God presumably only ever saw you on a Sunday (scrap all those references to his omnipresence in the Bible…), then the idea of Sunday Best is suddenly glaringly obvious, n’est pas? Hmmm.

Obviously, respectability went hand in hand with dressing in ones’ Sunday Best. For the gentlemen-folk, there would have been no jeans hanging waaaaaaay too low – you know, the sort that compel boys to walk with their legs wide apart so they don’t loose their trousers completely… (Eugh). For the ladies, there would have been no plunging necklines or teeny tiny rara skirts. Oh no. Definitely not.

Men would have worn a suit jacket and tie and women would have worn something high-necked, prim and very proper.

So has the devolution of Sunday Best come about because attending church plays less and less of a role in society? Or is the temptation to wear low-hanging trousers and rara skirts too great amongst the folk of today? And what of my pyjama wearing antics?

I’d say yes to the first and possibly to the second observation. As for the third, there has always been a burgeoning desire amongst people (religious included) to make Sunday a day for hanging out in pyjamas. I’m quite sure of it. Who in their right mind would choose formal-wear over flannelette? One only need take a look at  Norman Rockwell’s painting from 1959 to see that Pyjama Sunday is not a 21st century invention. And I know which person in the picture I’d rather be. I’m not sure it’s any more acceptable to wear your pyjamas all day long now than it was then but as I’ve no-one to answer to at this point in my life, I’m going to jolly well carry on doing it.

Long Live Pyjama Sunday.

Au Revoir Sunday Best.

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Got Any Gum, Chum?

Ah, the American GI. Bringer of sweets, romance, nylon stockings and a dance that was like no other.

Upon their arrival in Britain, each of the 1.5 million American soldiers who were to take up residence here during WW2 were issued with a copy of A Short Guide to Great Britain. This handy volume was full of invaluable advice and observations that would ensure no GI was left in any doubt of the British ways.

The following extract, I imagine, offered particular comfort to those who were shocked by the look of the British:

If British civillians look dowdy or badly dressed, it is not because they do not like good clothes or know how to wear them.

All clothing is rationed and the British know that they help war production by wearing an old suit or dress until it cannot be patched any longer. Old clothes are GOOD FORM.

Indeed! Goodness knows what a traumatic experience the war would have been for those poor Americans if they believed the Brits to be as tasteless as they looked.  I’ve no doubt that without the reassuring words of this booklet, they’d have taken one glance at the inhabitants of their new residence and have booked a ticket straight home. They would have then spent the following years regaling family and friends with tales of British women wearing last season’s dresses and educated men who spoke with cut-glass accents yet who had patches on the elbows of their jackets. Golly – A Short Guide to Great Britain – thank you for justifying our dowdiness.

And whilst the British were doomed to six years of dressing like frumps in the pursuit of constant ‘good form’, the GIs brought some transatlantic glamour to a luxury starved nation.

Sounding and looking as though they’d jumped straight out of a Hollywood movie, the American soldiers not only wore fine clothes but were handsome, polite and generous too. They were renowned for sharing their American-imported bounty with the locals and would often be trailed by hoards of excited children, each hoping to get a taste of some American candy or                                                                                 gum.

The ladies did well from the soldiers, too. Nylon stockings were a devil to get hold of during the war. As we all know, bare legs were certainly not the done thing and many amusing measures were taken to re-create the stockinged look. In bringing stockings over from the states, the GIs saved many a girl from taking measures her own hands and no doubt earned many a favour too…

(Taking measures into ones own hands usually meant painting something onto ones legs to give the appearance of a stocking – top of the amusement chart would be the use of gravy-browning mixed with water to achieve that, er, nylon look. There are worse things to smell of than a roast dinner but I think I’d have found myself a GI with a suitcase of stockings instead… )

And now to dancing. For the Americans were GREAT dancers. Dancing was, of course, very much established as a popular leisure time activity in Britain – we weren’t THAT far behind – but whereas the Brits were Fox-Trotting and Quick-Stepping about the ballrooms, the Americans were on to something new: the Jitterbug.

Full of energy, fast paced and wild, this dance wasn’t for the faint-hearted. The American soldiers were young and fit and the Jitterbug was a feat of athleticism. Soon, girls who were used to poise and elegance on the dance-floor were being thrown in the air, slung through legs and flipped over the shoulders of their partners. And they loved it.

This crazy new dance didn’t please everybody though and before long, ‘No Jitterbugging’ signs were to appear in dance halls around the country. But these signs would prove little barrier for a dance that was fast developing into a national obsession. Such was the craze for the Jitterbug that even when the  GIs left in 1945, the dance remained. It’s still thriving today – although it now calls itself the Lindyhop.

And it was into this world of vintage inspired Lindyhop dancing I tumbled last summer. Since then, like the girls during WW2, I’ve been hooked. It ticks all the boxes – providing lots of interesting people, being tremendous exercise… and the music! Oh what joyous music! There’s even still the odd American coming over – adding a touch of glamour and romance. And the Americans are still GREAT dancers. One can only hope we Brits have now upped our game on the clothing front…

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