Welcome to the latest highly exciting instalment of Who What Wear UK's Best Wardrobes in Britain. It's where we do exactly what it says on the tin: delve into the most fantastical, awe-inspiring and downright influential wardrobes. We're honing in on the women who cause the street style photographers to press their shutters and the characters you don't yet know—the ones who fly under the radar with secretly incredible clothing collections.
If I had to choose one person I follow on Instagram to sum up the 2021 aesthetic thus far, it would Sara Louise Thomas aka @sara_waiste. The Brighton-based vintage store owner and Instagram influencer wouldn't know that she's the epicentre of all things current because she's self-deprecating and organically creating her own unique look hinged upon one-off items and indie brands. It's for this very reason that her style resonates with so many of us right now. Bright and cheerful, sustainable and thoughtful, Thomas's joyful fashion outlook is relatable yet individual, and when we reposted a shot of her wearing a head-to-toe pink ensemble in her retro flat a couple of months ago, our followers showed their appreciation in more likes and comments than the average outfit post garners. We knew at that point that it was time to take this relationship to the next level and explore her amazing closet in person. Once the restrictions eased and allowed it, we jumped right in with Thomas's ultra-cute collection to learn more about her personal style…
On Sara Louise Thomas: Lily and Lionel dress; Prada shoes
Have you always been interested in fashion?
The answer to that is yes! I actually went to study fashion design at university in Birmingham, but I absolutely hated it. It wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting… I don't really know what I was expecting, but it was pattern cutting and very technical and [about] churning out collections, and it just wasn't for me. But I didn't really get much direction at school about what I wanted to do.
Then, I wanted to be a stylist. So I moved to London and got an internship at ASOS. I went to ASOS firstly as a shoot assistant and then a shoot coordinator for menswear, and I was there for four and a half years, so I definitely got an e-commerce background and saw how they do shoots, how they put it together, how they style it. And then, I left there to start a vintage company and started styling up that, so that's what I like to do styling-wise because I realised I didn't like being a stylist because I was too shy! The thought of calling up and pulling outfits, I don't even like going on the phone…
Well, thank you for not being too shy to do this today! So before you went to uni and thought you wanted to be a fashion designer, what was your interest in fashion? And what was the fashion scene like in the town you come from, Stoke-on-Trent?
It wasn't great! I think I always wanted to look a bit different to everyone else. I would hack away at my clothes and cut them up and embellish them. I remember—it was very tragic—I had this denim skirt that I hacked off and sewed these pearls onto the bottom, and I thought I was so cool because no one else had it. I used to go out religiously every weekend to charity shops. The charity shops in Stoke are actually pretty great. I don't know what they're like now because I've not been back for a while… but they were amazing—you could get sequined cowboy boots for £2 or jazzy dresses. It stemmed from wanting to do something a bit different and not just following the crowd.
On Sara Louise Thomas: Olivia Rose the Label dress; Gucci sandals; Loueo bag
It was quite brave of you to be in a job at somewhere like ASOS and then decide to set up your vintage business—talk me through that…
So I actually first started doing customised denim, customised denim jackets. I was upcycling, but [the jackets] were so hard to get hold of in the sizes we wanted, so by accident, I went to a vintage wholesale place in London to try and source this denim, ended up looking to see what else they had, pulled a few things together, did a vintage shoot and roped in all of my friends to help, and it sold out within an hour! It was just online—I've always had my own website.
I was definitely in the right place at the right time with Instagram… ASOS, they really jump-started my Instagram because they used to repost a lot of my photos and tag me. And then when I started Waiste, Instagram definitely wasn't as big as it is now—it was very new and up-and-coming, and no one was really doing what I was doing. There was obviously the Rokits and Beyond Retros and all that but not that many small vintage sellers. It was a niche market.
How does your vintage selection vary? What's the Waiste aesthetic, and what's your personal preference?
We've always been very '60s and '70s focused, but it's kind of becoming a bit more trend-led. For example, all of the big collars, embroidered floral cardigans, cute blouses—I've got hundreds of vintage ones of them. I just really love finding the vintage version of what everyone wants because there's nothing new. It's all recycled from somewhere.
For me, I'm still quite '70s influenced, all of the patterns and prints and stuff. I mean, I would die for any vintage Gucci, but I think you've got to be a vintage wholesaler to come across that stuff now. It's like gold dust. All the '70s silhouettes, flares, beautiful maxi dresses, I've still got a soft spot for [them].
What's your best advice for someone else who wants to shop vintage?
With vintage, where possible, you've got to try it on and completely ignore all the sizing labels because none of them are the right size. So I would just advise to take a few things, try them on and be brave with it. Grab a few with things you might not have normally gravitated towards and you might find that you suit them really well!
On Sara Louise Thomas: vintage blouse; Ganni dress; Shrimps bag
Do you feel that a more circular way of shopping has always been of interest to you?
To be honest, I think it has without me even realising it. Selling vintage and buying vintage, I didn't even think about it being sustainable. It was just what I liked to do. I think now it's becoming more shouted about and that it's actually a really good thing people should be doing more of. But saying that, if you really love something from the high street and you know you're going to wear it all the time, then I don't see much wrong with that if you're going to love that item and not just wear it once and throw it away.
Quite a few pieces in your wardrobe are from smaller, made-to-order or slow-fashion brands. Why do you gravitate towards those labels?
First of all, [it's about] knowing where your clothes have been made. Knowing that someone has taken the time and effort and made this outfit for you, it's just something that's completely different from anything else on the high street. If you went to Topshop and picked up a dress, you'd probably see five to 10 people wearing it on a night out or something, but with all of these little, small brands and designers, you don't get that. You can feel really unique in your fashion sense.
On Sara Louise Thomas: Fresha London dress; Prada sandals
You've been sharing your looks on Instagram for a while now, has it changed the way you dress?
Do you know what, it really has changed the way I dress. Now I am so much more aware of what I’m wearing and thinking 'oh, I must take a photo of this for Instagram' whereas before I would just throw something on and not care. Also, if brands are sending me stuff then I have to kind of slot them into my Instagram, and I want it to still be as authentic as possible, obviously. So it’s just about choosing what brands to work with and also I think it’s quite important to make sure you are wearing things more than once. Maybe you don’t always see it on Instagram but I do [rewear]—I think it’s important to keep styling things in different ways, because some people might not buy clothes that often. I do feel like sometimes I look at and outfit and think 'maybe I won’t put this on Instagram because it’s not "good enough"'.
I appreciate your honesty. With this idea of "good enough," do you think that's affected by likes?
I feel like for me I am quite insecure, so I do get affected by [likes] which is really sad and I wish [Instagram] would just take them away—it’s so annoying. I will admit, sometimes when my photos don’t "perform" as well, I will think 'oh, I don’t want to wear that anymore' which is sad and I shouldn’t be feeling like this.
On Sara Louise Thomas: Myracle cardigan; Ilk and Ernie top; Motel Rocks trousers; Prada shoes and bag
Does living in Hove and having a store in neighbouring Brighton suit your style, and has it changed the way you dress?
I definitely think it's changed my style. It's much more the norm here to wear whatever you want, to not care what people think and wear your jazziest outfit to get a coffee or something. I think it's a lot freer down here than it was in London. In London, it was all like a black uniform; whereas in Brighton, I've definitely gotten a lot brighter and not been scared to wear what I want because no one really judges you down here.
What takes up the most space in your wardrobe?
Dresses, 100%. They're just so easy to put on. You know those Sleeper dresses? They're actually more comfy to me than sweatpants. I love the fact that you can make no effort but look like you do, if that makes sense. I love the cool independent brands like Ganni. Lily and Lionel is another one. Fresha, Dôen have beautiful dresses. I think I've got a bit of an addiction to dresses…
On Sara Louise Thomas: Molby the Label dress and Gucci sandals; The Violet Label dress and Prada shoes and headband; Warm Hugs Only vest, Kate Jacques trousers and Prada sandals; La Veste blouse, Zara trousers, Gucci shoes and Prada headband
Anything you want to splurge on this year?
I just bought the Prada loafers. That was my main thing I was desperate for. I always love a good bag, but I think I need to rein it in with the bags.
The loafers are an interesting choice, as they're almost the opposite of everything you own.
It's weird, isn’t it? When I bought them, I wasn't quite sure. I was like, "They're so black. I don’t know if I'm going to wear them," and then I've worn them every single day because they just go with everything. They kind of toughen up an outfit.
Do you think you've always been able to look at something and know that you'll wear it a lot, or is that a skill that's developed over time?
I think it's definitely a skill that's developed. When I was younger going to charity shops, I could envision what it would look like shorter or styled up this way or that way. About eight times out of 10, it would work!
Shop Sara Louise Thomas's looks: