Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Entries in french (63)


C’est La Vie!

Bonjour! Look what Facebook Memories threw up at me a few days ago! I had forgotten about this t-shirt that I wore for a little while. It lasted for so short a time in my closet I am surprised and pleased that I actually managed to capture it on ‘film’.

C’est la vie is one of my favourite sayings – except I like to whimsically destroy the French and pronounce it as ‘sest la vye’ (much to the mutual bemusement and amusement of French and French-speaking friends over the years). So when I spotted this in a window display of the chain store Rivers, I very excitedly rushed in to purchase one.

It was quite inexpensive, and the main reason I eventually culled it from my wardrobe was because it was polyester/cotton, and it was a slogan – I had segued into a minimalist style at the time. But after I shared the memory on Facebook, mourning its loss, my sister Star popped on to comment that she had inherited it!

I was glad it had gone to a good home, but if ever it should find itself unwelcome … hint hint. I feel no shame in casting such hints at my sister, the one who baldly states, “When you die, can I have that buffalo hide handbag that you bought in Hong Kong years ago?” She has coveted it for many years, and every time she sees me carrying that bag she feels impelled to remind me that she would like a mention on my will.

The day these photos were taken I was lunching with some male friends at a Vietnamese restaurant after our karate class. An extremely dubious shot of my chest was also taken by one of them. Or I guess it might have been me trying to take a selfie back in the days when the Hipstamatic app had no front-facing camera – I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt!

Photos: August 2014


How to Beret

Last weekend a friend brought up the subject of berets, and what was the right way of wearing them. “Right way?” I exclaimed. “There isn’t one right way – there’s lots of ways of wearing them!” I was wearing one right at that moment, angled on one side. It also depends on the style of beret, I told her.

The beret still bears today a strong whiff of bohemians and beatniks, intellectuals and pipe-smoking filmmakers.

I own quite a lot of different berets made from winter weight wools, and lighter summer versions of cotton and rayon. Apart from the classic little wool beret we are all familiar with (I prefer felted wool to knits or crochet, which is too bohemian for me and smacks of Sienna Miller and her ilk), there are the huge platter versions from the 1940s, and inflated types from the 50s and 60s.


The beret has a very long history – similar hats were worn since the Bronze Age across Northern Europe and even as far south as Italy and Crete where they were worn by the Romans. Scottish types feature a pompom on top. It has been adopted as a military hat, as sportswear, and more latterly as a fashion item. The beret still bears today a strong whiff of bohemians and beatniks, intellectuals and pipe-smoking filmmakers.

A French Icon

A beret worn with a striped tee has become the stereotypical depiction of a Frenchman – this image actually originated with the ‘Onion Johnnies’. They were Breton farmers and labourers on bicycles who sold pink onions door to door in Great Britain in the first half of the twentieth century. Onion Johnnies were dressed in a striped shirt and wore black berets, and their bikes were hung with the distinctive onions. Their golden age was the Roaring Twenties, but their numbers declined sharply by the 1950s. There has however been a small resurgence in the last couple of decades with the renewed interest in small-scale agriculture.

Basic Directions

The basic wool beret is unisex and very versatile, and can be worn several different ways. Try it angled on the top and slightly to one side of the head, or quite low on one side, á la Faye Dunaway in the iconic 70s film Bonnie and Clyde (try to look sultry when you do this). Really, it can be worn pushed to any angle you please. Bangs can be framed by the circular shape, or tucked inside.

An arty look that also keeps you warmer in winter can be achieved by pulling the beret down low so it’s just touching your brows  – bonus points for accentuating the familiar little stalk on top. (A note on the ‘stalk’: supposedly its antecedent is the last bit of yarn of a knitted beret that was drawn through the top to bind off the last stitches, and left to dangle jauntily.)

The more unusual huge 40s ones can be worn perched at the back, or tilted to one side. Some berets, like my sumptuous cobalt velvet sailor style, may feature bows or ribbons of some kind. The same can be said of the big pouffy ones – my striped version is made from sturdy gabardine, the folds of which can be arranged how I please. This is surely one of the most dramatic ones I own. Whatever style you choose to adopt, and however you wear it, you really can’t go wrong with a beret!

Photos: April 2016


Easter Parade

This Easter Sunday evening I have a veritable parade of vintage 1940s hats to show off. (Is that the collective noun for hats? If not, it should be! … I just checked and it informed me that it is either a millinery of hats or a fascination of hats. The former is boring, and the latter very cute; I still like parade however.)

Again, all of these hats are recent acquisitions, bought in op shops (thrift stores) over the past spring and summer for quite piddling sums – not as piddling as my straw hats, but almost, which I consider quite a feat here in Australia. Genuine vintage hats are not easy to come by, and those available in boutiques or fairs are often $80+, with 20s–30s hats very much more. These four hats ranged between $10–20.

First up is a black braided wool felt beret. It features a circular ribbing effect created by the braid that has been stitched together to form the hat foundation. It is quite stiff, and definitely needs the attached satin band to keep it on the head (fitting around the head, on top of the hair); this is finished with a satin bow at the back, just above the nape. It has a quite jaunty look! There is only the remnants of a label inside, unfortunately.

There are myriad styles of 1940s hats. While some have definite names (berets, fedoras, cartwheels etc), others do not have distinctive appellations. This high-crowned red velvet hat is somewhat reminiscent of a turban, or perhaps it has some antecedents in historical military hats. It could be described as a toque, which is simply a hat without a brim. It has a smooth curve to the back, and two little red bows above the ears. The colour is certainly fantastically vivid, and the fabric plush. The label states it is a Phyl Clarkson Exclusive Model, from Rondel’s of London, New York, Sydney.

This pink wool felt hat is a platter with a twist (literally): it is gathered up at the back with a little bow as though the brim has been twisted, creating the effect of flower petals. It is a glorious shade of deep rose, and the label says Newhaus, Herta Maria Melbourne.

I am not sure quite how to describe the last hat, a navy wool Parisian model, by Georgette. It has a bow of matching wool piping and is trimmed with an ostrich feather where the brim has been turned up. Worn at a tilt it puts me in mind of nineteenth century riding hats – women often wore feminine versions of men’s hats such as bicorns, tricorns and toppers. This hat has only one side turned up however. Perusing various resources on 40s hats has not been of much assistance either – even contemporary fashion journals unhelpfully described some hats simply as ‘hats’. (Vintage Dancer has a great article, but even they stop at twenty types.)

Hats were one item that were not rationed during the war years, so milliners were really able to go to town with materials, trims and styling – only their imaginations were the limit; there are some really extraordinary shapes out there. I feel lucky enough to own just a few crazy 40s hats. I am looking forward to winter to wear these at last!

Photos: August 2016


Cop it Sweet

A few months ago my friend Sapphire and I went down the coast to Geelong for our annual vintage hunting trip. One of the items I bought that day was this little gendarme-style hat, by Prada. It was Sapphire in fact who first picked it up out of a jumble on an enormous table, but she wasn’t interested in it and cast it aside.

It is based on a French kepi. This style of hat was most commonly associated with the French military and police uniforms. The first versions appeared in the mid nineteenth century, and were worn without a chinstrap (it’s missing on my own sadly). They became well-known during the Crimean War, and can be seen worn by French officers of that conflict in the photograph below.

A little while later when I made it to that table, I tried it on the abandoned hat and was immediately entranced. The tag dangling off it declared it to cost $8. Later, when I went to pay for it and another straw hat, the man at the till chuckled over it, amazed that I would wear it. “It’s cute!” I declared, and upon request, modelled it for him. He had to agree it was charming. Even sweeter was the subsequent discovery that it was actually 50% off on top.

Photo: March 2017


Le Gendarme Avec Charme

Say bonjour to le gendarme Patrice! Normally he is not a gendarme, but a philanthropy manager at the theatre I work at. But yesterday he visited my desk and his eyes popped out with excitement when he saw my vintage Prada hat sitting on the table. “Can I try that on?” he begged, and as soon as he donned it, he was transformed.

He was already wearing an outfit bought entirely in Europe on his last trip: a Breton striped top from Merci in Paris, navy trousers from Philippa K in Denmark, shoes bought in Zurich, and a watch he adores from Larson & Jennings in NYC, but the crown of it all transformed him into a Gallic gendarme, with charm. Aptly, for the jet-setter he is, he poses by a poster of The New Yorker. Très stylé!