Novelist, TV presenter and journalist Tara Moss is perhaps best known for her nine bestselling novels, international journalistic career and her work as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Yet she is also a passionate vintage girl with a special penchant for the Forties. Here, I’ve caught up with her to talk about her favourite vintage eras, her vintage inspirations and the role of vintage as an alternative to the pressures of marketing on women.

Tara MossQueens Of Vintage: When did you discover your love for all things vintage? What was it that got you interested?

Tara Moss: I have long loved vintage photography and the look of vintage clothing, and I have a keen interest in Victorian and mid-century history, particularly WWII and the early post-war period. My house contains a lot of ‘relics’, you could say. I collect forgotten wedding portraits, largely Victorian and Edwardian, and I have something of a fetish for old luggage, trunks and boxes, and broken artefacts of the past. (I’m not sure what Freud would have to say about that.)

But despite all my interest in history, and the designs and styles of the past, I persisted in wearing modern clothing until late 2012, when I finally decided that my pre-baby wardrobe didn’t fit me or suit me anymore, and rather than a) lose weight or b) buy a bunch of new modern things, I would find an ‘old’ wardrobe of pre-loved vintage that better suited my more curvy shape. I am very tall, but have a large waist to hip ratio (12 inches or so), and most modern clothing is cut for a straighter figure with slimmer hips.

My daughter was nearly two when I finally made my vintage turn. I hadn’t found it easy to source vintage for my height, so I basically just decided to learn where to look and what to look for. I suspect that something about turning 40 and feeling freer in myself also gave me the confidence to cast off the old armour and step into an ‘old school’ look that didn’t conform so closely to what I saw around me.

Do you have any eras you particularly like? What attracts you to them?

Tara Moss: I am fascinated by the Forties WWII period, and early post-war era, in part because my Oma and Opa (Dutch grandparents on my mother’s side) survived occupied Holland, and my Opa escaped a Nazi work camp in Berlin. The strength of the survivors of that period of human history inspire me, and the rationing and ‘make do and mend’ philosophy that got them through those years is something we can, on some level, learn from today.

I am trying to moderate my use of ‘things’, and my level of waste. I am by no means good at it yet, but it is a direction to move in and something to look to. That things in the past were made with care and repaired rather than discarded appeals to me a great deal, as does the attention to detail, fit and tailoring.

In your novels you often write about paranormal phenomena.Many people feel a strong connection to the previous owners of their vintage pieces, do you ever think about the history and people behind vintage pieces? Do you think past and present owners might have a special connection?

Tara Moss: I can’t claim a strong, literal connection to the previous owners of my vintage and antiques, except for those passed down from my late mother. I do however feel there is a tangible kind of ‘life’, or ‘heart’ in pre-loved clothing and jewellery, as well as old furniture and buildings, particularly old houses. New things are ‘blank’ to me, while old things are imbued with a feeling, usually something very good, and but sometimes sad.

We holiday in a vintage Viscount caravan done up in Fifties kitsch style, and it has a cheery personality and real charm that can’t fully be accounted for by our own experiences with it. It has a life of its own, a history. In my Pandora English series of novels I have an older character who was a designer to the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She wears wonderful vintage designs and has a story with each one. A dress made for Hedy Lamarr, a suit worn by Lauren Bacall. It is interesting to consider what the walls of an old house have seen, or a special dress. These things outlive us.

Are there any vintage websites or blogs that inspire you particularly?

Tara Moss: I love Queens of Vintage, particularly the interviews with vintage couples. It was one of the first blogs I began to follow. Super Kawaii Mama’s blog is very good, and I find Micheline Pitt and Doris Mayday wonderful, including Micheline’s recent vintage-style hair and makeup DVD. I am also rather a fan of StutterinSarah’s vintage shop on Etsy. She finds great pieces, the measurements are always accurate and everything is well priced for quality. For reproduction, I favour Rocket Originals, Miskonduct, Vivienne of Holloway and Freddies of Pinewood. I’m always looking out for things with a long cut for my height.

What is your favourite ever vintage find?

Tara Moss: Our vintage caravan is my favourite vintage find, and it brings me a lot of pleasure to spend time in it, even in our driveway. I sometimes go out there to work on my books in the quiet confines of its bright interior. Clothing wise, I have a few memorable favourites. I found a handmade WWII era dress in an immaculate vintage shop, Glencheck, in Berlin, which specialises in Forties vintage. The worn cotton feels so silky to the touch, and the dress has been made with such care, such love and labour that I marvel at the quality of the dress every time I put it on. The buttons are mother of pearl, and the cotton is a strong red and black check. Very Bacall.

Another favourite find is a late Fifties ‘Otta Fir’ faux fur swing coat found in the Blue Mountains at Pink Flamingo. Both are in excellent vintage condition and were very inexpensive. Affordable quality is just one of the things that impresses me about vintage.

caravan

You are very outspoken about feminism and societal pressures on women – do you think that the recent renewed interested in vintage is linked to a rejection of contemporary ideals of femininity and an embrace of creating your own identity and body image?

Tara Moss: Contemporary ideas of femininity are of course limited and at times problematic – that has always been true to some degree. Arguably what has changed most is how far reaching advertising is now. There is a real need to step away from the powerful contemporary marketing machine – to take a step outside the path of least resistance and consider what you want for yourself, what is helpful and harmful on a personal level and in the bigger picture.

Feminism is not a style or a lipstick, and of course it is problematic to claim too close a link between the political and the aesthetic, particularly in terms of the feminine, where there is already too strong a focus on the visible. However, there is an indirect but significant link between these two parts of my life with respect to the fact that they both require stepping outside the norm, and rejecting the dominant existing pressures.

I enjoy style and design, but not ‘fashion’. By my definition, one is about something aesthetically pleasing or creative, and the other is about market forces driving sales and trends. By embracing the former, and rejecting the latter, I stay true to my genuine interest in the visible world, while stepping neatly out of the primary line of fire of a multi-billion dollar industry that seeks to influence buying habits and beauty norms. The ‘beauty standard’ as it is often called, is easily shattered, or at least greatly diminished by such a simple move. Once you embrace a look that is ‘other’ than what is fashionable in the mainstream, the magazines, the billboards and shop windows hold little sway or interest – but then I don’t need to remind anyone visiting this blog of that. It is part of the appeal.

This is not to say that nothing modern interests me. I still model for Jacqui E, who create modern clothes for working women. I enjoy Vivienne Westwood’s work. But the vast majority of the time, when I am looking to style to brighten my day (it does that for me), it is found in a 60 year old photograph rather than a new advertisement. And I recreate something of that look with a bobby pin and a hair flower, or perhaps a different combination of my existing vintage clothing and a different tie of my scarf, not a new head to toe ‘on trend look’, created by a mass market international brand that invests millions or even billions on marketing.

Vintage, like recycling, is one way to step outside the dominant systems of marketing and commerce, and even reproduction vintage is generally made by small business, or even sewed by hand by vintage lovers in a spare room. There is something beautiful about the small and local feel of the scene. It is part of what draws me in. I’ve also found the vintage scene to be more ‘beauty diverse’ than mainstream fashion, acknowledging and catering to different body shapes and ages, even if there is still some way to go in terms of cultural diversity. The greater diversity is refreshing.

Do you think your daughter will grow up to be a vintage girl?

Tara Moss: I do sincerely hope she will inherit a sense of the value of recycled objects and clothing, an appreciation of quality, and the knowledge that she is free to reject the path of least resistance to choose her own way.

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