Monday, 17 June 2013

Cheap Chappette Style (Olympiad & Vintage Event Dressing On A Budget)

There are some events where everyone dresses up. Events where half the point is to people watch, to see and be seen. Events such as The Chap Olympiad, which pop up once a year in the vintage calendar and provoke a mad panic of 'what shall I wear?'. It's part of the fun and part of the hell of getting ready ... and sometimes all those lucky people with perfect late 40s Dior or made-to-measure repro can be pretty intimidating to those of us on a more modest budget. Ha, never fear! One of the great things about these events is their creativity - in all but the most joyless, geekiest snobfest (and who would want to go to an event like that anyway?) when you look closely you'll see a myriad of different styles, budgets and methods. If you look closely at some of the perfect 'just got papped' blogger types, you may well note it's their sharp eye for styling and not their budget that gave them the edge. So here are some ideas on how to dress for those 'big' vintage days out without breaking the bank...

Be Yourself

Me, being kitsch and 70s (Holly Hobbie anyone?)
photo courtesy of Penny Dreadful Vintage.

There is no point in trying to be someone you're not. Trust me, I learned the hard way. The first Olympiad I attended I wore a beige tea-dress and a bun. Yes. Because that was like what proper vintage ladies were wearing. I felt like a right plum - it just wasn't me. There are no photos, thankfully. Think about your style and combine it with the style or era of the event - for example the 50s covers everything from beatniks to bombshells to bobby-soxers. Sure, now I might never look quite like a 40s aristocrat, I don't do victory rolls or buns and rarely red lips- but no-one objects. I've only ever had one comment at a vintage event (Vintage at Southbank) and they were a knob. I never met them before or since, but the fact they made such comment made them a knob and "I diskard them".

My usual 60s-70s-indie style is not really Olympiad material. As dressing up is part of the fun, I do adapt my look to the event - however, I learned my lesson with the beige year - and patterns, favourite colours, wacky shoes and patterned tights are all part of the look. Last year I went OTT on the 'nostalgia' element and went for late 70s Victoriana; it fitted in perfectly, enabled me to wear things I would anyway, and there was none of that skirt-tugging-this-just-feels-odd you get sometimes. Not only is this more comfortable, it's also budget friendly; even buying new within your usual style will save you money on accessories, make up and so forth. Plus, you're much more likely to get wear out of the item in future. The variety of styles and looks is illustrated beautifully by Margaret of Penny Dreadful Vintage in her post on last year's two-dayer. Also check out her Facebook Album of the event; count the different looks ...when you look closely even something as niche as 'Chap' isn't quite as niche as it seems.

Basically, yeah, don't feel obliged to go down Vivien of Holloway and spend your life savings on dresses the moment you get your mitts on a ticket. Unless of course you're rockabilly or 50s or someone who wears lots of frocks!

Elegant 20s style from Penny Dreadful:
you don't need victory rolls to do vintage!

Charity Shop & EBay Style

Yeah, you knew I was going to say it. Find items in charity shops (or with an infamous "max price £5" search on the Bay of E) and dress them up. Sounds more simple than it is in real life? Yep. This method takes forward planning; you can't (unless you are my lilac-loving drinking buddy who has the chazza shop zen) just walk in and find a perfect event dress the week before. You have to go every week or two, year round. Keep a little shopping list in mind. Something that takes account of day-to-day wear, and events (both vintage and mainstream) you go to. My little mental shopping list goes:
  • Maxi and midi skirts (especially checked & A-line)
  • 70s blouses
  • 60s-80s kitsch dresses especially in teal, black, brown, red or multicolour
  • Floaty hippy crap
  • Any reasonably priced modern clothing that can pass for the above...
...sometimes I find nothing of this list. Sometimes I find a teal maxi bridesmaid dress circa 1978 for £3.99. You just don't know. However the crucial bullet point, if you're going to find something for events like The Olympiad, is the last one. Don't hold out for a perfect 40s frock: not only is it highly unlikely one will appear these days in a charity shop, it will also be expensive, likely as not the wrong size, and may require restoration. Forget those people on twitter who 'just find stuff' - it's their job to just find stuff. Remember: if no one can see the label and it looks vintage-good, it's all good. You may well find an M&S Classics twinset or a Debenhams prom dress for under a tenner. Put them with the right stuff and they'll look brill. They're cheap. They'll wash well without worry. And - I feel - they're almost more ethical than lovely vintage, delightful as it is. No one chucks proper vintage away - but everyday clothing, much of it fine to wear, does end up in landfill. Landfill ...or fabulous? Plus, if you go to chazzas in the right area, you'll find designer and 'branded' items hardly worn. I cannot tell you where these areas are, because my fellow members of the Secret Guild Of Charity Shoppers would throw me to the gigantic granny in the volcano as a punishment if I did, but let's just say anywhere with well-off people with teenage or older kids still at home... maybe the smaller, local high street not the big flash one... that's all I can say. Now GO!

Retrochick in lovely aqua Paul Costelloe
You might be surprised at how many really very stylish vintage bloggers use charity shop finds for event wear. Gemma of RetroChick wore an amazing sports-themed novelty print dress, cut on the bias in a 30s style to last year's Olympiad. Oh, and it was... from a chazza. This woman is a LEGEND of the charity shop sweep. A LEGEND I tell you. Her post on re-styling polyester charity shop dresses is a must-read for any budget vintage fan

High Street "Repro"

Just as charity shops are a source of items both value vintage and vintage-alike, the high street can definitely hide gems. On the one hand, classic lines (aka granny lines) are great places to source knitwear, blouses and classic cuts of trouser and skirt. On the other, even fast-fashion 'young' shops come up with some belters now and again: you have to keep your eye out, but with the recent trends for retro and 'shabby chic' all over the place, there are definitely items to be found. And they can work out a lot cheaper than 'proper' repro brands (of which, ironically, you are more likely to see two girls in the same at a vintage event!).

Me, at a wedding, in Primark. And yes, that's a roll in my
hair. I like to mix it up a bit sometimes, OK?

As with every purchase, always check it's worth it. Does it fit? Will it wash? Can you wear it with other items in your wardrobe? Ultimately; will you wear it again? If the answer's yes, then a high street find styled well can look stunning at a vintage event. I tend to accessorise with vintage or simply items from different brands/years - going with the 'suggested' accessories can seem same-y.

Have a good look at details, some can be overcome, some less so. If you're going for pre-60s and not sportswear- the skirt needs to be below the knee. Similarly, no low-rise waists for anything before the Summer of Love. But a bit of cleavage and a tight belt may well up the bombshell-factor. Think about patterns too; novelty prints are fun, but cheap lipsticks-and-handbags prints can look very 'dressing up', and unless you want to kitsch it to high heaven (which is always an option!) more basic prints may work better. Or, go bigger, bolder and more extreme for a clearly 'pin up' or 'pop art' take on your era... comic book and pop art prints are big this year, and can make a big ultra-glam impact.

As you may notice from these pictures, certain patterns and colours are particularly useful and crop up perennially. Leopard print, polka-dots, florals and checks are all classic patterns. 

Jane Norman and River Island for Ric Rac... via the sale.
With lots of old charms and bling.


Of course, the original price of something is not the only indication of value. If you follow the 'is it me?' path, then treating yourself to some lovely original vintage or repro items for an event will become well worth it as you wear them again and again. I recently purchased some tweed swing trousers from Heyday! and although they were more than I usually spend, their versatility and quality have had me wearing them at least once a week since. So if you're looking for a great LBD or a perfect vintage handbag, and you know you'll use it again and again, a more costly item may actually be the best choice.

What are your favourite bargain outfits? Have you ever wowed at an event in something that you got for a snip?

Post with many thanks to Margaret of Penny Dreadful and Gemma of Retrochick for kindly sharing their photos.


  1. Good advice all :) Like you I'm a recent convert to Heyday - more than I usually spend with my eBay habit, but SO worth it for the wear I get out my swing trousers. So much so I've just bought a navy pair in addition to my tweed! Ps I'd forgotten about the sporty print on Gemma's dress, wasn't it wicked x

  2. Sweets, this is a great post!! And number one, being yourself is paramount!!!

  3. What a great post I always hope for that elusive charity shop gold.....

    I did get a gorgeous vintage cheongsam style velvet dress on Ebay for a song that I wore to a work Christmas party. I have never ever had so many compliments and people's jaws hitting the floor when I confessed how much I had paid for it.

  4. Fabulous post! I adore opshoppng and get great pleasure out of telling someone my dress cost $10 when we are at some big event

  5. What a fabulous post! It really is about being yourself, isn't it? You look particularly lovely in your prairie dress.
    Flowing any previous era slavishly in my opinion just looks costume-y and like fancy dress.
    I often get dragged away from my stand and photographed, not sure whether I'm particularly stylish or just too loud to miss. xxx

  6. I love how you look different in each shot but still totally you! You give some great advice and look so pretty in all your pictures!

  7. Great post, loving these tips! I have in the past felt quite uncomfortable at vintage events, I love getting dressed up but feared getting it all wrong. Not sure why but I found the Vintage at Goodwood a few years back made me feel particularly uncomfortable. I have since taken the approach that I will wear what I like and what I feel comfortable in. I love doing retro hair and make up but unfortunately rarely have time. My favourite pieces were a bright green fifties floral dress in silk from ebay which I got for about £20 and a synthetic fifties dress which I got for nothing at a clothes swap and always get compliments on.

  8. Excellent tips! And I love your photos. You look great and are correct to diskard the fule. The beauty of seeing everyone's outfits is seeing them being themselves and expressing their own sort of vintage. (One day I will meet you in person! That will be aces.)

    I agree with the 'go regularly, know your shops' approach to chazza shopping. I've been getting a lot of compliments on outfits lately, and people are usually startled that everything I'm wearing, excluding shoes and undies (which I don't buy secondhand) will have cost less than £20. But I have weeks when I don't find anything. It's a matter of keeping at it.

  9. I am all for making an outfit out of thrifted / ebay finds :)It's all the fun of getting dressed!

  10. After once spending nearly £80 on a vintage dress and having it rip the first time I tried to put it on I decided expensive vintage wasn't for me! I need my clothes sturdy, so if I spend lots of money it tends to be on new "designer repro" that I can at least send back in a sulk if I rip it! Mostly my whole wardrobe comes from charity shops, eBay or the High Street.

    Some top tips there, and calling me a legend has given me an urge to go back out on a charity shop spree!

    1. Yeah, I was gutted when the bottom cracked in one VERY pricy bag I got from a dealer. All my charity shop vintage bags are still in great condition!

  11. Loved this post. As a fellow 60s/70s wearer I completely agree. It's all about being yourself otherwise you'll spend the whole event fidgeting and not feeling comfortable. It's all about style anyways, who cares if it's vintage, second-hand or new?


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