Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in edwardian (20)

Monday
Apr292019

Bags for Every Day

In modern life, a small handbag is not very practical for day-to-day activities. It is a sure indicator of a leisure occasion, when only the essentials required: perhaps a lipstick, a purse (or loose money or card at least), tissues, a phone.

When I am at work I always like to go out at lunchtime to run errands, or shop, or merely for some air. I don’t like to lug my large work tote with me, so I always bring a small handbag everyday as well. I make an effort to change them daily to match my outfit.

It’s a challenge sometimes, simply because I am always in a hurry dressing in the mornings. I tend to rely on a small selection of practical bags that are easily accessible because they are in regular rotation.

Here is a small selection of vintage and antique handbags that belong in my collection. All of these are woven from a different material, and they were all found in thrift stores. These are bags that are more special, and less practical for day-to-day use, and they are all indicative of an age when women perhaps did not work, and did not feel compelled to lug around her entire life with her every day. Incidentally, nearly all of these would fit that crucial modern-day item, the phone!

The little hat-shaped bag of straw and velvet trim is a particular favourite. When I bought it, one of the staff in the store, a Frenchwoman, told me the bag was antique, and was a specialty from a particular town in France (stupidly I neglected to ask her for details). I’m not sure of its age, but the looped handle suggests 1930s or earlier. The straw is quite soft to touch, and more intricately woven than one generally sees today.

The other rather singular bag is crocheted from silk, and is likely Edwardian. It’s very finely crocheted, delicate, and in pristine condition, and as with the straw hat, I am scared to use it for fear of ruining its shape! Its style is reminiscent of a reticule, a kind of pouch bag that was carried by women during the Regency period (1795–1820), many of which were home-made. 

And though the 70s jute bag is nowhere near as old, it too is fragile. I did carry this a lot as a summer lunchtime bag, and all that carting about has made some of the strings fray – it is in retirement now.

More sturdy are the mid-century structured bags, one of smoke-grey beads, and the other of raffia in robin’s egg blue (one of my favourite colours).

When I bought it, it was filthy and horrid to touch, but that is another shade of blue I love so I was sold. 

The periwinkle blue nylon crocheted bag is practically indestructible, however. When I bought it, it was filthy and horrid to touch, but that is another shade of blue I love so I was sold. A good soak worked wonders. I also changed the original translucent white plastic handles to vintage bamboo handles – after I found another unworthy handbag in a thrift store and butchered it!

Recently I realised I was very boringly carrying the same red handbag nearly every workday, so I have recently been making much more effort to dip into my large handbag collection daily. It’s madness to collect them and never use them, after all, and it makes dressing much more fun.

Photos: March 2018

Tuesday
Mar262019

Fashion Follows Sailor Suit

Late last spring, just as the warmer weather was beginning in Melbourne, I amused myself (and my work colleagues) by adopting a nautical theme for a week. I have long loved stripes – a nautical staple – and the classic colour combination of blue, red, and white which I very often choose to wear, nautical theme or not.

Traditional sailor suits … influenced the design of the new bathing suits and other clothing …

Nautical fashion has for many decades been popular for the warmer seasons, with its obvious link to seaside activities. The fashion first took off in the mid nineteenth century, when ‘sportswear for the new woman’ first started being produced. Traditional sailor suits, ie, naval uniforms with flap collars, stripes and bellbottoms, influenced the design of the new bathing suits and other clothing designed for regattas, yachting, boating and seaside promenading.

Coco Chanel in the interwar periodFrench sailors; the marinière or tricot rayé (striped sweater) is a cotton long-armed shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes, characteristically worn by quartermasters and seamen in the French navy.Coco Chanel was another enormous influence after adopting the sailor-collared top (as opposed to Breton striped tees) worn by the local fishermen and sailors in the resort town of Deauville, where she opened her first store on the coast of France in 1913. At the same time, ‘Middy’ blouses, inspired by the uniform of midshipmen were worn by school children for gym activities; by the 1920s they were a huge women’s fashion trend.

1920s middy shirtFashion in the decades after followed suit, adopting the look not just for sportswear, but for daywear, and to the present day we are still wearing nautical influenced garments (although it still seems chiefly only for daytime). Every nautical motif once can think of has been deployed by fashion designers in both blatant and subtle iterations, from the triumvirate of the three most popular colours of blue, red and white; stripes and flag graphics; middy tops and sailor collars; neckties and pussy bows; every type of nautical hat – boaters, fisherman and sailor caps; high-waisted bellbottoms; to naval trim such as gold buttons and braid, and rope, anchor and sailboat motifs. 

It’s fun, it’s sporty and casual, easy and breezy, and denotes summertime and carefree holidays so very particularly – no wonder nautical fashion has remained popular!

Click through to view my gallery of all my nautical looks of the week, and keep scrolling for nautical looks throughout the decades.

Read more about nautical Fashion

Stories on nautical fashion by Vintage Dancer and Blue Velvet Vintage are worth a read – both include some great images from different eras.

Genealogy Lady has written a short history on the middy blouse.

Frenchly reveals that Coco Chanel did not make Breton stripes a thing!

For seaside fashion of the nineteenth century, visit Mimi Matthews.

Nautical fashions through the decades

Victorian era, c 1890sEdwardian wool bathing suit1920s swimsuit1930s nautical daywear fashions1940s dress (LIFE magazine)1950s1960s1970sMarch 1982February 1992, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington wearing Ralph Lauren on Vogue's coverLes Indes galantes collection, Lascar dress, Haute couture, spring/summer 2000, Jean-Paul GaultierZuhair Murad, RTW Spring 2016All images found on Pinterest unless otherwise indicated with direct links.

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