Now… and then, a mix for today

For tips on combining vintage fashion with modern, Beth Armstrong is the go-to girl. Her eye for layering antique and contemporary clothing is just one of her particular talents. Fashionistas everywhere are dressing this way so it’s fantastic to have a style guide like Beth to interview for Into Vintage.

Beth’s background in the film industry, both as an actor and behind-the-scenes in production (working with costume designers) dovetailed nicely into her passion for vintage clothing and paved the way for her business, The Travelling Dress. Here she shares her passion, inspiration and a few tips with us.

Silk CamiWhat is your background and how did you get into collecting and selling vintage and antique clothing?

Professionally I started out as an actor where I was fortunate to wear period costume a few times-always enormous fun! I’ve now switched to the other side of the camera and I work with production and costume designers to create character and style. Acquiring and selling antique and vintage pieces was a bit of a whim actually. I was taking a break out of the industry to have my two children and bought a few special pieces for myself, which I showed off to friends who immediately asked if I could find them something similar. The idea took off from there. I’ve also grown up with antiques and a love of fine fabrics and workmanship because of my parents’ antique dealership business.
My mother gave me a few beautiful pieces and every time a wedding came up and I had the dreaded ‘I’ve got nothing new to wear’ thought, I’d pull out an antique or vintage number, 1920s silk pyjamas or a satin ’60s dress and I always felt fashionable. I think great design can do that.

Who areCate_Blanchett_at_the_AACTA_Awards_(2012)_7a your style icons? Do you have some favourite examples of outfits they would have worn in your collection?

I love Helena Christensen’s style. Diane Keaton also interprets fashion in her own quirky way. Jane Birkin, Cate Blanchett and Florence Welch are all amazing women who might wear vintage but in a very modern way. I love how French women often do understated chic.
The Victorian black and white high collar blouse with chiffon beaded tails, worn in my film clip with leather pants is an amazing piece – 1890s labelled Los Angeles. It has lots of beading and very fine lace. I always imagine Cate Blanchett wearing it with a high-waisted skirt or tailored pants. There are layers to it including an interior corset. It takes about ten minutes to get into it and there are about 50 fastenings-a maid is required to assist!

tumblr_miy9e63iP11rpq8kzo1_1280What is your favourite era for vintage and/or antique clothing and why?

Edwardian I think. Downton Abbey for example. Often represented by very fine, sheer silk chiffons, fine linen and lace and hand-embroidery. I also like the period coming into the 1920s – it’s the quality of the workmanship plus beautiful materials.


What are your tips for successfully blending modern and vintage?

Well, for a special occasion I’ll often pair jeans or pants with something Edwardian. Many of the original Victorian/Edwardian/Deco blouses are petite and high waisted, it was the fashion at the time. So I wear them open, bolero style, sometimes back to front, with a silk or cotton camisole underneath, with contemporary heels or ankle boots. Sometimes with a modern scarf or piece of jewellery too, so most people wouldn’t guess I was wearing anything period. I don’t tend to dress top to toe in vintage or antique or stick to the one era.

The Travelling DressBut I love the idea I’m wearing a bit of history. One of my favourites is a very fine French white cotton blouse with pin-tucks and padded-stitch embroidery, blousoned just before the wrist. The long cuff has four tiny buttons with little loops so it fits snugly around the wrist, accentuating the fullness elsewhere. I love those little details. It’s superb and over a hundred years old.

I would recommend always going for an original, not a reproduction. I can’t afford haute couture but wearing antique gives me a little taste and is relatively affordable. But it can take time to find the right piece that fits and is in excellent condition.

IMG_1315I often think of the original wearer sometimes. Wouldn’t they be amazed, especially when someone is wearing a slip or their lingerie piece as outerwear or for a wedding?

In a funny way, I feel that pieces I sell choose their rightful owner. They’re little heirlooms. That’s why I called my business The Travelling Dress-a quality dress can travel through time, from one person to another.

Take us ‘behind the scenes’ of your short film fashion shoot.

My cinematographer husband, Tom Gleeson owns a great movie camera, so together we organised a small crew to do a guerilla shoot in an abandoned Sydney tram tunnel. We took a selection of eclectic clothing and accessories dating from the late 1880s to the 1930s. We used two models (Jaime Lewis and Venice Rish), a stylist (Marianne Malafosse), a make-up artist (Katie Angus,) hair stylist (Graeme Cummings) and florist (Tonia Blume) for these extraordinary floral head-pieces. I was also fortunate to know composer Biddy Connor who was willing to let us use a piece of her music.Video image

The tunnel was freezing and I felt for the models. The stylist and I wanted to show the antique pieces off in a really contemporary way so we loved the idea of the run-down industrial tunnel as backdrop to these delicate, detailed pieces. We also had a neon T, which we decided to include in the backdrop as an artistic counterpoint to antique. And putting the garments with edgy studded boots and leather pants was a perfect way to represent the idea of antique clothing as high fashion and worn in a contemporary way.

Happy vintage hunting!

Beth will soon be opening The Travelling Dress as an online etsy shop. For updates visit

Soundtrack courtesy:  Biddy Connor: Editors:  Jason Diffin and Adrian Chiarella
Images courtesy of Beth Armstrong; Cate Blanchett image from Creative Commons


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