The Life Of Clothes
Teresa Collenette Oxfam Fashion blogger and stylist
17th Dec 2012
When I walked into the pop up shop at One New Change for the launch of the WilliamVintage Oxfam Edit, the sight of beautifully merchandised colour coded fashion pieces made the fashionista in me leap for joy at the prospect of browsing through such treasure-laden rails. The vibrant colours, gorgeous prints and array of textures lured me in and I barely noticed the fact that the room was buzzing with people and conversation!
Once the initial 'wow' factor had sunk in and I surveyed the room, something immediately caught my eye: a long grey coat with rounded collar, claret and blue buttons and three stripes on the pocket in blue, claret and green. This was in fact a rare Suffragette coat c.1917 that William found at Wastesaver, Oxfam's recycling and sorting facility, whilst hunting for items for his Edit. The coat was in amazing condition considering its age, and beautifully made with a lining exquisitely embroidered with small yellow flowers. As well as no doubt telling a wonderful
personal story, as so many of the items donated to Oxfam shops do, this coat also embodies a fascinating social and historical narrative. As I looked at the coat, it immediately evoked images of Suffragettes marching along London streets proudly brandishing banners they had grouped together to make. William himself was also very excited about this piece as although it was obvious to his expert eye that this was an original Suffragette coat, there were a couple of interesting anomalies, for example the colours of the stripes. The Suffragette colours were normally purple,
representing freedom and dignity, white representing purity and green for hope. Maybe the maker of the Oxfam coat had had to make do with the coloured trims they had at their disposal or maybe the coat has a particular significance. William told me that he was hoping to find out more about the story of this wonderful piece and I can't wait to find out what he discovers!
Another marvelous historical item William found was a military jacket c.1895. Again, this was in fantastic condition having survived the battlefield no less! It was beautifully constructed and it made me think how, by contrast, the disposable fashion of our times falls apart and disintegrates within such a short span of time. What will survive? In decades and centuries to come, it is indeed more than possible that very few items of everyday clothing will remain and they will definitely not survive in such great condition. It will mostly be high-end designer
fashion and the handmade and crafted pieces that will outlive their wearers and represent their times. The fashions of the high street will have to be remembered from photographic and video footage and personal memories.
As I searched the rails for other interesting historical gems, one piece that particularly excited me was a demure sky blue dress probably from the 60's and yet still incredibly fashionable. The most fascinating feature of the dress to me, however, was the label that read 'Crimplene' I always love a vintage label, slightly yellowed with age, usually written in a flowing script, a window into a different world. Crimplene, (the name itself is so evocative and imprinted with nostalgia!) was an artificial fibre frowned upon by future generations but valued in the
50's and 60's for its wrinkle resistant and wash and wear properties. Crimplene was often used to make the typical A-line dress of the 60's and was also popular amongst the "Mods" for use in garish button down shirts. This stylish Crimplene dress, chosen by William for his first Oxfam Edit had survived the years and was ready to be worn again and witness a new generation.
Visit the Oxfam Online shop to see what other gems William Banks-Blaney has found at Oxfam shops across the country, or pick out a gem for yourself. Every piece has a story to tell! www.oxfam.org.uk/fashion