The wonderful Sarah Kate Byrne gives our ladies her best advice for dressing to impress, while vintage menswear stylist Sam Hegard is on hand to aid the country gentleman.
Vintage lends itself perfectly to occasionwear. Suits from the 1940s and 1950s are ideal for National Hunt meetings and the glitzier party dresses of the 1960s and 1970s create ‘best- dressed’, one-of-a-kind ensembles when paired with a well-chosen piece of millinery.
If you fall in love with a vintage piece, splash out on having it tweaked so it fits you perfectly. I will remove old-fashioned sleeves, cinch a waist or shorten a hem. No one wants to look as if they’re wearing hand-me-downs just for the sake of it. Find a good seamstress and ask them to remodel vintage pieces in a modern style.
Something old, something new
Rarely do I mix a vintage hat with a vintage dress (except at the Goodwood Revival). Instead, pair a vintage dress with a hat by a contemporary milliner such as Jess Collett or Fernanda Lewis.
Every outfit can be jazzed up or dressed down for a garden party or London event. I have an abundance of vintage accessories from belts to scarves, statement costume jewellery to hats, all of which work wonders when I’m trying to reuse a key piece. My pet peeve is a one-hit- wonder outfit that will languish in a wardrobe after its sole outing.
When it comes to marrying vintage clothing and sporting endeavours, comfort is paramount. I learnt this the hard way, after donning a fantastic pair of elephant- ear breeches for a day on Salisbury Plain with the RA, only to discover that the seams sat right on my kneecaps and rubbed mercilessly from the off.
Don’t be picky
My much-admired vintage side-saddle habit is cobbled together from a friend’s grandmother’s Busvine apron and a Roberts & Carroll coat that came with a side saddle my mother bought many moons ago. Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged by the odd moth hole or obvious repair, as these won’t detract from the garment and only add to its character.
If you can’t find the perfect piece, try collections such as Martha, Lady Sitwell’s range for Harry Hall. The moleskin waistcoat with its Regency-style upright collar is just the ticket out hunting. I’ve had my vintage side-saddle breeches copied, with modern elastic added to the base of the leg, for when they give up the ghost.
If you don’t feel quite ready for a head-to-toe vintage ensemble or the thought of sporting second-hand breeches is off-putting, invest in a bona fide antique —a beautiful old whip, patinated leather saddle flask, bamboo shooting stick or delicate Victorian stockpin will add that vintage touch.
The ultimate compromise for formal attire
Formal attire is the perfect foil for wearing vintage under the radar, but this comes with a caveat. Ladies should avoid at all costs moth-eaten furs with macabre dangling feet worn over Laura Ashley tartan frocks. Instead, choose granny’s most glamorous and timeless debutante’s frock, tailored as required. Chaps, ensure grandfather’s white tie is well-aired, as there’s nothing like the aroma of damp camphor to stop the pulse racing.
Never underestimate the power of a flimsy piece of silk. A good vintage silk scarf with a timeless pattern or in a riot of fantastic colours makes for a versatile accessory. For the men, a well-chosen pocket square can add a dash of colour and personality. For the ladies, a scarf is the ultimate workhorse, serving multiple fashion purposes – tied around your head or neck, plaited into your hair, as a handbag embellishment or a waist cincher. At the Festival of Hunting this year, my skirt was fashioned out of a scarf and Lady Sitwell has cinched her fox-print design around her waist.
The morning suit
The morning suit (with black silk hat) sported at Royal Ascot is de rigueur for a traditional wedding. Pale waistcoats rarely pass generations, but black morning coats and striped or houndstooth trousers were made to last and are fairly easy to find second hand – a good reason to avoid numerous (and expensive) rentals and invest in a proper outfit.
The demob suit
The must-have outfit at events such as the Goodwood Revival is an authentic ‘demob’ suit, preferably bearing the famous utility mark CC41, but if you haven’t (yet) inherited the wardrobe of your great-uncle who fought in the Battle of Britain, the country-gent look always works and is entirely re-usable for Cheltenham, a point-to-point or country-house weekend. From head to toe: a brown trilby, tweed jacket over a waistcoat or a sleeveless V-neck jumper, shirt and tie, corduroy or flannel trousers and leather brogues with a rounded toe. The cut is important – avoid slim-fit jackets, low-waisted trousers, tapered or flared legs and skinny lapels.
The key is in good accessories: a hat (wide-brimmed trilby or tweed cap) is essential, neckwear (tie, cravat, bow tie) mandatory and handkerchief (non-matching) a plus. An umbrella works (especially on this side of the Channel) and why not grow a moustache?
Stylist Sarah Kate Byrne’s bespoke services include personal shopping, wardrobe consultancy and special-event styling. For more information please visit www.sarahkatebyrne.com. To book a styling session with Sam Hegard, email email@example.com.
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