There is no mistaking which clothes belong to Amanda Harper in the dressing room of BBC Yorkshire in Leeds. “We all share a wardrobe at work and have a rail each, and it’s very clear whose is whose,” she says. “I can walk in straight away and say, that’s Keeley’s section, that’s my section.”
TV presenter and journalist Amanda is a collector and enthusiast of vintage fashion and often wears her finds when presenting Look North – which means she is unlikely to arrive in the studio wearing the same dress as a colleague.
“When you are trying to look smart on television, there are certain brands that you tend to go for,” she says. “I remember one breakfast bulletin, me and Lisa Gallagher turned up on the same day in exactly the same dress, and I didn’t see her until she came into the studio two minutes before air. That never happens any more.”
Technically, vintage means anything between 20 and 100 years old (after that, it is antique) but for Amanda, even the 1980s can pose a challenge. “I do have quite a few dresses from that period, but I can remember it the first time around so sometimes it hurts a bit. I have flashbacks to standing at an event with my aunties and my mum in very similar style dresses which, at the time, I thought were terrible.”
Originally from Stockport, Amanda recently marked 20 years with BBC Look North. She lives in Roundhay with her husband, Look North health correspondent Jamie Coulson, and their two daughters, who are aged seven and nine. For our fashion shoot, she has borrowed the beautiful garden of her neighbours, Harriet and Tom.
The 1970s is Amanda’s favourite era. “I am a child of the ‘70s,” she says. “The skirt length came down a little bit. You just don’t see those fabric matches now – the zig zag stripes, the contrasting colours.”
She buys online on eBay, Etsy and Instagram. “And I find it very difficult to walk past a charity shop without reversing and going in,” she says. “We were on a weekend in Whitby and there was this blue dress in the window, 1980s. It was £5. You know what fits you, and sizes go out of the window with vintage, so I bought it and I read the news that night in it.”
She also loves vintage kilo sales, including those at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, where you might pay £15 a kilo – but there is a knack. Her first kilo sale buy was a heavy woollen dress, which she washed and ruined. “When it was weighed, it was probably £30. Now, I’m much more savvy, and little blouses or nylon dresses weigh nothing,” she says, adding: “I can literally feel my heart racing with the excitement of what I’m going to find.”
She can do her own clothing repairs, having learned some skills from her mother, Jennifer, who made clothes for her and sister Zoe. They used to put on fashion shows with their cousin and had a dressing-up box filled with old clothes. “Nowadays children have shop-bought Elsa dresses. We used to have an absolute ball strutting in and out of the living room,” Amanda says.
When she started shopping for her own clothes, she headed for the local charity shops. “The first thing I ever bought was this gold lamé tank top for £1.99. I wore that tank top to death. It took me through university, and I’ve probably still got it now, somewhere.”
Not every news day is appropriate for bold 1970s prints. “I look at what we are leading the programme with, and if it’s a nice, positive story or the Jubilee, I can get away with a little bit more,” she says.
There are plenty of compliments from viewers, although some occasionally take issue. Last month, Amanda hit the headlines herself when she tweeted a response to a woman who had called in to complain that her dress made her look “very thick set around the middle and matronly”. Amanda warned that she would be wearing it again for the later bulletin.
“You try not to take it personally but we are human,” she says. And she found huge public support, gaining more than 20,000 Twitter likes and a mention on Loose Women.
“It’s reassuring that there are nice people out there,” she says. “I was overwhelmed by it, and they were so nice, the comments.”
Amanda’s love of ‘70s-style platform shoes has posed technical problems with the autocue which presenters sometimes operate themselves, using a pedal like in a car. “I will often be reading the news with one shoe on and one shoe off,” she says. “Every now and then I will get caught out and a viewer will photograph said foot and enlarge it and then tweet it to me.”
Vintage shopping can be time-consuming, but worth it, not least as a planet-friendly fashion option. Amanda looks for pieces that are lined, well cut, lined and in a lovely fabric.
“We are spoiled with these pieces from the past that have all these little details that you just don’t see on the High Street. I still go to the High Street and occasionally buy something from Zara but I have to really love it.
“When I find a Clockhouse dress, it’s a flashback to my childhood. Now I can just treat myself, but back in the day I would have to plead with my mum for three weeks.”