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Entries in ethnic (48)


Out of Africa

It must be no secret that I love jewellery, and out of all the ways women have found to adorn themselves, I love necklaces and earrings the most. I have both minimalist and maximalist tendencies – sometimes a featherweight of jewellery is quite enough, and on another day more is more is more – so long as my shoulders can stand it.

I have long been attracted to tribal jewellery, particularly to that of Africa and Afghanistan, and prefer opaque stones to sparkly gems (unless it is ridiculously OTT in true Bollywood style). Anything that jingles will surely attract my notice (as my bemused work colleagues will attest!).

sometimes a featherweight of jewellery is quite enough, and on another day more is more is more …

I sport a small collection around my neck, two of which I made myself, and one that is vintage. The biggest is made from shells alternated with silver baroque freshwater pearls. The shells originally formed a belt, which I found in a charity store for a few dollars. It is quite heavy to wear, but I like that it is almost a piece of sculpture. I call it my dinosaur spine necklace. The other handmade necklace is made up of small and larger wooden beads and white pearls. And the third necklace is vintage Eighties, consisting of freshwater and glass pearl beads, that I bought on Etsy.

Although wearing piles of beads is fun for a photoshoot, I am far more likely to wear the dinosaur spine on its own, and let it shine in solitary splendour – I have a way to go before I can match these African ladies (photographed by Mario Gerth in Namibia, Niger, Kenya, Mali and Ethiopia).

Click the images and jump through for more.


The Perfect Shade of Blue

Some time ago I came across this Indian kameez (tunic, normally worn with trousers called shalwar) in a charity store, and was immediately attracted to it because it resembled Wedgwood jasperware in traditional blue. I adore lace – particularly guipure and Battenberg – and it is delicious in combination with this particular shade of blue. The kameez is in fact embroidered in white on blue. 

It was in 1759 that Joseph Wedgwood opened his own pottery business, but it was not until 1765 that his new earthenware style became popular throughout Europe, and was dubbed ‘Queen’s Ware’ with permission of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the British Queen consort. 

Wedgwood experimented with more than 3000 samples [to achieve this shade of blue] …

Jasperware was inspired by the Portland Vase, a Roman cameo glass vase that is dated between AD 1–25, in a time when the mythologies depicted in artifacts of the ancient world was inspiring artisans all over Europe. This particular shade of Portland blue was the first jasperware colour, and to achieve it Wedgwood experimented with more than 3000 samples. Somewhat of a perfectionist, Joseph Wedgwood.

His legacy of lovely dishware lives on centuries later and continues to inspire designers of all kinds. Scroll down for a few more examples and references. 


1930s shoes from Road Less Travelled 2
Broken pottery earrings from V Belle Jewelry
Wedgwood jug (out of stock) from Oxfam
Hazel Atlas glasses from Old Cape Cod Vintage
Embroidered trim from A C Afterglow
1950s cocktail dress from Maeven On Etsy
1950s gloves from Karen Elmquist Vintage
Wedding cake seen on Style Unveiled
Wedgwood bud vase from Lilpicker


Hairpin Dragon

Hairpins are the most practical of hair accessories, but in ancient China hairpins hold far more meaning than the humble bobby. They symbolise an important rite of passage, marking, upon her fifteenth birthday, a girl’s advent into adulthood. Prior to this age, a girl wore her hair in braids, but afterwards she would comb her hair into a bun decorated with pins. This also signified she was of marriageable age.

Chinese hairpins were made from many different materials that proclaimed social status and wealth. The women of rich families wore gold, silver and jade hairpins, inlaid with precious stones or kingfisher feathers. Poorer women had to make do with wood or bone hairpins, and perhaps would only ever own one silver hairpin in their whole lives. Sometimes an entire hairpin collection could be shown-off at once, inserted into a bun in a sunray shape, or as part of a headdress.   

Chinese headdressIn a charming reversal of the Western tradition of giving an engagement ring to the bride-to-be, a Chinese fiancée would take a hairpin from her hair and present it to her fiancé as a pledge. After the wedding, the new husband would place the pin back into his new wife’s hair.

I purchased my dragon hairpin in Hong Kong, from an antique store in the Cat Street Market. I love the little dangle hanging from the dragon’s muzzle. I’ve no idea of its provenance, but it is probably made of brass. It’s quite sharp enough to double as a weapon too, à la the film Crouching Tiger, Hairpin Dragon (teehee).

Find out more about Chinese hairpins at the Hairpin Museum.

Two hardstone-inlaid silver floral hairpins, Qing dynasty, 19th centuryGold plated silver hairpin with phoenix, Liao Empire (907–1125)


Please to Meecha, Bombacha!

A new kind of trouser has travelled upriver to the West in the last few years, and entered the mainstream. The first ripples came in the guise of the harem pant, ballooning from the waist; yards of fabric gathered at the ankle. Gradually the form took on a different silhouette, less billowy in the leg, and the new trouser shape became inelegantly known as the ‘drop crotch’. As I own a few pairs, curiosity lead me on a journey to discover the origins of these comfortable trousers. 

In South America it is more traditionally known as the bombacha, or the gaucho, and the trouser takes its name from the South American equivalent of the cowboy. Today they are worn for riding or for outdoor work that requires sturdy garb. The trousers are long, loose and baggy, and are usually tucked into boots to create the look more familiar to us on the runway. Some modern versions of the bombacha are cropped just past the knee for practicality. 

Traditional guachos

Loose, comfortable trousers have been worn throughout history by both men and women around the world.

Loose, comfortable trousers have been worn throughout history by both men and women around the world. A similar style of trouser has long been worn in South and Central Asia, where they are known as shalwar kameez. They are also part of Turkish folk costume, and are called şalvar in Turkish, while historically Persian horsemen wore a version of the pants called sharovary. In the mid nineteenth century French Zouave soldiers wore trousers very similar to the drop crotch – these men were recruited from a tribe of Berbers in Algeria. I in fact bought a pair of heavily embroidered traditional blue trousers still worn today by the Tuareg, a Berber people, when I was in Morocco a couple of years ago. (You can see these here.)

Besides my souvenir Tuareg trousers, I own several pairs of loose, baggy pants in the bombacha style. These are what I wear when I am working or mooching about at home – I find them both comfortable and a little more elegant than tracksuit pants. (Tracksuit pants belong on the track – I’m sure I’ve declared that more than once before!) Mine are all made of softer fabrics however – silk blends and cottons – I’m certain they wouldn’t last the distance if I really was a cowgirl. 

Picture Credits

The background images were taken in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco when I was holidaying there a couple of years ago. Guacho trousers (left) and (right). Fashion image here

Bombachas by Zandia, Spring/Summer 2010


Bird of Paradise

Like a magpie, I am always attracted to shiny, pretty things. Anything beaded and embroidered catches my eye and begs to be touched, and so I particularly love the Indian decorative arts: textiles, jewellery, and miniature paintings.

One must admire the artisans for their skill and patience in the care taken over so much intricate detail. There is so much joie de vivre in these colourful works of art – the visual equivalent of Bollywood films. The landscapes are perfect little jewels of Arcadia: the sun shines gently, the breezes murmur softly through the ladies’ saris, and birds sing sweetly in the lush background.

Although these days I lean more and more towards minimalist fashion, I still cannot resist adding to my collection of sparkly vintage trifles here and there, particularly when I am travelling in exotic countries. They might come out on a special occasion to add pizzazz to an otherwise simple or graphic silhouette.

To create this picture, inspired by Indian miniature paintings, I’ve gathered together an Indian embroidered tunic and skirt (both purchased in charity stores), a silk scarf, a vintage embroidered and beaded belt, new and vintage necklaces, earrings from a local Indian fashion boutique, and beaded slippers, souvenirs from Vietnam.

It was Diana Vreeland who declared in 1962, ‘pink is the navy blue of India’, making the pink silk scarf an apt choice. I do love Indian jewellery too; the jingles only add an extra element of fun, and it is one of the few styles in which I like yellow gold.


The cloudy background is of a wall I photographed in Tangier, Morocco, and the lawn a picture I took recently in Melbourne’s own Royal Botanic Gardens. The bird in hand comes from hereThe dried flower is a Billy Button or Craspedia, a member of the daisy family and native to Australia and New Zealand. 

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