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.

Make the perfect butter icing cupcakes



Make perfect cupcakes

Make the perfect butter icing cupcakes, any 50s housewife would be proud of!

You will need:

Food scales

Mixing bowls

Cupcake cases

A cupcake or muffin oven tray

A mixing spoon, whisk, electric whisk or blender

An icing bag or syringe




8oz of real butter

8oz of sugar

8oz of self-raising flour

4 large eggs

¼ of a teaspoon of baking powder.

2 teaspoons of vanilla essence.


Butter icing:

3oz of butter

8oz of icing sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

2 to 3 teaspoons of milk – add as needed.


For chocolate icing, add one tablespoon of coco powder to 1 tablespoon of hot water and mix. Cool before beating into icing.



Pre-heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

Cream the sugar, butter and vanilla together.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing as you go.

Add baking powder.

Add sieved flour, a bit at a time, mixing as you go.

Continue to mix until a thick, smooth mixture is formed.

Divide into cupcake cases, within the oven tray.

Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Poke with a cocktail stick, if it emerges clean, the cupcakes are done.

Leave the cupcakes to cool and begin on the icing.

Mix the butter and icing sugar together, add the vanilla and milk until smooth, thick and creamy.

If you are making chocolate icing, add the coco powder paste, and mix in completely.

When the cupcakes have cooled completely, put the icing into a icing bag or syringe and pump onto cupcakes, circling from the outside in.

Decorate with sprinkles of your choice.

How to become a vintage fashion dealer

Vintage Dealer

Vintage Dealer

Image by J Smith

With the explosion of interest in vintage fashion over recent years, more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon to make money. But how do you make a profitable business from vintage items? We talk to two dealers.

A passion for vintage is essential

Lynda Stead, 52, is owner of travelling clothes stall Vintage to Vogue, which has been trading for nine years. After a variety of jobs and originally training as a career officer when she left university, she started collecting vintage. The company is based in Leeds and Lynda says her criteria for what she buys are that she ‘just has to love it’.

Lynda says “For anyone wanting to get into vintage fashion my biggest piece of advice would be to do it because you love it not because you think it is the way to make your fortune! Collect and sell what interests you, be it home-wares, fashion, material etc. I am a firm believer that you can only be genuine if you are passionate about what you do.”

“I never really thought about turning the collecting into a business. I still don’t class myself as a dealer as I really love my clothes, who they belonged to, what event they were worn for etc. I did not begin to collect or to stand fairs solely as a way of making money as a business. I began selling to finance my passion and I also liked meeting fellow vintage enthusiasts at fairs, some of which have gone on to become good friends.”

Be prepared to put effort into finding great vintage clothes

While it may seem that vintage is everywhere, gathering stock for your vintage business can be harder than it seems. “It has become increasingly difficult to find vintage clothing at reasonable prices over the last few years” explains Lynda.

“The explosion of vintage shops, vintage internet shops and the increasing number of individuals selling at fairs means that so many people are looking for what is, by definition, a finite supply of clothing.

“I used to find so much in charity shops but now most of the main charities have their own dedicated vintage departments which in a lot of cases are way too expensive for me to buy from.

“Car boot sales used to be another good source but again people are asking high prices for items because they either know there is a demand or they have read articles that say vintage is popular, so they perceive their items must be worth a lot. Consequently I spend most of my time driving round and round visiting charity shops and car boots in the hope of finding just one good item.”

Be prepared for difficulties and have a clear business plan

Susie Burne, 26, is founder of online site and travelling stall, Memoir Vintage, and is a shining example of the hard work it takes to become a successful vintage dealer. She’s been running Memoir Vintage for thirteen months, and has a fashion degree. She worked as a recruitment company sales manager, before she was made redundant and decided to concentrate on a vintage business. The company is based in Wrexham and specialises mostly in evening wear.

“It was either all or nothing so I decided to go for it head first. I used a small business loan to get stock and to open up a small unit in Quiggins in Liverpool, which is basically like a small shop in a large building shared by many small businesses. Unfortunately four months later I had to close the shop as the overheads were too high and there was not the right customer walking through the door. This was a big knock as I was failing before I began. I needed help.

“I called the Princes Trust who told me they could help and show me the right direction. I signed up and went on a number of business courses and had help from business advisors and even got to present Memoir business to Prince Charles himself. I was advised to go down the online route by the Princes Trust which was the most valuable and best advice I could have asked for as was born! To this day the vintage business is tough and hard, especially because so many people have begun to trade in the vintage world, I always think ‘will vintage run out?’ but I don’t think it can as the next decade will always be next!”

Make contacts in other countries to give your stock a unique edge

The next step is to make contacts all over the world, if you have something different than what is available in the UK, you’re more likely to attract customers. Not only this, but it will also give you an advantage over your competition. Susie explains; “Our stock comes from all over the world, we have contacts in Europe and America who know what it is we are looking for and who hand select pieces for us, and in the UK I travel far and wide and select pieces which I know Memoir’s customer will love.

Get handy with a sewing machine

“Quite a lot of the vintage pieces which are found have great potential but need some TLC to bring them up to date. Most of which may just need the hem to be taken up from a maxi to mini or maybe the sleeves to be taken off” says Susie.

“Sometimes we find vintage pieces which have no hope. However the garment is made from an unusual material which may have a gorgeous print. In this case we will still buy the piece but completely take it to pieces and remake a dress with the material. Ideas come from the latest trends of the catwalk”

“The best advice I could say is try and look towards fashion trends, so many business try to start out in the vintage fashion industry because they think there is easy money to be made but this won’t work unless you know what your customer wants.”

The rise of vintage weddings

Vintage Wedding

Vintage Wedding

Vintage Wedding

Every bride wants their wedding day to be unique and memorable. Cue the vintage brides, who look to the past to inspire their big day. Stacey Cosens explores this growing trend.

The venue, the favours, the cake, the dress; it can be hard knowing where to start when planning a wedding. The possibilities are endless, and every bride has their dream wedding planned out and a budget to stick to. But there is a growing trend amongst British brides to take vintage inspiration, when planning their big day.

Rowan Hirons, 30, is one of them. Taking influence from a whole host of decades for her summer wedding, “Since my early teens I’ve been into all things 60s, I used to borrow my mum and auntie’s mini skirts, went heavy on the eyeliner and had a twiggy haircut. Now I am much more eclectic with fashion and music and big into decade blending. I love the 50s 60s, 70s and 80s – so there isn’t really an overall theme to my wedding.

“I haven’t gone out of my way to be different, I’ve just chosen lots of things that I like and thrown them all together and hope that it works! I’m not a bridezilla type who needs matching napkins and chair covers, I want everything to be relaxed and fun.”

Rowan’s retro-inspired wedding follows in the footsteps of vintage lovers throughout the country who have decided to let their passion inspire their big day. From the 1900s to the 1980s, women want to bring a sense of nostalgia to their celebrations.

Rowan says; “My dress will probably be 50s or 60s inspired, as I’d like a shorter style as it feels less formal and nicer for a summer wedding, with a small bouquet of colourful wild flowers. My bridesmaids dresses will be 50s style halter necks in all different pastel shades with wrist corsages. My niece is a hairdresser and is going to do the hair in messy beehives while my friend is going to do the makeup – Audrey Hepburn inspired winged eyeliner.”

As for the big day, Rowan is incorporating family heritage and her love of retro music into the service and reception.

“It will be a country church wedding, I’m hoping one of my friends will strum a 60s song on the guitar for me to walk down the aisle to, which will be a short service followed by a big party at a canal side pub with a marquee. I am undecided about whether I want a 60s cover band or a Ska band. Music is important to me and the worst thing would be some crappy DJ playing loads of chart hits.

“I’m sure every wedding is unique but mine is going to be retro, multicultural, brightly coloured, light hearted and fun. I’m hoping my wedding will be remembered for being a really good party where everyone enjoyed themselves.”

Vintage Hotspots

Vintage Hotspots

Vintage Hotspots

Image by J Smith

As the demand for vintage has continued to grow, so has the quality and quantity of vintage emporiums throughout the UK. We pick some of the best shops throughout the country to visit on any vintage expedition.

Truly Madly Vintage, Chelmsford, Essex:

Whether you’re an Essex girl or in town for the V festival this summer, Chelmsford hides a hidden treasure off its high street. Truly Madly Vintage sits quietly on Moulsham Street amongst other independent businesses.

The shop opened a year ago, and fulfilled the distinct lack of vintage shops in North Essex. It was a risk that paid off, and Phillipa Barnes, 27, has now expanded to add a vintage furniture shop to her business, just a few shops down.

She says; “I think there’s a small but dedicated contingent of people in Chelmsford that are interested in vintage and the more its advertised on the high street helps, as it opens peoples eyes and gets more people looking for vintage, then with the furniture shop as well, it’s become very fashionable to have things from different decades in your home.”

Jolly Brown, Hitchin, Hertfordshire:

Jolly Brown has been running for four years, nestled between pubs and music shops in Bucklersbury, the medieval, cultural street in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

Hannah Brown, the founder of Jolly Brown, explains why she picked Hitchin for this unique beautiful boutique. “I have lived in Hitchin for 12 years and it has such an amazing community feel, lots of independent shops and it also has a very creative, arty and musical side. There is a really stylish feel to the way people dress in Hitchin, there are lots of creative young people too, with a flare for fashion and there wasn’t a vintage shop in town. I wanted a place where people could buy affordable and great quality clothing”

Here you’ll find rails and rails of quality vintage for men and women, in a friendly atmosphere, with staff only too happy to help you put an outfit together.

Revival Retro, South West London:

There are mixed feelings about replication vintage, but Rowena and her Revival Retro team produce such fantastic replication vintage, nobody would ever no the difference! Her London based showroom, offers customers a personal shopping experiences and outfits tailored to them from the 20s to 40s era. Rowena will also be opening a shop in May, in London’s east end, so you can see these replicas yourself and decide!

“Our customers are women of every age group, every background, every walk of life but united by a common love of the art and aesthetic of the 1930s and 1940s. We would all love to own amazing vintage pieces but they are old, fragile, hard to find and decent ones should probably be in a museum. We try to be inclusive and stock a range of sizes from size 6-26.”

Rags to Bitches, Manchester:

This Manchester based brand is more than just a vintage shop. Rags to Bitches has become so successful they have branched out to include popular courses and events to their repertoire. From dress making to hen nights, all ran by professional experts in their field.

Rags to Bitches have won a number of awards, including Stella magazine’s 50 best boutiques in 2008. If you’re planning to visit the store, it’s well worth going all out and making use of one of their many courses or services. A perfect port of call for a weekend away with the girls.

Absolute Vintage, London:

When a shop has been voted ‘one of the top 100 stores you must see in the world’ by the Evening Standard, you know you’re on to a good thing. When a shop has been named as the ‘best vintage shop in London’ by InStyle magazine, you know you’re on to something amazing.

Absolute Vintage’s London based shop and online store have proved massively popular and come with high praise from fashion insiders and customers alike. Both the shop and website are packed with vintage goodies for you to rummage through, no matter what your budget. Vintage Kurt Geiger shoes for £25 anyone?

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