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Book review: Gear Guide

Gear Guide

Gear Guide

Gear Guide

Gear Guide

Gear Guide

Little booklet Gear Guide – “who’s who in Carnaby Street & Kings Road” – was originally published in 1967 to chronicle the explosion of hip clothes shops in the early Sixties which had catapulted the capital from drag post-war greyness into an all-swinging shopping heaven by the middle of the decade.

London shops of the Sixties are a particularly favourite topic of mine, and this little guide book didn’t disappoint in supplying lots of interesting facts and a small glimpse into the world of fashion retail back then.

Gear Guide starts out by telling the story of London ‘gear’, from legendary shop Vince, which sold tight, colourful clothing to a largely gay but increasingly mod clientele in the Fifties, to John Stephen’s empire of boutiques, Mary Quant’s international brand success and the mid-Sixties love for all things Victorian.

It then details every shop on Kings Road and Carnaby Street, describing its stock (about Trecamp: “PVC macs, trouser suits, slacks and hanbags”), commenting on customer service (about Bazaar: “No one presses you to buy here but the service when you want it, is patient and prompt”) and decor (about Topper: “This boutique has a beautifully cool interior in weird purply shades.”)

Lastly, it offer some rather funny predictions of future fashion “It’s quite likely that soon you’ll be able to get a couple of mini-dresses and a pair of shoes, all in paper.” Well, not quite.

Packed full of maps, illustrations and black and white photographs, this is a fantastic insight into a really interesting point in style when mod fashion had been taken over by psychedelia and American hippiedom, and Swinging London’s peak had already passed.

An absolute must for anyone interested in Sixties fashion.

Gear Guide is currently £4.99 on Amazon.

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Book review: Style Me Vintage Tea Parties vs The Vintage Tea Party Year

In the last few weeks I was sent not one but two brand new books on vintage tea parties. The first one, The Vintage Tea Party Year (Angel Adoree, Mitchell Beatzley, now on Amazon from £12) is a follow up on Angels’ wonderful first book on tea parties, which, a year on, I still rate very highly to a point where it has become my go-to for recipes and cocktail ideas.

The second book is Style Me Vintage Tea Parties (Betty Blythe, Pavilion, now on Amazon from £6.99), the fourth book in a series that has so far covered vintage hair, make-up and fashion.

Just as her first book, Angel’s The Vintage Tea Party Year is jam-packed with wonderful recipes, cocktail ideas and decoration suggestions all accompanied by beautiful illustrations and mouthwatering images. Rather than just covering vintage parties in general, Angel has grouped her recipes by occasion, suggesting parties for events like a hen do, Christmas, Valentine’s or New Year’s Eve. I love how her suggestion have a real British feel and focus on traditional dishes rather than modern retro ideas – there’s not a cupcake in sight, phew!

While Angel’s book is primarily about recipes, Style Me Vintage Tea Parties is more of a manual on how to throw a party. Like the other books in the series, it’s very much an introduction to vintage style, ideal for vintage newbies but still an interesting read for those more in the know. Written by Lulu Gwynne, who runs the Betty Blythe tea room in West London (I’ve been, the cakes are delicious!), the book is divided into two parts with the first one focusing on tips on how to organise a party, etiquette and sourcing vintage decoration. The second one gives some ideas for vintage themes from a Victorian tea party to a 1950s street party, all including tips for music, dress, deco and a few recipes.

While I’m not sure whom the first part of the book is actually aimed at – I can’t see myself ever hiring a caterer or needing professional flower arrangements, useful for brides-to-be perhaps – some of the tips such as how to make the perfect pot of tea, or how to pour champagne,  were really interesting none the less. For me personally, quite a lot of the suggested party themes in the second part are a little too fancy dress rather than vintage (long cigarette holders and feather boas for a 1920s flapper look for a speakeasy party – a rather odd move given that the fashion book in the series went into great detail to dispel such cliches), but if you’re less of a historical stickler than me, they will give you plenty of inspiration. The Edwardian Breakfast – what a fab idea! – is definitely on my must-host-soon list. My only real gripe with the book is that it stops with the 1950s, leaving a self-confessed lover of the 1960s and 1970s like me with little to work with. Surely a 1970s dinner party complete with hostess trolly and pineapple sticks is just begging to happen!

If you can’t decide between the two, have a think about what you need – if you’re after classic British recipes and menu inspiration, then Angel’s book is definitely the one for you. But if you need step-by-step instruction for hosting a party with a vintage-inspired motto, then get Style Me Vintage Tea Parties. You can currently buy both books together for less than £20 – perhaps indulge yourself with both!

Find our more about the author on Google.

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Book review: Pictures at an Exhibition

I have to be totally honest, when I was sent Pictures at an Exhibition (Camilla Macpherson, Arrow, £5.59 on Amazon now) I thought it would firmly fit within the standard historical romance genre. You know, a bit kitsch, a bit sentimental, very much boy-gets-girl. But damn, was I wrong.

The book evolves around Claire, a modern-day 30-something Londoner who has just lost her first child in a late miscarriage. Overwhelmed with grief she becomes more and more distant from her husband Rob, whom she blames for the loss. When Rob inherits a pack of old letters from his Canadian-based grandmother, which were sent to her by her best friend and cousin Daisy during the London Blitz, Claire becomes obsessed about re-tracing Daisy’s Forties experience.

In the letters, Daisy writes about the National Gallery’s Picture of the Month Scheme, which saw one masterpiece displayed every month while  most other treasured paintings had been hidden away. Not only Daisy describe her monthly gallery visits and the paintings she sees but also her own unfolding life and love story.

Picture by picture, month by month, Daisy’s world in the Forties becomes more real to Claire than her own, and she starts noticing intriguing parallels between both their lives.

Camilla Macpherson does a wonderful job at weaving the narrative depicted in the National Gallery paintings, the story told in Daisy’s letters and Claire’s own experiences into a dense, atmospheric book that I could hardly put down. Far from being just about romance, the book asks some interesting and intelligent questions about motherhood – how much will a baby consume your life and your relationships – and paints a realistic image of the dreadful routine of life in London during the Blitz.

I found the book very well researched – the Picture of the Month Scheme really did take place – and Forties London is brought to live without the nostalgia and conjuring of the mythical community spirit so many other period novels seem to need to evoke.

I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t wait to find out what happens to both Daisy and Claire. Highly recommended!


book reviews Culture Vintage

Book review: Fashion Sourcebook -1920s


I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love flicking through vintage photographs and old magazines to not only get a better understanding of past fashions, but as in inspiration for my own style.

Not surprisingly then Fashion Sourcebook – 1920s (Fiell Publishing Limited, Charlotte Fiell and Emanuelle Dirix, £19.46 on Amazon right now), the first book of a new series on 20th Century fashion styles, completely bowled me over with its over 600 original photographs and fashion illustrations from the Twenties.

There isn’t a more comprehensive source to Twenties fashion that I can think of as the book chronologically details the seasonal changes and fashion trends of the decade, focusing on daywear, eveningwear, accossories, shoes, bridal and even sleepwear. The carefully selected adverts and fashion illustrations – fashion photography was still in its infancy in the Twenties – and images of every day women and celebrities of the day conjure up a deeply fascinating insight into a decade so radically different and incredibly rich in colour, fabrics and cuts.

The book also features a short but very useful introduction to the era, which quickly dispels the usual clichés of feather-clad flappers and over-knee hemlines.

Fashion Sourcebook – 1920s
is an absolute must for anyone interested in Twenties fashion or art deco. Once completed, the series  – The 1930s Sourcebook has just been published will be without a doubt the most comprehensive reference guide of vintage fashion and a wonderful and rich inspirational resource. An absolute delight.




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Book review: Wearable Vintage Fashion

I absolutely love vintage fashion books, whether they are on fashion history or focus more on ‘how to get the look’. Wearable Vintage Fashion (Jo Watershouse & Clare Bridge, Vivays, £15.56 on Amazon) falls into the latter category, aiming to serve as a source book for vintage lovers and guide to how to create period styles.

There are already some very good books out there which successfully do just that – from Style Me Vintage Clothes to the simply amazing Fashion Sourcebook series. Sadly, not only in comparison to these titles, but also as a stand-alone book on vintage, Wearable Vintage Fashion does not fulfill its premise.

Divided into individual, chronological chapters with each featuring one decade, the book showcases daywear, evening looks and accessories for each era. While the selected apparel is undoubtedly beautiful and representative of its period, the visual presentation is just terrible. Instead of being showcased on a model or dummy, the clothes have been photographed on a white background and are shown in a sort of collage.

Bizarrely the clothes are often not depicted in scale but are blown up or scaled down so that a skirt suit appears to be half the size of a pair of shoes and ear rings appear the same size as bags. I might be a stickler for details, but I was also amazed that the clothing hadn’t even been ironed and gorgeous Fifties frocks are displayed limp and wrinkled.

While the ‘get the look’ ideas make an ok read and are enhanced by wonderful original period photographs, there is a real lack of scope. In the chapter on the 60s for example you’ll find plenty of mini dresses (and one hideous 90s joke shop go go dress) yet not one mention of or reference to the styles, prints and cuts developed by the likes of Biba, Tuffin & Foale or Ossie Clark who all form a major part of Sixties fashion.

Each chapter also features an ‘icon’ section, showing how to imitate the style of the likes of Carmen Miranda or Edie Sedgwick. Again, the styling of this is so horribly gone wrong – think ill-fitting wigs and amateur photography – that I would find it funny to see these sections in a book on fancy dress but am amazed to see them included in a book on vintage style, which is is after all not at all about looking like a comedy cliché.

The last section of the book showcases a selection of vintage street styles, including many amazing vintage style bloggers whose blogs I follow religiously. While I really enjoyed reading these portraits, again the section was spoilt by terrible images taken at events like Vintage at Southbank, that just aren’t good enough to be featured in a book.

Sadly, Wearable Vintage Fashion, can’t be taken seriously as a book on vintage or modern interpretations of vintage fashion. Let down by its terrible layout and amateur approach to styling, this book is quite possibly the worst one on vintage I have ever come across and should most definitely be avoided!

Beauty book reviews Culture Fashion History of fashion Vintage

Book review: Vintage Style

I fully admit I was rather dubious when I first read about Vintage Style: Iconic Fashion Looks And How To Get Them (Carlton Books), a book which promises to show me how to “steal the style of 25 famous fashion icons”. Just why would anyone read a book on how to copy someone else’s style, when the very essence of style is all about uniqueness and expression of identity?

Well, thankfully author Sarah Kennedy has written a book about what constitutes style and image and the enhancing effect of clothing rather than a how to guide on being an invariably bad impersonation of a past celebrity. This book isn’t about looking like Marlene Dietrich, it’s about dissecting how Dietrich created her own style, where she took her inspiration from, how she made clothes work for her body shape. It’s not about copying Marianne Faithful but letting yourself be inspired by her rock’n’roll girlfriend look.

And trust me it works. This book really is hugely inspirational, largely given to Kennedy’s excellent selection of stylish women from Louise Brooks via Wallis Simpson, The Mitford Sisters, Talitha Getty to Joan Jett and Diana Ross.

Each chapter focuses on one of these iconic dressers and examines their style, the colour palette they wore, the designers and labels they favoured, their hair and make-up and most of all what made them so stylish in the first place, which again and again comes down to making the best of their bodies, embracing what they had and just going for it.

Kennedy’s knowledge of vintage styles and fashion history is faultless, her tips on what kind of vintage pieces to shop for are relevant even to a seasoned vintage wearer like me, and her own passion for vintage is evident throughout. I loved her lamenting the demise of flapper style into cheap fancy dress and wholeheartedly agree with her that vintage is as much about ‘the hunt’ as it is about wearing your finds.

Fortunately Kennedy also does away with the idea of body shapes for eras. Her style dissections are about discovering your own style, daring to be you, finding inspiration not reshaping yourself in the image of others – in the chapter on Marilyn she for example writes: “To get Monroe’s curvaceous look, you don’t need her body but you do need to understand how to best flatter your own assets.”

Visually the book appeals with many carefully selected and often rare photographs that illustrate the different facets of a look encompassing day wear, leisure wear, shoes and accessories as well as hair and make-up.

More so, each chapter gives some insight into each icon’s life, and it makes a fascinating read to learn more about why Wallis Simpson chose the harsh, minimalist look she made her trademark and why Audrey Hepburn, who was a ballet dancer before she became an actress, dressed the way she did.

Vintage Style is an excellent excursion into past fashions and personal sartorial expression. Whether you’re totally new to vintage or a seasoned pro, this book will make an interesting and inspirational read. I often get asked about how to create vintage styles, or even what constitutes personal style – well now I finally have a book I can recommend.


Beauty book reviews Culture Vintage

Book review: Style Me Vintage – Make-Up

The second book in the Style Me Vintage series (you can read my review of the first one, which is about vintage hair styles here) is all about vintage make-up. Written by Miss Powderpuff herself, Katie Reynolds, founder of London beauty and pampering service The Powderpuff GirlsStyle Me Vintage – Make-up (£9.99) features step by step instructions on how to recreate iconic looks from the Twenties to the Eighties.

Much like the first book in the series, each decade features an original style icon (say Clara Bow for the Twenties) as well as a modern take on the look, followed by detailed instructions on how to recreate the original, vintage make-up style. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and each look is completed in under ten steps.

Highlights include Marlene Dietrich’s screen siren style, Marylin’s subtle sexiness and – my favourite – Twiggy’s iconic Sixties eye make-up (pictured).

The book goes right up into the Eighties, and although I can’t see myself trying out the heavy Siouxie Sioux make-up (pictured), I really enjoyed learning how to create an Eighties punk look.

For me, the fact that the book covers every decade and focuses on later looks including the Eighties is one of its strongest points as many other vintage make-up books and online tutorials seem to not go any further than the early Sixties.

My only criticism – if any – would be that it would have been nice to include looks for non-white skin tones, just as the first Style Me Vintage book fails to include any tips for Afro hair – the editors sure missed a trick there.

Regardless, Style Me Vintage – Make-up is a fab book for anyone interested in vintage looks – or make-up as a matter of fact – especially vintage newbies will appreciate the detailed instructions and excellent pictures. Although it might not quite be as detailed as vintage make-up bible Retro Make-Up, even me – a seasoned vintage wearer – found this an interesting read. Best of all, the looks are authentic rather than a pastiche of past styles and Katie’s passion for vintage styles is obvious throughout, definitely one to buy!

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Review: Atelier Mayer Magazine

Whenever I’ve got a spare minute or two I browse the amazing vintage pieces for sale in London-based vintage boutique Atelier Mayer, which although far beyond my price range are yet inspirational to look at.

Owner Carmen Haid has a great eye for detail and a real passion for vintage, so I was delighted when I found out Atelier Mayer will be publishing a biannual, limited edition soft-paper magazine.

I really enjoyed reading the first issue, which won me over with an engaging feature on Twenties and Thirties fashion illustrator Douglas Pollard and a brilliant story on vintage uniform collectors Cliff Muskiet and Mike Stenitschka, which is illustrated with dozens of images of their incredible collection of airhostess uniforms.

This has been one of the rare occasions that I’ve actually read a magazine from cover to cover, and although some of the features didn’t quite interest me as much (yet another fashion spread with Bip Ling) I would absolutely recommend this, the images of Sixties stewardess uniforms are worth it alone.

The magazine is available in London, Colette in Paris and Ginette in Beirut and wrapped with hand-painted wallpaper from the 1920s-50s.

book reviews Culture Vintage

Book review: The Vintage Tea Party Book

There are three things that will always instantly win me over: vintage, cake and good design. Not surprisingly then I absolutely adore The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree. Those of you who watch BBC’s ‘Dragons’ Den’ might be familiar with Angel, who came on the show last year to pitch her Vintage Patisserie. I’ve been lucky enough to sample Angels’ delicious treats and delights at various vintage parties myself, and it’s always a treat to see her and her team of vintage-clad waitresses.

The Vintage Tea Party Book is essentially a step by step guide to hosting your own vintage afternoon. Covering everything from invites to setting the scene, sweet and savoury recipes to drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and how to get the perfect Forties party hair, this is a great compendium of ideas and has given even me, a hardened tea party veteran, some fresh inspiration. Whether or not you’re actually going to host a tea party, you will find it hard to pass on recipes such as whiskey marmalade or jasmine tea with bubbly, and I thought the deco ideas such as making a mobile of bird silhouettes a welcome change from the usual all too girly candles and flowers.

The book manages to stay personal and very much reflects Angel’s own personality and style without ever being patronising or too complicated. Best of all, you can tell it’s written by someone who loves and understands vintage through and through and doesn’t just jump on the vintage bandwagon to cash in on the ever growing popularity of afternoon tea.

With its beautiful illustrations and photographs it’s a joy to look through too so that for your £20 you get a coffee table-worthy style, cooking and decorating guide that’s a must for anyone interested in vintage, good cake and a potent cocktail – and quite frankly, who isn’t?

The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree, published by Mitchell Beazley,

Find our more about the author on Google.

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Book review: Retro Makeup

I really enjoyed reading Lauren Rennells’ first book on vintage hairstyling, which I still rate as one of the best step-by-step guides for re-creating vintage hair. I’m all the more excited she has now published a book on vintage make-up styles: Retro Makeup.

The book is packed with easy to re-create make-up styles from the Twenties to the Sixties. Each decade features several looks and in-debth details on favoured styles and techniques. I loved that the author has included original make-up tips from each era and each chapter includes fascinating details on the development of make-up and the history of famous brands and products as well as lesser known make-up fads – who knew Twenties girls would pull down their stockings and paint their knees with stars or other symbols that would flash up when dancing charleston!

I also loved that the book includes many looks for dark or Asian skin tones and specifically outlines how to adapt looks to your own skin colouring or eye colour. As with her book on hair styles, Lauren has also included a guide on modern make-up utensils and details many useful techniques such as how to correctly pluck your eye brows – something I have never managed to master!

The highlight for me includes a very detailed chapter on how to get the perfect eye flick using different techniques and products. Having read dozens of articles on this, this is hands down the best guide I’ve ever come across. The detailed Sixties eye make-up is another favourite of mine and has given me plenty of ideas to experiment more.

My verdict: a brilliant, well researched and beautifully illustrated book jam-packed with vintage styles that are easy to re-create with modern utensils using basic make-up products most of us will already have. The historical facts make this a pleasure to read even if you don’t intend to try out the styles. A must for anyone interested in vintage or the history of make-up.

Buy for £17 from Pin-up Parade

book reviews Culture Vintage

Book review: Boutique London A History: King’s Road to Carnaby Street

I picked up Boutique London A History: King’s Road to Carnaby Street by Richard Lester ( ACC Editions) last weekend and pretty much read through it in one afternoon. Starting off in the later Fifties, the book chronicles the gradual rise of Carnaby Street and Kings Road as the two most fashionable streets of the 1960s.

Featuring shops such as ‘Top Gear’ and ‘His Clothes’, as well as more famous ones such as ‘Granny Takes a Trip’ and, of course the Biba Boutique, the book really captures what made these shops such a success: the youthful determination of the designers and shop owners, who – bored with the old – decided to make fashion on their own terms.

I loved reading about the people behind the shops – what motivated Ossie Clark, how did Mary Quant set up shop – and found it quite inspirational to read that most of these people had nothing – no experience, no money – and yet through utter determination and hard work somehow made it, simply because of their love for fashion.

Boutique London also contains some great photos and illustrations again very inspirational to me – as well as interviews and quotes from retailers and shoppers.

If you’re interested in the history of British fashion or if you’re a modern-day shop owner in need of some inspiration, this is an absolute must read.

book reviews Culture Vintage

Tried and tested: Style Me Vintage

I’ve been wanting to buy the new vintage hairstyling book  Style Me Vintage by Belinda Hay ever since I stumbled across her  East London vintage salon The Painted Lady.

Belinda’s book promises easy setp-by-step techniques to some of the most popular vintage hair styles from finger waves, the peek-a-boo and Victory Rolls to the beehive and bouffant. And it doesn’t disappoint.

For starters, the book design is great, it’s a proper hard back and each hair style is accompanied by several pictures showcasing how the hair style was originally worn and its modern counterpart.

Then the styling instructions are easy, clear and illustrated with pictures for each stage. Thank goodness also that  all models are wearing period make-up and clothes – clearly a lot of effort has gone into getting each era just right.

While there aren’t that many styles in this book – only about ten – the highlight for me is that Style Me Vintage includes several Sixties styles such as the beehive, bouffant and Joan Holloway-esque up-do that are often neglected in other vintage hairstyling guides. I’ve tried out a Bardot inspired up do, which took me all of 15 minutes and turned out great the first time – result!

My verdict: a beautifully designed and illustrated book with excellent instructions on how to re-create classic period hair styles. My new vintage hair bible.

£9.99 on Amazon

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