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Art and Apparel

A blog by Sara O'Neill

BFW Charity Shop Challenge and my Charity Shopping Top Tips

Ever innovative, this year BELFAST FASHION WEEK added a new addition to their roster of shows- the Charity Shop Challenge, bringing together 13 stylists, bloggers and journalists and challenging them to create ten catwalk-worthy looks from their own assigned charity shop, including Pretty in Pink, The British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research. I was delighted to be assigned Oxfam Vintage- I've worked with these guys so many times over the years and they never disappoint, trawling through their stock is never a chore but it can be quite dangerous as I often leave with a trove of goodies for myself.

Oxfam Vintage, Castle St, Belfast

Oxfam Vintage is situated right in the city Centre on Castle Street and specialises in womenswear, menswear and accessories. Their clothing range spans over 50 years of fashion and can only be described as eclectic, with everything from statement dresses to off- kilter retro pieces, and the odd very special vintage piece- a stunning 1950's bridal dress in the original box springs to mind. The times I've worked with Oxfam there have been near-riots backstage when models spy desirable pieces that they wanted to buy- while at the same time members of the audience mobbed Ronan, the manager, to buy the pieces straight off the catwalk. They rely on donations from customers and all proceeds from the shop go to Oxfam projects around the world. I found loads of this season's trends, in pastels and brights: 90's slip dresses, ballet wrap cardigans, embellishment, western, sheers, metallics and florals, with a smattering of designer in the shape of Fred Perry Laurel and DKNY.

The Show

The show took place on Friday 21 March in the impressive surroundings of Stormont Parliament Buildings. I arrived straight off the Liverpool boat from another shoot and into the usual pre-show excitement of hair, make-up, gossip, rehearsals and fittings. My collection had arrived ahead of me and I have to say it was a treat to only have ten outfits to look after, as often at shows I have well in excess of a hundred.

I caught up with some of my other challengers including Katie Larmour, Eve Brannon, Louise Vance, Niamh Kelly, Aoife Malone and Jamie Russell. Everyone was excited and as this was some people's first styling challenge (some peeps are used to being on the #FROW, not backstage) there were nerves, although this seemed to be mostly caused by the idea of actually being on the catwalk, as we had to do a little turn with our first model, rather than the actual styling.

After fittings we grabbed a West Coast Cooler and went to take our seats, only to find we had been shunted from the front row to the back. #BROW is now where it's at ?

It was wonderful to see how many fantastic looks were showcased, and how diverse they were, from Jamie amazingly eccentric tea-set accessories, to Rebecca's gorgeous pastels. My collection was modeled by the lovely Covergirl finalists and an amazing job they did too, right down to having the perfect selection of shoes! Kudos to all the stylists and bloggers for their very elegant catwalk-walks, amazingly no-one fell. My one faux pas was to have a nipple-related wardrobe malfunction, when one of my outfits was slightly more sheer than anticipated. To be fair, the model looked amazing and the lovely Paddy McGurgan took the bad look off me when he showcased his fabulous (slightly nude) make-up show ‘Birds of Paradise' straight after the Charity Challenge.

My Top Tips for Vintage Shopping

* Don't take vintage items at face value- body shapes have changed over the last century, so clothing may need alterations. Long skirts can be cut short, necklines altered, garments restyled. You should find a good dressmaker or learn how to use a sewing machine.

* Imagine a piece out of context. On a crowded shelf of scary figurines, or a rail of sad-looking C&A frocks, you must try to see each item as an individual. Pick up every piece and imagine it out of context: in Urban Outfitters or Topshop, say or a cool boutique. Things which look tatty and unloved in a junk shop sometimes just need a bit of styling. Stand back, squint, and imagine how it would look somewhere really chic.

* Charity shopping does take a certain amount of commitment. You can't just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Get to know the volunteers so you can ask about stock that hasn't been put on the floor yet.

* Find out what day your local vintage shops receive their deliveries, so you can get first dibs on the good stuff.

* The biggest complaint I hear about vintage is the smell- sometimes this can usually be washed out (polyester is a tough one though) Also check for any stains or damages to the garment and be sure it can be repaired.

* Vintage clothing tends to be made of better quality fabric and finishes than we are used to in modern clothing. Look at the labels- anything in 100% wool, or with silk, cashmere, Harris tweed etc, is worth a thought.

* With proper vintage- do try things on, don't trust the labels- ‘standard' sizing has varied greatly since it was introduced in the 50's- so a modern size ten may find that a size 14 vintage garment is a perfect fit. On that note, different decades' styles flatter different body shapes- the fit and flare silhouette and strong shoulders of the 1940's flatters pear shapes. The full skirts and cinched waists of the 1950's were designed for the hourglass figures, while apple shapes suit the empire line and shorter hemlines of the sixties. Slender figures can carry off the bias-cut of the 1930's and the long, lean looks of the 70's.

* Wearing top to toe vintage can create a theatrical, fancy dress look-mix vintage with high-street and designer to create your own style and keep hair and make-up clean and simple.

* Don't forget men's clothing- the androgynous ‘boy meets girl' look great. Look for oversized jackets and shirts to wear with slim cropped trousers. Shoulder pads can be removed and shoulders nipped in.

* It is more environmentally sound to buy vintage- it is the most stylish form of recycling.

* Don't forget to donate as well!

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