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Dawn O'Porter interview for This Old Thing: The Vintage Clothes Show

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Dawn O’Porter is back on our screens this summer with a new show, This Old Thing: The Vintage Clothes Show, all about the world of vintage clothing, and how to make the most of it. Here, she expands on what the series is about, why she believes looking back is the way forward, and how she may be the first presenter in history to make a financial loss presenting a series.

Your new series is called This Old Thing: The Vintage Clothes Show. What’s it all about?
It’s about trying to get people to step away from the mass-production of the high street and incorporate some of the old with the new, so that they’ll not only be a bit more stylish and stand out, but it’ll also do something to combat this throwaway culture where people buy clothes and then chuck them away the next season. I want people to fall back in love with clothes like they did in the old days, and value what they buy a little more, and look after clothes better.

Why is vintage stuff less likely to be throwaway? Is it because it’s better made, or because it doesn’t go out of style, or is it something else?
I think it’s the fact that the styles are timeless, because they’re old-fashioned. So many designers now look to the past for their inspiration when creating new looks, but if you get one from the past, it won’t go out of fashion. Also, it’s not necessarily that they’re always better-made, but the styles are quite exciting, and I like the idea that I’m spending my money on clothes that not everybody else has. It allows you to have your own style without being dictated to by the fashion industry, and to have a style that doesn’t change so quickly. And another thing we focus on in the show is that women in the past used to make a dress, or have a dress made, and then if they put on weight they’d have it taken out, if they lost weight, they’d have it taken in, and they looked after their dresses and tried to keep them for life. So it’s the way that the clothes were made, and the way they were looked after. Plus the styles were great – you can sometimes buy modern versions of them on the high street, but they’re not really like the originals.

Your passion absolutely comes across in the programme. When and how did you first become interested in vintage clothing?
I think it’s always been there. My aunt and uncle, who bought me up, were big players in the fashion industry in London during the 60s. They were furriers and designers, and my aunt dressed some of the major windows on Oxford Street. So it was always talked about at the dinner table – the way clothes used to be made, how the fashion industry used to be, the importance of well-made clothes and style. And they’d talk to me about the old designers, the characters that they were, and the revelations that they came up with in the world of fashion, how they changed the way women dressed for ever. This was just a continuous conversation in our house, so it was always there. And I’ve always loved clothes, but in my early 20s I bought everything from the high street, but I couldn’t really get it right. I couldn’t keep up with trends, I couldn’t really be fashionable. But I really loved clothes. And then I discovered a vintage shop, and realised that I could dress for myself rather than for an industry or trend. I did a lot for my confidence, for the way that I felt about clothes and the way that I looked. It’s the feeling of “I’m wearing what I love,” rather than “I’m wearing what you love,” that I think is so great about vintage.

In the series, you had to convince vintage-sceptics to buy into the idea. What were their objections, and what are the objections that people in general have about vintage clothing?
Well, first of all, they think that someone died in them. To which I would say who cares? As long as they’re not still dead in them, it doesn’t matter.” Also they think it’s unhygienic, but if you go into a vintage shop and something is really stained, or it smells, don’t buy it. It doesn’t mean that it’s all like that. A small proportion of it is, but most vintage shops have carefully selected their stock. So it as about getting people over the fear and presumption that everything stank. And another thing that put people off was all the rummaging. What’s great about the high street is that you can go out in your lunch hour and buy a red dress in your size and everything’s very easy. And the thing about vintage is, you have to put the time in to buy stuff. But if you put the time in to buy the right stuff, your wardrobe is going to be full or stuff that you love, and getting dressed is going to be less stressful each day. I met people who were in full scale meltdown the whole time, because they had so many clothes but no defined style, and they didn’t know what to do with it all. I told them to have a wardrobe that was half the size, spend their money better, and take time to choose what they wanted.

How successful were you? Were there any real tough nuts to crack?
Yeah, there were two very tough nuts to crack – one woman called Lisa and one called Elissa. Lisa was 44, dressing like a 25-year-old, obsessed with standing out, wearing stuff that nobody else had. So she never shopped in the high street, but shopped in these boutique places, but all of these dresses were just wrong, they were too young for her. She wanted to dress more for her age, still fun, but just more suitable. But she hated the idea of vintage so much that I had to literally drag her into the shop. She thought it was disgusting – the idea of wearing something that somebody else had worn made her physically sick. She actually said it made her want to sick up in her own mouth. But by the end, we found this incredible blue chiffon dress that she couldn’t have looked more incredible in. She was totally transformed, it became her favourite dress.

Where should people shop for vintage clothing? Is it as simple as going to your local Oxfam store and rooting about, or should you go to a specific vintage clothes shop?
It’s very different from charity shopping. Much as I love charity shopping, vintage is a different thing. Vintage is at least 30 years old. The shops are like little boutiques, and the owners are people who have travelled the world looking for the items they stock. So it’s all been very well-edited by the time it’s in here. We filmed all over the country, and we found one of these shops in every town we visited, and found good stuff in every shop. So find your local vintage boutique and go and see what there is. Also, I love eBay. I’ll put in “vintage 70s red dress” and search, and loads of vintage 70s red dresses will come up. The chances of finding something are just limitless.

A lot of people have the impression that vintage is a great deal more expensive than high street stuff. It’s not necessarily, is it?
No. I bought the most amazing dress yesterday – full maxi-dress, 100 per cent cotton, really gorgeous, with pockets, and it was £24. Like all types of shop, some vintage shops are expensive, and some aren’t expensive. You just need to do a little research.

You visit loads of vintage stores during the series. Did you spot anything while you were filming and buy it?

Every. Single. Day. I’m addicted to it, I can’t help myself. I came home with bagfuls every day, and I’ve nowhere to put it. It’s all over the floor. But I like organised chaos.

Do you think it’s possible you’re the first presenter in TV history to have made a loss filming a series?
I think that’s very possible, yes!

How much time do you spend shopping?
Well, I’m buying now because I’ve got my own vintage business, so I have an excuse to do it all the time. I do a lot online, I do a lot on eBay. I suppose, when I’m not writing or filming or doing other jobs, I do about two-days-a-week. But it’s not all for me, it’s for the business.

Does Chris come with you, or would he rather pull his own teeth out?
He’s really good! He’s a good personal stylist, and he loves vintage shops too, so he’ll be in the men’s section, I’ll be in the girls’ section. It’s good.

Tell me about the business. What’s happening with that?
It’s called Bob, and it’s a vintage business. Well, it’s sort of half-and-half. I’m launching with 400 pieces of vintage that I’ve found all over the world, from my travels. And it encompasses all price ranges and all sizes. And then the other half of the business are my favourite dresses, that I’ve loved and I know I’ll never finmd again. And I’ve remade them in lovely fabrics, but they’re all very distinctly vintage styles. And there will be limited numbers of each one ever made. So it’s a mixture of the old and the new, which I think is the key. I’m not trying to get people to move away from buying new clothes altogether, I just think we should be incorporating some of the old stuff that already exists as well.

Did you learn anything while filming the series that might help you in your new venture?
So much, yeah. I learned a lot about how to dress different body shapes, and about quality of clothes. What I want to do is make a dress that will last a lifetime rather than a season. So I put seam allowances in the dress, which means that if she pits on an inch, she can take her dress out. It’s those little touches that vintage clothes have that the high street doesn’t, that I’m putting into Bob. It’s just about bringing back charming little touches like that.

You’re a TV-presenter, journalist, author and now dress designer and businesswoman. Is there any limit to your ambitions? Do you fancy becoming an astronaut or playing in goal for England?
Actually, it’s funny you should say that, that is my next ambition. I want to play for England. It’s just a matter of time… No, I want a life that is about books and dresses, and then I’ll be very happy, so I’m working my arse off at the moment trying to create that existence.


This Old Thing: The Vintage Clothes Show starts on Channel 4 Wednesday 25th June at 8pm.

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