THE 1940's & 50's CLOTHING COMPANY -
Cool threads for lovers of Vintage Clothing
Digger talks to Malcolm Wagner who runs The 1940s and 50s
Clothing Company. Malcolm's vintage business started as a
hobby, as they invariably do, and now he runs an online shop
selling the clothes he loves to customers he often counts as
friends. When not running the business, Malcolm can be seen at
various 40s-themed events around the country.
Good morning Malcolm, how
Can you tell us a little about your background and
that of The 1940s and 50s Clothing Company?
Malcolm: Really, my interest in vintage clothing started
in the early seventies for myself to wear. And that took
me all round the vintage fairs and so on.
Was it a very different
Malcolm: Not really, you
always had people who would wear alternative clothing. I
can remember, in those days, I would buy something and
then if I went out somewhere people would say
"Where'd you buy your clothes from?" And I was
hunting everywhere - jumble sales, vintage clothing fairs,
anywhere I could find something. So this put a little seed
in my head and I thought "I've got certain things -
maybe I should do a stall." So then I gathered up a
pile of clothing which I no longer wore and had a stall at
Camden and that was quite successful, so I started to buy.
Not only for myself, but also because I could feed my
hobby. This was beneficial. So then I did Islington and,
come the mid-seventies, there were 1940s weekends starting
and people would go for the whole weekend dressed-up,
dancing and looking at old cars and so on. A weekend of
indulgence. And so I started to visit these places and was
really very successful. You had a captive and interested audience
Was this gear a lot
cheaper and easier to get hold of in those days?
Malcolm: It was a lot
cheaper. Yes, and it was in the price range of everyone.
And now some things have become an investment. Some
prices are so high that the market for them shrinks, but
I always try to keep my prices as accessible as
Does that mean you
have stock at the high end and the low end?
Malcolm: Yes, I try to
keep a good cross-section.
My friend - Viv The Spiv, do you know him?
He loves a sharp
suit. He has just appeared in The Chap magazine.
Malcolm: I met him at
all of the 40s weekends and he's always around at
them. A very popular guy and everybody knows him.
We're so obsessed with the 1940s in this country, aren't we? I was
in a garden centre on Sunday and the card racks
there were full of 1940s and wartime cards. And
there' were dozens of books about the war and the
1940s - it really is an obsession and such a big
Malcolm: I can
remember some of these people on the scene have
been doing this for over thirty years and they're
still as enthusiastic as when I first met them. I
think it's such an enjoyable hobby - not just the
collecting side and hunting down things to wear
and so on. But all the people involved are lovely.
If I gave you a
choice between 40s and 50s, which one would you
That's my passion. I do like the 50s and a lot
of people like the 50s. It's a kind of
brightness. A lot of girls say "I like the
50s clothing because it's brighter, there's
colour and it's vibrant." And I say
"Well, okay if you look at the English
clothing of the 40s then we were at war and the
money was tight and all materials were in short
supply and rationed. This is why you had a
dowdier and utilitarian kind of look."
Lots of darker colours.
Malcolm: Yes. And I say "I understand
that the 50s was brighter with polka dots and
what have you." But I preferred the
look and style of the 40s.
If you look
at the leap from the 40s to, say, the 60s,
they just couldn't have predicted or believed
that ladies would be wearing mini skirts and
hot pants just twenty years after. Such a
culture change in just one generation.
are your items genuine and original, they
seem to be a fraction of the cost of these
items as new. This must make Vintage Wear
a great investment and
environmentally-friendly too as well as
being something that looks great and makes
you stand out from the crowd. These must
all be good reasons to shop Vintage?
think it's a fantastic way of shopping and
recycling. Not only that, some of the
items may pass through my hands two or
three times. Some of the people will come
back and say "I wore this dress or
this suit so many time now, would you be
interested in trading it in?" And I
say "Of course."
How come these items are lasting so
Malcolm: You have to be careful because
normally it's the stitching and the
seams that will go. If you put on
must be a challenge for you these days because we're all a lot bigger.
okay, I'm only five foot five and
wouldn't get away with it with my size
and a lot of people might want the
look but it must be difficult to find
stuff that will fit them.
Yes, larger sizes and the young girls
today they're much bigger - my mother
had a 22 inch waist. A lot of these
girls are 30+ and it is difficult. I
have toyed with the idea of repros but
I really don't want to go into that
and other people are doing that.
What sort of feedback do you get
When they go out to a dance or event
people say "Oh, you look
lovely." Or of it's a guy
people say how smart they look,
especially if they're also wearing a
hat. There's a drummer called Dickie
Wicket, and he plays in a band and
always wears a hat. The fedora - a
beautiful hat. And he always comes
up to me at events and says things
like "Malcolm, remember that
open road fedora I bought from you?
I loved that hat." It makes
them feel good and that's what makes
Where is the product range
developing in the future and what
sorts of requests have
you had for new products and
Malcolm: What we're thinking of,
actually, are accessories. We
don't really cater that much for
these - girls like a handbag and
so on and I thought maybe I should
do something. Then my girlfriend
said "What about
Is there much original vintage
I always manage to find original
nylons - because I'm always asked
for those from people in the 40s
fraternity. So I thought I could
do a range of underwear, and
that's an idea that I've yet to do
but I really like.
That will boost the
A totally whole new line.
What are the most enjoyable
aspects of what you do? I'm
guessing it's working with
vintage clothes and the
clients and their enjoyment of
Yes, it's actually the people
and their appreciation. And
the way they pass it on to
their friends and I make new
contacts and clients.
There are hundreds, if
not thousands, of
companies satisfying our
demand for retro and
nostalgia. Why is retro and
nostalgia so enduringly
Malcolm: I think, whether it's true or not, people
were nicer and life was
safer. I think that's what
it is. It's probably true in
some ways but not true in
There was quite a dark side
to wartime Britain, apart
from the Germans trying to
bomb the wotsits out of us.
Yes, black market and
looting and so on. I always
think it always applies
whatever it is, people say
"Things were better
then. You could leave the
back door open and nowadays
you have to lock everything.
People were much nicer then
and they're horrible
I am security mad but my girlfriend
leaving her car unlocked
or the back door unlocked
when I'm not around. And
so far we've got away with
it, so it can't be that
much of an issue these
It's maybe a myth that
it's worse today. I
remember this quite elderly
lady and she
looking around the store
and dressed quite nicely
and she looked at the
clothes and said to me
"Such a lovely
time." And I thought,
yes there was a war going
on, you know?! Things were
better then and the people
were nicer and I think
that's what it's all
I think life was
And maybe that's what it
is. Life has become so complicated.
We haven't got
time for the niceties,
accelerate and these
days I email my
friends in America and
if it's the right time
he emails me back
within seconds. Everything
What's your retro
Quality American hats.
Because I think they produced
that time and when you
see a 1940's Stetson -
Elliott Ness and all
of the gangsters wore
them - they call them
fedoras. The gangsters
and Mafia wore the
oval homburg type,
then you had the
newspaper reporters -
silk band and a lovely
shape perched on the
back of his head.
Humphrey Bogart - they
all wore them.
Have you got many
(Laughs) Yes, I
don't know how many,
but a lot.
Ah. You don't dare
Otherwise I should
can. That's the
thing, you had
them as a
now you can pass
I'm only looking
after the past
I DO wear them.
If we go out to
a 1940s dance then
I wear them.
Malcolm for that
insight into the
40s and 50s
styles and your
Specialising in men's and women's Clothing and Accessories
of the 40s and 50s.
The 1940s & 50s Clothing Company
PO Box 3123
Telephone:+44 (0)1452 411226