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20th Century Foxy






Digger talks to Clare who runs 20th Century Foxy. Selected by true lovers of all things from the1930s, 1940s & 1950s, 20th Century aims to supply the best of the retro and vintage reproduction clothing market including rockabilly & swing styles. 


20th Century Foxy




Digger: Hello Clare.

Clare: Hello David.

Digger: Howís things there?

Clare: Minus ten and all the snow and everythingÖ

Digger: Itís the last thing we need really.

Clare: Yes, Iím starting to get a bit stir crazy now. Iím just treating it as time out really.

Digger: Can you tell me your background and can you explain your passion for the thirties, forties and fifties?

Clare: Yes, where do I start?.. My nine to five job is in marketing and Iíve run my own marketing company for eleven years. And, until recently, I had six staff and a big agency and all that sort of thing. I just decided that Iíd got fed up with the rat run Ė it wasnít so much the rat race as the whole corporate thing. The workings of people and working with big corporations. So, to cut a long story short, we did a lot of web work and I actually developed my own software. I remember thinking ďWhy am I working really hard to make money for other people?Ē Because thatís what marketing is. Basically, Iíve always had an interest in vintage and I bought my first vintage outfit when I was fifteen. I always had an obsession from as early as I can remember with historical costume, Agatha Christie programmes and all those thirties and forties stories and films, tales from my grandma and looking at all the pictures. My eldest daughter is following in my footsteps. Sheís drawing pictures all the time. So I started working in a vintage shop as a Saturday girl. And that love never went away but it kind of got overtaken by other things Ė children and what have you. I became obsessed with finding items because after I had children my shape changed and I couldnít fit into a lot of vintage stuff I had. Thatís why I started looking into reproduction vintage, because I started getting heavily into rockabilly and jiving and my husband and I were going out a lot. And that, combining with the penny finally dropping to realise that there wasnít a place to get a really good mix of reproduction clothing, was why I started Foxy.

Digger: These days we are a different shape to just a couple of generations ago.

Clare: Thatís it, we really have changed shape. Womenís bodies have actually got longer, I believe. Their waist to shoulder has changed and not only that their normal body shape has changed as well. And the problem is, you might find a vintage dress you absolutely adore, and this happened to me quite a few times. I was buying stuff and I thought ďOh, Iíll get into it eventually.Ē (Digger laughs) And it never quite happened and youíve only got one shot, havenít you?

Digger: Yes, and if it is original vintage you canít tamper with it too much.

Clare: No you canít because you take away the value. So because I didnít find anything, and I quite like the burlesque scene Ė Iím not as into it as I much as I used to be but I saw Missy Malone and some of the top burlesque dancers and I love their vintage glamour. For me Foxy epitomises the grown up glamour that burlesque has. But also being involved in that scene I got involved in all the other stuff like the Haworth Forties Weekend and getting into re-enactment. The other thing is - during my student years, I did a lot of historical re-enactment. And I know itís not thirties, forties and fifties, but itís a similar obsession if you like. I did the Wars of the Roses and the Civil War Ė the British Sealed Knot.

Digger: We have quite a few re-enactment people on our site.

Clare: Yes, well I remember a really big re-enactment event at Kirby Hall just near Corby.

Digger: Just down the road from me.

Clare: It was a mixture of all the different eras  and I remember being absolutely blown away by the forties re-enactors.

Digger: They do it very well and you could almost be there back in time. I was similarly impressed when I saw some at Duxford. Did your daughter inherit this or has she been influenced by you in some subtle, or maybe not so subtle way?

Clare: Because, until recently, my working life was very dominant I didnít really push it. She was aware of the dresses and stuff but it wasnít really something I talked about a lot with her. Then she was just obsessed with drawing and she came in and started to help me put outfits together saying ďThat should go with that.Ē And I just thought ďHmm, okay letís cultivate this.Ē And sheís definitelyÖ

Digger: Got the gene?

Clare: Yes. I think one reason I started Foxy was because of lots of things that happened.

Digger: Yes, youíve mentioned quite a few of them and I think sometimes they come together to make something happen. It took me until my mid-forties before I knew what I really wanted to do and had achieved all the skills and the environment to make it happen.

Clare: Itís so interesting isnít it? Because like my daughter, I was always interested in clothes, but I ended up going into a different thing entirely. And as you get older you realise youíve just got to go for it. A lot of the people that make it in the world - itís not always about talent, itís about having the guts to go out there and do it.

Digger:  Yes, 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. Can you tell us about the business itself and what itís evolved into?

Clare: Well, the irony is that Foxy is going to be one year old tomorrow. We launched at a fashion show on 3rd December 2009 with a party and high-brow burlesque. Because I have a marketing company, I thought I just wanted to experiment Ė itís not going to cost me a lot to set up because I have all the skills anyway. So we set up the website, the brand Ė the name was thought up by my husband.

Digger: No flack from the Americans about the name?

Clare: Not yet. I donít think we will do because weíre not selling films Ė itís something completely different.

Digger: True.

Clare: Because I had the skill set already it was not a huge outlay and I managed to get my husband to do it. The company evolved and now weíre selling well across the world and not only that Iíve been collecting original vintage patterns for years. And now Iím getting my first dress done based on one of those patterns Ė itís in production now. So thatís how itís evolving and we want our own range on there as well. I also do want to open a shop, but with the current economic climate Iím just keeping my eye on the pulse really.

Digger: You're obviously online and have got some stock somewhere.

Clare: Iím surrounded by stock. (Laughs)

Digger: But no physical presence as it were at the moment?

Clare: No, I do attend the odd show here and there and I sponsor quite a lot of events but I havenít got a shop. But I am thinking about it. Iím probably putting some concession rails into a few places. 

Digger: With the shop youíve got all the overheads to think about.

Clare: Itís the staff thing Iím not really keen on.

Digger: Yes, itís all the regulations these days.

Clare: Very difficult, yes.






Digger: I talk to people all of the time and they seem to be in two camps. Some say theyíll never have a shop and itís just too much hassle, preferring online only, whereas others see having a shop as a must and an extra string to their bow. Some are even looking at opening more shops.

Clare: Itís just the costings and youíve got to get it right because itís a big commitment.

Digger: Yes, with rents and so on you start from behind each month.

Clare: Thatís it and that is why weíre looking at doing some of our own designs based on old patterns and these are going to be wholesale. Theyíre proper patterns, not just made to look like the real thing, but they will be made to fit the modern shape. And maybe a few bits added here and there.

Digger: One client of mine up north has some sixties originals that she obtained and she wants to find a home for them so Iíll put you in touch. She is a costume and fancy dress hire company. She has this issue of people trying them on and sheís always worried that the seams will burst for one last time. So if youíre interested?

Clare: Yes, absolutely. I get asked for all sorts. I was even approached by some transvestite magazines.

Digger: Really?

Clare: Yes, I do get quite a few men purchasing and theyíre not always for their wives.

Digger: I suppose you just have to be a bit discreet.

Clare: (Laughs) Thereís plenty of markets.

Digger: I can remember when I had Ďa proper jobí, sitting with some friends outside a cafť in Baker Street on a hot summerís day. And within the space of half an hour three different transvestites walked past us. And the thing was that none of them was remotely convincing as a woman. Square chins, stubble, broad shoulders and so on.  Why do they do that?

Clare: I think itís something to do with being over the top. Everything is extreme (Laughs) and thatís why some of the frocks they wear, especially the fifties very extreme look with the thin nipped-in waist , are so extreme. Thatís the look theyíre trying to get all the time.

Digger: A bit of a challenge?

Clare: Yes.

Digger: Why is vintage and retro so poplar Ė it actually seems to be more so even in the last couple of years?

Clare: I have a theory that thereís a subculture of people that enjoy celebrating the past and whatever they associate is to do with their memories.

Digger: We live for the moment as well though donít we?

Clare: No, but I mean I think itís the old-fashioned values and old-fashioned glamour. But even right down to myself when I was a student re-enacting the mediaeval times. People are fascinated by history and I think the more recent history of the thirties, forties and fifties is a bit easier to grab hold of and we know a bit more about it. Because of our families and what have you.

Digger: Youíre too young to remember any of it first hand arenít you?

Clare: Yes, but the more recent revival is definitely to do with the recession Ė no doubt about it. Itís this kind of make-do-and-mend mentality. Because from the marketing side of what I do Ė I write columns for the local papers on marketing, and I have been talking quite a lot about what we call heritage branding. For example, if you go to Marks and Spencer they have all the old labels on the jars.

Digger: I noticed that on the Sainsburyís Christmas biscuits today.

Clare: Yes, Persil have been doing the ďWe have been around a long time, weíre reliable, weíre loyal, weíre good.Ē

Digger: Itís so funny, isnít it? Because when you look at these brands they belong to about three or four huge multinational companies and they donít exist as individual companies anymore.

Clare: Exactly, thatís it. I know but theyíre still sort of claiming heritage. And I think thatís what it is, itís to do with heritage. Actually my favourite era is the thirties and I think it was such a time of social change, effected by the previous years. The cut of womenís clothes was most complicated of all of the 20th century because of the way they cut the cloth. The forties got a lot simpler.

Digger: Out of necessity.

Clare: Yes. It got simpler because of the war and restrictions on cloth and what have you. And the fifties was very princess-like and was a reaction to the forties. But the thirties Ė even socially and culturally the changes that were going on and peopleís quality of life and politically. There was massive cultural change and I think itís overlooked because of the war.

Digger: Yes.

Clare: I find it fascinating, certainly from a sales point of view. Actually I was looking at old photographs and I found this old book I had hidden in the cupboard that I hadnít looked at for ages. And I was looking through it. It was a fashion book, taken in the thirties, but it could have been taken last week it was that modern.

Digger: Thatís weird when you see that isnít it?

Clare: Yes.

Digger: I hadnít thought about the thirties in that way, because they talk about the roaring twenties and the changes that the first World War had on people so they were reacting and partying as if there were no tomorrow. And also the breakdown of the old class system with servants and so on. It would never be the same again. And then the deco thing happened in the thirties and that was fantastic and covered every aspect of design.

Clare: Art, design, culture and all the literature that was written during that period. Lots of things are overlooked because of the war. George Orwell was writing then as well wasnít he?

Digger: Yes. The nineties and the noughties seem relatively really bland to me and I wonder if weíll look back on them in the same way in forty of fifty years? Iím not too sure we will.

Clare: No I donít really look at the nineties with any excitement.

Digger: No, itís all just technological change isnít it? The Internet.

Clare: Yes, it was the rise of the digital age and I do think that with having all this political change of leaders people are starting to wake up again. People were very drunk on materialism and there was far too much of that.

Digger: The students are actually protesting.

Clare: I know. Wow!

Digger: Weíre gong back to 1968. Itís amazing isnít it?

Clare: Itís brilliant.





Digger: What advice would you give to somebody who is starting to collect on the thirties, forties and fifties?

Clare: What advice would I give? Well obviously weíre not selling pure vintage clothes Ėthe things that you do find difficult to get that are reproduction are hats and accessories. Forties hats are very difficult to make now because they have to be moulded over certain shapes and itís far too expensive for people to do. In fact, Iím actually buying some vintage hats and taking them to a hat maker in the Czech Republic to see if they can reproduce them. I donít think thereís a huge market and that people will be prepared to pay for them.

Digger: Iím living in the town that used to be the home of the Empireís shoe and boot trade Ė Northampton, and just down the road was the home of all the hatters Ė Luton, and now both have hardly any of those industries left. Itís all gone now apart from one or two specialist factories.

Clare: They wonít ever be interested in doing more runs or things like that Ė theyíd want a high return and itís very difficult. I donít have any particular advice Ė yes, do your research but what I would say is that I would have always got a couple of really classic pieces and invested in them Ė invest a bit more money in those pieces because they will never lose their value and if anything theyíll gain in value. Iíd definitely go with accessories because they tend to be a better mix. The problem with vintage is that people see something with a stain or a rip and they get it anyway. But because itís in that state they will probably never wear it. And also beware of eighties. Because the person that doesnít know much about vintage might buy it thinking itís original forties Ė of course the eighties went through a period of emulating the forties after punk with the New Romantics. You see a lot of stalls passing off eighties stuff as forties. It is about research but also buy something you like and are going to wear.

Digger: What are the best sellers and the best investments?

Clare: Because my stuff is reproduction and not vintage my best sellers are always the fifties classic pencil black numbers Ė the safe things really.

Digger: The Princess Grace and Audrey Hepburn and Dior numbers?

Clare:  Yes, that type of look. I have a very wide market actually. I have people who just want something thatís going to look knockout and different to their friends at the Christmas party, then through to people who are really hard core vintage wearers.

Digger: Youíre not doing anything for blokes?

Clare: Weíre not and I think itís a big issue for blokes. Itís difficult to get things for blokes, because my husband is a bit of a chap and itís very difficult to find stuff.

Digger: Thereís people like Savvy Row and The 1940s and 50s Clothing Company.

Clare: Yes.

Digger: What about customer feedback?

Clare: With it being reproduction, theyíre not always replica vintage and I have a couple of brands that are vintage-inspired using modern fabrics and modern techniques. Iím very particular about the brands that I get but I also like to mix in with people that I find just making little bits here and there. I see that as a service so I have a range of forties snoods and I just ask a little lady down the road to make them for me. She loves being involved and she does them to an original vintage pattern. But then Iíll order some reproduction vintage clothes, which are very much reproduction, from New Orleans.

Digger: Wow, you've got some contacts.

Clare: Yes, I think that people like that Iíve done the research for them so I go out and I really find the right items. Iíve also got a lady making reproduction jewellery for me at the moment.

Digger: Have you got shoes?

Clare: Iíve got shoes, Iíve got dance shoes and party shoes. Itís just that my market ranges from the enthusiasts to people who just want something a bit different. Then thereís the Rockabilly and other groups. But customer feedback has always been extremely positive because I like to make sure that every item is carefully wrapped in gold tissue paper and sent out when we promise to so that it gets there on time and we try to communicate as much as possible. But also people just like to phone up to talk about the items, because obviously they canít try them on. They like to talk about sizes and I think that personal service is very important.

Digger: Thatís another answer to the question earlier on because I can remember when my mum used to do the shopping and sheíd stop off at the butchers, the bakers, the greengrocers and so on and spend half a day doing it going to individual shops.

Clare: And having a good chat.

Digger: Wherever you are in the country now it all looks the same, the familiar handful of chain stores and the supermarkets and itís all the same.

Clare: Yes, and I think thereís a great number of us that are getting a bit tired of that. A bit tired of being told what we should like and thatís the other part of why there's a resurgence and I think itís a reaction to the sameness. I think thereís always going to be an underbelly of people who want to do their own thing.

Digger: Whatís your difference?

Clare: I think itís the diverse range of products that we have and Iím always looking for new sources and suppliers. We serve people and understand these people who live and breathe vintage. We know what they want but we also understand the woman on the street who is getting tired of high street fashion.

Digger: What do you enjoy most about what youíre doing?

Clare: I love choosing the frocks! (Both laugh)

Digger: Itís a big excuse to be dressing up.

Clare: But also I manage all of our photo shoots so theyíre always based on a theme. The last one was Ladies Of The Night (Laughs) but the one before that was Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful and it was all about the forties lady working at home in the war and waiting for her fellah to come back. I always use a couple of burlesque models, but I also use people I bump into and if I think ďGosh, she looks nice.Ē I say to them ďWould you like to come and do it for a frock?Ē And they always say yes. (Laughs)

Digger: They always say yes? Thatís good, isnít it?

Clare: Yes. I always try to mix the people that I use but I also do all of the creative direction so I really enjoy sorting all that out. I must admit, I have quite a few frocks of my own now.

Digger: Of course you do.

Clare: I donít take any of them, itís only certain ones.

Digger: What about the future?

Clare: I can see where the gaps in the market are so certainly a plus size range for ladies because they just canít get vintage clothes for a certain size Ė they just donít exist.

Digger: The big players are missing a trick arenít they?

Clare: Yes, yes. So thatís in the pipeline at the moment and I think weíre going for a forties tea dress and a fifties circle dress.

Digger: Donít you think itís so incredible that there are so many people making a living out of retro and vintage?

Clare: Yes. I know, but I donít think itís going to go away and I donít think itís peaked yet, do you?

Digger: No. Even in the time that Iíve been doing this itís just amazing the number of companies who I keep finding on The Internet. Itís great finding all this retro stuff thatís available if you know where to look. Itís so diverse.

Clare: There's a company Iím sure youíve heard of called The Marvellous Tea Dance Company, and theyíre based in Leeds. They have quite a few events. Now Iím not big into drinking but I can go to their events in the afternoon with my daughter, I can go for tea and eat cake and dance and thereís something civilised about it. Our culture has developed into this lager lout drinking culture and there is something else Ė it doesnít have to be that way.

Digger: There are some things we do well in this country, like music and fashion and popular culture, but there are some things we do badly and the Europeans do very well.

Clare: I agree.

Digger: Weíve got lots of strengths but one weakness youíve identified isÖ

Clare: Yes, our attitude towards work and play.

Digger: Yes, the Europeans are family-orientated and have a big family lunch or dinner, a rest in the afternoon and they donít feel the need to drink to excess.

Clare: Itís very nice that with the vintage theme comes these tea parties Ė I didnít get to Goodwood Vintage sadly. I really want to go next time because itís such a good event and itís safe.

Digger: The only problem for you would be where to set up because they have different decades represented. I did hear from a lot of my clients that they didnít mage to see the rest of the show because they were stuck in their stall within a decade, as it were, in their own part of the event. That is part of the problem. You would have to be in three different places... Well, many thanks Clare. Keep warm and best of luck with all your plans.

Clare: It's been lovely speaking to you and keep in touch wonít you?

Digger: I will. And you. Take care.

Clare: You too. Bye.






20th Century Foxy


Demure 40s. Frisky 50s.

If you love Pin Up & Vintage reproduction clothing & inspired dress from the 1940s & 1950s...then this is shopping heaven!

Selected by true lovers of all things from the 1930s, 1940s & 1950s, 20th Century aims to supply the cream of the retro and vintage reproduction clothing market including rockabilly & swing styles. We are proud stockists of Stop Staring Clothing. If you're looking for a 1950s circle dress, a super sexy 1950s inspired pencil skirt or 1940s inspired tea dress, a bullet bra or even a 1950s swing style petticoat - this is the site for you! We are adding more lines continuously - many from local designer-makers and budding fashion designers. We are striving to stock clothing designed and made in the UK








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