Sunday, 26 June 2011

Silk revisited: Style Yourself book and Giveaway

What does recycling mean to you? For many, it conjures up images of compost bins or newspaper and bottle collection days (and possibly a seven in the morning dash because it wasn't left out the night before). However, it's a word that applies equally to styling the clothes in our wardrobes.
I've never been able to understand the behaviour of some affluent individuals who can afford to buy something and parade it once, before discarding it again. For me, part of the joy of dressing is discovering new ways to style long owned items. It's not for nothing that articles are written about ‘versatile’ pieces. The term doesn't refer only to classic LBDs and white shirts that we all know are a ‘staple’ of any wardrobe, but also encompasses anything that can be worn time and time again (constantly being recycled and re-used) – like my vintage dress styled above.
This is the third outing for the sixties silk beauty on my blog. No longer a blushing debutante; this dress is now secure in the knowledge that it is well-used and loved. (Is there a term, like anthropomorphism, that could be used to describe the personification of clothes? If so, I feel I'm in danger of using it). The dress’s Erdem-like abstract flowers have been previously dressed up with granny’s turquoise string gloves and silk stockings; and the print has also bloomed alongside a vintage seventies belt and Laura Ashley hat. It has appeared at the back of the Sunday Times Style Section, and now – in its biggest appearance to date – has been lucky enough to grace the pages of the newly published ‘Style Yourself’ blogger book.

I was ecstatic when, last year, I was asked if I would like to appear in the Weldon Owen published book 'Style Yourself' alongside fashion blogging luminaries such as Style Bubble and Style Rookie. I hastily agreed, and then forgot all about it, as recovering from surgery took precedence. So imagine my excitement when I found out that it was published – and there was a copy winging its way to me from the United States. Now that I have the book in my hands, I can see other favourite bloggers – such as FrouFrouu, Louise Ebel and Barbro Anderson (alongside many, many others) – all featured in gorgeous and varying spreads. My own two pages come under the ‘accessories’ section, which features some images from ‘Wrinkled Silk Stockings on a Blustery Sunday’, presented with a very British ‘Tea Party’ spin.
All I can say is that whoever had the bright idea to create this book was very smart indeed. Blogging is still a relative toddler in comparison with other industries, but it is growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk. These 95 bloggers presented have a collective 500,000 visits a day (thanks to Barbro for that fact!) – Hundreds of thousands of people logging on to see what their favourite bloggers have styled and written about. Cumulatively, that is a pretty large voice.
The book itself is beautifully laid out and structured – full of tips and hints on styling – with ample inspiration. Whether you favour eighties Grace Jones style looks, or dress according to the landscape around you, there is something for everyone. However, one of my favourite aspects is the pages given over to the technical terms for every clothing-related item under the sun. Did you know what a fishing creel bag is, or what a Watteau dress looks like? (I didn’t, but I do now!) Or perhaps you’d like to discover the wonders of a zouave jacket? There’s something quite addictive about pinpointing exactly what type of shoes you are wearing (are they Oxfords, Brogues, Jazz or Saddles?), and learning the exact dart shape used to create the dress hanging on a mannequin. It’s this level of detail, along with the delicious design, that left a huge grin on my face after I had ripped the packaging open.

On this excursion, I styled the dress with coral pink shoes from a flea market stall, a Jaeger belt from ebay (second hand), and a green silk belt-tie worn as bow. The tiny vintage leather saddle bag and the lace top (worn under the dress) were both from my favourite local charity shop. These photos were taken about an hour ago, on the hottest day of the year so far. Yesterday I was sheltering from the rain and wind, and today I have been hiding from the heat.
This dress is recyled in more than one sense - as I originally rescued it from a £1 basket, and took it home to patch up the rips in the fabric. With a now shortened hemline, it is an item that has been given a new lease of life with the aid of a sewing machine...


Now, in a final (magician’s) flourish, Weldon Owen has offered to send a copy of ‘Style Yourself’ to one reader of Clothes, Cameras and Coffee in a giveaway.
I would like to open up this giveaway to bloggers and non-bloggers alike (as sometimes it just seems that only bloggers get a look in), with the same criteria. To enter, please answer the following – if you had to choose one item of clothing you own that sums up your style, what would it be, and why? (Eg – mine would probably be my sixties green and blue St Michael’s mini-dress, because it is vintage, immensely versatile, was bought in a charity shop and represents my love for all things whimsical). If you are a blogger, could you please comment with your answer and email address. If you are a non-blogger, I’d appreciate it if you emailed me with your answer, and ‘Style Yourself’ Giveaway in the subject line. I can’t wait to read some entries. Oh, and even better, the giveaway is open worldwide! The closing date will be the fifth of July.

The book can be easily ordered from local independent bookshops (to help support local business – see Alexandra Therese’s The Demise of the Local Bookshop). However, it is also available on Amazon here.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Living Daylights

This is Ellen – also known as one of my best friends, and a general co-conspirator when it comes to dressing up. When we were little, the first port of call at each other’s houses was the dressing up box (or in her case wardrobe), where we could rummage for clothes to create fantastical characters. Whether we were witches, orphans or runaways, there would always be a sense of excitement and magic in transforming from ‘Roz and Ellen’ into entirely different people. We may be sixteen now, but we still love assuming personas and making up tales. However now our impromptu sessions lean towards Ellen dressing up, while I take the photos. She might have dropped in after school for a cup of tea, or visited to watch a DVD – and an idea sparks. This is one such instance, where I styled Ellen in something faintly Helena Bonham-Carter-esque, (with matching pale make-up) – creating the narrative as we wandered around our village. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to turn it into a proper photo essay, complete with a short story to complement the ‘character’. Here it is:

Living Daylights: The Tale of Claudia Carter

Claudia Carter knew she had died at 11.17am on a Tuesday. She was on her way home from an early morning meeting. She had dawdled, buying a paper and peering at shop displays. Her heart stopped just as she had been contemplating the ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deal in the Undertaker’s window. She had woken up several hours later, feeling a little chilly and under the weather, to the great (and some said mentally damaging) surprise of the mortician who had been leaning over her. Oh of course she hadn’t been let out of the hospital for weeks after that unfortunate little incident, as she was subjected to the strangest of experiments, as though she were a lab-monkey. The conclusion of these tests? Her vital organs were clinically deceased, and so she should be too. But here Claudia was, still walking around and talking like a well-dressed rag doll. The doctors shook their heads in bafflement, and whispered behind their arms about a word beginning with ‘Z’.

They had to let her go eventually. Claudia insisted upon it – no civilised lady wanted to live a life that started every day with being woken up to have a temperature taken and coagulating blood measured. She was picked up by her husband, and was issued to him along with two cases of pills and promises to “keep an eye on her”. The drive back was not how Claudia had imagined it. Well, her husband couldn’t exactly ask how she was – “technically dead darling, but I’m bearing up”. He avoided her gaze, and instead feigned interest in the radio, listening intently to the news with a crease between his eyebrows. She mirrored his unease by fiddling with her hair. At home, his fingers briefly brushed hers as he opened the car door, but immediately retreated as though they had touched raw fish.
Claudia watched as he heaved her battered blue case into the house, and wrapped her arms around her waist in the cold. Or was it warm? She couldn’t quite tell. However she had grown used to yellow-ish grey tinge her skin had acquired, looking like she had been dipped in lemon juice and left out to dry in the sun.

The next few days were full of evasions. Claudia attempted to ring old friends and arrange lunch dates (which were always “bad timing” she was told), while her husband burrowed into tax returns and gardening. The occasional encounters in the hall were met with wan smiles and nodding as they edged around the corners of the room. They treated each other as Venus fly traps – generally benevolent organisms that bite if something moves too close.

Claudia went away for a few days. “Just escaping to the countryside sweetie, to see the family home and get some fresh air”.
But when she arrived, her sister did not want to see her – and asked firmly if she could come back another time. Claudia felt like she was haunting her childhood village - stumbling back along the path to the phone box, passing the busy shop and school. No-one replied to her smiles or called out to her, to ask how she had been since the accident. The place usually reserved for commiserations was plugged with unbearable silence. She reached the bright red box gratefully, and stepped inside to dial the number.

“Hello Arthur. How are you?”
“Please could you come and pick me up? There are no more trains today.”
“Oh hello, is that you Claudia? What a surprise. I’m afraid work is busier than ever, and anyway, I thought you were staying over at Emma’s.”
“They don’t want me.”
“Oh. Umm. Well maybe they’re right. We’re still not sure about the state you are in – could be very dangerous if you are indeed the first Z.. a Z...”
“Darling – I am not a zombie. I prefer the term ‘medical anomaly’. I have no desire to start killing and eating people. I’m not on the Dukan Diet! Also, I’m still human, not a living-dead psychopath.”
“Jolly good. Just looking at the diary dear – no space to do a pick up today... Or tomorrow... Or the day after now I think of it. Why don’t you find a nice little place to stay? Sure you understand.”
“Got to go – the dog’s.. err.. playing merry hell with the postman”

Claudia placed the receiver back in its cradle: it smelt of hair grease and grubby fingers. She wiped her own hands on her girlish white skirt and pressed her palms against pale cheekbones. Then she straightened and sniffed twice.
If she still had a sense of smell, then there must be a little life left in her yet...

'Claudia' (or should that be Ellen?) is wearing all vintage - from various sources, including flea markets, charity shops and gifts.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


My mother used to refer to me as her mayflower when I was little - a girl born as the first signs of summer were revealing themselves. Aside from the 'Mayflower' being a historical ship sailed by pilgrims; the encyclopaedia definition is "A name given to several plants that bloom in May" (usually refers to an array of anemones and hepaticas). However, I’m sure that bluebells could be introduced into the mix too.

In the time when I was small enough to be still growing my own roots and shoots, I used to listen enthralled as my dad told me tales of the tree rooted at the top of the lane behind our house. This trunk, with branches held in the perfect port-de-bras, stood on the edge of the bluebell wood pictured above. On nights when I hovered at my parents’ bedroom door and whispered "I can't sleep!", my father soothed me back into dreams through spinning stories about how the tree was a cosy house - complete with a warm pool and a hollowed out room where the rest of my family were waiting for me. What struck me about this marrying of the real and the imaginary was the safety and comfort associated with this 'magical' tree that watched over the surrounding valley as we snored.
The same sense of security is now found in visiting the bluebell wood that the tree is a sentry to. For a few hasty weeks, the skinny boughs are offset with a knitted blue blanket – patch-worked with squares of light in the late evening sun. Whatever worries, fears or anxieties are carried, walking across the field, these are cast aside on reaching the wood. The quiet and beauty echoes the sense of reverence on entering a cathedral – recognition that it is a place bigger and more complex than any individual. But, like picking one of the bell-shaped flowers, it is easy to take a snatch of this serenity with you after leaving for home.

This particular visit, although stunning as ever, was not quite as peaceful as in previous times. I had fallen down the stairs an hour previously – jarring my coccyx (and my nerves), while also twisting my ankle. However, as my mum helped me back into the house, I cried not because I was in pain, but because I assumed my camera had been smashed in the tumble. Some nervous shaking, a big hug and two ibuprofen later, it was back outside for a second attempt. It was only later that my mum noticed that my new shoes (from a market stall) were offset by a not so attractive swollen ankle....
And the camera? Alongside the (more important) full-frame sensor, the body is built like an armadillo. Well, an armadillo with a now quite battered shell.

Kate Bush once sang that ‘Mother Stands for Comfort’. In the aftermath of this tripping over, when I was trying to convince my mum that I was “absolutely fine”, there was something immensely reassuring about feeling her stroke my hair. It was the same sensation I experienced when I was in hospital, being lulled into sleep by my mum’s low voice reading ‘A Rose for Winter’ aloud, her hand gripping mine tightly. I think a large part of comfort is to know that one has someone else to rely on – a person who will protect you at your most vulnerable.

This photo of my mum was taken by me the night before my birthday. It is the second year I have positioned my mum among the bluebells, and it is fascinating looking at the differences between the first set of shots – and this one.

On to the clothes – a portion of the post that I often seem to neglect now. On this occasion though, the outfit is a perfectly appropriate illustration of my ramblings. I often talk of enjoying the way my deceased or older family members live on in their clothes, and this is no exception. I may never have been able to hug my paternal-great grandma, but here her arms are wrapped around me, covering my own in her dusky pink silk bed-jacket. And although I still can hug my maternal 93 year old great-grandma, whose silk blouse (and blue leather belt) I am wearing here, she sometimes doesn’t know who I am anymore. While I stood, with my mum taking photos of me, I realised that I was wearing my very own family tree.

The blue skirt was from a charity shop (I never tire of swishing side to side in it), and as mentioned above, the shoes were from a flea market – they remind me of the dancing shoes in ‘Singing in the Rain’). The little brass cartoon brooch on the bed jacket belonged to, and was given to me by my paternal grandma. 

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Simple pleasures

'In Limbo' is possibly the best way to describe how I'm feeling right now. I'm torn between revising for the rapidly dwindling number of exams I have left, or just shunning my exercise books and writing. On top of this quandary, I have been struck down with general un-wellness (alongside a sore throat and ear ache - there's a side ordering of tinnitus).
However, these photos represent for me what was a perfect two nights of camping last weekend. To celebrate a family friend's birthday, we stuffed the car (to the point we were worried it would roll backwards if on a steep slope) with a tent, sleeping bags, far too much food and anything else needed for braving the outdoors, before driving to a campsite in the Welsh hills. Oh, and somewhere among the guy ropes and toothbrushes, there nestled a rather lovely green, floral dress. And some heels. The Scouts' motto "Be prepared" can have a multitude of interpretations...
The simple pleasures of pitching a tent next to a mumbling river, meeting new people and wandering along forest-framed footpaths are unbeatable. As is scrambling over rocks to read the Guardian Weekend in the middle of the racing water. Oh and playing in the sea with my brother and his new found friends - by that I mean I was the 'shark' that they all wanted to splash and squeal at.  We took part in every camping cliche that could be mustered - singing Beatles' songs around the campfire, toasting marshmallows on sharpened twigs and plunging into the ice-lolly cold river. I can think of worse ways to wake oneself up.
The added no mobile phone signal starts to make this post sound like the stories you read in a Sunday supplement travel section; where the writer 'reconnected' with the bucolic force of nature and realised that actually twitter/ facebook/ emails aren't that important, and should be replaced with gardening and willow plaiting. My daily bond with the outdoors is still as strong as ever (hard not to be, as I am writing this while looking out at fields and trees), but there was something magical about just being in and appreciating such a lush, green environment. So, green is the word of the day - as it has figured both in this outfit, and in my thoughts.
The colour green can be seen to symbolise many different things. After watching Atonement for the 57th time last night, I was reminded of a quote about that green silk dress worn by Keira Knightley, about which the designer Jacqueline Durran claimed that the particular shade had been chosen to represent temptation. It could also be seen as an embodiment of Briony's envy, or as the Guardian suggested, a "leitmotif" repeated throughout the film. Although I'm sure a whole essay could be written on the various merits and motives of that swoon-worthy bias cut dress (the psychology of clothes - utterly fascinating); what I'm talking about specifically is the power of colour.
As well as the above attributes, green can symbolise jealousy and evil - making it a ripe choice for the Witch in the 'Wizard of Oz'. However, it is also a shade that can stand for qualities such as environmental, natural, wild and cyclical - just think of the 'Green Man' within british folklore. All these conflicting messages associated with just one element of the colour spectrum!
However, the same can be said of all the colours we are surrounded by. Red can be danger, confidence or symbolic of the 'vamp'. Black can remind one of the epitome of elegance - Audrey Hepburn in her rollneck jumper and capri pants - or represent morbidity and death. White can be either purity and chastity, or it can exemplify minimalism. It's all so dependent on context.
In this instance, the colour of the dress is just one of the many shades of green that inked in my idyllic weekend - just another simple pleasure.

Down to the details. The vintage dress was a birthday present, as were the gorgeous Office shoes (from ebay I am told). The little basket bag was picked up in a charity shop, along with the leather belt. The necklace belonged to my great-grandma.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Making Hay (While the Sun Shines)

Although my blog name suggests I have three main passions (if one can count coffee as a passion?), there is a fourth love that doesn't appear - books. Now that I've graduated from the wonders of children's stories, with a brief skid over the surface of teen novels, before arriving at the 'classics' and literary fiction terminal, everything I've read has led on to a deep appreciation of writing.

Luckily, I got to indulge myself in all things literary-related at Hay Festival of Literature and Arts last week. From meeting beloved childhood authors, to watching debates, with the odd bit of vintage shopping alongside, it was a truly enjoyable (and inspiring) weekend. There is something about the DNA of this small Welsh town that means it would have to take more than cell replication to copy the atmosphere during festival season. Although the weather was inevitably foul, alternating between lowering skies and stroppy downpours, with only the slightest hint of sunshine, it was true that (excuse the saying) nothing was going to rain on this parade.

I was lucky enough to see several writers on the days we were there – alongside listening to Polly Toynbee (Guardian columnist and author in her own right) who chaired a fascinating debate on ‘The End of Ideas’ as part of HowTheLightGetsIn program. It was while sitting there, on the end of a row of mismatched benches; hemmed in on all sides by raised seating areas covered in cushions and interesting looking people; while listening to Peter Hacker talk eloquently about the UK’s education system that I felt I had arrived. It’s a clich├ęd expression, but by this point I was feeling very ‘at home’. The debate itself was so interesting I will be devoting a whole post to it at some point in the future, when I have more thinking time and less exam-related scientific facts and historical dates clogging up my brain.

The first ‘author’ event I attended was the delicious combination of David Almond and Patrick Ness. I implore everyone to read Ness’s ‘A Monster Calls’, which led to uncontrollable sobbing when I finished it. It’s the perfectly heartbreaking but utterly real story of a boy who has to face his mother’s terminal illness – with a little help from the mythological Green Man.

Together, Ness and Almond talked extensively about what it means to write, why stories are so important, and the process behind their respective books. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that stories help us to make sense of the ways of this strange world we live in, and should therefore be an integral part of life. That’s why I felt so saddened by all the recent stories about the closure of libraries across the UK.

I felt a similar sense of awe when I saw the great Geraldine McCaughrean two days later. On my childhood bookshelf, alongside Roald Dahl, Margaret Mahy and Eva Ibbotsen, there was Ms McCaughrean. She is the author of such titles as ‘Peter Pan in Scarlet’ and ‘The White Darkness’. One of the best things about festivals such as Hay is the chance to spend a minute or two (okay, maybe thirty seconds if it’s a long queue) talking to the authors whose words you have read and cherished. McCaughrean seemed genuinely pleased to hear that both my mum and I valued her absolutely incredible use of description and imagery in her work – which is often rare in today’s book market. I loved hearing her describe how she heard words and phrases, as one might “hear music”.

Finally, the author we got up extremely early to see, Owen Sheers. His novel ‘Resistance’ is one of those books where you’re not sure whether to race through the pages at a speed of a hundred knots to find out what will happen, or to eke out the chapters slowly in order to fully enjoy the writing and story. Set in an alternative World War II, where the German army are occupying Britain, it details the events in a very remote Welsh valley. I read it while recovering from surgery; and hearing Sheers talk about the characters and plot took me straight back to days full of snow falling outside the house, while I lay in front of a continually burning fire. ‘Resistance’ is a must read on all accounts, and is being released as a film in autumn.

Although I have talked about individual authors, it was the overall feel of Hay that made it so magical. This is a town in which shelves of second hand photography books housed in a castle can rub shoulders with a circus and a shop selling everything from war medals to velvet hats. The crowds were drawn together by a mutual love of thoughts, ideas and the written word. Oh, and talking once more of my blog title, I did have some excellent mocha coffees – thanks to the wonderfully named ‘Bean and Gone’ Coffee Co.

If you want to see pictures of what I wore on my first day at Hay, you can see Jill’s post here. In a moment of serendipity, we ran into each other on a street corner – but you can read the whole story on her blog.

This outfit has a very tenuous link with Hay festival, as I wore the long cardigan (a birthday present) on my second day there. Unfortunately, this was the day when it was very rainy indeed, meaning that said cardigan spent much of the day being held up to avoid being dragged in puddles. Here I layered it over shorts and a grey top – both charity shopped (along with the bag) – all kept in place with a second hand belt. My legs do not have some strange disease I may add, but the brown floral tights that looked great in the flesh did not translate well in front of the lens. The beautiful Office shoes were a birthday present too, along with the vintage sunglasses. The hat and faux-pearls were my great-grandma’s.

The blog has been eerily quiet of late, as a result not only of exams, but also a delightful camping trip – full of roasting marshmallows and jumping in the cold, welsh sea. I have only two more weeks of school left, and then I can blog to my heart’s content.
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