SUE PRICHARD TEXTILE CURATOR & HER PASSION FOR VINTAGE
29 April, 2018
As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmother; she taught me how to sew, knit and darn. She bought me my first sewing machine and passed on her ethos of ‘make do and mend’. We would visit local jumble sales and come home with a huge bag of second hand clothes which we would alter and customize, shortening a skirt here, changing buttons there or embroidering a small motif on a collar. My school friends were all shopping on the 1970s high street and used to laugh at my outfits but I always felt incredibly feminine and chic. My role models were the amazing women of the 1940s – Lauren Bacall, Rosalind Russell, Rita Hayward, Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn. Often they would only have one or two costume changes in each film but they were incredibly witty, chic, independent women who looked fabulous in any situation.
I started my first job in a typing pool working for a Government ministry and on my first day I wore a 1940s suit I found in a second hand shop, with a pair of high heels and a tiny hat. Over the next four years I was never seen without a hat and clutch bag topped off with a slick of red lipstick. Of course I also wore jeans but always with a little patterned blouse and my hair immaculately curled.
Now I’m in my fifties and I still favour suits, tweed jackets (I have three), hats and dresses. I always wear a corset as my figure has of course changed over the years. In addition to working at the V&A, I have a vintage life at the weekends, and run a small vintage stall once a month where I have a ‘Mrs Sew and Sew’ drop in, offering to teach darning and basic sewing skills. I don’t have as much time for dress making and now have a dressmaker who makes my clothes. Yes it is expensive but she makes one outfit a year, and I now have a capsule wardrobe which dates from 1938. I also have a milliner who makes my vintage hats. So many women stop me and reminisce about how women used to dress and how smart they looked. Many agree that it is so difficult to find any suitable on the high street, that fashion is dictated by age rather than style. Tailoring benefits any shape or size and always looks chic whether worn with trousers, skirt or a dress.
My grandmother didn’t have much money but always looked amazing. I have all her costume jewelry which I wear all the time. I recently lost a little cream brooch – a sailing ship made of cheap plastic but I loved it so much as I can remember her wearing it on a red and cream striped summer blazer. I recently found a photograph of my grandmother in her sixties. She is wearing a brown and white gingham summer suit. I have recently bought some gingham and am looking for a pattern from the 1940s or 1950s. I’m looking forward to spending time making my suit, embellished with buttons from my grandmother’s button tin.