Retro Jumpers: 5 Minutes With Sassy Fashionista Simone Bennett

In the spirit of Awkward Family Photos comes a new book to keep you warm at night: Retro Jumpers. Starring sweaters from your favourite bygone eras, the hilarious book features regular people wearing less-than-regular jumpers, from the sequined and spangled kinds to the knitted themed jumper. There’s even retro advertisements for an ‘80s sweatshirt workout, a video dating service, and cats wearing jumpers, all peppered with witty fashion advice. In the lead up to Christmas – which is pretty much the official event for ironically fabulous knits – we sat down with author Simone Bennet to talk about her sassy new book.

Simone Bennett (centre) gets her kitsch on at the Retro Jumper's photo shoot.

1. What inspired this awesome retro-project?

Well firstly, there weren’t really any books on retro jumpers available! A baffing oversight which has now been corrected.

Secondly, old jumpers are the best! A lot of people ask: “why buy a retro jumper?” It’s the same reason you buy a pair of fluoro Reebok Pumps, or a telephone shaped like an ear of corn – because they are camp and hilarious. I have a deep appreciation for the kitsch and absurd and I’m a long-time fan of retro sweaters.

I bought my first retro jumper ten years ago at a vintage market. It was a textured, woolly work of art with Aussie icons like kangaroos, boomerangs, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Uluru. That winter I hosted a retro jumper party and everyone’s kitsch knits came out of the closet. My sister wore a purple fluffy number with two taxidermied possum paws sewn onto the front. It was truly horrendous. But the best jumper of the night title was awarded to a moustachioed fellow with a jumper boasting a bright bird of paradise adorned with sequins. He went home with the meat tray.

    2. Where did you find the collection of jumpers for the book?

We needed nearly a hundred jumpers for the project, so there were a few methods! I had a few retro jumpers in my wardrobe ready to go. I also did a shout-out on social media and gathered some from friends. Others were hired from Rose Chong, Shag and Retro Star in Melbourne. I also hunted through dozens of op-shops around Melbourne, Geelong and Hobart. It was like the Amazing Race, but with jumpers!

    3. How did you convince your friends to get involved with the photo shoot, and were there bribes involved?

They didn’t need much convincing! My pal Cassie is the cover girl and now she’s in bookshops all over the place. I didn’t want real models – real models aren’t funny. You need people who are just a tiny bit uneasy in the spotlight. Then you can harness their awkwardness! Friends who posed all got a copy of the book and a rad profile picture. The photo shoot went for three days. It was fun but exhausting!

    4. Have any of the jumpers found their way into your regular wardrobe?

I have a New Kids on the Block one that I wear a fair bit. The NKOTB logo is on the front and the boy’s names are repeated all over the sleeves and back.

    5. What is your favourite worst retro jumper in the book? Why?

There are so many! There’s an exquisite sequined number with bat-wing sleeves that my husband modelled. He looks like a flamboyant figure skater about to win gold in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. There’s also set of three matching hand- knitted sweaters featuring a quaint farmhouse against blue skies. A horrific, adult-sized clown jumper makes an appearance. Hand-knitted stuff is the best. It’s lovingly crafted, but… not quite right. You don’t see homemade clothing around anymore.

    6. If we were to go op-shop diving for retro goods, where would be your top picks?

I swear by Camberwell Market. It’s quite an affluent area and the contents of rich old lady’s wardrobes sometimes end up there. You have to arrive at the crack of dawn though.

Finding unique vintage sweaters can be tricky! Any keen thrift shopper will understand the struggle of finding that perfect piece. You can fossick and scrounge through dozens of op-shops and come up empty handed. You live for that magic moment, when after digging through a bargain bin full of stained cargo pants and musky nightgowns, you find the holy grail of knitwear – a mint condition Cosby sweater for under 10 dollars. If you can’t find the perfect vintage sweater, there are plenty of amazing patterns around. Knit your own!

    7. If money were no object, what glorious/horrendous retro look would you love to recreate?

Kath Day-Knight is my style queen. She always looks fabulous – and she does it on a budget!

    8. Do you have any other projects that readers can check out?

I love food – especially strange and obscure convenience store snacks from Asia and beyond. I travelled to South Korea recently just so I could try all their chips. Follow @snackreview on Instagram to read some witty quips about junk food from around the globe.

    9. Help us! We weren’t born with a great fashion sense. How can we too become a sassy fashionista?

Knowing which sassy knit goes with what fancy hat is just something you’re born with. But through diligent study, you can learn! The knowledge you gain from Retro Jumpers will not only help you look interesting and attractive, but will help you be a better human and achieve your dreams. You’ll instantly see the results in all areas of your life, from the boardroom to the bedroom.

Here are a few tips for free:

  • Lose yourself in an unreasonably large, oversized knit. The top-heavy shape will cut a flattering silhouette and slim the legs.
  • EVERYTHING goes with high-waisted acid wash mum jeans. A crisp pleat will earn you extra points.
  • Wearing your hair in side ponytail with fluoro scrunchy is always a good idea.
  • Start rollerblading everywhere. Not only is it a great workout for your buttocks, but you’ll look like you’re from an early 90s Sunkist commercial.
  • Even sassy fashionistas need to eat. I recommend the cheese toast at Sizzler for a tasty and nourishing snack between op- shops.

Compact and conveniently the same size as a Christmas stocking, Retro Jumpers is now available. You can buy Retro Jumpers at your local bookstore, Readings or Dymocks. For more of Simone’s work, check out www.simonebennett.com.au or follow her on Instagram at @simone_bub_bennett.

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