Friday, 20 July 2012

Bearwood does vintage!

One of welovebearwood’s favourite magazines is The Chap.  In a world where t-shirts and jeans are far too much a part of our daily wardrobe this fine journal shows you how to dress like a chap or chapette with true grace and style.   
We particularly like it when the magazine carries a Pin Up Parade advert because they’re based in Bearwood...hurrah! See, Bearwood really does have style!

Welovebearwood caught up with Helen Highwater who runs Pin Up Parade as well as her own vintage repro dress company Swagger Joint.

Over to you Helen...
We love your look. How did you first get into vintage fashion?

It started when I was a teenager. I’d always liked old things and had trouble finding things I liked on the High St. One day, I thought, why don’t I just wear stuff I like? So what if it’s second hand or looks old fashioned? So I did, and that was that! I think it helped that there was all the mod stuff going on in the 1990s, so you could go about looking 1960s and weren’t entirely on your own doing it – although that said, I lived on a small island so was a bit alone in it.

When, how and why did you start your own clothing range, Swagger Joint? 

I started the Pin-Up Parade shop back in 2007, the whole idea being to import American repro, especially in the larger sizes which other shops weren’t selling. I’ve had ideas for different dresses for ages and thought, heck, why don’t I just start my own line? About 10 years ago, there was a dressmaker on Bearwood High Street (in the parade of shops opposite Bearwood Primary) and she used to make dresses to my designs for me to wear – lovely fabrics like herringbones, dogtooth check, satin-backed crepe, velvet. She moved away and it was then that I got into American brands, because they were so good! But I’ve decided that the time has come for me to unleash my own designs, and use those fabrics which I love.

How would you describe the Swagger Joint style and which dress is your best seller?

The Avril dress is really popular. I was surprised, as it’s the most expensive one! It’s made from 100% wool crepe, so the fabric isn’t cheap, but it feels beautiful. It gives the dress a weight that you only really get in vintage clothes, and it makes the skirt hang really nicely. Millie Dollar, who models the Avril on my website, said she had it at a shoot and someone thought it was actually vintage! It’s also appeared on stage in a musical about Vera Lynn for a scene where she’s on telly in the 1950s. So it’s my most famous dress as well.

Avril dress by Swagger Joint modelled by Millie Dollar, by Inaglo Photography.
I really love the dresses that Givenchy made for Audrey Hepburn – I like how they’re smart and elegant but with character so they’re not boring. So that’s an influence in what I come up with. I adore the 1950s New Look with the full skirts and little waists so that’s something which comes out in the dresses too – the Avril is my attempt at that!

Then again, I love shiny, glittery things so the bronze lamé that the Viv dress is made with addresses that side of me. I’m going for late 1950s/early 60s Mad Men cocktail party with that one. When I’m not doing Pin-Up Parade and Swagger Joint, I’m in a sort of punk band called The Ritas, and we wore the bronze Viv dress on stage at one of our gigs. I also got it made in red to wear on stage too, but you could wear it wherever the heck you like, really – why not? I’m sorely tempted to use animal print one of these days, too... watch out!

I named these two dresses after female cover stars from Smiths singles. I’m a big Smiths/Morrissey fan and I’ve always liked that aesthetic of a melancholy monochrome world that probably never existed, and the glamour of the everyday. Avril Anders was on the cover of “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and Viv Nicholson is, of course, the famous 1960s pools winner – she was on the cover of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”

Something else I’ve decided to do with Swagger Joint is have the dresses made only in the UK. The first style, the Esme, which I named after my grandma, was a bit of an experiment and was made abroad, but after several hitches I found manufacturers in the UK. Yes, it does make Swagger Joint dresses cost more, but you can rest assured that your purchase is helping to keep family-run, small British businesses alive. Even the belts are British-made – several British couture labels use them as well, so again, they’re not cheap, but they’re the best quality belt you can get.

We’ve just had a look at the Pin Up Parade website and fallen in love with your Gallery Page. What does being a Pin Up mean to you and how do you become one? 

Quite simply, you just need to have some nice photos taken! Other than that, though, it helps if you are aware of the visual cultures of days gone by, otherwise you wouldn’t know the poses or what to wear. Having a good wardrobe is very important for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a pin-up. You don’t want to bore everyone by wearing the same clothing in every shoot you do.  Although some shoots come with make-up artists and hair stylists, it’s really good if you can learn how to do that yourself. Of course, a lot of pin-ups were into vintage style long before they did pin-up, which obviously helps! I sell two books in my shop which are invaluable –Vintage Hairstyling and Retro Make-Up. They have step-by-step instructions with colour photos so you’ll look fabulous in no time at all.

I got into pin-up myself because I love the dressing up and performing. It’s really fun!

Who’s your favourite Pin Up and why?

I don’t really have a favourite – I like old pin-up magazines like “Parade”, which have lots of different models as well as Hollywood actresses and Parisian dancers. I do like Bettie Page though. She turns up uncredited sometimes in “Parade”, which is quite funny, especially when it’s one of Bunny Yeager’s famous leopard print bikini photos! In terms of contemporary pin-ups, one of my current favourites is Stephanie Jay, who recently modelled for Pin-Up Parade. I also really like Millie Dollar who is a burlesque dancer as well – she’s got fantastic tattoos!

Captain Dress by Bettie Page Clothing.  Photos by Bettie Page Clothing.

We know that you’ve loved vintage fashion for years but why do you think it’s become so popular recently?

I think a big element of it has been the burlesque scene and figures like Dita Von Teese, and that’s encouraged people who were into alt scenes like goth and emo to get into vintage. Then again, a lot of goth is vintage too (rather than just Victorian, it lends itself to mid-20th century as well). And indie has a strong vintage vibe to its style too. I think as well people are reacting against what they see on the High Street. When every shop sells exactly the same thing, and when it’s things like smocks which really don’t flatter everyone, the past is a never-ending seam of inspiration to draw from, and people have lighted on the mid-century because it’s glamorous.

Where do you get your main sources of inspiration from?  Who is your style icon?

See above!

Do you think music influences your style (and vice versa in your case) and if so how?

I don’t know if it’s a British youth cult thing, but there’s always certain styles that go with particular kinds of music. That said though, it’s impossible to be purist about it these days, because with hindsight we can see that a lot of mod music drew on 50s r’n’b, and punk was influenced by 50s r’n’r and 60s r’n’b – like The Clash covering “Brand New Cadillac”. I went to Hemsby, which is a rockabilly weekender, and there were all these women strolling to “Green Onions” by Booker T & The MG’s – that really blew my mind because it seems like one of the most mod songs imaginable. I think the lines blur far more readily between the different youth cults now, though. If I’m going to a rockabilly weekender, then I’ll go vintage, but saying that, I went to see the Manic Street Preachers wearing a vintage-style pseudo-army dress! I think whatever I wear, it ends up looking a bit vintage. Which is no bad thing.

We can tell you love the 1950s. Why?

Because red lipstick rocks.

What do you think the future of vintage fashion is?

Can’t answer this one. I really don’t know!

Helen – we would love to know what you think about living in Bearwood too.

What’s your connection with Bearwood?  How long have you been living here for?

Over 10 years. I’ve never lived anywhere else in the West Midlands.

What’s your Bearwood All-Star?  In other words, what, where or why do you like living in Bearwood?

I like the independent spirit that Bearwood has. The city centre is all well and good (and it’s convenient having it in such easy reach from our suburb up the Hagley Road) but Bearwood’s more individual – there’s so many lovely independent places to shop like T C Hayes, Global Food, Webb’s Walled Garden... . I’d far rather have my hair done at Vangelis 520 on the High Street than at some snooty, poseur-ridden hell-hole in the city centre

What do you think the future of Bearwood is?

I think more people will get behind Better Bearwood, when they realise that it’s local people who care about the area, who want to improve it without changing it, if that makes sense.

We always like to end with a silly question.  Here goes...what makes Lightwoods Chippy’s chips orange?


It’s Friday and because it’s almost the weekend we’ve got a competition for you! 
Helen is such a lovely vintage vixen that she’s donated one of Pin Up Parade’s favourite books as a prize, “Retro Makeup: Techniques for Applying the Vintage Look”.
This is a prize every vintage lover should have in their bookcase as it gives you detailed tips on all sorts of essential make up how to get your red lipstick just right for that big night out (without looking like Robert Smith).
In order to have a chance of winning please answer the following question:
What is Helen’s favourite lipstick colour?  Is it:
a) Sky Blue Pink
b) Red
c) Neon Lime
Please email your answer to before 3 August, the winner will be plucked at random from a vintage Hermes handbag. 
 We can’t wait to hear from you!


  1. Excellent competition! I've had a go. I could do with improving my RobertSmith-in-a-thunderstorm look!

  2. Yeah! Thanks for entering Annie. Fingers very tightly crossed. x