Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in ethnic (45)

Thursday
Sep132018

The Golden Boots I Didn’t Know I Needed

A few months ago I waltzed into one of my regular op shop haunts and no sooner than my eyes fell upon a pair of golden boots in the glass cabinet at the front of the store, where all the best treasures are usually kept, I was instantly seized with that well-known phenomenon: shoe lust. I adore Asian embroidery, in any form, and I immediately enquired about them.

One of the staff said, “I was just about the photograph those for our Facebook page!” I generously suggested she still could, but she laughed and shook her head. She must have divined that I fully intended to purchase them, for they were exactly what I was looking for. (That was the shoe lust talking.)

… I was instantly seized with that well-known phenomenon: shoe lust

She had told me the size, and although they were actually a size bigger than I would normally wear, I knew fabric shoes were often an iffy prospect, especially stiff satin. These were barely worn, and sure enough, they were a little loose though not so stiff after all, and with socks I decided they would be fine. The brand is Sofree, which seems to originate from Asia, possibly Korea, although I can’t find much on them googling.

The first time I wore them I chose a day I was sure it would not rain, and pranced out into the sunshine with them. Not five minutes after I left my house, a passing cyclist exclaimed in delight at the sight of them. Validation!

Some shoes you just have to have, even if you don’t need them.

Photo: This week

Monday
Aug132018

Jade Rainbow

Many people are surprised to learn that jade comes in a rainbow of colours: lavender, red, orange, yellow, brown, white, black, and gray. After green, lavender is the most valuable, and black and red (as long as it has no brownish overtones) are also popular.

Jadeite, to give it its proper name, is a sodium and aluminium rich pyroxene, while the similarly coloured nephrite is a mineral of calcium, magnesium and iron. Nephrite is the native stone of China, with more than 5000 years of history in that culture, while jadeite was not introduced to China until the 1800s, by Burmese traders.

Nephrite jadeHow cute are these tiny jade figurines?Red jade is not considered as valuable as the prized green ‘imperial jade’, which is a vibrant emerald colour and almost transparent. Once, the royal court of China had a standing order for all imperial jade, and it is amongst the world’s most expensive gems.

Red jade: bangle from annaandjade.com; bowl from icollector.comTransparency is also highly valued, with the least desirable being completely opaque. I must be very contrary, because I deem the green common (you see so much of it, real and artificial), and I like opaque the best. Red is also one of my favourite colours.

When I was in Hong Kong many years ago, a carved jade bangle was on my wishlist, and accordingly I scoured the jewellers in one of the biggest markets for them. I was immediately drawn to this red bangle, attracted by its strong colour and weightiness. This type of jewellery cut from a single piece of rough stone is called a hololith, and results in a great deal of weight loss. For this reason hololiths cost more than several pieces joined together by precious-metal hinges.

Lavender jade: stone from soaprocks.com.au; carved jade and diamond bangle from katybriscoe.comIt is carved with dragons and flowers, and certainly was expensive! I didn’t dither too long making a decision however, as I knew I would be unlikely to find another, and certainly not a cheaper one. The bangle did not have a ring that matched exactly, but the one I purchased is carved with ornamental swirls. I don’t wear them all the time – scared that I’ll smash them! – but as on last Friday when I wore them last, I always enjoy them when I do.

Monday
Mar192018

Shanghai Silk

I am a total sucker for anything embroidered. It draws my hand irresistibly like a magpie to shiny things. (I also love shiny things.) This vintage 1960s, exquisitely decorated silk blouse, one of two I own, was embroidered by hand in Shanghai.

The real heyday for such embroidered garments were the 1950s and 60s, when the label ‘Made in China’ did not have the connotations it does today. The labels on both my blouses are written in English as well as Chinese, indicating that they were made for the tourist market. Perhaps they were unwanted souvenirs, for neither look worn.

Embroidery and most other needlework arts are believed to have originated in the Orient and Middle East. Paintings and pictures on sculpture illustrating embroidery with silk thread, precious stones and pearls indicate that Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 BC – no wonder this example is so fine: they’ve been practising a long time! Elaborate embroidery on garments, household goods and religious artefacts has been a mark of wealth and status in many cultures since.

Just look at this detail!While the Industrial Revolution brought machines that replaced hands, and made embroidery more accessible for the masses, freehand embroidery has never died out, and its fineness cannot be contested when it is laid side-by-side with a cheap, mass-produced item. One can only marvel at the skill and patience needed for such fine needlework.

I am lucky enough to own a short-sleeved silk blouse embroidered in a similar style, as well as two other plainer Chinese silk blouses. All of them were found in the same Salvos store on separate occasions. I always wonder: Who gets rid of these beautiful things?

Vintage lovers will also be familiar with the beaded and sequined knits of the same era, and detailed beaded evening bags, most of which declare Hong Kong as the origin – look out for more on these in coming days.

~

I am also wearing a modern silk skirt by Carolyn Taylor, and belt by Alannah Hill.

Photos: March 2018

Monday
Jul032017

Plaid: A Blanket Term

Plaid or tartan, what is the difference? Nowt indeed! Tis but semantics: plaid is the American term for the traditional Scottish fabric, but, funnily enough, in Scotland a plaide is an accessory to the kilt – a piece of tartan fabric slung over the shoulder – or a plain blanket.

Tartan is a multi-coloured pattern of criss-crossing horizontal and vertical lines. The different coloured pre-dyed threads – originally wool, but now encompassing many other fibres – are woven at both warp and weft at right angles to each other, which creates diagonal lines where they overlap. Here they appear to blend and create additional colours. The repeated pattern of squares and lines are called a ‘sett’.

Tartans should not be confused with gingham (a simple check pattern usually in white and one colour), or houndstooth (a tweed pattern of broken checks; learn more here), as they commonly are. And a windowpane check is just a check.

(Left) Soldiers from a Highland regiment, c. 1744: the private on the left is wearing a belted plaide; (right) a man wearing tartan, c. 1875Today we are familiar with the notion that tartan patterns are associated with particular clans, but before the nineteenth century, this was not so. The distinctive patterns were associated with geographic regions, and the colours with the natural dyes available in that district. Chemical dyes were non-existent, and transport of different dyes from other regions was prohibitively expensive.

The word ‘tartan’ is most likely derived from the French word tartarin, meaning ‘Tartar cloth’, which sounds dubious to me as the Tatars were a Turkic-speaking people living in Asia and Europe. Seemingly more plausible is the theory that the word has its origins in the Scottish Gaelic tarsainn, meaning ‘across’.

Black Watch tartan, worn by a couple with a very cute story (click through to read)!I prefer the more generic description ‘plaid’ as it has little apparent association with an ethnic tradition (since I have not an iota of Scots blood in me). The traditional Scottish plaide, meaning ‘blanket’, first referred to any rectangular garment worn on the shoulder, which was often a plain weave, and sometimes a tartan. (And here the origin of the classic plaid blanket for the bed!)

The ubiquitous Burberry plaid, designed in the 1920s.I must confess I do love plaid, and have managed to amass quite a collection of different plaid garments (and blankets). I prefer the simpler colour combinations, with red and white being a particular favourite. Some of the most famous tartans are Royal Stewart, Black Watch, and of course the ubiquitous Burberry check, which was created in the 1920s. My favourite red and white appears as Clan Menzies. (You can scroll through a long list here.)

Tartan upon tartan! The Royal Stewart is the mainly red plaid on the topmost layer. (Image from Pinterest.) My vintage 70s wool jacket is made up of navy and yellow on a cream background, and is a fashion tartan. When I decided one autumn that I needed to acquire a wool plaid jacket, I luckily came upon this one within a week or two. I do love it, but at thigh length it doesn’t cut the mustard for this cold snap Melbourne is currently suffering through. I do however have a very warm, heavy wool skirt in cream and navy large plaid pattern, which, considering the etymological origin of the word blanket, I very aptly dubbed my ‘blanket skirt’!

Photo: July 2015

Monday
Mar272017

Gypsy Mood

“You look like a gypsy!” That was what my mum would say to me years ago when I was attending art school and dressed very colourfully in piles of beads and Indian skirts and vintage clothes that I found in the op shops at lunch time around college.

The word ‘gypsy’ has such picturesque connotations: one thinks of nomadic folk living a bohemian, happy-go-lucky and simple life, thriving on the freedom of travelling wherever whim took them – in quaint little caravans drawn by sturdy horses of course. It’s a romantic notion, and undoubtedly they must endure the harsh realities of life just the same as the less adventurous of us.

I’m not nomadic (although I have travelled a little), but I still sometimes dress like a gypsy, when the mood strikes me.

Fashion Notes

In keeping with gypsy values, I am wearing quite a mish-mash of items, most of which is second hand. The most spectacular piece is the silk taffeta skirt of course, which I bought in an op shop last year for around $7. I wasn’t sure if it was silk at the time, and I doubt the staff member who priced it suspected it was silk; there are no labels in it. I just thought it was fabulous.

The organza blouse is by an Australian designer, Carla Zampatti, and is I think a highly amusing relic from the 80s. The silk shawl around my hips was a birthday gift from a friend, and the pink sequin scarf in my hair was another thrift store find. My jewellery is a mix of vintage (a white 40s bead necklace) and antique (Turkish coin earrings, the Afghan bead tassel); second hand from op shops; new retail, and souvenirs (the bangles, from Vietnam) and even a turquoise ring hand made by me.

Fashion Disaster!

The skirt is extremely well made, with every seam inside perfect, and over-locked, so I didn’t want to even snip a piece from inside to do a burn test and ascertain the fibre content. However, something disastrous happened right after this photoshoot. It was hanging in the bathroom and I inadvertently swiped some Lucas Papaw ointment – which has a petroleum jelly base – on it.

I inadvertently swiped some Lucas Papaw ointment on it.

First I tried spot cleaning the stain with dishwashing liquid (which can work on greasy stains if used immediately). Nothing doing. I left it for a few days while I pondered whether to take it to the dry cleaner. Finally, after doing some research I referred back to my laundering app (‘The Stain’ – highly recommended) on how to deal with oily stains. It doesn’t mention mineral-based oils, but I tried the method of sprinkling talc on the stain and lifting it onto paper towel with the application of heat (using an iron). Then I hand-washed it, immersing the entire skirt to avoid possibly leaving a water-stain (in for a penny, in for a pound).

Then something marvellous happened – aside from the stain lifting: once the skirt was dry, the fabric had softened considerably and I knew without a doubt that it was silk. I assume the previous owner had only ever dry-cleaned it, and that accounted for its starchy crispness. Some may prefer that finish for taffeta, but I think it is much nicer to wear now.

Photos: December 2016