Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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I always preferred the first Mrs de Winter

The 20s, 30s and 40s are my favourite periods for fashion; women always looked so glamorous, exuding mystery and danger. Undoubtedly that perception of mine comes from watching a lot of old films from that era. Two that come to mind are Otto Preminger’s Laura and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, both centred on female characters personifying that notion. Gene Tierney plays the title role in the former, and of course the fascinating Rebecca is merely a ghost, terrorising the second Mrs De Winter (whose fearfulness always irritated me).

I like dark interiors for the same reason: they look mysterious, full of promise for adventure. That’s what I like about these four fashion photographs. The shadowy rooms with their grand proportions and their tall, slender occupants hint at some dire impending event that requires equestrienne attire to make a hurried escape. Or perhaps the donning of a diamante belt to gussy up a comfy wool cardi, so that our heroine can infiltrate some high-society do...  Even the lighting in the stills is mysterious, easily evoking the image of the woman to whom these discarded clothes might belong.

In fact, it was this picture torn from an Italian magazine in the early 90s that made me long for just such a glittering belt. Last year I finally fulfilled this ambition, haggling for one from a stall in the steep back streets of Hong Kong. I’ve never actually worn it, but perhaps its time will finally come on the pages of this journal.

Photos: (interiors) William Garrett; (stills) Aldo Fallai.


What I Actually Wore #0002

Serial #: 0002
Date: 26/09/2008
Weather: windy, 25°C
Time Allowed: 5 mins

This was an easy outfit to put together, and very much more my style: minimalist and asymmetrical!

It started with the top, which is a tomato red colour. I love the folded details on the neckline and the way it flares out slightly at the waist. It also has hidden square pockets in the front. I adore this signature look of Veronika Maine in the last few seasons, more sophisticated than Cue. I hope they don’t drastically change direction!

This skirt by Obüs must be six or seven years old, and although it is starting to show its age, I love it still. I bought it from Alice Euphemia when the boutique was quite new, in its original location on Flinders Lane. At the time I purchased another skirt from the same range, heavy cream fabric with a shirred insert at the bottom. I also wear that frequently. At $150 each, they were both half price, which was nonetheless a little expensive for me at the time, but I’ve certainly got my money’s worth! Because they were so original and well-made, I knew I would be wearing them for a long time, so I didn’t feel a twinge of shopper’s guilt.

From different labels, the folds on the top’s neckline and the gathered insert on the skirt nevertheless complement one another.

As for the accessories: the white wedges are patent leather, and were a great find in a Salvos for $10 – I just had to get the soles repaired; the vintage sunglasses were bought on eBay from a Frenchwoman, and the sterling silver hoops feature silver pearls. They match the silver shell of my ring, which looks like a giant bug! A boyfriend bought that for me from the NGV gift shop, and I remember admiring it walking all the way home along the river as the sun caught it and made it gleam.

Here’s a closer look on the sunglasses: the frames are red leopard print, and those lenses really do turn the world rose-coloured! 


Top: Veronika Maine
Skirt: Obüs
Shoes: Scanlan & Theodore
Watch: Kenneth Cole
Earrings: Baku
Sunglasses: vintage


$22 for apples

Ah, what the fashionable toddler was wearing in 1973! (Thanks dad for writing the date on the back.) I believe this fetching red number is a top-and-pants combo, in red knit, accessorised with colour-coordinated lace-ups. My sister is undoubtedly wearing a polyester mini, and her legs are clad in the double fashion crime of white ribs and open-toe sandals! Gold.

What makes me most nostalgic are the hairpins we are both wearing: enamelled apples. Who else remembers those? They also came in cherries, and I recall my sister and I used to wrestle over them. Sometimes she would win (being a brute) through sheer strength, but very often the baby of the family got her way (moi). Sadly these hairpins disappeared along with my baby fat.

Imagine my joy when a few years ago whilst browsing in a vintage boutique on Barkly Street in St Kilda, I discovered hanging behind the counter a large card to which were pinned ten pairs of apple hairpins! When I excitedly questioned the salesgirl, she informed me that these were the original seventies hairpins, imported from Germany, and no, she regretfully told me, they didn’t have the cherry ones. I immediately bought a pair for $22 – a bit steep, but no cost is too high for recaptured youth.

Here they are:

Their only design flaw is that the apples pinned to the right side of my head will always be upside down. A small price to pay.


What I Actually Wore #0001

Serial #: 0001
Date: 25/09/2008
Weather: sunny, 24°C
Time Allowed: 5 mins

Knowing that today’s temperature was forecast at 24° and time being a factor, I speedily decided this morning that a dress was in order. Fortunately my wardrobe is organised (by item, colour etc) so I was able to quickly grab this dress from the rail. It is completely sheer so a full slip is imperative. I don’t have many transparent dresses, so I hang the dark blue slip with it, which makes it easy to find rather than wrestling through a lingerie drawer every time I want it. [On a side note, the dress originally came with a slip sewn in, but it was very poor quality and developed runs after a few wears. I unpicked the stitching and discarded it. Although I originally intended to dye a plain white slip, I was lucky enough to find a blue vintage one with pretty design details.]

I bought the dress from a quaint vintage boutique on Greville St (the last survivor) last summer on a whim. It was inexpensive, and the colour looks great on me, although I was dubious about the style – bit girlier than I ordinarily go for. The dress had also come with its own matching patent vinyl belt, which I immediately discarded. I have since found a cobalt blue leather belt (thanks David Jones stock-take sale!), but this morning chose to wear it with a tan leather belt and suede sling-backs as I didn’t want to go overboard with cobalt – I also own two different pairs of cobalt suede shoes! (I deliberately did not wear the belt over the cardigan, as the latter is too short for that look to work.)

TIP: Hang your full slips with the dresses you normally wear them with to save time in the morning.

I briefly toyed with the idea of wearing my beautiful, oatmeal-coloured linen coat that my sister had made for me from a Montana Vogue pattern. I decided I would be far too warm in it, and with about 30 seconds to contemplate the options I grabbed this cardigan as it was nearest to hand.

Bit too much blue, I thought in the rush to leave, but at least I hadn’t also gone for the blue belt and shoes – that would have been ridiculous!

I’ll call it a forties-inspired look. I generally don’t like to mimic any particular era, but the outfit has the virtue of not being black at least, on such a lovely spring day!


Dress: Lovelygirl
Cardigan: Cotton-on
Belt: Country Road
Shoes: Urban Soul
Watch: Kenneth Cole
Earrings: hand-made by myself from Indian beads and sterling silver
Sunglasses: Roc


A good hat is (not) hard to find

Hats – as we all know – were once, along with gloves and stockings de rigueur on any trip from home. Such accessories added a certain level of interest to a woman’s outfit that sadly few of us take advantage of these days, except perhaps out of practicality in the blaze of summer or the depths of Melbourne’s arctic winters.

I’m certainly not suggesting a return to the days when one was obliged to follow society’s sartorial decrees or be branded a brazen hussy – like poor Jean Shrimpton at the Melbourne Cup in 1965. With the Spring Racing Carnival galloping into view however, could we regain a sense of adventure; a little modish bravery? Or, dare I say, return to elegance?

Flocks of women will undoubtedly descend upon Cleggs, or Lincraft to take advantage of the sudden influx of plain straw hats, bedeck them with multi-coloured ribbons and feathers galore. And God save me from seeing yet another excuse for a hat: the ubiquitous fascinator!

Yet all these creations have a sad commonness about them: at the one time of year when many women feel confident enough to wear a hat, few stand out as originals.

It’s true spectacular hats are expensive. They’re locked safely behind glass like birds of paradise, in department stores and exclusive boutiques alike, and bespoke hats are beyond the reach of most women (including myself). Occasionally however, one can get lucky wandering amongst the hat stands in David Jones. Vintage shopping also offers brilliant opportunities to score an original piece: at markets, op-shops or vintage emporiums such as Chapel Street Bazaar; eBay is also a fantastic source. This is where often you will find quality at a price that won't make you wince.

“Oh, hats just don’t seem to suit me!” is another disclaimer I’ve heard many times. The truth is, hats work on the same principle as hairstyles: different ones work with different face shapes – one just needs to find which suit. Most importantly – and this is often overlooked – one’s hairstyle needs to work with the hat, not against it! Many hats look terrible with long hair casually worn down; hair and hat fight one another for attention, and then nobody wins.

So no more excuses: scroll down and take some inspiration from the pages of Vogue

Hat, 1946 (uncredited), from In Vogue, Georgina Howell, Condé Nast Books, 1991. Photo: Horst P. Horst


‘Paris night looks – needed in London’, British Vogue, January 1947. Photos: Coffin

British Vogue, June 1960. Photo: Uncredited


British Vogue, June 1960. Photo: Henry Clarke


British Vogue, June 1960. Photo: Rutledge