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!