Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in 1930s (28)

Tuesday
Dec182018

In the Mood for Qipaos

I don’t remember what first inspired my admiration for the traditional Chinese cheongsam, or qipao – very likely a Chinese film – but I am sure it had a lot to do with the sumptuous silk embroidered fabric that many are made from. Many years ago I once owned a beautiful example made from oyster-hued silk, embroidered heavily in red, silver and gold. Unfortunately it was a little small for me, and I stupidly culled it from my wardrobe in a mad fit of minimalism in my late 20s, since I thought I would never wear it. Ever since then I have been looking for a new one.

Qipao of the Daoguang Period (1821–1850); Empress Xiaoshen, image from WikipediaThe history of the qipao is long and complicated, and (according to Wikipedia) its origins are controversial. Generally people believe that its origin is in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but some scholars argue that in fact the cheongsam was first worn two millennia prior, in a period between the Western Zhou dynasty (1046BC–771BC) and the pre-Qin era (221BC–207BC). Whatever is the truth, the qipao of the Qing dynasty could not be more different from the style common today. It was floor-length and loose, and cut in an A-line that revealed the figure not at all. Only the head, hand and the tips of the toes were visible.

Chinese singer and actress Zhou Xuan wearing a cheongsam in 1930s in Shanghai; C.H. Wong Photo Studio; Image from WikipediaIn China, women’s liberation had as much effect as it had in other parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century, and the Republican period (1912–1949) is known as the golden age of the cheongsam. It is from this era that the cheongsam as we know it took form. Along with the ending of traditional foot binding, women began to bob their hair, and took to wearing this formerly exclusively masculine attire: one-piece clothing called Changshan or changpao. Now, too, the style was influenced by western fashion – the body-skimming bias-cuts popularised by Hollywood stars – hugging the figure, with hemlines gradually rising and formerly merely practical splits running much higher.

While the Communist Revolution virtually ended the popularity of the cheongsam, Shanghainese emigrants and refugees took the fashion with them to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and kept the style alive there.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Wong Kar Wai’s beautiful and bitter-sweet film In the Mood for Love is based on the Shanghai diaspora from the Revolution, and is set in Hong Kong in 1962. Its heroine, played by Maggie Cheung, wears a gorgeous collection of cheongsams – I remember seeing the film in the cinema when it was released in 2000, and I found the costumes no less breathtaking than the cinematography.

I was very excited when I finally found my new cheongsam, on my Day of Yellow Bonanza, the miraculous Saturday a few months ago when I found several yellow items scattered in thrift stores across Melbourne, including a 1940s ballgown. The cheongsam is made from a luminous pale-yellow brocade of chrysanthemums, which is a popular flower in Chinese culture. It is one of four seasonal symbolic flowers representing autumn, and is also the flower of the ninth moon. The dress probably dates from the 60s, and the fabric is rayon. It actually needs to be tailored to fit me a bit better, which is why you see me with hands on waist to disguise the bagginess there. I am wearing it with a pair of patent yellow stilettos by Aldo, also found in a thrift store.

Read more about the history of the qipao here, and about Maggie Cheung’s wardrobe for the sublime film In the Mood for Love here – I am inspired to watch it again.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000

Photos: August 2018

Friday
Nov302018

My Spectacular Sunglasses

I have often talked about accessories, and how they add the finishing touch to an outfit. What is even better, is a vintage accessory. You just can’t beat it for uniqueness, whether hat, glove, scarf or sunglasses – they add a certain je ne sais quoi to a look – or authenticity. You can tell the real deal a mile off. It’s in the quality of the materials and manufacturing; it’s an old adage but true: they just don’t make them the way they used to. And for something like a pair of sunglasses that you will likely wear every day, you want to really love it.

I am a bit of a fiend for sunglasses (and here you thought it was just hats) and have quite a collection, a few designer and lots of cheapies. Over the last year I determined that it was past time I ventured into the vintage sunglasses game.

Quite quickly, I stumbled across my first pair: 1930s tortoiseshell celluloid (above), with lenses that had an olive tinge. I found those in an op shop, and miraculously they came with their original leather case. Gold text on the front flap, partially scratched off, proclaims in swooping script the name of J. B. R. Burgess, with the tail of the final ‘s’ forming a swoosh underlining the name. In a small serif font underneath it is inscribed ‘Culwulla CHBR’ Castlereagh St, Sydney. Presumably it belonged to someone living in this building, Culwulla Chambers, which was built in 1912 and hailed as Sydney’s first ‘skyscraper’ standing 50 metres high.

The next pair of sunglasses I bought were 1940s wire-framed shades (below), with dark lenses and flexible arms. I found these on eBay, from a seller who had boxes of deadstock. Donning them took a bit of getting used used to – I was quite clumsy at first with slipping them around my ears. What a classic pair of sunglasses! I’ve always loved aviators, but these are even better.

The third pair took a little longer to land in my lap. I knew I wanted a pair of light-coloured celluloid frames, but these are extremely rare in Melbourne. I had been keeping my eye on a 40s pair with pale peachy pink round frames (my holy grail of sunglasses) on Etsy, but they were very expensive; I kept on putting my money towards vintage hats, my true love. Then one day I found another pair of deadstock 40s sunnies (top), these ones cream-coloured. The Dutch seller had two pairs, and I snaffled one of them at half the price of the pink ones, and was very pleased. (Tragically, a short time later, someone else snatched the pink ones out from under me, and the second pair of cream ones also sold.)

I call my reading glasses ‘my spectaculars’, but this trio really are. I adore them all. Though three is plenty to keep me going for now, I don’t think my adventures in vintage sunglasses has ended just yet – I still want my rose-coloured glasses!

Fashion Notes:

The dress is vintage 1940s, bought from Birthday Life Vintage earlier this year, the beret is by Australian brand Mimco, bought in a thrift store, and the earrings are vintage 50s, also bought in a thrift store.

Photos: November 2018

Monday
Oct012018

When the Heart Flutters, Buy

As has been firmly established by now, red is one of my favourite colours. I make a beeline for it whenever I see it, as I did with these two handbags that I bought last year.

The first one I spotted in a thrift store by the beach. (Because what do you do after spending a good part of the day at the beach? Why, fit in a spot of op shopping of course!) How cute! I thought when I saw it, round and twinkling at me from inside a cabinet. How perfectly it would go with this sequin top I am wearing, I thought. Did I need it? Of course not. But it does.

The second little bag is made of silk satin and chiffon, and in addition is studded with rhinestones. I spotted this one unerringly at a vintage fair, and had to wait quite a long time for the stallholder to be free to answer my questions about this mystery bag, for it looked completely unused. She seemed unsure as to the age, and doubtfully offered up an era I cannot recall, but I felt sure that was too recent. “It looks 1930s to me,” I said to her, and she conceded it did, excusing her first answer on the grounds of its pristine condition.

I am not sure exactly what shade of red to call it; it is lighter and orange-tinged, but not orange. I like to refer to the Wikipedia pages on colour for their names and descriptions, but the screen representations are poor. By its description it could be scarlet, or cinnabar, both of which are orange-toned reds.

Of course I did not need this bag either, but its ruffles had made my heart flutter, and the fact that I had nothing in my wardrobe to grace this with mattered not a whit. It is still pristine, for I have not taken it out yet either – it is enough to know that it exists, and it resides in my closet. Sometimes the mere fact of beauty is enough. When the heart flutters, buy.

Photos: March 2018

Wednesday
Jul252018

Head in the Clouds

I often go about with my head in the clouds because I am usually daydreaming as I gaze about the world around me. But this morning I really had my head in the clouds because I was wearing a new 1930s marabou headscarf that had just arrived the day before. It is very fluffy, and light blue, and made me literally think of fluffy clouds.

Then as I walked out into the glorious sunshine of a crisp winter’s day, the beauty of the blue sky – covered all over with feathery white clouds, stunned me! How perfectly perfect, I thought. Here I am in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens on my commute to work – the gardens as well as the sky make a lovely backdrop.

The scarf came from the aptly named shop A Flair for Drama on Etsy, and looks every better in real life than in photos. It is a delightful thing to wear (and very warm as well), and it’s just as pleasing to put a smile on other people’s faces too.

Life’s too short to wear a baseball cap! (Unless you’re going to the baseball.)

Photos: Today

Friday
Apr142017

Hat Roll-Call

This past year has been a very good year for finding vintage hats in op shops at bargain basement prices. And, I decided, Easter is an eggcellent time to parade some before you (sorry, that was irresistible). These summer hats coincidentally all feature bows.

First up is what I suspect is a 1930s navy and natural straw hat found on one lunchtime spree at a store near my workplace. It does not have a label on the inside, but I am estimating it to be from this era because of the shape and materials that are very similar to another straw 1930s hat I own. The lining of the brim was torn from the crown – easily fixed – and otherwise it is in very good condition and was a steal at $10. It looks very elegant on, and the other great thing is that it fits very tightly, so even a high wind was unable to whip it off my head.

The second hat is possibly from the 1980s. It is a huge cartwheel of natural store, and tied with a black jacquard taffeta bow at the back. The fabric has the distinctive moiré pattern of that formal fabric that was so popular in the Eighties. This does threaten to take flight on a windy day (a hat elastic fixed that), but it offers great shelter from our strong southern sun. A $4 bargain from a little charity store.

Also from the 1980s is this black straw closely-fitting visored hat that I found at the same time as the Prada kepi, in a huge vintage warehouse in Geelong. The deep crown features a black grosgrain ribbon that forms a bow at the back. The visor provides great shelter, though not so at the back clearly. Perhaps I should be wearing it 80s style, with a giant white shirt with the collar turned up to protect my neck? This was another cheapie that cost only $4 (reduced from $8).

I do hope you are all having a very Good Friday!

Photos: March 2017