Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Claire au Contraire

Claire was the receptionist at the theatre where I work once upon a time. She has since moved on, and I miss her cheerful greetings and bubbly personality. Claire has a classic English rose complexion, and wore at the time a pixie hairstyle that suited her so well. It also offset the bright colours and prints she favoured – which I highly appreciated living as I do in a city whose citizens worship black.

Her self-confessed rebellious streak often pushes her to invert feminine stereotypes with surprise elements, such as the stomping boots she is wearing on this occasion.

Because a receptionist is always busy, we had only a few minutes to quickly snap these photos in the foyer of our workplace, which happens to be graced by a red sofa shaped like a pair of lips – a piece of furniture recycled from a play – a perfect backdrop for a classic red and black outfit. I interview her over lunch in our cafeteria.

Choosing an outfit for the day can be a fraught process for lots of women, and is usually based on many criteria. What was yours this morning, Claire?

I’m going to the theatre straight after work tonight, so I wanted something that would be nice in the evening, and be comfortable to wear all day.

Claire’s self-confessed rebellious streak often pushes her to invert feminine stereotypes

How did you put this outfit together?

I chose the polka dot dress first – it’s by Princess Highway. Then I wanted a solid block of colour to pop against all that black. As the dress has a waist tie, I needed something short to show off the waist, and picked out a bolero jacket. This jersey knit is by Oasis, a British high-street brand. The tights are Voodoo Voluptuous, made for the fuller figure, as otherwise I find tights have a tendency to fall down.

Originally I was shopping for an outfit for a wedding when I stumbled across this dress, and I bought it ‘just because’ – for fun. It was particularly attractive because of the knee length, which is just right for my figure. I don’t like dresses that are too short.

Those boots are quite a contrast though!

Yes, I wore them deliberately to subvert the femininity of the polka dots and puff sleeves. Also, rain was forecast, and I would be doing a lot of walking, so they are very practical.

Are they Doc Martens?

No, they are an inexpensive UK shoe brand, and were a Christmas present from mum last time I visited her in London. The boots I had taken with me on holiday were worn and a bit holey, so mum treated me to a new pair.

You always look super-cute! And your outfits look well thought out. How would you describe your style?

I’ve found one of the most important things in dressing is flattering the figure you have – I’ve come to embrace my pear-shape. The other thing that comes into play is the feminist in me. While I do wear a lot of ‘pretty’ clothes, I like to add an element of surprise and novelty to offset the overt girlishness.

I have been through different fashion phases, such as rockabilly, when I used to wear high-waisted jeans with tops tucked in. But as my body shape has changed, I’ve modified my dress sense with it. Like many people, I own many more clothes that fit me! If I lost some weight, I would double my wardrobe.

What kind of shopper are you?

I am very purposeful. I save up my cash and go shopping when I have something particular I am looking for. I’m actually not very good at mixing and matching, so I pay attention to how things are put together in store displays. I’ll often buy the full outfit: dress, cardigan, shoes that match, and then I’ll wear exactly that way. I find it easier.

What are the items you usually gravitate towards?

I like A-line dresses and skirts, and cute patterns or designs always catch my eye, such as polka dots, or animal graphics. I also have quite a lot of cropped cardigans, and the odd black dress.

Do you have any favourite shops?

I like Princess Highway, because they make clothes that work well for curvy women, and Review for their retro style – they reinterpret vintage well.

I already know that you like vintage. Where do you look?

Definitely! I don’t want to buy everything new. When I am shopping in new retail stores, I am very purposeful, but when it’s vintage I am quite a carefree browser. You don’t know what you’ll find, but you’re certain to come across something that is much more unique.  

I mostly shop in my neighbourhood, at Sheila Vintage on Brunswick St (Fitzroy, Melbourne), and also in op shops. I do look online, but it’s too hard to be sure of fit, so I never buy. I own a few vintage dresses that need altering, but I don’t sew, so they just hang in my closet.

You don’t know what you’ll find, but you’re certain to come across something that is much more unique.

A common problem many of us have! Do you have any favourite vintage finds?

Yes, a couple of dresses, a yellow Hawaiian print, and a chequered picnic dress of Italian cotton. Both were bargains at $20 from op shops.

Where do you find your fashion inspirations? Is there anything you’re looking for at the moment?

I look more on Instagram for ideas, rather than magazines. I’m looking for a new winter coat, one with a belted waist. I like the capes coming in at the moment, but it goes against my usual look. I do really need things with long sleeves too.

Ah, coats, I love them. But if you only have one main one, it’s important to get it right. Thank you for sharing your fashion philosophy with us, Claire. It’s been a pleasure!

Now that’s what I call a fairly typical modern shopper with a careful fashion budget: understands her figure, keeps an eye on trends, mixes new with old, and has some irreverent fun too.

Princess Tatiana spoke with Claire in May 2014, subsequently misfiled the photos, and only rediscovered them recently. But Claire still looks good!


Stocking Stuff

Recently I found a stack of 1960s vintage stockings in a thrift store, which was a fun and thrilling find that had more to do with the packaging than the actual contents. This is partly because I am a graphic designer, and mostly because I can’t be bothered with donning garters on a regular basis, especially as I am always dressing in a hurry. In my early 20s I often did wear stockings, and cursed when I had failed to button garters properly. There is nothing like the horror and mortification of a stocking coming down at the most inopportune moment due to failed garters!

Vintage Stockings

There is a set of three pairs of nylon stockings by Bouquet, in a beige skin tone, size 8½; one packet had already been opened and the contents examined – whether by the original owner or someone else I don’t know, but they haven’t been worn.

The wonderful second package – illustrated with a poodle! – contains Kolotex Clings stockings, in the colour ‘Flame’, size 8½–9. If the poodle on the box is not enough to delight you, the interior packaging is priceless. It includes instructions for how to put pantyhose on (I would add to them: file your nails, or else wear cotton gloves when pulling on fine hosiery), and also a promotional pamphlet disguised as a fashion quiz, the cover design of which is in an early psychedelic style. This pamphlet is full of everything you wanted to know about Trikolon, a 2-way nylon: ‘so fine a spider couldn’t spin it’.

While Kolotex was already producing full pantyhose at this point, the owner of these clearly had not yet made the shift – or perhaps they had in fact, which is why the contents of these packages remained unworn relics.

Click for larger version

A Bit of History

Nylon was introduced in 1939 by chemical company DuPont, but WWII interrupted the manufacture of stockings, leading to global shortages and a black market that did not abate until the end of the war. Even after production was reinstated, DuPont could not keep up with the immediate demand, and that lead to nylon riots in America!

Pantyhose were introduced in 1959 and quickly became popular, eventually superseding stockings in sales, especially with the Sixties craze for minidresses. It was not until 1987 that sales declined – though only a little – with the newly invented stay-up stockings. These are my favourite: there is no bother of pulling them up and down whenever one goes to the bathroom, and there is no tiresome fiddling with garters.

The copy in the Kolotex fashion quiz is quite entertaining; click through to the gallery to see all twelve pages.

Photos: March 2017


Extra Sugar

A few years ago, my occasional collaborator Sapphire and I transformed ourselves into anime girls to create a little humorous cartoon sequence. It was based on the premise that these typically skimpily-clad girls were drawn by male artists, and were TIRED OF IT. They’d had jack of glorified scanties and wanted to wear designer clothes. And they were prepared to fight for them!

Long-time readers of SNAP will not wonder where our costumes came from: out of my closet, which encompasses a multitude of wigs, accessories and sundry oddments as well as a vast assortment of vintage and contemporary clothes – almost anything you could imagine. A 1950s opera cloak? Tick! An 1850s velvet skating coat? Tick! A Victorian woman’s evening top hat? Edwardian underclothes? A pair of over-the-knee leather boots? A long, curly-haired pink wig? Tick, tick, tick! (Those who know my tiny apartment often exclaim, “Where do you keep it all?!”)

Once we’d worked out what our costumes were going to be, the really fun part was putting on our makeup. Sapphire had cleverly done her research and found some YouTube tutorials on transforming our boring human eyes into enormous anime eyes. I supplied an enormous quantity of makeup for the purpose (Sapphire enquiring, “Do you have white eyeliner?” “Yes!” “Liquid eyeliner?” “Yes!” “False eyelashes?” “Yes! I have everything!”). The only thing Sapphire had to bring was a pair of shoes, since she’s a size smaller than me.

Every time I put on false eyelashes for a special event – these ones are black feathers – I think they are such fun that I should wear them every day. Whenever I do wear them for several hours, I am so happy to rip them off as soon as I come home however. Everyone knows the pleasure of wriggling toes upon removing painful heels, but there is the same bliss in removing the weight of sticky curtains from one’s eyelids.

Click for larger versionWhen I opened the folder on my computer I laughed when I saw these out-takes and extras – how awesome we looked! We also took some Hipstamatic photos behind the scenes of the photoshoot: there is even one of me hurriedly repairing a pair of handmade earrings for Sapphire to wear that match her necklace. The red pom-pom headband I am wearing I also made. One of the other amusing vintage garments are the 1960s lace-trimmed petti-pants Sapphire wears under her blue dress. All the clothes we are wearing are secondhand items I sourced from various places, except for the over-the-knee socks, both of which were new, and the pink nylon tutu I have on.

You can see the original story Revenge of the Anime Girls here – I enlisted the help of a bemused male work colleague to do the hand modelling, and he was very forbearing about being kicked by two miniature women. Looking at all these behind-the-scenes photos reminds me how much fun we had. It might be time to book another date with Sapphire!

Photos: March 2013


What I Actually Wore #0131

Serial #: 0131
Date: 03/07/2013
Weather: 16°C / 61°F
Time Allowed: 10 minutes

On a chilly day I decide wool is necessary. A new Anthropologie dress is the easiest choice; I had recently purchased it secondhand on eBay. I had picked it out because of the geometric pattern, which was very Art Deco, even if the minidress had a more modern shape. The knit is quite thick and sturdy, and surprisingly warm. I like the belt which is made in the same fabric too. Matching belts are one thing that so often go astray from their dresses in op shops – it’s maddening! Contrasting ones sometimes never look quite right.

Underneath the dress I wear what I always thought of as my black Guinevere knit, because it had a medieval look with the little puffed shoulders and fitted sleeves. I purchased this Max Studio top in Hong Kong in, I think, 2006, so it had been in my closet for a decade before being culled at the end of last winter. The stockings are also wool for warmth, and my sparkly red Dorothy heels add a splash of colour.

Over this outfit I wore my beloved but fragile vintage 70s Zhivago coat, suede with rabbit fur trim, a vintage velvet and fur-trimmed cloche cap, and carried my black patent vintage 60s/70s handbag. It’s quite a vintage look, but once the coat is off this is a fairly simple outfit, which I like. My hair looks freshly-bobbed too. As it’s growing out now from my current pixie cut, I have been wondering whether to get a bob again, but I am a long way off from this length still.

Photos: July 2013


Dress: Alice + Olivia for Anthropologie
Max Studio
Stephen Dattner, vintage
Kenneth Cole
souvenirs (bangle, ring), handmade (earrings)


The Coat of Many Winters

Today I give homage to a very favourite old coat that I recently gave up to the hope shop. (That’s what I call op, or thrift, shops, and the designation is particularly poignant in this instance.) I bought this coat many years ago from Melbourne designer Obüs; it was my first ‘grown-up’ coat purchase. It was made from herringbone tweed, and featured a double-zipped front, the zips of which could go two ways. The sleeves also had zips up to the elbows, for extra ventilation. When I first saw it, I loved the modern minimalist design combined with the classic camel-coloured tweed.

I wore this coat for many winters, and even after the pockets tore a little at the sides from careless hand-stuffing, I continued to wear it. (Of course, I did not wear it all the time, as I am a coat aficionado from way back and alternated it with many others.)

I look at this photo and feel a little pang in my fashion heart.

It was only last winter that I noticed that one of the shoulders had become so worn in two places from rubbing caused by my shoulder bags, that the fabric had actually shredded into fragments of warp and weft. It was really ready for the rag-bag, but the coat held such sentimental value for me that I considered trying to have it repaired, perhaps by inserting leather shoulder patches. But there were also other signs of wear, and the torn pockets. I decided, in view of how many coats I actually own, and how little space I had for them all, that it was not worth the investment of a difficult repair, or even merely keeping it as a sentimental piece.

In a ruthless moment of wardrobe culling, I put it in a bag destined for the charity store (in case someone had some use for it, damaged as it was) and steeled myself to drop it at the Salvo’s depot. And I did it. But first, I photographed it. Now, I look at this photo and feel a little pang in my fashion heart. It gave me good love for well over ten years – I hope it comes to a good end.

Photo: January 2017