Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Entries in edwardian (20)


From Suffragettes to Fashionistas

What is the everlasting appeal of the 19th century style boot? Tight around the lower foot with a myriad of buttons or lacing, they cover up that part of the female form that was back then considered particularly erotic: the ankle. In effect, these boots actually enhanced and drew attention to this scandalous portion of the anatomy.

Boots – apart from the equestrian boot – only formed daily wear for the nonworking woman in the 1830s; but by the 1850s, mass production made them affordable to all. They became a symbol of emancipation, and at the turn of the 20th century, suffragettes were marching through the streets in them.

Of course boots for us are now simply a question of individual preference and come in every imaginable style and colour. In my 20s I decided that a pair of knee-high, black leather lace-ups were an imperative addition to a modern wardrobe. Mine are so modern that they actually do up with a zip at the side, but my eldest sister Blossom remembers hers in the 70s actually laced up. You couldn’t leave anywhere in a hurry.

…I do find them [Victorian style ankle boots] delightfully quaint, like something out of a storybook.

I’m not a man, and don’t think of Victorian style ankle boots as particularly erotic, but I do find them delightfully quaint, like something out of a storybook. The two-tone pair in the picture above is by Swear London. The uppers are made from a distressed denim, with the caps from striped red and white canvas.

There are purely decorative denim buttons on the outside of the ankle. I remember seeing them in the window of a boutique in groovy Greville St, and falling in love with them one winter before I finally succumbed, and bought them (on sale!) in the spring.

Caps, incidentally, were originally used to make flimsy, earliest version of boots more practical for outdoor wear; the boots were referred to as being ‘galoshed’.  

Check out the antique examples below, from Shoes: A celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More by Linda O’Keefe. Another great resource: All About Shoes, from the Bata Shoe Museum in Canada.

(Left) Cutouts playfully expose colourful stockings; (right) more functional walking boots for colder weather.

(Left) Tight lacing had the opposite effect from that which was intended; (right) pearl and silver buttons fasten lime-green kid.

(Left) Ornate boots worn by opera goers; (right) summer walking boots of silk fabric and metallic thread.


Qui a vu Coco dans l'Trocadéro

A film about a fashion designer? I’m there! … So the weekend saw me at a cinema, and I saw Coco Avant Chanel.

I didn’t know a great deal about Chanel’s history prior to her fame as a fashion designer, so the film was interesting as a biography of her early years. Of course, the filmmakers play fast and loose with the facts as they all tend to, but certainly Chanel did herself, so that is quite apt. But it’s quite true that she earned her nickname from a song that she sang as a cabaret dancer, about a little dog called Coco.

Although there is not a great deal depicted of her evolution as a fashion designer throughout the film, there are many lovely touches that hint at the revolutionary ideas Chanel was forming about the female figure. But the small glimpses one has of her atelier; of Coco cutting fabric and fashioning hats; of models wandering around in magical garments… they all left me hungry for more!

Fortunately there is another film about Chanel due for release at the end of the year, I read in an interesting article on the Telegraph’s website.

In the meantime, go and enjoy the beautiful cinematography and art direction (not to mention the costumes), and the charm of Audrey Tatou as Coco Chanel.


The Grand Entrance

I’m a little crazy about hats, and it must be said this hat is a little crazy. It’s big. It’s OTT (pun not intended). It looks like something a grand dame might have worn out on a morning call a hundred years ago.

I’ve never actually worn it out in public, but when I first saw it in Scally & Trombone in Fitzroy years ago, I decided I simply had to have it in spite of the equally enormous price tag. The designer’s name was Sandy F (with a cute zebra drawing on the label), about whom I can find out nothing now.

…the only thing my hat seems to have in common with Kate’s is sheer size…

The woman presiding over the shop however, told me the designer was inspired by the hat Kate Winslet wore in Titanic. From memory I think she referred to the scene when Kate makes her grand entrance with her darling husband-to-be dangling from her arm, a role played with aplomb by the dishy Billy Zane. However, as these pictures below show, the only thing my hat seems to have in common with Kate’s is sheer size – and the ability to have someone’s eye out if one is not careful.

Nor is my outfit quite as glamorous as Kate’s costume, but I rather like the Belle Époque silhouette. Though I think the coat, which I unearthed at Camberwell Sunday Market, dates from the 1940s rather than the 10s.

(NB. See me ham it up a little more in the Out-takes & Extras gallery.)


Rapunzel’s grandmother

On the arm of the chair sits my friend Rapunzel’s grandmother, Anne. Rapunzel has very little knowledge of her as she died when her mother was 16; the latter did not talk about her much except to reminisce how much she adored her.

Anne gave birth to Rapunzel’s mother in the 1940s, when she was about 36, quite old for that era. Judging by the clothing of this trio of girls we guess this photograph was taken (in Wangaratta, as written on the reverse) in the 1910s.

Recalling a black and white photograph of Anne on her mother’s dressing table, she remembers how she gazed at in fascination.

As a child, Rapunzel thought Anne was the most enchanting woman: dressed in a long satin gown, fur bolero and a tiny little hat.

The most glamorous touch was the string of pearls around her neck. Rapunzel fondly imagined she was at a fancy party, but when she saw this photo more recently, she realised Anne was actually standing near a rusty corrugated iron fence. “How Aussie is that?” she laughed to me.

As for me, I was equally fascinated by this relic from Rapunzel’s family archive. A tiny little photograph – half the size of today’s standard – the card thickened with age, I brought it up close to peer at it in delight. The photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron immediately sprang to mind. Although they are from an earlier year (she photographed Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland), they have the same soft, gentle quality; portals into a long-vanished world.

These three little Australian girls have a mischievous look in their eyes however, unlike Cameron’s models. Some of the latter adopt an impassive stare; others present their profiles as they gaze into the middle distance, forever lost in their own thoughts. A century later, we can only admire them.


Point me to the boulevard, s'il vous plaît

I call this my hybrid Belle Époque–vaguely forties–with a touch of Helmut Newton’s sixties–new look. I have never worn this outfit on the street before, but there is a strong possibility I will one day: in my fantasy I am strolling down some seaside boulevard under a blazing summer sun. The light sparkles on the waves of the ocean, a breeze ruffles across my arms…

It all began with the serendipitous discovery of the peplum-style top.

As delightfully frivolous as it is, this top is by no means perfect. It is, for starters, a size too small. This unfortunate defect necessitates much undignified gyrating and jumping up and down just to do up the zip.

Each time I put it on and wrestle for grim death with the zip, I mutter through gritted teeth: “I’ve done it up before; I can do it up again!”

When finally I tug it all into place I understand the difficulties women had breathing when wearing corsets. Notwithstanding the constrictions of my ribcage, the plunging neckline gapes somewhat as I lack the physical endowment to fill it out.

On the pro side of the list: it is adorable! I like the colours, the geometric pattern and most of all the peplum-like balloon shape. Its exaggerated proportions demanded a contrasting lower half. I remembered the very long and narrow, navy linen Donna Karan skirt I had put aside, unworn.

I had not yet tried the outfit on, but it put me in mind of something a Belle Époque beauty might have worn whilst taking a turn on the promenade in gentlemanly company. That evocative picture plainly required the presence of a hat to complete it. And I had just the one: an enormous red saucer by Mimco. Uncrushable, it can be moulded into any shape.

It still left an expanse of bare flesh that demanded decoration; so on went half a dozen bangles that I never ordinarily wear (they hamper me), and a necklace handmade by myself from golf-ball-sized translucent beads. Green platform heels by Mollini were the last accessory to complete the ensemble.

Below are the vintage originals that evoke the spirit of my strange hybrid.

Both fashion plates possess different but similarly exaggerated proportions. At the turn of the 20th century, long narrow skirts became fashionable, called the ‘hobble-skirt’ – because women did, of course. It wasn’t enough to restrict their breathing!

The wasp waist and enormous skirt of the forties’ New Look translates into my tight empire-line waist and billows of fabric. Mini peplums (above left) and narrow skirts were also popular. These two looks below are from the fifties.

Quite different to mine, this hat (left) is also large enough to hide the face and retain a sense of mystery – and of course shelter one from the blistering rays of the Australian sun.

The look of now, on the beaches; a back bared beautifully to the waistline, and the stunning counterpoint of a hat as wide and sheltering as a beach umbrella. This one, in mango pink straw, is anchored against lifting sea breezes with a wimple of nylon marquisette. Weedmans, Brisbane and Surfers Paradise, 84s.

Main photo: original photograph of backdrop by Robin Lowe.
Illustration credits:
(Top left) Fashion plate, 1912-13, Dresa, from A History of Costume in the West by François Boucher; Thames & Hudson, 1966. (Top right) Pochoir fashion illustration Dieu! qu'il fait froid by Georges Lepape of a fur-edged coat by Paul Poiret, for La Gazette du bon ton, 1913, from The Fine Art of Fashion by Julian Robinson; Bay Books. (Middle left) ph: Henry Clarke, 1953; (middle right) ph: Henry Clarke, 1951; (bottom left) ph: Irving Penn, 1959; (bottom right) ph: Henry Clarke, 1956; all from In Vogue, by Georgina Howell; Condé Nast Books, 1991. (Left) Australian Vogue,  Summer 1960; ph: Helmut Newton.

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