Faking it

7 February 2004

12:00 AM

7 February 2004

12:00 AM

The other day some newspaper or another reported the actress Joely Richardson as turning up to promote her role in the TV series Nip/Tuck in a ‘vintage’ jacket. It seems modish for celebs from the dreary Gwyneth Paltrow to Julia Roberts to arrive at parties and premieres in ‘vintage’ dresses. Indeed, wealthy young women all seem to be doing it. There has been a proliferation of vintage dress shops all over London. Some of the clothes on sale were made as long ago as the 1950s.

When I see actresses going about in these outfits I always think they look slightly odd. Our mothers and grandmothers, for a start, were shaped differently from us. They were much more petite, and, with the exception of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, smaller-breasted. According to a book I have on classic old films, the average height of Hollywood actresses in the 1950s was only 5ft 4ins. The result is that even slim-figured women like Winona Ryder and Ms Richardson look as if they are wearing old clothes that are two sizes too small for them. Moreover, even the most respectable vintage outfit looks, after 50-odd years, a little threadbare and faded. But the craze seems to show no sign of letting up, particularly in America.

When I was there, recently, I was persuaded into buying an early Sixties coat with a fur collar. ‘You look just like Jackie Kennedy,’ purred a local woman. When I arrived back in London wearing my glamorous ‘Jackie’ coat the first friend who saw me in it gasped in horror and cried, ‘My God, you look like your grandmother!’

When I took it home and looked at myself in a full-length mirror I concluded that she was right. I looked like a granny in a black coat. Moreover it was made of some heavy material, obviously popular at the time, and weighed a ton. I looked like a cross between a granny and Richard III.

Why can’t we face the facts and just tell the truth here? What is all this gobbledegook about ‘vintage’ clothes. Let’s call a Sixties button a Sixties button. ‘Vintage clothes’ is simply a clever euphemism for old clothes that don’t fit. The clothes that people used to find in attics and dress up in. Or the clothes people used to buy in Oxfam shops. I mean, can’t the likes of Ms Richardson afford new clothes? Is she so poverty-stricken that she cannot walk into Valentino or Chanel and buy a dress from their new collections?

Or has this now become the common thing to do? Having done some research in vintage shops I find that their clothes are more, not less, expensive. ‘Just look at that hand-stitched beading and embroidery,’ some enthusiast will coo. ‘They don’t make them like that any more.’ I am not surprised, given that most of the beads are hanging by a thread and much of the embroidery is missing. If they tried to sell them in Marks & Spencer I would ask for my money back.

Evidently, it is more prestigious to pay £4,000 for a dress that is coming apart than £1,000 for one that is not. If so, I really would direct these ladies to the traditional thrift shop.

In one charity shop in St John’s Wood I bought a secondhand Christian Dior handbag for £50. About eight months later, it fell apart. When I took it to the Christian Dior boutique in Knightsbridge to be repaired they examined the bag and declared it a fake.

So perhaps some of these vaunted vintage dress shops really do raid attics and stick designer labels on the unreal thing, just like dodgy antique dealers. Or perhaps they even pull the beads off a perfectly new suit? It certainly seems that way in some of these paparazzi photographs. Perhaps some of us would be better off if we just went back to Oxfam.

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