Here come the girls!

Swing dancing

Swing dancingThere’s a swinging revolution sweeping the country and Laura Knight is at the centre of it as one of the founders of Girl Jam, a vintage-inspired dance weekend. Stacey Cosens talks to her about why swing dancing is making a big comeback.

Think back to the grainy black and white films starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, with their flawless dance numbers, excellent chemistry and beautiful clothes. How many times have you watched those romantic films and wished you could be part of the 1930s or 1940s, with its formal dances and Hollywood glamour? It seems like the days of swing dancing are in the past, but dig deeper into the underground world, and you’ll see it’s alive and kicking.

A graphic designer, Laura fell into the world of swing five years ago, when she spotted a couple dancing and delved deeper into its underground world.

“I looked up a class and I found one really near where I work, and from there I was hooked.” Laura explains “I teach it now, I have for a couple of years. There’s a whole scene, it happens in most cities around the UK. It’s highly addictive.”

“I would say most major cities have a fairly large swing scene, Bristol has a swing scene, Leeds, Manchester, you find them in most places.”

“It’s a really sociable, it’s a very fun dance, its not like ballroom, its not about posture, and its not got the same kind of feel to it that salsa has. People enjoy it, sometimes the vintage aspect, and dressing up. Mostly it’s just a really fun dance.”

It was the social aspect of swing dancing that spurred Laura into organising the Girl Jam weekend.

“There was me and a couple of other girls that swing dance and do lindy hop, which is partnered dancing.  Mostly when you do swing dance, you’re doing partnered dancing and because you’re mostly dancing with men, you don’t often to get to meet the other girls on the scene very much.

“So we had this fantastic teacher from Australia, called Annie Ryan, and she does solo jazz and Charleston and there’s another teacher called Peta Cook who’s the same, and we could think of all these amazing teachers and we thought, oh we’ll put an event together that’s just about solo dancing and then it kind of took off really. We could add a disco session, a Go-Go session and we have a friend that does burlesque and teaches that, so it just turned into this entire weekend, it was originally going to be a day. It just started as an idea over coffee and it’s just turned into this monster.”

“I think given the strength it’s had this year, we’ll probably do it again next year, with more teachers and that kind of thing. It’s really just about getting women together and we chose the weekend because its quite close to International Women’s Day, and we thought it would be nice because its mostly about getting women together and dancing and enjoying themselves and building their confidence.”

For its first outing, Girl Jam has been spectacularly popular; with all its places selling out (both beginner and intermediate). The surging popularity in swing and retro events is partly down to the growing world of vintage fashion, and people wanting to tap into the vintage lifestyle.

“We had a big swing ball recently in London, and everybody came really dressed up, the guys love it because they get to dress in suits. It’s sociably acceptable to really dress up.

“We’ve had so many excited emails from people, mostly these groups of friends that have grouped together from Berlin, and we’ve had these two sisters down in London, getting together with their cousins from Newcastle, and it’s the first time they’ve got together in ages.

“The whole thing has been designed with hanging out in mind.

“I guess in the swing dancing world, it’s not often women get to meet each other. And we’ve got beginners, people that have never danced in their life before and 1920s and 1930s is really big at the moment, and people really wanna learn. The main track is the Charleston, and it’s just about people getting together and having a dance really.”

For more information about Girl Jam visit:


Swing dancing near you.

If Laura’s Girl Jam weekend has spurred you into wanting to explore the world of swing dancing, here are a few swing dancing classes around the country.

Leeds: Lindy Fridays at The Carriageworks, 3 Millenium Sq, LS2 3AD every Friday for Beginners. Classes are standalone so can be joined any week.

Manchester: Feets of Amazement, Studio 25, 25 Church Street, Manchester, M4 1PE every Monday for Beginners. Drop in classes.

Nottingham: Nottingham Swing Dance Society, Festival Inn, Ilkeston Rd, Trowell, Nottingham NG9 3PX every Tuesday from 8pm.

Edinburgh: Edinburgh Swing Dance Society, Stockbridge House, 2 Cheyne Street, Edinburgh. Classes run from Sept to July, every Thursday.

Bristol: Hoppin’ Mad, Elmgrove centre, every Monday.

Birmingham: Jazz Jive Swing, New Billesley, Brook Lane, Kings Heath, Birmingham, West Midlands, B13 0AB, every Thursday.

Welcome to the Guadian Guide to Vintage

In this Guardian guide, we’ll be looking at the cultural phenomenon that is vintage. From clothes to lifestyle, people throughout the UK are being influenced by decades past.

Scattered throughout the magazine are your essential guides to each decade from the 1920s to 1980s. We’ll tell you about the history of the decade and how it influenced fashion. You’ll find out which key pieces to look out for on your vintage shopping expeditions, and which decade has styles to best suit your figure.

We’ve also covered the growing trend of vintage lifestyle, from weddings to swing dance weekends, we’ve got the inside scoop.

With our pick of the best stores and websites, your wardrobe will be full of great vintage apparel in no time and with our guide to becoming a vintage dealer, it could become a business venture.

We’ve immersed ourselves into the world of retro, to bring you everything you need to become a vintage aficionado. We hope you have as much fun exploring this exciting world as we did!


Stacey Cosens

Editor of the Guardian guide to vintage.




The 1980s is often described as ‘the decade that fashion forgot’, yet it is loved and adored by those not even born in that decade. Love it or hate it, the 80s saw an innovation of design and style that has stayed with us since and remains popular at vintage fairs.

The start of the 80s was hit by a recession, which tightened the purse straps of the nation and stirred up anger at the Thatcher government.  As the north and the midlands were ravaged by job losses and miners strikes, streetwear and the logo t-shirt became ways to make your beliefs known.

Most famously championed by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Wham, bearing the slogans ‘Frankie Says Relax’ and ‘Choose Life’, replicas became popular must-haves and are still manufactured today.

For the middle-classes the ‘Sloane’ look was much desired. Inspired by Princess Diana, these women wore smart two piece designer suits and pearls and enjoyed champagne lunches. The working woman uniform was the power suit, with its fitted tailored jacket and shoulder pads. In a range of colours, their job was to command a room as women began to break through the glass ceiling.

For the working-class there was a DIY fashion movement and the wealth of new popstars became their fashion idols. Most notably was Madonna, with her unique thrown together and customised style that inspired thousands. Her music, along with that of The Culture Club, Wham and Adam and the Ants defined a generation.

The New Romantics influenced fashion dramatically, and represented an evolution of the punk era, that had become old and overblown. The style of the new romantics was feminine and men often experimented with make-up and sexuality. Women looked to Madonna for inspiration with her messy hair, tutu skirts and over-accessorising.

The Brat Pack movies flourished at the box office, and puffball prom dresses and skirts became must-have items. The 80s remains a popular go to style today and in the 21st century, it is admired and loved for its bad taste.

Suits: Most shapes, boyish, hourglass, pear

Good for: Puffball skirts, shoulder pad detail, power suits, slogan t-shirts

Invest in: An 80s puffball prom dress

Who wears it well: Rihanna, Mary-Kate Olsen, Ke$ha, Agyness Deyn



Sid Viscious and Nancy Spungen, 70s punk icons

The 1970s was a diverse decade in terms of fashion and is very on trend for Spring/Summer 2011. Designers and high street stores are producing floaty fabrics and disco inspired glamour, which fashion magazines have championed.

The 70s was when vintage clothing became popular, and young people looked to earlier decades for inspiration and second hand clothes. There was an urge for originality and standing apart from the crowd. New York’s Studio 54 became the most famous discotheque in the world, and people across the world looked to its stylish clientele for inspiration.

This season we can see the 70s influence in maxi skirts and dresses, platforms and jumpsuits. Women were covered up for the first time in decades, but in a smooth feminine way that retained their sex appeal.

The early 70s saw the continuation of the 60s hippie as it transformed into more of a folk feel. Traditional crafts such as knitting, tapestry, weaving and dyeing found their way to the height of fashion. Clothes became more feminine and soft, working with the fluidity of movement.

With the rise of feminism, it became possible for a woman to be sexy, attractive and successful at the same time. Diane Von Furstenburg’s wrap dress became a staple item for these women, because it looked professional and feminine at the same time.

Disco and glam rock inspiration is clear in this summer’s collections. It invaded the music scene back in the 70s and influenced fashion hugely. Saturday Night Fever took disco out of the underground and into the mainstream and Travolta’s white flared tuxedo became iconic.

Bold patterns, sequins and glitter were worn by men and women influenced by the likes of David Bowie, Alice Cooper and T-Rex, with their flamboyant on stage outfits, huge hair and artistic make-up.

Then in 1977, the age of punk was born, invented by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Its mission was to shock. Their shop SEX, began selling extreme bondage gear before becoming synomonous with the punk movement and its association with The Sex Pistols.  The look combined the traditional components of bondage gear, including rubber, leather, studs, straps and buckles with muslin and cotton t-shirts, narrow trousers and ripped vests pinned back together with safety pins.

It was this desire for individuality and shock that inspired the fashions of the 80s…

Suits: Most shapes, boyish, hourglass, pear

Good for: Jumpsuits, maxi dresses, thick knits, original punk gear

Invest in: Jumpsuits and maxi dresses

Who wears it well: Sienna Miller, Nicole Ritchie, Rachel Zoe, Jennifer Lopez



60s icons, Edie Sedwick and Andy Warhol

A decade that stays with us even now, the 1960s conjures up images of Twiggy and British rock bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The sixties became a revolutionary decade,that saw young people with money to spend and looking for ways to express themselves through fashion, music and lifestyle.

London took the fashion crown from Paris, as new styles arrived in small London boutiques and captured the imagination and heart of rebelling teens. Young British design stars took over Carnaby Street and the King’s Road, as their designs filled the new and exciting boutiques. Perhaps the most famous of these, is Mary Quant, who went on to create some of the most defining fashion features of the decade championing the mini-skirt and dresses.

These new revealing designs, called for a waif-like silhouette introduced with the explosion of supermodel Twiggy. Straight boxy shift dresses with scandalous hemlines meant more of women were on show than ever before. ‘Space Age’ style became the biggest influence of the 60s and material used for dresses was more daring than ever before with plastic detailing, metal chainmail, PVC and cut-out designs.

Black and white designs became the uniform of the Mod girl, while the male Mods dressed in tailored suits and parkers, with The Who providing the soundtrack. Films such as Quadrophenia and Brighton Rock define the Mod style of the sixties, featuring their iconic clashes on the coasts of England with the rockers.

By the late sixties, focus switched from London to America, specifically the flower children of San Francisco, with their anti-war chants, long hair, loose fitting second hand clothes and use of psychedelic drugs, an anti-fashion movement was born.

Inspired by this hippie generation, Ossie Clark, Zandra Rhodes and Thea Porter used it to launch their own brand of escapism. Collaborating with his textile designer wife Celia Bertwell, Ossie Clark produced inspirational fashion that made them an instant success.

It was these new floaty designs and patterns, that carried onto the 70s…

Suits: Slim boyish figures

Good for: Shift dresses, mini-skirts, monotone, PVC boots,

Invest in: A shift dress,

Who wears it well: Amy Winehouse, Diana Vickers, Pixie Lott, Nicola Roberts

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