Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in ethnic (48)

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

Monday
Mar062017

Grecian Draping

Two notions come to my mind on hearing the word ‘goddess’: Ancient Greek deities, and screen sirens of the Hollywood’s golden era. Both are evocative of unearthly or extraordinary beauty, creatures with the power to utterly charm and bewitch ordinary mortals.

Thus the ‘goddess gown’ is associated with the garments of the Ancient Greeks – chiton, peplos, and tunic – as well as the sweeping 1930s gowns worn by the likes of Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer, and Rita Hayworth.

Greek clothing was very simply cut. The loose-fitting and free-flowing chiton, worn by both men and women, was basically two rectangles of fabric joined at the shoulders and sides. Lengths and additional shapes – such as circles or triangles – varied, while different looks were achieved through arrangements that created elegant draping. The most common fabrics were linen and wool. Additional decoration came in the form of pleating, embroidery, belts and jewellery. The result was a style of dress that both revealed and concealed the human figure.

Jean Harlow, in a gown by costumier Adrian; designed for the film Dinner at EightBy contrast, the goddess gowns of the stars of Hollywood’s golden years were slender and form fitting, especially in the bodice, and were often backless. Cuts were more sophisticated; linen and wool had been replaced with silk and lamé. But they still had the yards of fabric, the columnar fluidity, complex pleating, and asymmetric draping in common with the Ancient Greeks who inspired them. Where before Paris had lead fashion, now Hollywood began to take over in the popular imagination; many of these fantasy gowns were designed by the famous costumier, Adrian.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi. It’s no wonder these silver screen stars were named for the sirens of Greek mythology, who lured sailors to death with their seductive singing.

Madame Grès (1903–1993) and Madeleine Vionnet (1876–1975) were both French fashion designers who were proponents of Grecian dress.

Grès’s minimalist gowns were wrapped and draped in the most masterful way – that she was trained in sculpture is obvious when one looks at her designs. One of her gowns could take up to 300 hours to create, with pleats sewn by hand, and the cloth draped so that the body shaped the dress – far longer than the Ancient Greeks one imagines.

Gown by Madame Grès, 1940; ph George Platt LynesGown by Madeleine Vionnet, 1933; ph George Hoyningen-HueneVionnet is known for popularising, if not inventing, the bias cut to create sleek and flattering dresses that skimmed the body languidly. Her gowns were soft, floating freely, and did not distort the natural curves of a woman’s body. She used more unusual fabrics for women’s clothing in the 20s and 30s, such as crepe de chine, gabardine and satin, and always ordered two yards extra for each dress to accommodate the draping.

Both Grès and Vionnet have continued to inspire fashion designers to the present day.

Today, we still see the classic goddess gown on our screen stars, but it is also a favourite style of wedding dress (one of the few occasions when ordinary mortals don floor-length gowns), as an alternative to the classic 50s-style princess gown of strapless-boned-bodice-and-big-skirt ilk. … And above all other days, one should feel like a goddess on one’s own wedding day.

Key Characteristics

•  columnar, bias-but
•  fluid draping
•  pleating
•  asymmetry
•  floor-length

Fashion Note

My very simple grey jersey goddess gown is by English label Karen Millen, and features characteristic asymmetry, draping, and an interesting cut to the back.

Photos: January 2014

Scroll down for more images. Links have been provided where available.

Bette DavisCarole LombardGowns by Madeleine VionnetGown by Madame GrèsNorma ShearerGown by Madeleine VionnetRita Hayworth

Tuesday
Feb282017

The Land of Summer-And-Autumn

There is a magical land where summer and autumn are mixed together for a while – like twilight – before autumn takes over completely. Melbourne produces this season beautifully. The calendar may say summer has ended, but my hometown does not know it.

These are the days when it’s still hot, hot, hot, but you know the weather could turn in a trice … that’s when a parasol-umbrella comes very handy. In the morning it could screen you from the burning sun, and in the afternoon it could provide shelter from the rain.

These are the days that are still gloriously golden at the same time the leaves are turning gold and orange and red. Slowly the heat will fade and we’ll feel a nip in the air, and that’s when fashion starts to get more fun as we begin to layer up, add an accessory or two. But for this week’s heatwave at least we’ll enjoy autumn in the skimpiest layers possible.

Fashion Notes

This photo is so old (my hair!) the silk blouse, tiered skirt – made from vintage kimonos and bought in Sintra, Portugal – and blue sandals have long since been retired from my closet. Now I rather wish I had kept the skirt, for it was rather fun. The daisy fabric layer was rather shattered though, and I had spent quite a long time mending a huge tear; but that wasn’t why I got rid of it: I had ruthlessly culled anything that was too girly or frilly! There are some things, though, that one should never throw away, and I think this was one of them.

Photo: March 2014