Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in 1910s (30)

Saturday
Jul142018

À La Mode

In honour of the French national holiday today, I bring you a Paris-inspired fashion editorial from the April 1994 issue of Australian Vogue, shot by the French photographer Pascal Chevalier.  

The Belle Époque-inspired fashion (some of it French) was photographed around famous sights of Paris, including Maxim’s Restaurant, the famous Art Nouveau entrance to the Metro and the Bois du Boulogne, a park in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

Bonne fête to my French readership!

[Click on the images for larger versions]

Sunday
May202018

Liza Doolittle Day

Liza Doolittle Day

It’s Eliza Doolittle Day, did you know? It’s a long time since I have seen the film My Fair Lady, I must admit, and the thing I love most about it is that it’s Audrey Hepburn playing the title role, and Cecil Beaton designed the costumes.

A while back I was reminded that in a scene where Eliza daydreams about meeting the king, she sings these words:

One evening the king will say:
“Oh, Liza, old thing,
I want all of England your praises to sing.
Next week on the twentieth of May
I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day!
All the people will celebrate the glory of you
And whatever you wish and want I gladly will do.”

At that point in the story, Eliza wished ’Enry ’Iggins dead!

However, my sartorial homage here is to her famous black and white racing outfit. I’m wearing a mix of vintage and more contemporary items. The screw-on earrings are 40s; the gloves – trimmed in bows – are 50s; the skirt and belt 80s, and the Edwardian hat is from the late 90s (the milliner was inspired by Kate Winslet’s hat at the start of the film Titanic). The jabot and striped shirt are more modern numbers.

Here’s to you Liza!

Photo: May 2018

Tuesday
Sep132016

“Get this Corset Off Me!”

In this day and age Western women take breathing easily for granted. But once upon a time it was not so easy. A century and a half ago women’s breathing and digestion was severely restricted by the regular wear of a corset; muscles were weakened, and more besides, depending upon how tightly the corset was laced. (Multiple petticoats must have been a pain too, not to mention straight shoes – lefts and rights were not invented until approximately the mid nineteenth-century.)

It is no wonder that in these circumstances the scandalous tea gown came to be invented.

What do you generally do when you come home? You make yourself comfortable. We kick off our shoes, remove our restrictive workwear (sometimes including even our bras) and don instead tracksuits, leggings, jeans or pyjamas and wear slippers or go barefoot. We throw ourselves onto our couches with a sigh of relief, and enjoy a tipple of our favourite beverage.

Edwardian lady wearing a tea gown. Image from 'Seduction' by Caroline Cox, Mitchell Beazley, 2006. (No image credit captioned.)Why should not the Edwardian lady have been the same? Picture her coming home and exclaiming to her maid as she rips the elaborate hat off her head, “Get this corset off me! Let me put up my feet and drink a cup of tea.” She lounges back in her boudoir with a sigh of blissful relief and stretches her legs and wriggles her toes, and takes big breaths in between ladylike sips of restorative Earl Grey.

“Get this corset off me! Let me put up my feet and drink a cup of tea.”

And what was she wearing while she relaxed? At first perhaps she was wearing merely a wrapper over her chemise and bloomers, which meant she was not dressed to receive company. But what if her best friend paid her an afternoon call? She couldn’t receive her in her underwear! (Imagine if you did that today.)

And then the tea gown was born.

Broderie anglaise 'boudoir dress' by the House of Doeuillet; illustrated by André Marty for 'La Gazette du bon ton', 1913. From 'The Fine Art of Fashion' by Julian Robinson, Bay Books (no publish date listed – late 1980s?)Woman's tea gown, Miss Bishop 1870s; Silk satin with supplementary weft patterning, linen machine-made lace, and silk plain weave trim.

What, exactly, is a tea gown?

Tea gowns were worn from the 1870s until the 1930s, and essentially are gowns that can be put on and taken off without the assistance of a maid. They are extremely feminine; long and loose without defined waists, cut on princess lines and made from luxurious fabrics. Sleeves were at first tight, but by the 20s and 30s were also relaxed, so that the whole effect was flowing and languid, and principally, informal.

a tea gown was considered a hybrid somewhere between a wrapper (or bathrobe) and an evening gown

Because a tea gown was considered a hybrid somewhere between a wrapper (or bathrobe) and an evening gown, early versions were designed to look like a robe worn over a dress. The under-dress was waisted with a sash, and the robe on top was loose and open, and it usually featured a train. The tea gown generally had a high neck, as daytime garments always did, distinguishing it from the décolleté evening gown.

Fabrics featured lace; floral embellishments as part of the Art Nouveau movement; medieval details, historical elements from the 17th and 18th centuries; and also exotic details from the Chinese, Japanese and Indian arts popular at the time.

This 1899 engraving shows the stark difference between a day dress and a tea gown.Elaborate tea gown from the House of Rouff, c. 1900. Woven silk damask embroidered with glass, metal thread and beads, and embroidered net and lace. V&A

Emily Post, in 1922, describes it thus:

‘Every one knows that a tea-gown is a hybrid between a wrapper and a ball dress. It has always a train and usually long flowing sleeves; is made of rather gorgeous materials and goes on easily, and its chief use is not for wear at the tea-table so much as for dinner alone with one’s family. It can, however, very properly be put on for tea, and if one is dining at home, kept on for dinner.’ – Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, 1922.

Why were tea gowns so scandalous?

Silk tea gown in a glorious saffron shade, by American designer Jessica Franklin Turner, c. 1929. Perhaps at first the tea gown was worn in real privacy, then in the company of intimate friends over tea, macaroons and a cosy chat. Then one day a close gentleman friend might have come calling in the afternoon, and what harm in having him come in for a cup of tea too?

The design of the tea gown must have slowly evolved during this process, becoming more elaborate as it escaped its tenure in the boudoir and entered the dining room, then other friends’ dining rooms, and eventually out into the world. But at first it was considered scandalous because to wear a tea gown, or glorified wrapper, was to be en deshabille – that is, undressed. And to receive gentlemen callers thus attired showed a woman had shockingly lax morals – even, perhaps, lovers.

to wear a tea gown, or glorified wrapper, was to be en deshabille – that is, undressed

Much was made of the scandalous nature of tea gowns because of the supposition that naturally one must be entertaining lovers simply because it was so easy to remove, and one was practically naked beneath it. Surely not every woman who wore one had a lover! I maintain that the far greater attraction was the freedom of movement and breathing it allowed. Why else would it have emigrated from the boudoir? For at the turn of the twentieth century, reformers were campaigning for women to rid themselves of the corset once and for all, and the tea gown was proclaimed as an ideal garment. Its superior comfort must have been obvious to any woman who wore one. Some of the previously widely-proclaimed ills of daily corset-wearing have been debunked today, but there are still genuine health concerns – read about them in this modern corsetry guide.

By the 1920s and 30s, tea gowns more resembled just another style of afternoon dress, but even then with global lifestyle changes after industrialisation, two World Wars and revolutions in the class system, it became an impractical garment: a relic of an era and way of life long-gone. Today such a gown would – ironically – be considered quite dressy, perhaps something we might wear formally to a garden party or a wedding, but in fact its liberating spirit lives on, albeit in less graceful forms.

Chiffon dress, its bodice is overlaid with paisley embroidery, and is cut away to reveal a black lace knee-length slip – very much reminiscent of tea gowns; Christian Lacroix, c 1992; from British Vogue.Tea dresses styled haute grunge, by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, c. 1992; from British Vogue

Fashion Notes

My modern silk dress is of course not an authentic tea gown, but its colours, floral print and flowing lines all brought to mind the tea or afternoon dresses of the 1930s that I love. Its simple cut and ‘short’ length (ie, lack of train) do however make it more wearable as a day dress, which does fit in with the ethos of a tea gown. The earrings are hand made by myself from jade and Indian beaded beads; the ceramic ring is a souvenir from Barcelona; and the supremely comfortable ballet flats are by Sambag. (Both dress and shoes were bought second hand from thrift stores.)

~

To read about the evolution of tea gowns in greater detail, visit The Dreamstress, written by Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian.

Read more about the history and mythology of corset-wearing at Yesterday’s Thimble, by Lisha Vidler.

Photos: April 2016

Tuesday
Jul052016

Boho v. Bohemian

Boho style has never appealed to me, and I lay the blame squarely on Sienna Miller. In the Nineties and early Noughties, she became so ubiquitous and synonymous with this style that I had to suppress a shudder at the sight of her whenever I flipped the page in a magazine. She was everywhere, extolled and lavished with praise, as was the gypsy style she popularised.

In my mind, ‘boho’ seems sometimes to be interchangeable with the word ‘hideous’. It is indiscriminately used to describe anything with a vaguely hippy appearance, and often involves yards and yards of enveloping Seventies polyester knit, paisley print, miles of fringing, a granny’s-worth of crochet, tiered gypsy skirts, pirate boots (preferably in tan leather or suede), floral leather thong headbands (with or without a crystal pendant), multitudes of long necklaces and an excessive quantity of rings worn on practically every finger at once (see below).

The closest I came to anything boho during my style evolution was a printed Indian full skirt I wore when I was at art school. My mum told me I looked like a gypsy. (Gypsies were a common sight when she was growing up in Yugoslavia in the Forties and Fifties.) I actually found it quite difficult to dress up for this photoshoot, and it took me two attempts to find something emulating boho style.

Today the term ‘boho’ is popularly taken to be an abbreviation simply for ‘bohemian’, but in fact its style origin is more particular, and comes from the French term ‘bobo’. It is ‘short for bourgeois bohème. Parisians who are both upscale and artistic. Similar to the original meaning of the American ‘hipster’, but generally laced with a uniquely French je ne sais quois.’ [Urban Dictionary]

But this is still a very superficial description of the boho chick – I wanted to know who were the original Bohemians, and what distinguished them from their style counterpart of today.

The Origin of the True Bohemians

The original Bohemians sprung up in the late nineteenth century. As Wikipedia describes it: ‘Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits.’ Or as Virginia Nicholson, author of Among the Bohemians – Experiments in living 1900–1939 [Viking, 2002], puts it:

‘Subversive, eccentric and flamboyant, the artistic community in England in the first half of the twentieth century was engaged on the bold experiment of refashioning not just their art, but their daily lives. They were the pioneers of a domestic revolution.’

Artists, poets, and writers such as Rupert Graves, Augustus John, Dora Carrington, Virgina Wolf, the Bell family of the Bloomsbury Group and many, many more paved the way for how we live today.

Vanessa BellThey in turn were inspired by the emigrating Romanies. The origin of the word ‘bohemian’ is interesting. Today the French Bohémien is translated as ‘Gypsy’, but the original Boii were refugees from the area known until recently as Czechoslovakia. From the early days of the Roman Empire until the Middle Ages, a diaspora of these people fled into Western Europe. They joined groups of disreputable wandering minstrels, unfrocked priests and monks, and from then the word ‘Bohemian’ became associated with such nomadic groups of similar style. When the first genuine Romanies appeared in France with their colourful and vagabond lifestyle, they were immediately associated with the previous refugees. By the sixteenth century, all gypsies were indiscriminately named bohemians.

The Kalderasà invade Britain, 1911 (from Among the Bohemians, by Virginia Nicholson)Augustus John, who modeled his life on the vagabond gypsy and was possibly the original bohemian, was an artist active in the early twentieth century. At the turn of the century after discovering the world of the gypsies in the encampments outside Liverpool, he wrote, ‘Henceforth I was to live for Freedom and the Open Road! No more urbanity for me, no more punctilio…’ Clothing was already deliberately neglected in defiance of his respectable upbringing; he then adopted an exhibitionist style, wore gold earrings, wild hair and beard, which, in his own words, ‘often failed to recommend me to strangers’.

The bohemians of this era celebrated camaraderie, they partied hard, and were irresistibly spontaneous.

His mistress and later second wife, Dorothy McNeill appeared in his paintings metamorphosed as ‘the gypsy goddess Dorelia, her graceful figure swathed by Augustus in yellow folds or sculpted in blue draperies. In his paintings her head is scarved or turbaned, and smocked children caper at her feet, which appear bare from beneath the folds of her long dress. A bright medieval-looking tunic follows the contours of her form. She raises her arms to the sky.’ [Nicholson] Here is the boho babe personified!

Dora Carrington (left) with fellow bohemiansThe bohemians of this era celebrated camaraderie, they partied hard, and were irresistibly spontaneous. Bohemian women bobbed their hair, shockingly wore trousers, and discovered the freedom of sandals after the confinement of uncomfortable shoes. They slept under the stars and climbed trees barefoot. Wearing sandals was actually quite scandalous, indicating libertarian ideals, a preference for beauty, health and comfort over respectability. Though they were expensive, the wearing of sandals indicated anti-affluence— Dorothy John, when seen wearing sandals, was presumed destitute.

Wearing sandals was actually quite scandalous, indicating libertarian ideals, a preference for beauty, health and comfort over respectability.

Hallmark Style of the Modern Boho Babe

According to popular modern notions, bohemian are airy-fairy hippy chicks dressed mostly in romantic, earthy garments, who are fond of wafting around in fields with a breeze ruffling their Rapunzelesque locks with their eyes half-closed pensively. In short, they are inspired by the popular notion of the nineteenth century gypsy, oblivious of their English artistic antecedents.

But what do boho chicks actually wear? Long, flowing layers in printed fabrics, whether they are bursting into flower or a riot of tribal patterns seem to be the most popular iteration. Embroidered, fringed, or beaded fabric is also acceptable, and anything that looks ethnic or exotic. These garments are worn with long beads and feathers, and sequinned or studded belts. Tan leather is preferred as it looks more earthy. Hair is worn long and usually parted in the middle, accessorised with plaited leather thong headbands (my version is a rather tongue-in-cheek exaggerated take on this!). The natural habitat of the boho babe is the music festival, such as Coachella or Glastonbury.

Talitha Getty's style inspires designers still today (click through to read more)Here is Loulou de la Falaise wearing a turban, also adopted by the original bohemians in emulation of gypsiesPoppy Delevingne wearing an Erdem dress and Olympia Le-Tann clutchHere is Sienna Miller, the ubiquitous boho babe herself! (Link to original image broken)Talitha Getty would be the boho chick’s patron saint, and she really did live a bohemian lifestyle in Marrakech. Another Seventies icon with a true bohemian lifestyle is Loulou de la Falaise. Besides Sienna Miller, other celebrity boho babes of this era are Poppy Delevigne, the Olsen twins and Nicole Ritchie.

The average boho chick is clearly not a genuine bohemian in the sociological sense; she is simply acting out a stereotype, temporarily adopting a fad or fashion style for the summer (or just the weekend).

I wonder who are the true bohemians today, and what are they wearing? I suspect they are still much like Augustus John and his band, somewhere on the fringes of society, living life fully and marching to the beat of their own drum.

Photos: March 2014

Monday
Apr222013

Blown Away

Celebrating the Roaring Twenties in a Special Series

A few years ago I came across an evocative image by Georges Lepape (1887-1971), a French illustrator working for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and Vogue during the Belle Époque era at the turn of the twentieth century.

He is best remembered for his fashion illustrations of the Art Deco period, and more than a few depict wild atmospheric conditions, of which The Hurricane is one. It is not frightening as the name might imply, but rather suggests the winds of change that blow one in a new direction. One might say that the changes in women’s garments in the early twentieth century did blow in like a hurricane in fact – corsets and hobble skirts gave way to the easy movement of flapper fashions. 

While I have never experienced a fierce storm, I do enjoy being out on a windy day – I find it invigorating, and the sound of the wind in the trees exciting. Somehow the sound of the wind always suggests adventure to me, a bit like Vianne, the heroine of Joanne Harris’ book Chocolat, who is beckoned onto the road when the wind blows in a new direction.

Here then nearly a century later is my homage to Lepape’s 1915 picture L’Ouragan. Although his image was made in 1915, I have styled mine à la the 1920s – I deliberately waited until I cut my hair to create this picture. I am wearing a vintage 1970s dress (home-made from what I suspect is curtain material in the style of a flapper dress), a 1950s raspberry striped cloche, and a pair of Noughties ballerina heels.

The backdrop is an image of a storm coming in over Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay, viewed from Rosebud beach that I photographed last year.