This week I’m interviewing non-fiction author Caroline Young and reviewing her latest book ”Kitted Out” . Caroline’s previous books include “Style Tribes”, “Hitchcock’s Heroines”, “Living With Coco Chanel” and “Roman Holiday”.
This book, from the very beginning, had me spellbound. The book is all about style and youth culture in the Second World War – absolutely fascinating stories from those who were teenagers/ twenties and what their uniforms, clothing and general style meant to them. It was so interesting to find out how they adapted regulation uniform to try and make it slightly more stylish without angering those in higher authority, how they tweaked clothing in general for those “dances” … how despite there was a war going on, style and music icons were still revered and styles copied. I enjoyed reading about the different uniform styles for both men and women, in all the services too. I think the most fascinating part of this book are the stories – not just from those who served from the UK, but the American GIs, the Land Girls, the German swing kids.
Hi Caroline, it is such a pleasure to welcome you onto the blog …
Hi! I’m Caroline. I’m a non-fiction author from Edinburgh, specialising in film, fashion and pop culture. My books include Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures, Hitchcock’s Heroines, Living with Coco Chanel, Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome, and Kitted Out: Style and Youth Culture in the Second World War.
Who or what inspired you to research and write about style and youth culture in the 2nd World War?
The idea was sparked when I was researching my book Style Tribes, which explores fashion in subcultures over the last 100 years. I’d featured a number of youth movements around the time of the Second World War, including the zoot suits and the swing youth in Germany, and it made me think of how young people expressed themselves in wartime. Even though uniforms were rolled out in countries around the world, creating this sense of mass homogynisation, there was still a need to express oneself, and to proclaim individualism, even more so when being surrounded by tragedy and death. I then thought of the men of the RAF who were the heroes of the Battle of the Britain, who suffered enormous losses, and developed their own language and style codes to become a bit cliquey. I wanted to look at the different factions, the hierarchies and the subtle ways uniform could be adapted. There was a lot of scrounging for equipment in battle, taking pieces from the enemy as a souvenir or because it was a better piece of clothing, and I found all those stories so intruguing.
I found your latest book, “Kitted Out”, absolutely fascinating. I was amazed at the stories of how both the men and women adjusted their uniforms slightly to add a bit of style to them and the style uniform envy that went on. I must admit I quite like the khaki ladies uniforms – the colour and style anyway – Which uniform would you have found most appealing?
I really liked the land girls’ uniform – with the cord breeches, and shirts, and the turbans wrapped around the head. I think for many young women, going away from their homes for the first time and working outdoors, it was really a revelation. There were lots of accounts from these women who considered it one of the best times of their lives, of absolute freedom, even though they were often judged by the farmers for the unladylike clothes they were wearing, and for going to the pub with soldiers from the nearby bases.
I liked how you included a section that included the German youth and their love of swing too. It seems such a shame that a war was going on because it just highlighted, to me at any rate, how youth the world over are just the same. Overall, were there any aspects of the stories told that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?
Swing music was definitely an equaliser in the war, and one of the stories from Germany that I found fascinating was of examples of Luftwaffe pilots tuning into the BBC as they flew closer to Britain, so they could listen to swing music, because foreign radio, and jazz, was banned in Nazi Germany.
A lot of the stories I featured were surprising, in the way that these young people faced challenges head on, and had to ignore the pain in losing friends as best they could, because there wasn’t really a choice but to get on with it. One of my favourite people in the book is Diana Barnato, a female pilot in the ATA, and absolutely fearless. She lost her fiancé and then a husband in the space of a couple of years, and almost was killed a couple of times when flying planes – once when the undercarriage fell away while thousands of feet in the air. I also loved her descriptions of going to London nightspots until 4am, discussing flying techniques with fighter pilot friends, and then catching the train back to the base, changing from an evening dress back into her uniform, and going straight back to work.
Growing up, have you always wanted to be an author or did you have other career aspirations in mind?
I always wanted to be an author from a young age, absolutely. I can remember typing out notes on my grandfather’s typewriter when I was about five years old, and I always enjoyed writing little stories. I couldn’t really think of anything else I wanted to do apart from write, and so I think it was destined. I’m also a history geek, and love the research aspect of writing non-fiction, and coming up with new ideas. So I’m always writing, and thinking about writing, and thinking of great subjects for future books.
Are there any new writing plans in the pipeline?
I have another book on Chanel coming out next year; a fun little guide to the designer called What Coco Chanel Can Teach You About Fashion, and will be published by White Lion. I also have a couple of ideas that I’m developing, including a book on the Hag Horror genre of movies which I’ve called Crazy Old Ladies. On top of this I finally finished a novel in lockdown, one I’d been working on for the last eight years. So I’m hoping to find a publisher for that.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
I am definitely a bookworm! If I am in the midst of writing a book, a lot of what I’m reading is dedicated to that subject. Last year, when I was writing Kitted Out, I was reading endless books on the Second World War. So it’s great to have time to read novels. I really like David Nichols, Liane Moriarty and Lucy Foley, and I have been getting into the domestic thriller genre, as I’d love to write one myself. I have to confess I tend to read off my Kindle – I’ve just fallen into the habit and it’s useful for highlighting notes. But nothing beats the look and feel of an actual book.
Is “Kitted Out” available to purchase worldwide?
I believe it is available worldwide – I’ve certainly seen it online in bookshops for different countries.
If you could visit any place in the world to give you inspiration for your next book, where would you go and why?
I would love to go to Venice, as I can imagine being inspired to write a thriller set in the city, with all those alleyways, or the romance of a costume ball. And I’m fascinated with the twenties, so I’d also like to go the French Riviera so that I could trace the footsteps of the American bohemians like F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Gerald and Sara Murphy.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
As I’m sure lots of people can identify with, over the last six months I’ve been in leggings and cosy socks and jumpers, as I’ve been hunkering down at home, and I live in Scotland, where the weather is never that great, even over summer. But I love ankle boots with floral dresses and pleated skirts, or jumpsuits. I also have a faux-leather dress that I can’t wait to wear again – I just need an occasion to wear it for.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
I’m a little bit addicted to Oliver Bonas at the moment, as it’s just full of colourful, fun pieces that are real mood-enhancers. I’m also a big fan of Whistles, so I keep an eye out for when they have a sale on.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I need some new shoes for autumn, and a nice warm coat. I think I need to buy practical clothes at the moment, as I bought quite a few new summer dresses and a bikini, and then my holiday was cancelled due to increased travel restrictions. So I’m thinking comfortable clothing to wear around the house is the way forward.
Boots or Shoes?
I like boots, because I find them more versatile, but I’m also always walking everywhere so I tend to wear trainers a lot at the moment.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Instagram – carolinejillyoung
Fabulous chatting to you Caroline! Thank you for joining us on the blog.
My thanks to Caroline Young for the copy of Kitted Out to review.
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Caroline Young.