Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Entries in 1930s (42)


Morticia’s Little Sister

Many years ago I owned a 1940s black lace frock with a swirly skirt perfect for dancing. It fitted me exactly. For some reason unbeknownst to man (or woman, namely: me), I culled it from my wardrobe. Ever since I came to my senses, I have been trying to find a replacement.

Dresses of that vintage aren’t easy to come by, especially relatively inexpensive, well-fitting ones. I would periodically trawl online vintage boutiques without much luck. Then this past March in Rosebud, a little Victorian seaside town, I visited a vintage store called Broadway Bazaar.

Hanging high on a wall, I espied what was surely a 1930s black lace dress. I asked to have it taken down, and tried it on. There were a few damaged areas where the lace netting was torn, and I discussed with my sister Blossom how best to repair them.

But then we discovered another catch. Several catches actually. The salesgirls on duty that day did not know the price, and the owner of that particular stall was not in, and couldn’t be reached. We agreed they would hold the dress for me, since I was on the Peninsula for the weekend, and they would let me know the outcome as soon as possible. The salesgirl bundled up the fragile dress and placed it on the floor behind the counter, which nearly drew forth a horrified burst of protest from me. (That’s my dress you’re manhandling there!) I barely managed to contain my emotions and tottered away.

The salesgirl bundled up the fragile dress and placed it on the floor behind the counter …

My three sisters and I continued to browse the store, and before we left I learned that the owner had returned the call. But she couldn’t name her price, and wasn’t sure she wanted to sell the dress. “But … but …” I wanted to stammer, “why on earth had she hung the dress up in full tempting view of potential buyers?!” The salesgirl perceived my speechless astonishment and prevaricated.

Some time later she returned and informed me that the owner had been talked into selling the dress, for she’d had it on display (fading in the sunlight) for several months and she should grab this opportunity. She had named her price, and had been further convinced she should slash it in half (the price, that is – the dress was already in tatters). “Done!” I declared, and rescued it from the floor.

Lace netting is torn along the neckline, and in several areas around the hipsIt transpired that we had to return to the bazaar the next day to make an additional rescue: my black onyx bangle had been left behind. Chatting to the salesgirl – a different one this time – we chanced to discover she was the prior owner of my new acquisition. She told me she had been so torn over the decision to sell it because she had hoped to lose enough weight to fit into it one day. (It fits me now, I wanted to reassure her it was going to a good home, but I didn’t want to rub salt in the wound.)

Blossom and I hurried away, before she could wrest it back from me – not that I was carrying it with me this time, but she could have chased us down to the car and rampaged through my luggage to find it. Who knows with these deranged and desperate vintage dealers.

A rare find, a black lace dress – especially of 1930s vintage – is an icon amongst black dresses …

And now, how to explain how after all I’ve said against black, here I am showing off yet another black garment? It is partly nostalgia for that long-ago lace dress I once owned, but it is special in itself – despite its flaws. A rare find, a black lace dress – especially of 1930s vintage – is an icon amongst black dresses, even if it is a Long Black Dress rather than a Little one.

It is, I think, made entirely from silk, and with such lovely details: pintucked panels between the lace sections, blouson sleeves, and a gorgeous mermaid hem that swirls when I twirl. It’s made for dancing, even if at present I feel like Morticia’s little sister dressed in cobwebs. But one day I shall take it to the ball. 



Late 30s Early 40s German Art Deco necklace: honey and black faceted lucite drop bib necklace; $153 from RoadsLessTravelled2 on EtsyAfter extolling my cousin’s chunky necklace yesterday, I went on a little Etsy hunt for some of its antecedents: Art Deco necklaces made from Bakelite.

Bakelite is an early plastic that is made from sythetic components. (I won’t bore you with the scientific explanation – you can go look up Wikipedia too.) It was used in radio and telephone casings, as well as far more interesting and appealing jewellery, children’s toys, kitchenware, and more.

Visit Gaslight & Shadows Antiques for a short history of BakeliteIt is still used today in fact, in the production of inexpensive board games in China, India and Hong Kong. Billiard balls, dominoes and pieces for chess, checkers and backgammon are also still made from Bakelite, for ‘its look durability, fine polish, weight and sound’. Who knew? I have always liked the clack billiard balls make when they strike one another – it’s as satisfying a sound as that lovely click a lipstick makes when you close the case (which is also an important component of lipstick packaging design I believe). 

And if you’re in Britain, don’t miss the Bakelite Museum

Honey Bakelite and gold metal choker necklace; $127 from Linda Starr on Etsy
Bakelite Art Deco necklace on celluloid chain with apple juice and amber beads; $145 from BrightEyesTreasures on Etsy


By George!

Agneta Fischer, at the opera, 1931Baron George Hoyningen-Huene (1900–1968) was a seminal fashion photographer of the 1920s and 30s. Born in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century to Baltic German and American parents, he was a true man of the world, for he went on to work in France, England and the United States.

At a youthful 25 he was the chief photographer on French Vogue, associating with the likes of Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton. Ten years later he moved to New York and shot for Harper’s Bazaar; produced two art books on Greece and Egypt; then moved on to Hollywood where he worked for the film industry shooting glamorous portraits of film stars.

His subjects in these pictures are beautiful; carved out of shadow and light. Their gazes are averted; their smooth, silky bodies still, recumbent. We are invited to admire their perfection, in awe of the rarefied air they breathe.

For more, click here.

Lacoste bathing suits, 1930

Lelong bathing suits, 1929

Beach fashion, 1940s

The beautiful Lee Miller, 1932

Baroness D'Almeida, 1932

Fashion by Vionnet, 1932


Summer Hats on a Pedestal

The darlingest red vintage hat is a recent purchase from the Salvos. Made from red velvet, it has a satin ribbon around the crown and a Forties look. It bears an Otto Lucas Junior label. 

Underneath it is my pink 60s trapunto tasselled hat

Next is a leopard-print fedora that I bought a few years ago.

Beneath that is a pretty 30s white hat that has a black velvet ribbon woven through the crown.

Several layers down, there is my gorgeous black Panama hat with its cluster of white flowers at the back.

The photo isn’t a Hipstamatic of course, but it’s close. Last night I downloaded a new iPhone app called ClassicTOY, and amongst its retro lenses and films it had the Shinok Edition, which gives me the Photo Booth look. I had to be fast to snap these – hence the blurring in the final shot.

The camera has a few different lenses full of possibilities: a Double Eye (two shots in one frame); Double Exposure; Jelly Candid (freaky pink, jelly-coloured rings around the edges of the frame); Sabinne Edition (four lenses, like a lomocamera); Mikkers! Edition (six frames in one shot); these are the best out of the ten lenses. There are a heap of films to choose from too, with additional effects possible.

I foresee much fun in the future!


The Woman in White

Inspired by the book The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, this ensemble is only Victorian in spirit, for it is comprised from clothing of very different eras, some separated by 100 years.

The white linen skirt is Victorian – or possibly early Edwardian. Just floor length on me, it features a ruffle on the hem, and a slight train – possibly a remnant of the Victorian bustle, as the owner of the Etsy boutique suggested. As the average height of a Victorian woman was 5’3” (three inches shorter than me) with a waist of 25”, this skirt must have been made for a giantess. (Some incidental trivia: Jane Austen was my height, and considered tall for her era.)

Its texture is ribbed; a very sturdy fabric that has stood the test of time – and the rigours of modern-day cleaning products: oxygenated Napisan (a stain-remover and whitener that is safe for most garments). There are also two period mends that are barely discernible.

The shirt is by She’s Beck, a now-defunct Australian fashion label. I bought this in the early Noughties on sale. I loved the pinstriped shirting, the gathered sleeves, and the military detail of the single pleated epaulet attached to a purposefully ripped shoulder seam. The latter detail always astonishes people.

A white leather obi belt by Witchery is reminiscent of a corset (without the associated agony and breathing difficulties).

The white straw hat is vintage 1930s, bought on eBay for a song. There is a darling little black velvet bow that nestles just under the upturned brim, above my chignon. The black onyx and sterling silver earrings I made myself, when I realised there was a gap in my earring collection for simple bauble drops that go with anything.

Black and white stripes always add a storybook flavour: the striped stockings are new, also found on eBay. White leather Boston Belle sandals that have managed to turn up in a few photoshoots were a good find in a charity shop for a few dollars.

I roam the gardens of Daylesford Convent, a 19th century mansion built in 1860, the same year The Woman in White was published. A fitting setting for an outfit inspired by one of the first mystery novels. 

To see additional angles and extras, check out the Out-takes & Extras gallery.