Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Monday
Nov052018

How Now, Brown Cowhide

Many years ago – maybe ten or fifteen – I bought a cowhide bucket handbag from a market in Hong Kong. It was quite an expensive purchase, but I rationalised that it was such a classic leather and style, I would be able to use it forever. Well, it hasn’t been quite forever yet, but I think I have justified my belief by now.

Then last autumn, when I was hunting high and low for a classic tote bag to use for work, I came across a cowhide version on the online sale site, Ozsale, and was instantly struck by how similar it was in looks to my old bucket bag. I don’t remember the name of the label, and there is none inside the bag, but it was a homewares brand that used recycled wood and canvas from vintage French army and postal gear.

My main stipulation – besides being stylish – was that the prospective tote had to be large enough to fit my office shoes, my lunch, iPad and other sundry items I deemed necessary to schlep to and from work every day. I also wanted to be sure that the colour would complement most outfits, without resorting to something boring like – ugh – black.

It’s like those tents in Harry Potter … I can just keep putting things inside without it bursting at the seams.

This tote was enormous – the biggest one in the sale – and looked tough and hard wearing, suitable for Melbourne’s winter weather. It would work for summer too, except that I had already found a large straw bag to use in the warmer months. Even better, I had some credit owing me on the sale site, so I was able to purchase the tote for very little extra.

I’m happy to report after several months use so far, the tote has measured up to my expectations, even exceeded them. It’s like those tents in Harry Potter – deceptively enormous. I can just keep putting things inside without it bursting at the seams. I love that I can slot in even a longish umbrella through the end because the zip hasn’t been sewn down all the way to the ends. So much do I like it I haven’t even swapped over to the straw tote yet even though we are well into spring!

Photo: August 2018

Friday
Nov022018

Ballet Slippers

Ballet slippers were made for dancing, for water nymphs and fairies and swan maidens, for delicate creatures who float through life on tippy-toe. On the other hand foot, ballet flats are made for rather more down-to-earth women, those who need to run and jump puddles and get things done pronto! But these seemingly antithetical women have one thing in common: they need footwear that won’t hamper them or weigh them down.

A Capsule History

Once upon a time, the ballet slipper was only a shoe worn by professional ballerinas. It was first invented in the mid-eighteenth century, with increasing modifications occurring over the following decades, until the modern dance shoe as we know it was developed by famous dancer Anna Pavlova – with some assistance from the renowned Italian purveyor of ballet shoes, Capezio. (Pavlova also, incidentally, inspired the eponymous Great Australian Dessert.)

Anna Pavlova, 1920A Claire McCardell outfit from the 1940s with matching ballet flatsIn the 1940s, American designer Claire McCardell had an epiphany when she chose to use Capezio’s ballet slippers in her 1941 collection, asking him to add a hard sole. And thus the ballet flat was born! First Brigitte Bardot began sporting them, and the beatniks soon followed suit, until a year later, Audrey Hepburn in her role as a beatnik turned model in Funny Face (1957) made them world famous and popularised them for that new breed of human: teens. Offscreen, she wore flats by Capezio and Ferragamo.

A Personal Journey

Decades later, I myself as a teen tried ballet flats numerous times, but was never able to find a comfortable pair. I came to the firm belief that ballet flats were the most uncomfortable shoes ever invented. And though I loved the idea of them, I gave up on them for another couple of decades until I came upon a pair in a thrift store by chance.

This is not my photo, but these were the beloved Sambag shoes I owned. According to the designer’s Instagram account, the label will be relaunching soon to be sold online only. The ballet flats I spotted were in ballet pink, a colour I had recently come to highly favour, and were by the Australian brand Sambag. I had once tried some on in a retail store, but as they were quite expensive, with my past history of painful ballet flats, I was unwilling to trust they were a good investment. The secondhand shoes I found were still in their original box, the soles so pristine they had surely been worn only once or twice. I gladly handed $30 to the store saleslady.

Brigitte Bardot in ballet flatsThese shoes turned out to be one of the most comfortable flat shoes I have ever owned. It was a miracle! I still wore heels at work, but I wore these ballet flats constantly on the weekends, with the sad but inevitable result that they wore out too quickly. I ought to have taken them to be resoled before it was too late, but couldn’t bear to be parted from them for the requisite few days. … Ever since I have kept my eyes peeled for another pair in thrift stores, and actually spotted some once, but lamentably in a size too big for me.

Audrey Hepburn made ballet flats world famous through her 1957 film ‘Funny Face’A few years later, I discovered the brand Yosi Samra on a sale website selling ‘foldable flats’. These are specifically designed to be stored in tiny little drawstring bags to keep on hand (ahem) when the need to relieve one’s feet from high heels becomes urgent. I bought several pairs, including ballet pink ones that are very reminiscent of my beloved Sambags. The leather is extremely soft and flexible, and they are very comfortable, although they don’t offer a lot of support to the foot – they are not meant to be worn for extended periods of walking.

Full Circle

Finally, not that long ago I came across an actual pair of ballet slippers by Blochs (manufacturing dancewear since 1932) once again in a thrift store! I have the most amazing luck. They were a little bit small, to be honest, but for $6 I decided they would be great indoor shoes. The leather was so soft I was sure they would stretch enough. When I took this comparison photo (top) I was quite amused to see that the Yosi Samra flats on my right foot were extremely similar to the dance slippers on the left. The colour is a perfect match. 

Audrey Hepburn’s ballet flats worn at home (1960–70), auctioned off by Christie’s earlier this year. “[Audrey Hepburn’s] training as a ballerina probably contributed to the elegance and poise that we associate with her. She had quite a number of these flats in her possession [because] they were her slippers when she was casual at home, [but] these were the only pink ones. She liked to be casual; she was very much a human being.”Ironically, in 2009 another celebrity – this time from the music world, Amy Winehouse – began wearing actual ballet slippers by Gandolfi in place of regular flats. So ballet slippers danced a full circle, and have gone in and out of fashion several times. But as the second decade of this century draws to a close, they have become firmly established in their status as iconic shoes, and I don’t believe they will ever go away.

One day I’ll go back to that Sambag retail store and invest in a new pair, or three. The pink is my favourite, for the same reason ballerinas first wore them: they seem to disappear on the foot, creating the illusion that one is floating just above the earth, lightly and quickly – for I have always daydreamed of having wings. 

Wednesday
Oct312018

Helloween!

While I don’t – along with many of my compatriots – actually celebrate Halloween, I am getting into the ‘spirit’ of things with this little spooky series of photos taken in the installation 1000 Doors, by Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney, at the 2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival.

The ticket for entry was a tiny and quaint brass key, which made me feel a bit like Alice. Laid out like a maze of doors in a house of horrors, the installation was complete with dilapidated walls, crumbling wallpaper, vintage furniture and Bakelite telephones, the smelly carpet of a seedy hotel, and a myriad mysterious vintage photographs littering every surface.

It was a lot of fun to traipse through, and the only thing that would have made it better and spookier was if we had been able to go late at night without the crowds of people – but this was a popular installation and there was no hope of that. For the occasion, I am wearing a vintage 1940s hat, and a Diane von Furstenberg dress bought in a thrift store.

I enjoyed hamming it up a little for these photos, and must confess in the last frame I had in mind Freddy’s tongue from one of the Elm Street nightmares. I was pretty young when I saw that scene, and ran away from the tv shuddering. Answering a telephone is akin to opening the door to the creepy cellar!

Happy Halloween.

Photos: October 2018. With thanks to my friend Rapunzel for taking them.

Tuesday
Oct302018

Shopping for Robin’s Eggs

It’s no secret to regular readers of this style blog that robin’s egg blue is one of my favourite colours – if not the favourite. It’s a colour I am always drawn to whenever I see it, and so when I saw this necklace in a sale on Facebook from Rosebud Vintage Bazaar that is evocative of actual birds’ eggs, I knew that I absolutely had to have it.

The vintage 1950s feathered hat is an absolute marvel as well – I bought it many years ago on Etsy, and have worn it a few times on special occasions, such as Christmas Day celebrations and going to the theatre. I love it paired with this necklace though!

The only thing that would make this outfit more amazing would be a silk dress featuring a bird’s egg print …

A tall order, you think?

I actually came across such a dress in a thrift store just over a month ago, and was bowled over by the print. I was not, however, bowled over by the price of $80 attached to it. Come on, I thought. Especially when they had not even bothered to present it nicely. It was as wrinkled as though it had just been withdrawn from a bag in which it had been screwed up into a ball and jammed with many other items. No, no, no.

However, I might have accepted the price for the print if it had been cut into anything other than an ugly shirt-dress. I loathe and abominate shirts. Always have. And shirt-dresses are even worse; I don’t find them flattering at all, at least on me. I look like I have just crawled out of bed wearing a man’s shirt. Hideous!

I look like I have just crawled out of bed wearing a man’s shirt. Hideous!

I thought about having the hem tailored to get rid of the shirt slits, but I was too annoyed at the prospect of spending another $30 or so on top of the $80 purchase price. $20 okay, or $30 even, but $80 is just too much in a thrift store for a modern dress that looks like a rag, in my view. I was recently chatting to a thrifting diva from the US, and she was shocked when I quoted her some average prices from Aussie op shops. Many of them are not really ‘opportunity shops’ any longer, unfortunately.

That being said, I am quite willing to pay much more for unique or rare vintage items such as the necklace, or feathered hat, even when I find them in an ‘op shop’.

Photos: September 2018

Monday
Oct292018

What I Actually Wore #0143

Serial #: 0143
Date:
30/08/2013
Weather:
19°C / 67°F
Time Allowed:
7 minutes

Aww! These pictures make me nostalgic! All these items, except for the beret, wool knit top and some of the jewellery have completely worn out and are long gone from my closet. On this day it was a mild and rainy, and almost spring so I dressed suitably in woollens for the weather. I do still really like the colour combinations here: beige, red, white, black – you can’t go wrong.

The loss of the 1970s vintage leather trench coat makes me the saddest. I loved that coat to death, literally. When I bought it on eBay, years earlier, it was pristine. By the time I had finished with it, it was so worn that it looked grey and dirty. I took it to a professional cleaner and he shook his head sadly: nothing to be done about it except have it ‘recoated’ in white paint (no pun intended).

I already knew this was a dubious option because I’d had the forethought to purchase a replacement white leather coat on Etsy (similar in style, but with a fuller skirt, which is not as cool), but the seller never told me it had been refurbished. Tragically it sheds white spots of paint every time I wear it that looks like DANDRUFF! The horror.

The loss of the 1970s vintage leather trench coat makes me the saddest. I loved that coat to death, literally.

So the coat was donated to a thrift store, as was the beloved white leather tote, which suffered the same fate from wear. The silk camisole got shabby; the well-darned wool/cashmere socks eventually became holey beyond rescue; the watch chain-strap hopelessly unraveled; the shoes wore out; and another favourite item, the wool skirt, was chomped through by an evil and hungry moth. What a litany of sorrows!

At least I can reflect that I really did get good wear out of these garments. The beige wool knit, which originally came from a thrift store, has definitely been an excellent basic in my wardrobe. And while the shoes wore out, I actually found replacements in a thrift store that are exactly the same except they are brogued versions. I’m pleased too because both were by a brand I always liked, Scooter, which now seems to be defunct.

I still own all the jewellery, even the broken watch, which awaits the patience of a jeweler when I remember to take it for repair. And the armchair: I still have that!

Items:

Camisole: Enamel
Jumper:
Kookaï
Skirt:
Anthropologie
Socks:
Philippe Matignon
Hat:
vintage
Coat:
 Leda Spain by Gropper, vintage 1970s
Earrings: handmade by me
Ring: souvenir from Vietnam
Watch:
Kenneth Cole
Tote:
Elise Carrels
Shoes:
Scooter

Photos: September 2013