Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Jade Rainbow

Many people are surprised to learn that jade comes in a rainbow of colours: lavender, red, orange, yellow, brown, white, black, and gray. After green, lavender is the most valuable, and black and red (as long as it has no brownish overtones) are also popular.

Jadeite, to give it its proper name, is a sodium and aluminium rich pyroxene, while the similarly coloured nephrite is a mineral of calcium, magnesium and iron. Nephrite is the native stone of China, with more than 5000 years of history in that culture, while jadeite was not introduced to China until the 1800s, by Burmese traders.

Nephrite jadeHow cute are these tiny jade figurines?Red jade is not considered as valuable as the prized green ‘imperial jade’, which is a vibrant emerald colour and almost transparent. Once, the royal court of China had a standing order for all imperial jade, and it is amongst the world’s most expensive gems.

Red jade: bangle from; bowl from icollector.comTransparency is also highly valued, with the least desirable being completely opaque. I must be very contrary, because I deem the green common (you see so much of it, real and artificial), and I like opaque the best. Red is also one of my favourite colours.

When I was in Hong Kong many years ago, a carved jade bangle was on my wishlist, and accordingly I scoured the jewellers in one of the biggest markets for them. I was immediately drawn to this red bangle, attracted by its strong colour and weightiness. This type of jewellery cut from a single piece of rough stone is called a hololith, and results in a great deal of weight loss. For this reason hololiths cost more than several pieces joined together by precious-metal hinges.

Lavender jade: stone from; carved jade and diamond bangle from katybriscoe.comIt is carved with dragons and flowers, and certainly was expensive! I didn’t dither too long making a decision however, as I knew I would be unlikely to find another, and certainly not a cheaper one. The bangle did not have a ring that matched exactly, but the one I purchased is carved with ornamental swirls. I don’t wear them all the time – scared that I’ll smash them! – but as on last Friday when I wore them last, I always enjoy them when I do.


The Assistant

Vintage 1950s robin's egg blue elbow-length nylon gloves, and pale blue wrist-length leather gloves.

I can’t believe I didn’t know it was International Cat Day this week, on Wednesday! How remiss of me. My little ginger Mimi loves to get involved when I am taking photos of clothing – like most cats she is extremely curious, and her antics are often very amusing.

Recently I decided that I needed to photograph all my vintage gloves, as my collection has been growing exponentially with all the vintage pairs I’ve been finding in thrift stores of late. I decided to enter them all into the cataloguing app I use for my hats, to make it easier to see exactly what I have when planning an outfit.

The iPhone app is called 'What’s in my Wardrobe' and has proven indispensable when I am trying to find a particular hat, as they are all stored in different hat boxes. There are various filters to enable quick selection and location of any given hat. The app is not designed specifically for hats; one can also use it for any type of item, as long as one has time to photograph and enter all the data.

Accordingly, I laid out a calico dropsheet and began the pleasurable task of photographing all my gloves. I was clearly having too much fun for Mimi though, and pointing the noisy glowing rectangle thing at something other than herself, so she thought she had better investigate this untoward occurrence immediately.

“What are these long things?” she sniffed curiously. “I don’t know, but I like them, and they are mine – and they will look better if I sit on top of them.”

She did the exact same thing a couple weeks later when I was photographing some new hats, and I could not get rid of my unwanted photographic assistant! At least I don’t have to pay her.


The Determined Recycler

Anyone who as ever gone op- or thrift-shopping must surely be familiar with that sinking feeling one gets as soon as the shoe rubs or the sweater itches or the zip pinches: That’s why this lovely item was in the thrift store! One either discards in turn, or resolves to repair the issue. This is where we separate the determined recyclers from the dilettantes …

I am a determined recycler. I don’t give up on garments or accessories I really like: like Scarlett O’Hara, I will find a way! (I have not tried making clothes out of curtains yet however.)

I am a determined recycler. I don’t give up on garments or accessories I really like …

I really liked the colours in the pattern of this vintage 1970s tweed jacket. The herringbone is made up from chocolate and caramel shades of brown with cream, and scattered amongst the chevrons are minute flecks of blue, yellow and red. The effect is very subtle. I bought the jacket a couple of winters ago during a day of op-shopping with my sister, despite the fact that it was a little too big for me, and it was missing its belt. I felt sure that I must be able to find a belt in my huge collection that would work with the jacket. A long flexible leather tie-belt, perhaps.

In fact, I knew that I did not own any such tie-belts, but very fortuitously I found two in subsequent op-shopping trips shortly thereafter. This was promising! It was certainly unlikely that I would ever find one that exactly matched – that would be a thrifting miracle. What else could I pull out of my hat?

The first belt I tried was a thin tan stitched belt. While I liked the colour, I immediately saw it was too insubstantial for the bulk of the jacket.

Next came a vintage stretch red and white belt, with a leather and brass buckle. I liked how the stretch belt really pulled the waist in. This contrast was rather good, and unexpected! It also put me in mind of Gucci, which is not a bad thing – even better without its brash designer logo emblazoned everywhere.

Perhaps another patterned fabric belt might work? I had a houndstooth wool tie-belt, but that looked terrible. Scratch that idea, I instantly decided. Sometimes I like mixing patterns on patterns, but these two did not harmonise at all. Next!

A very long black leather tie-belt also looked quite good, I decided. It was so long, wide in the central area and tapered to the ends so that I suspect it was designed when obi fashion belts were the trend. The leather was supple and soft however, and the black was a pleasant counterpoint against the tweed.

The last belt I tried was the other leather tie-belt, this one a khaki-tinted brown. Unfortunately that shade clashed somewhat, and it was not as long as the black one, so did not form as nice loops. It transpired that this belt worked very nicely with a pair of tweed pants that need cinching, so the belt stays permanently on them.

That left the black leather belt, and the figure-flattering red stretch belt, the unexpected alternate winner. I tend to wear that one more often than not. The only drawback with it is that if I undo the belt, it won’t stay in both belt loops, so I have to keep an eye on it so as not to lose it. But compared with not wearing a likable jacket at all because it’s too shapeless, it’s a small ask. The Determined Recycler wins again!

Photos: July 2016


Call Me Ruth

It’s getting close to that time of year again: the turn of the seasons, when I face the daunting task of swapping my winter and summer wardrobes in and out of storage. That is the perfect time to do a wardrobe cull as well. However, my closet is currently bursting at the seams and I am pondering a mini-cull this weekend.

Seeing this picture, taken in March 2015 after a summer cull, of dozens of empty hangers is inspiring, but also daunting, as I suspect I won’t want to chuck so much this time.

Below are some even older photos, taken after a winter cull in December 2011. Winter garments hung in garment bags, ready for storage, and bags and bags of castoffs. Clearly I was particularly ruthless that weekend.

“If it doesn’t give you joy,
get rid of it.”

In the last year or so, I have found some amazing vintage items that have made my wardrobe explode, almost literally. I need to wrangle me some more room, and I just don’t know what I will be able to let go. I know all the rules: “If you haven’t worn it for six months, get rid of it …” bla bla bla. I prefer the newer injunction: “If it doesn’t give you joy, get rid of it.”

The problem with that is, it all gives me joy! I fear I shall be entirely ruth this time round.


The Truth About Persian Lamb

I am not sure how I feel about this vintage 50s tall toque, which is made from astrakhan, also commonly known as Persian lamb, with a ring of mink on top. The label states it is ‘created by I. J. Ellemor, Furrier Melbourne’.

When I bought it in a thrift store (and when I photographed it), I knew the mink on top was genuine, and assumed the lamb fur was faux, but on closer examination – and with better light to read the label – I realised the astrakhan was genuine. Black is the most desirable colour too.

Generally I am ok with fur when it is a vintage item, especially when I am recycling a garment and giving it a second life, but knowledge of the realities of the astrakhan fur industry taints this hat somewhat.

Astrakhan is the curly fleece of Karakul lambs, a breed originating from Uzbekistan. Wool is not so bad, you might think for a moment, but it is in the manner that these beautifully and tightly curled fleeces are produced that is particularly horrifying: ‘the pelts come from Karakul sheep that are either fetal or killed and skinned before they reach three days old when their pelt remains tightly coiled and luxuriously soft’. []

On the other hand, I’m not vegetarian, and I do eat lamb; however, astrakhan that is produced today is unregulated and not a by-product of the meat industry (read more if you dare at the above link). The Victorians and Edwardians were particularly fond of the fur, and it continued to be popular in the 1920s and 30s through to the mid-century. Were they less ruthless then; did they at the very least utilise the whole animal? It’s some consolation this hat is vintage, but if I wear it, it will be with a little sadness.


Read more on the history of astrakhan in this excellent article at the The Dreamstress.

Photo: July 2018