‘There are no age or beauty barriers.’ – Mistress Chrissy.
On Sunday I attended a vintage workshop put on by The Lindy Charm School for Girls. It was, truth be told, the first makeup workshop or hair workshop I have ever attended, despite my many professional years spent in front of cameras. It seemed like a fun opportunity to spend an afternoon with some other vintage lady-geeks and further my vintage repertoire.
I was not disappointed.
The class began with Mistress Chrissy – straight-backed and resplendent in an ice blue silk vintage frock, velvet hat and black seamed stockings – having us all rise and recite The Lindy Charm School for Girls oath. ‘I do solemnly swear to always wear red lipstick…’
Part glamour queen, part schoolmarm, Mistress Chrissy is clearly serious about what she does, despite the tongue-in-cheek quips. Walking erect past the dozens of women in the workshop (the participants aged from 18 to 68, at a guess) held at the Penrith Regional Art Gallery, she offered us directions and guidance with an air of authority as we perched at benches with makeup mirrors, bobby pins and lipstick, wrangling untidy locks and uneven eyeliner, and discussing the merits of bullet bras and dolly pegs. Mistress Chrissy and her glamourous team brought a deep knowledge of vintage style and history to proceedings. Chrissy is clearly passionate about the vintage lifestyle and its ‘less is more’ rejection of fickle trends and consumer capitalism. (In the 1940s women didn’t have many dollars to spend and didn’t have access to many products we now take for granted. Sugar water, baby oil, beetroot juice and other household beauty tools were mentioned in the workshop.)
In Mistress Chrissy’s philosophy, the transformative potential of old-style glamour can be important. ’Tara, I do believe it is not all about lipstick, powder and paint,’ she told me. ‘Beauty is within us but these workshops offer some women a way to find it that is fun and interesting, and by gathering together with like-minded women who are all there for the same reason and have an interest in the glamorous styles of the past. There are no age or beauty barriers.’
It would be easy to scoff at such an idea, but ‘no age or beauty barriers’ is a fairly apt statement. Unlike most magazines, ads and blogs focussed on such topics, it struck me that workshops like these (and the vintage scene in general) might afford one of the few opportunities for women who don’t feel they fit the current ‘beauty standard’ to enjoy their physical appearance without feeling marginalised. Young, old, slim, large, short and tall, each woman appeared to enjoy the experimentation with their style. They each left with a broad smile and a noticeably straighter posture.
Whatever each of us had come for, there was no doubt we had escaped the mundane for 3 hours, enjoyed a splendid time and picked up some interesting style tips and trivia on mid-century history.
(Oh, and I’m still working on my victory rolls…)
Mistress Chrissy started The Lindy Charm School for Girls in 2005. I sat down with her to ask a few questions:
What prompted you to start The Lindy Charm School for Girls?
Although being involved in “The Scene” through Vintage Collection/Styling and Dancing for the past 20 years, the Lindy Charm School for Girls was a natural progression from teaching my own dance students how to re-create and style themselves based on the swing era which was the music they were predominately dancing to. These home based “Styling days” became so popular that I decided to take it on the road and share the knowledge around Australia and New Zealand and more recently the US. There is much we can learn from our foremothers who trail blazed for the freedoms and independence we enjoy today and with the beauty of hindsight, The Lindy Charm School for Girls preserves and imparts only the best of the past to enhance our present.
What first made you enthusiastic about vintage?
Everyone starts from a different place but most people seeking out a vintage lifestyle have a penchant for the history of old. I grew up with the music & films of the 40’s and 50’s with my dad. My favorite memory of growing up was Saturday afternoon movie time with him – always Jerry & Dean or an Elvis Flick and always in black and white. My eye for the fashion and style came from then but it was when I was introduced to the Dance (“Lindy Hop”) my passion for swing music grew then came the fashion/lifestyle of the 30’s and 40’s. I remember when I got my first 1940’s original crepe A line frock with beautiful beading on it. I was in heaven and I matched it with the right hat, accessories, hair and makeup and walked in to my parents home and Dad teared up. Being a soldier, that NEVER happened. He said he thought his mother had walked home.
What has been some of the most common feedback on your workshops?
I’ve had the most amazing emails and letters over the past 9 years and the common thread has been how it made them feel more empowered, confident and beautiful: ‘You made me feel beautiful when I didn’t feel I was.’ ‘I met some lovely ladies and I found your insights into the life of our awesome foremothers very inspiring.’ ‘At 65 years of age I finally know how to wear makeup. Thank you.’
A couple of stand-out comments that have had an impact on me was a letter from a young girl’s mother saying she believes that the Charm School experience had saved her daughter’s life who was battling with depression, self harming and trichotillomania. She follows us on FB and pops up now and then to say she is still doing well. Another letter that had a real impact was an email from a girl who had been bullied heavily and was very depressed… I asked her what made the difference and she said the workshops made her see her beauty and worth was there, and once she believed she had it she grabbed it with both hands.
To find out more, go to The Lindy Charm School website.
Above: Mistress Chrissy (in blue) helps with a hair style at the workshop while her assistant Miss Sammy (in black hat) advises on bobby pins. Below: Rolling up my sleeves and getting into the 40s spirit.
* Photographs courtesy of Dimity Mullane.
* Note: This post has not been sponsored. In fact, none of my posts have been sponsored. For more posts on Vintage, click here.