Vintage clothing and glamour: the life of a 1940s reenactor

By Sarah Jackson | 11 September 2013

Ahead of IWM Duxford's Back to the Forties vintage event, we take a look at why living as a 1940s reenactor appeals to people of all ages.

Sarah Dunn styles a customer's hair in 1940s style.
Sarah Dunn, of Sarah's Doowop Do's, styles a customer into a classic 1940s look© Brian Pyramid Clicks Conran
Despite a very modern hunger for the latest tablet, laptop or other piece of computer wizardry, for many of us the past is endlessly fascinating. We may be able to watch TV on our phones, but some of the most popular programmes on television at the moment are The Great British Baking and Strictly Come Dancing – hardly celebrating the most modern of pastimes.

Vintage (which could refer to any time period, but most often seems to refer to the 1940s-1960s) has become increasingly popular as both a style and way of life. Vintage shops and fairs are popping up all over the country and traditional arts and crafts such as knitting, sewing and baking are experiencing a boom.

Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that, for some, living in the past has become a quite literal way of life.

Sarah Dunn runs Sarah’s Doo-Wop Dos, offering hair styling appointments as well as full makeovers and pin-up shoots, all in vintage style. As well as offering one-to-one styling, she also teaches workshops and provides demonstrations for events around the country.

On September 29 she will be demonstrating her skills at IWM Duxford’s Back to the Forties event.

As well as learning the secrets to 1940s glamour, visitors will be able to meet a range of wartime characters ranging from Winston Churchill to landgirls, and learn how to dance the lindy hop to a gramophone DJ. Demonstrations on fashion on the ration, wartime cookery and classic cars will also be taking place.

Although only in her 20s, Sarah has been dressing in vintage clothing since she was a teenager.

“I've always had an interest in vintage,” she says.

“My interest in the Forties came through my love to dress glamorously. The era has a really sense of elegance even with the hardships people were experiencing.”

In a modern era where most clothing is mass-produced and more likely to be ill-fitting and of poorer quality than handmade items, Sarah has found a better choice can be found in second-hand clothes.

“Vintage clothing is constructed so differently to modern day items,” she continues. “As a tall girl, nothing modern really ever fitted me. So I looked in charity shops for interesting clothes that suited me better and my vintage collection grew from there.”

A vintage wardrobe soon turned into vintage hairstyles, make-up and even home interiors. As well as items from the 1950s and 1960s, Sarah’s home contains forties elements such as framed vintage beauty adverts and a collection of vintage hair dryers and collectables on display.

It’s not just vintage style that makes the 1940s appealing, however. The kind of British stiff-upper-lip Blitz spirit that inspired ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ still attracts and fascinates today – as exemplified by that phrase’s seemingly endless parodies.

“I think people are still keen to understand what it was like to live during those years,” she says.

“Not just from a military point but on the domestic front, finding out what it was like to be a civilian during the war. I think, like me, they admire the spirit of the people during that time and are keen to know more about what they lived through.”

Visitors to IWM Duxford’s Back to the Forties event will be able to learn more about life in the 1940s, even experiencing how an RAF Operations Room in the midst of the Battle of Britain would have functioned as the aircraft "scrambled".

“Going to an event is a great way to see history come alive," adds Dunn.

"By going to Back to the Forties you will have a chance to experience the era first-hand and really get a sense of what life was like at the time”.

  • Back to the Forties (IWM Duxford) takes place on September 29, 10am-6pm. Tickets £13.85-£18.50. Book online. Follow IWM Duxford on Twitter @I_W_M.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Follow Sarah Jackson on Twitter @SazzyJackson.

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