Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 28/11/13: Christmas Party Dress Guilt

HELLO,  stock photo for 'guilt'!

HELLO, stock photo for ‘guilt’!

So, here we are again.  Together we stand on the cusp of Christmas party season, facing bravely into the bitter wind that is trying to find the perfect party dress in a world that is jaded and blind to our sequin-wearing ways.

One of the things that pains me most at the moment is Party Dress Guilt, in which you go to find the perfect shiny/sparkly attire and find yourself buying nothing because it just so happens that clothes cost money, and money is something that you feel you should be spending on something more worthwhile than clothes.  Like the electricity bill. Or gin.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re rich or poor, whether the party dress is Penneys or Proenza. The festive season has always had the tendency to remind the more neurotic people amongst us that the time period from early December to January is based on spending money on the Worst Thing Ever.  Fun.

You go home, and you don’t buy the dress, and still you feel bad for even thinking about buying the dress, because there are people suffering in other places.  Your best friend lost her job, your brother’s dole was cut, you’ve lost your medical card and there’s a new government levy on wine.  It doesn’t matter that you give money to charity.  It doesn’t matter that you can easily afford the dress (or in my case, a sequinned, on-sale pair of Topshop jeans), what matters is the frivolity.  Frivolity is bad.  Enjoying yourself?  BAD.

I never really understood Catholic guilt until my first financially independent Christmas. You feel absolutely terrible for buying a crushed velvet minidress with a ridiculously low cost-per-wear when you’ve only budgeted ten euro for family gifts. Maybe you settle, and buy something cheap and cheerful and wearable.  Then, you are subtly shamed when the family member with the good job buys you a present at five times your budget. Christmas is a minefield littered with good intentions and expensive eyeshadow palettes.

We feel like this for a good reason.  We should feel a bit guilty.  Christmas and the New Year is the time period for conspicuous consumption. Whether that consumption takes the form of food or clothing or slightly more illicit substances, it doesn’t really matter.  It all boils down to money anyway.  At least the clothes consumption won’t give you a heart attack, but ask me that again when I get my next credit card bill.

On the flip side, we need to slough some of the guilt off.  If, like me, you’re feeling guilty despite not actually buying anything, a reality check might be in order.  Can you afford it?  Good for you.  Maybe you should buy what you want without feeling bad. Your money is yours. However you decide to spread it around , at least make sure that this Christmas it’s money well spent.


Fashion, Subculture

Licentiate Column 18/04/13: Vintage and Local


Looking out at Pause Play Vintage

You wouldn’t want to be a small business owner at the best of times, but then again, this isn’t really the best of times we’re having. Businesses are closing left, right, centre and left and right of centre. The youth are draining away, using their creativity and liberal use of graft in other countries, and the news shows multiple accounts of boarded up buildings as a kind of shorthand in every report that involves the word ‘revenue’, ‘emigration’ or ‘rural’.

It’s funny really. Recently, there was a news report on my hometown, Tralee. It showed the boards, the shops (or lack thereof) and the depressed Yoof. Gotta love that depressed Yoof.

And yet. Three new businesses have opened in Tralee this week. One of them is a vintage clothing shop called Pause Play Vintage, in which I am typing this while the owner Dominique goes out to buy some lunch. I don’t work here, by the way. I just nipped in to have a look and ended up staying for a few hours chatting. It’s one of those idiosyncratic shops that one only finds in a small town, in a fog of community that rarely settles on larger bodies. Of course, the big temptation to this shop is the fact that there are clothes in it. I also may really be annoying Dominique by commandeering her laptop and getting bun crumbs all over the keyboard.

Vintage first became a worldwide phenomenon when Julia Roberts turned up to the Oscars in a vintage Valentino dress to collect her Best Actress gong for Erin Brockovich. In the simple black gown with white accents, Roberts took on a columnar, statuesque form herself. Between that and Kate Moss (and what more is there to say about Kate and vintage?) it has taken over with a force that can carpet towns best known for their Penney’s substance abuse problems.

It really is a lovely store – and again, I don’t work here or have any affiliations with the shop – all whitewashed freshness, taxidermy and candy-coloured stock; a virtually perfect mix of unselfconscious kitsch and cool.

We need more shops like this in Ireland. Scratch that, we need more shops like this in Cork. If you are in Cork city and in need of some vintage loving, I heartily encourage you to check out Miss Daisy Blue in The English Market and Mercury Goes Retrograde, which is just at the back of the Savoy Centre. Both are small businesses powered by love, knowledge, hard work and some seriously amazing vintage stock.

Support local businesses if you can. Support local fashion if you can. It is such an important thing to get involved with your community. At least see it like this; you couldn’t stroll into Debenham’s and borrow the manager’s laptop, only to have your writing efforts rewarded with a freshly-baked bun. Think about it.


Cos A/W ’13: Elegance in Nature


The Cos Autumn/Winter press day is a rare spot of serenity in an otherwise chaotic round of go-sees which can get slightly monotonous – you never think that a cupcake can jade you until you eat that one cupcake too many.

The Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock area was a echo of the clothes on display – carefully considered, an interesting synthesis of construction and cultivation, the varied greens of nature and the muzzy grey of concrete. Calm and cool.

Favourites included a semi-sheer white shirt dress made for layering under a deep-v denim mini dress, seamless brown women’s brogues, a stiff-fabric grey dress tailored like a scuba suit, another semi-sheer – this time a black calf length skirt – and almost every black textured pullover from the men’s section. As the collection is based on elements of nature, it’s fitting that every separate element is made even better when paired with another. It is tailor made for layering.




Pause Play Vintage, Tralee

Tralee is a small place, so it came as no surprise to me to find out that I already knew the proprietor of Pause Play Vintage in Tralee – Dominique Barry (from Leaving Cert art classes).

Tralee is the kind of town that, due in part to recession and a dwindling youth population, just doesn’t get to have Nice Things. The whitewashed Pause Play Vintage, tucked away on Milk Market Lane, is such a very nice thing. The space is spread out over two floors with a carefully-thought out selection of vintage clothes, accessories and bric a brac over two floors.













Fashion, Film, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 14/02/12: Splat into Spring

Miranda knows the score.

Guess what, everyone? It is now spring. Yes, really.

This is the point where the weather changes from rain, floods, bitter cold and the ever-present prevailing winds to rain, floods, bitter cold, prevailing winds and fifteen minutes of sunshine every second day. It’s not so much a silver lining as an aluminium foil lining, but we’ll take what we can get.

Fashion week is starting in London and the whole industry is going about its biannual process of renewal. Which trends do we dump? Which do we adopt? It hardly seems to matter when the weather rarely changes.

Last year was an unusually temperate one in Britain and Ireland. Hot and cold spells were harsh but fleeting – the rest of the time our isles were cloaked in a grey fug, temperature solidified somewhere in the teens. It’s this strange circumstance that has had far-reaching consequences in places we wouldn’t normally bother looking, like in our local high street stores.

Every spring, the same trends are trotted out by merit of their association to the season, usually pastels and floral prints. This fact is so widely known that when Meryl Streep (as caricature-scary magazine editor Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) sarcastically drawled “Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking”, a million lovers of a frankly not-great film chuckled knowingly.

Something has happened this year. No florals. No pastels. The ground is not barren but it has lost its fecund quality. We have prints, but they are geometric and abstracted. Pastels are more likely to be worn on the nails and no other part of the body. Everything is a little bit off-kilter, a little more jarring and apocalyptic. I like it. It shows that there’s still an element of chaos in the world no matter how hard we try to mould it to our liking.

Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter trends exist for a several reasons. 1) To make people feel hopelessly inadequate about being up to date so they’ll buy more clothes, making retailers and suppliers more money. 2) Because, in Winter it is (supposed to be) cold and in Summer is is warm (or so I have heard) and people need two sets of wardrobes for two sets of weather systems.

The third reason is the most common-sense, but the least obvious. Spring trends emerge even when we don’t particularly want or need them because human beings can’t live without progress. We always have to feel like we’re heading towards something. Spring is the time we slough off our insulating winter shells and emerge, if not as butterflies, then as moths with the best of intentions.

The best approach to Spring trends is to tread carefully. Only buy what you need, and don’t feel obligated to bare your legs just because it’s almost March. Spring into Spring by all means, but don’t push yourself – it’s far too easy to Splat into Spring instead.

Fashion, Subculture

Licentiate Column 10/01/13: The Vintage Sessions

This is a tale of two (vintage) cities. One is our capital, the other is a different shade outside of The Pale – so to speak. In the past six years, Cork has experienced a surge in interest in vintage clothing, accessories and homewares. Dublin, on the other hand, has been in dealing in vintage ever since Homo Erectus picked up a second-hand bison fur and ,“Hmm, this might be worth a few nuts and berries”.

It was with that slightly odd mental picture in mind that I emailed Irene and Ruth (no last names please, they’re like Prince and Madonna), the organisers of Dublin’s Vintage Sessions, in the tentative hopes of getting a press pass and seeing the masters in their natural environment. They emailed back, asking if I could speak at a panel talk on the relevance of vintage clothing in modern Ireland. I couldn’t say no. Actually, I could, but that would have been rude – and like most columnists I welcome any chance to hit people over the head repeatedly with my opinions.

On December the 6th, I rolled up to a stately-looking Georgian house on South William Street, the epicentre of all things fashion in Dublin. All four floors of the building were devoted to some aspect of the vintage industry. Vendors from all over Ireland (including Cork’s own Elsa and Gogo) were touting the best of their Christmas stock, women were having victory rolls and cat-eyeliner flicks administered in the hair and beauty sections and sparkling pink cocktails in teacups were being passed around willy-nilly.

The top floor was my domain, not just because that’s where the toilet was, but also because it was home to the fashion talks – a programme of interesting and illuminating discussions were planned for throughout the day. Especially enjoyable was the talk on forgotten Irish icons presented by co-organiser Ruth (Griffin, by the way), although it was unnerving to note how many of them left the country for much greener pastures.

It was a cover-all-bases vintage event; commerce, discussion, beautification, community. Nothing has been done quite on this scale in Cork, where the onus is often on selling – vintage fairs are markets as opposed to all-inclusive ‘events’. Vintage Sessions co-organiser Irene (O’Brien, just in case you were wondering) expressed a love for Le Chat Noir, Cork-based organisers of beautifully-executed, well-considered vintage fairs. I concur with this evaluation.

And yet. Vintage is a movement that comes in gradual stages. First, it’s a cult pastime, done only by a few people. Then, it’s mainstream commerce. Finally, it becomes a community, a melding of the previous two stages. Cork has yet to reach this community stage – something I’m sure many vintage vendors would argue against. What shapes this community aspect is the buyer, not the seller.

In Cork, there has been no such event quite like The Vintage Sessions, in which fifteen euro buys you a makeover, a photoshoot, panel talks and all the sparking stuff you can handle as well as the opportunity to buy clothes. For many people (who don’t make their living selling vintage), vintage is an omniscient way of life not just pinned down to the clothes they wear. While I love vintage fairs, I would love to see more ‘events’ running concurrently.

I realise that the following is a statement that may result in having eggs thrown at me, but maybe we could learn something from Dublin. Maybe.


Dublin’s Perfect Vintage…

… and luckily this vintage isn’t affected by the new wine tax.


Irene and Ruth of The Vintage Sessions

This Saturday is shaping up to be quite the vintage-themed cornucopia of festivities in our fair capital. At 11am the fabled Shutterbug Kilo Sale will commence at The Chocolate Factory. No appearance by Willy Wonka, I’m afraid – just rails and rails of clothes handpicked by the uber stylish (and just lovely) Blanaid and her team. Click here for details. Oh, and a word of advice – get there EARLY!

Form about 11 or so to 7pm, The Vintage Sessions are taking place in a beautiful Georgian house (The South William Space) on South William Street.  This is a full-on vintage experience.  Fifteen euros gets you in, gets you a vintage hair and make-up makeover, a mini photoshoot on a paper moon, cocktails and a market with some of the best vintage sellers in the country (I’m especially looking forward to perusing Om Diva and the winter selection by the lovely Olivia at Elsa and Gogo).  Did I mention that there will be vintage talks and presentations too?

*NERDGASM*  Here is the running order of talks and presentations for the day.

12.00 Panel Discussion - The Evolution of the Creative Quarter and the Rise of Vintage in the Area

13.00 Presentation – The Lost Fashion History of South William St by fashion historian Ruth Griffin

2.30 Presentation – 1940s Irish Fashion, by photo historian Orla Fitzpatrick

4.00 Presentation - Forgotten Irish Style Icons by fashion historian Ruth Griffin

5.15 Panel Discussion - Vintage in Ireland Today and why so many are choosing to turn their passion in to a career

Irene (in the photo above) will be MC-ing

Panelists include Ruth Ni Loinsigh (Om Diva and Creative Quarter board), Kathy Sherry (Dirty Fabulous), Garry O’Neill (author of the rather amazing Where Were You Dublin street style book) and yours truly.  I’ll be taking part in the final panel talk so if you’re coming, please do say hi!

There may also be Ukelele playing…

To get your tickets for the event, email

Entrance to the Shutterbug Kilo Sale is free, gloriously FREE.