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Entries in 1920s (101)


Scarf Mania

The magic suitcase!Nearly a half-year has gone past! How have I done with my New Year’s resolutions? Well, I passed resolution one with flying colours: I did not get sunburned. My second resolution had all to do with wearing scarves.

I know this sounds extremely frivolous and ridiculous, but the fact is I love scarves and shawls and have such an enormous collection. Many of them are vintage – and I so rarely wear them. Though I already own more than enough for three of me, I keep buying more whenever I stumble across one I find irresistible – especially when it’s some lovely scrap of coloured silk, or a square of cashmere, or Scottish angora plaid. I’m a moth to a flame.

My problem is twofold: I am always in a hurry in the morning to get ready for work. When I think accessories, they are not the first items that come to mind – they are a non-essential extra. Choosing a scarf and knotting it properly always takes extra time that I can’t spare.

These vintage square silk scarves both feature square motifs.The other problem lies in that old adage, ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I do have a scarf rack – one of those nifty contraptions bought in Ikea: a vertical hanging rack of circles that are crocheted together. You thread the scarves through the loops. It hangs on a wall in my closet, a convenient display, but the trouble is that the circles are too large to thread small square scarves onto them (they would slip out), and so all these are stored away in a vintage suitcase, along with a number of large shawls that I would simply not thread on the scarf rack at all.

That’s a New Year’s Resolution FAIL!

So exactly how many times during the summer did I wear a scarf? Exactly once. Uh-huh. And I made a special effort to achieve that! That’s a New Year’s Resolution FAIL!

A silk shawl I have actually worn – victory! This is a vintage 1920s navy piano shawl (bought on Etsy a couple of years ago), thickly embroidered in white and featuring a deep knotted fringe. It's so huge it would trail on the ground if I draped it around me like a cloak. I saw a 1920s film a while back (the name of which I can't recall) and the lead actress flung her shawl around her shoulders exactly like that.I am doing better during the winter, because scarves of course are a necessary extra layer of warmth on a chilly day, and these long winter scarves are too fat for complicated knots – I usually wrap them across my chest under my coat, or loop them around my neck over the top of my outerwear.

So what is the answer to this sartorial dilemma? I know what it is: I have simply got to get up earlier. I ought to have made that my first New Year’s Resolution!


What I Actually Wore #0101

Serial #: 0101
Date: 14/11/2012
Weather: 22°C / 71.6°F, a beautiful and sunny day
Time Allowed: 9 minutes

I am not one for pastels. Not to sound harsh to lovers of these marzipan hues, but I despise them. While the colours in this outfit are not strictly pastels, in combination they do present a pale likeness to pastels, which repulses me a little. (Of course, I am writing this story over a year later, when I am interestedly listening to the siren call of minimalism, seductively beckoning me to abandon the vintage ship.)

The word ‘pastel’ has its origins in the mid 17th century, via French from the Italian pastello, the diminutive of pasta, ‘paste’, all in reference to the art media. Pure (dark) pigment is mixed with differing quantities of chalk to obtain near-white shades, and this is the origin of the word ‘pastel’ in reference to ‘pale colour’. Who knew? (I actually use pastels as an art medium and didn’t know this!)

In fact, I chose the garments to complement the vintage 1920s duster cap, which is made from a dull cornflower blue and light red floral print, and a plain cream fabric that forms the frill. (It’s not often one can describe a colour as ‘light red’, but the darker red tones in the cap aren’t quite pink.)

The cardigan is a light blue-grey, the blouse a French blue with a white geometric print, and the skirt is actually a pinstripe in cream and apple green – from a distance the latter looks like a light pistachio. (This skirt sounds a bit like dessert!) So they are not really sugary pastels, but the total effect is quite girlish. The wedges are taupe and tan, at least a much more interesting colour choice than, say, my David Lawrence blue suede shoes might have been.

I vaguely recall feeling dubious about the outfit at the time, though my notes tell me that I received compliments on this outfit, and everyone admired my cap. It’s nice to reflect that some people liked it, but the SNAP jury is out.


Blouse: Lil for Anthropologie
Skirt: Veronika Maine
Cardigan: Sparrow for Anthropologie
Hat: vintage 1920s
Earrings: blue chalcedony, hand made
Ring: mabé pearl and silver, NGV
Watch: Kenneth Cole
Shoes: Habbot


Three Colours

One of the most striking and classic colour combinations you will find (apart form black and white) is blue, white and red. They are the easiest, most failsafe colours to match too – any shades will work – and provided whatever you choose to put next to your face suits your complexion, you cannot fail to look great.

Undoubtedly, these colours simply look wonderful together, but where does this notion of classicism rise from?

Arguably, the strongest connection of this trio is to patriotism – the French tricolour and the American flag immediately spring to mind – but did you know that 35 flags of the world utilise these three colours? Quite a number of them feature stars (or at least one star) and stripes too, and if you can consider the Union Jack a little evocative of stripey-ness, then both the Australian and New Zealand flags could also be described as starry and stripey. These colours are eye-catching from a distance, which is why they are used in flags.

Of course this colour combination is also associated with the nautical look, a perennial favourite with the fashion industry. The nautical look links to the navy (it’s called that for a reason) and inevitably back to stars, stripes, uniforms and national colours.

Could anything be more American x nautical than Tommy Hilfiger’s look? Spring/Summer 13A casual nautical look perfect for boatingCrisp white and red and a sea breeze (click through for more fresh fashion inspiration)Blue and red are contrasting primary colours. Throw white and stripes into the mix and suddenly there are dozens of possibilities to create a strong, graphic look. While light blues will certainly look great with red, if you are trying to create a nautical flavour, stick to medium and dark shades of blue. Go full steam ahead with cooler shades of these colours to evoke the nautical theme.

But if you are not after a nautical theme? Steer clear of stripes and silver or gold buttons (not to mention epaulets!), and try out a warm tomato red instead. Or throw some different patterns into the mix, such as polka dots or other geometrics, like this enlarged ikat print in white and two shades of blue, or a floral print.


Blue is the world’s most popular colour, according to recent polls. It is associated with the sky, sea, ice, cold and sadness, and more abstractedly with harmony, faithfulness and confidence. Perhaps these latter notions are associated with the history of the colour’s common usage, namely with military uniforms and worker’s denim overalls (security, loyalty) and blue suits (solid and successful businessmen).

Vintage sailor inspired fashion from a 1958 Sears catalogueAdorable sweater from YumiLOVE Charlotte Olympia’s Plain Sailing pumps!The Egyptians associated blue with the sky and divinity, and protection from evil. In Africa and Asia blue dye was made from lapis lazuli or azurite, and the cost of importing it was so high that the Egyptians created their own blue pigment by grinding silica, lime, copper and alkalai and heating it to 800–900°C. Known as Egyptian Blue, it is considered the first synthetic pigment. They used it to paint wood, papyrus and canvas, as well as a glaze in faience. In the 9th century, Chinese artisans used cobalt to create the famous blue and white porcelain, which sparked a craze for Chinoiserie when it was first imported to Europe in the 14th century.

the dandy Beau Brummell made the blue suit ubiquitous eveningwear for men in the Regency period

In the Middle Ages, blue was a cheap dye made from woad, and it was not worn by the upper classes, who favoured red and purple instead. It was not until Louis IX of France began wearing all blue that it became popular with the elite of Europe. Centuries later, the dandy Beau Brummell made the blue suit ubiquitous eveningwear for men in the Regency period, long before the black tuxedo of the twentieth century. While black suits were de rigeur for late 19th century businessmen, blue or grey suits became a more popular choice in the 20th century.


Indigo cake – the larger piece measures 2cmOriginally, indigo was a natural dye extracted from plants, although today nearly all commercial dye is produced synthetically. It is one of the oldest dyes to be used in textiles, and India is considered to be the oldest centre of indigo dyeing, supplying indigo to Europe as early as the Greco-Roman era (332 BC–AD 395). Such a strong association to the blue dye did India have, that it gave its name to the colour: indigo comes from the Greek word for dye, indikón, meaning Indian. The Romans latinised it to indicum, which passed into Italian, then finally the English indigo.

The leaves of the tropical plant, indigofera, were soaked in water and fermented; the resultant liquid was mixed with lye, pressed into cakes, dried and then powdered. The powder was mixed with other various substances to produce differing shades of blue and purple.

Indigo is commonly used to dye cotton cloth, and smaller amounts are used to dye silk and wool. Perhaps the most famous use of indigo is in denim jeans, invented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis in 1873. A much older antecedent however is the navy blue of military uniforms – contrasted with white – that were first created for the British Royal Navy in 1748. Other navies around the world subsequently adopted the use of the colour too.

Perhaps the most famous use of indigo is in denim jeans, invented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis in 1873.

The first synthesis of indigo was created in 1878 by a German chemist, and the second two years later. By 1897 a commercially feasible manufacturing process was in use, and the production of natural indigo dropped. In 1897, 19,000 tons of indigo was made from plant sources; in 2002 17,000 tons of synthetic indigo was produced globally.


Woad (click through for a story on Nudie Jean’s woad-dyed collection)Anything so rare is always prized, and owing to the expense and difficulties of importing the dye to Europe, indigo was referred to as Blue Gold. Throughout the Middle Ages, indigo remained an uncommon – and therefore expensive – commodity in Europe, and woad was used instead. Often associated with the Picts who painted and tattooed their bodies with it, the use of woad in fact goes as far back as the ancient Egyptians, who, among other things, dyed the cloth wrappings applied to their mummies.

Woad is a dye chemically identical to indigo, and is also derived from a plant base. After the Portuguese discovered a sea route to India, the indigo trade eased, but France and Germany outlawed imported indigo in the 16th century to protect the local woad dye industry.


Red has many connotations, some positive and some negative. It is associated with passion, beauty, happiness and good luck, as well as more ominous notions of danger, fire, anger, prostitution and warning. It is the colour of blood, rubies – and the fruit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is commonly depicted as red (scholars argue variously it could have been an apple, pomegranate, pear or fig, among others).

In many languages, the word for the colour is defined by its likeness to blood; in Russian the word for red has its origins in the Slavic word meaning beautiful, while the modern Portuguese comes from the Latin word for little worm!

in Russian the word for red has its origins in the Slavic word meaning beautiful

In ancient Egypt the colour red was connected with life, health and victory. The Byzantine emperors used red banners. Kings, princes and cardinals wore red costumes, for red was a colour that signalled status and wealth. Red is of course an important colour in the Chinese culture: a noble colour, it was a badge of rank and was used not only in clothing, but in imperial architecture too.

During the French Revolution, red became a symbol of liberty, and many revolutionaries wore a red Phyrgian cap, or liberty cap – which were modelled after the caps worn by freed slaves of ancient Rome. Subsequently the colour red became associated with socialism.

Christian Louboutin’s red heelsLouis XIV of France famously wore red heels

Today Christian Louboutin’s shoes are famous for their red heels, but it was the Sun King Louis XIV who, four hundred years ago, wore red heels (and beautiful silk stockings) to show off his gorgeous legs. In 17th century France, red was the colour of power; it was associated with palaces, and Versailles. Some fifty years later, Madame de Pompadour, mistress to the Louis XV, redecorated Versailles from red velvet to her favoured red-coloured stripes and prints in cotton and chintz.


Cochineal (click image and jump through to an interesting story on artisanal dyeing with natural cochineal)Where did red come from? Carmine is a name for a deep shade of red on the cooler side of the colour wheel. It is also a type of acid extracted from a South American and Mexican scale insect called a cochineal. It secretes an acid to deter predation by other insects, but the Aztecs and Mayans discovered they could extract carminic acid from the insect to make a dye. The acid is mixed with aluminium or calcium salts to make carmine dye, also called cochineal. 

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, cochineal was exported to Europe, and by the 17th century, as far as India. It was as highly prized as indigo, even being quoted on the London and Amsterdam Commodity Exchanges. The exporters kept its exact source a secret, and the European importers weren’t quite sure if the dried cochineal pellets were a berry, a bug or a mineral. Cochineal became Mexico’s second most important export after silver.

the European importers weren’t quite sure if the dried cochineal pellets were a berry, a bug or a mineral

In the middle of the 19th century, the appearance of the artificial dye alizarin crimson – as well as many others – caused the cochineal trade to drop sharply, causing significant financial shock in Spain as a major industry was virtually extinguished.

The breeding of cochineal insect for use in the modern textile industry continues more for the sake of tradition rather than to satisfy any demand. However, more recently it has become commercially viable again for use in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic (mainly for lipstick and rouges) industries, as many artificial dyes have been found to be carcinogenic, though cochineal can cause anaphylactic shock in rare cases.


White is associated with innocence, perfection, cleanliness, lightness, purity and goodness. In ancient Egypt, it was associated with the goddess Isis, while the Roman goddess Vesta was dressed in white robes. For the Romans, the white toga was ubiquitous for ceremonial occasions, which was to inspire the queen of another empire millenia later. 

In the Middle Ages the Christian church adopted it, associating it with the Roman symbolism of purity, sacrifice and virtue. The white unicorn, as a symbol of purity, chastity and grace, was often depicted in tapestries and manuscripts of this era. Able to be captured only by a virgin, the unicorn was often portrayed in the lap of the Virgin Mary. Also in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, white was worn by widows as a colour of mourning – the complete antithesis of today’s funereal black.

in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, white was worn by widows as a colour of mourning

The empire line, popularised by the Empress JoséphineDuring the time of the French Revolution, the Empire Style popularised by Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte’s consort, was modelled after the white dress of ancient Rome. In the centuries following, white became the universal colour of both men and women’s underwear, as well as bed linen, because these items were washed in boiling water, which would cause colours to fade. (When the linen was finally worn out, it was turned into high-quality paper – it is amusing to reflect that some of the drawings hanging in the art galleries of the world might once have swathed someone’s bottom!)

Queen Victoria’s wedding dress

It was Queen Victoria who popularised the white wedding gown in 1840 (although she was not the first royal to have worn it to be married in). Before she wore her modest silk-satin number, bridal gowns could be any colour – probably a bride wore her favourite. Victoria’s choice of white was considered unusual at the time. (Of course other colours are worn in other cultures.) Prior to the Victorian era, black was a popular colour for Scandinavian bride!


Natural fibres are not pure white of course, but rather cream or light brown. To produce white textiles, fabric must be bleached. The most common bleach today is chlorine, first invented in the 18th century, and then peroxide which was invented in 1818, but not used for bleaching until 1882; it did not become commercially viable until the 1930s.

In ancient times, as early as 300 BC, soda ash, prepared from burned seaweed, was used to clean and whiten cloth by the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans. The latter had two words for white, one signifying plain white (albus), and the other brighter white (candidus). A man running for public office in Rome brightened his toga with chalk. It was called a toga candida, the origin of candidate. Candere, meaning to shine, or to be bright, is the source of our words for candle and candid. 

Bleachfield, by Jan Breughel (II), c. 1650

Before the invention of chlorine bleach, cloth was bleached by the whitening action of sun and water, a lengthy process. Fabric was first soaked in a lye solution for days, then ‘bucked’ or washed clean, after which the cloth was laid out in what was known as a bleachfield or croft (an open area of land), and exposed to the sun. The fabric lay on the grass sometimes for weeks at a time. This was repeated five or six times, depending upon the degree of whiteness required, and then the fabric was treated in milk or buttermilk before being bucked and crofted again. The process originated in the Netherlands, but quickly spread throughout Europe. Huge tracts of land were utilised for crofting when it could have been used for farming, but it is testament to how desirable pure white cloth was. 


Today we have few fashion edicts as far as choice of colour. There are trends of course, and Pantone does try to impose a Colour of the Year on the entire world (my natural contrariness makes me immediately wish to repudiate any liking for said colours), but the revolutions in the textile industry over the centuries mean that rich or poor alike can wear whichever colour they like, whenever they like.

The only exceptions (in Western culture at least) being, perhaps, white and black: one shouldn’t wear white to a wedding so as not to upstage the bride (unless you know for a fact she won’t be wearing it!), and it would be considered poor taste to wear anything but a sober colour to a funeral – if not black, then dark grey or some other gloomy shade at least.

So complementary to one another, blue, red and white will always be a festive combination, worn nautical style or otherwise – whether you are a blue-blooded royal princess or just a regular girl-next-door. 


View the gallery for more!

I am so in love with this colour combination I wear it often – check out the Red, White & Striped gallery for inspiration.


Second Chance Summer

I couldn’t face the end of summer this year. I wasn’t ready to let go yet. AND LUCKY I DON’T HAVE TO! Because dear old Melbourne has served us up an Indian summer – you bewdy!

Just as well, because it seems it’s only been a month or two since I switched my wardrobes over and brought my summer clothes out of storage. I’ve barely had time to wear everything! 

Fashion Notes

Blue and white stripes are quintessentially summery (because of their nautical connotations), so when I saw this periwinkle blue and white silk tank by Aussie brand Ojay in the Salvos, I snapped it up even though it was two sizes too big for me. Loose is good in summer anyway. It is cut with a racer back, and features an unnecessary exposed zip in contrasting black at the neck.

Trimmed in broderie anglaise, the white cotton bloomers are vintage 1920s and likewise they are loose and cool to wear in sultry weather. I bought them from vintage store Suitcase in Berlin on Etsy, fully intending to wear them as shorts, or under summer short dresses. The first time I wore them on the street I felt a little scandalous. I wonder what their original owner would have thought of such an escapade? (More about bloomers soon.)

The navy umbrella piped with white along its ruffled edge is also vintage – possibly 1970s, or earlier. It does have a fancy carved plastic handle; I’m no expert on gauging what type, but I doubt it’s celluloid. The frame is steel, and is finished with a pointy end, so it doubles as a weapon too. I always feel more comfy walking home at night when I’m carrying a solidly constructed vintage umbrella. They just don’t make them like they used to. 

Picture Notes: the backdrops were photographed at Bridgewater Bay last December.


White Night Lights

Celebrating the Roaring Twenties in a Special Series

A couple weekends ago, Melbourne celebrated its second White Night. The city streets, laneways, landmarks and cultural institutions were transformed into a cultural playground from dusk-till-dawn. I ventured out to play around 8pm, and literally tripped the light fantastic until 3am, when my steps turned towards home at last.

One of the loveliest experiences was when my friend and I came out of Hosier Lane into a winter wonderland on Flinders Lane. Lights fixed on a group of mirror balls of different sizes suspended high above the laneway created a shifting display of circular lights that bathed us in blue and white light, and turned the streetscape into a snowstorm. It was absolutely enchanting. There were surely a couple hundred people milling about at any one time, necks craned upwards – and cameras held aloft – to catch the flurries of light.

I was delighted when I looked at my pictures later, and immediately noticed the streetscape looked just like the 1927 illustration on the March page of my Vogue calendar. How amazing! I instantly decided to create a homage to Georges Lepape’s drawing – and here it is, with and without a masthead. Scroll down to see the original photograph.

Fashion Notes

I am wearing a vintage cloche hat with a black feather pompom on the side, and a vintage sheepskin collar, a relic from my friend Rapunzel’s Aunty Belle. (The hat is actually more of a Prussian blue, but I tweaked the shade to match the illustration a little better.) The pearl jewellery was purchased in the now defunct Melbourne jewellery boutique Portobello Lane. 

Lighting designer Philip Lethlean’s electrified installation ‘Rags to Riches’ in Flinders Lane, White Night 2014

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