Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in pattern (183)

Tuesday
Jan012019

Picnic-Perfect

The first day of January is a perfect day for a picnic, and what is a more perfect picnic outfit than one featuring gingham? There is something just so cheerful about this fabric, and my favourite combination is red and white, although I do have other colours.

Gingham is usually made from cotton or cotton-blends, but the origin of it is open to speculation, possibly originating from the Malay, or from a town in France, or even perhaps from the Dutch. Many women would associate gingham with school uniforms, which may put them off, or imbue it with an affectionate nostalgia. My high school uniform was a green and grey plaid, so I have no such reminders. (I don’t think I’d want to wear a dress made from my high school plaid though – the notion makes me laugh aloud.)

There is something just so cheerful about this fabric …

Perhaps the picnicking connotations has to do with red and white checked cloths traditionally used in picnic baskets? While a picnic did not after all transpire on my first day of the year, I did have a friend visit for afternoon cake and coffee on my balcony, and we went for a walk in the local Botanic Gardens. I was pleased to wear a red and white gingham dress rather than this exact outfit, as it was far too warm for denim.

This blouse was actually gifted to me by the friend I saw today, which is apt, and the vintage 60s hat I purchased on eBay. The adorable heels were purchased from Anthropologie on sale. They were a bit expensive to start with, and I dithered so long over buying them, by the time I finally did they were drastically reduced – hurrah!

It was a lovely sunny day in the gardens (I carried a red parasol), and while my friend and I ambled around, we came across plenty of picnicking parties – a pleasant beginning to the year indeed.

I hope that 2019 brings you joy and fulfillment, and the strength to see any challenges through. Here’s to a fresh new year!

Photos: September 2018

Tuesday
Dec182018

In the Mood for Qipaos

I don’t remember what first inspired my admiration for the traditional Chinese cheongsam, or qipao – very likely a Chinese film – but I am sure it had a lot to do with the sumptuous silk embroidered fabric that many are made from. Many years ago I once owned a beautiful example made from oyster-hued silk, embroidered heavily in red, silver and gold. Unfortunately it was a little small for me, and I stupidly culled it from my wardrobe in a mad fit of minimalism in my late 20s, since I thought I would never wear it. Ever since then I have been looking for a new one.

Qipao of the Daoguang Period (1821–1850); Empress Xiaoshen, image from WikipediaThe history of the qipao is long and complicated, and (according to Wikipedia) its origins are controversial. Generally people believe that its origin is in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but some scholars argue that in fact the cheongsam was first worn two millennia prior, in a period between the Western Zhou dynasty (1046BC–771BC) and the pre-Qin era (221BC–207BC). Whatever is the truth, the qipao of the Qing dynasty could not be more different from the style common today. It was floor-length and loose, and cut in an A-line that revealed the figure not at all. Only the head, hand and the tips of the toes were visible.

Chinese singer and actress Zhou Xuan wearing a cheongsam in 1930s in Shanghai; C.H. Wong Photo Studio; Image from WikipediaIn China, women’s liberation had as much effect as it had in other parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century, and the Republican period (1912–1949) is known as the golden age of the cheongsam. It is from this era that the cheongsam as we know it took form. Along with the ending of traditional foot binding, women began to bob their hair, and took to wearing this formerly exclusively masculine attire: one-piece clothing called Changshan or changpao. Now, too, the style was influenced by western fashion – the body-skimming bias-cuts popularised by Hollywood stars – hugging the figure, with hemlines gradually rising and formerly merely practical splits running much higher.

While the Communist Revolution virtually ended the popularity of the cheongsam, Shanghainese emigrants and refugees took the fashion with them to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and kept the style alive there.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Wong Kar Wai’s beautiful and bitter-sweet film In the Mood for Love is based on the Shanghai diaspora from the Revolution, and is set in Hong Kong in 1962. Its heroine, played by Maggie Cheung, wears a gorgeous collection of cheongsams – I remember seeing the film in the cinema when it was released in 2000, and I found the costumes no less breathtaking than the cinematography.

I was very excited when I finally found my new cheongsam, on my Day of Yellow Bonanza, the miraculous Saturday a few months ago when I found several yellow items scattered in thrift stores across Melbourne, including a 1940s ballgown. The cheongsam is made from a luminous pale-yellow brocade of chrysanthemums, which is a popular flower in Chinese culture. It is one of four seasonal symbolic flowers representing autumn, and is also the flower of the ninth moon. The dress probably dates from the 60s, and the fabric is rayon. It actually needs to be tailored to fit me a bit better, which is why you see me with hands on waist to disguise the bagginess there. I am wearing it with a pair of patent yellow stilettos by Aldo, also found in a thrift store.

Read more about the history of the qipao here, and about Maggie Cheung’s wardrobe for the sublime film In the Mood for Love here – I am inspired to watch it again.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000

Photos: August 2018

Wednesday
Oct242018

Domestic Exchange

I haven’t posted a Foreign Exchange story for a long time, and that is sadly because I haven’t been travelling overseas for an equally long time, but this woeful tale has its beginnings in a foreign exchange swapped for another kind of exchange.

The story starts in Vietnam nearly ten years ago, where I had a kimono custom-made for me from sumptuous silk brocade. I took that robe home and wore it to death over ten years, wearing it almost every morning except on the hottest summer days.

The day eventually came when it dawned on me that the kimono was actually starting to look rather shabby. There were worn patches and frayed edges. In denial at the prospect of setting it aside, I decided to ignore this observation and kept on wearing the kimono for a while longer.

I’ve spoken before how ruthless I am about shabby shoes – once they start to look disreputable, I become relentlessly unsentimental and throw the offending shoes straight into the bin without a moment’s hesitation. This is not the case with favourite garments.

… it still hung on a hook in my bathroom where I could gaze upon it fondly and sigh reminiscently.

Eventually, I stopped wearing the kimono, but it still hung on a hook in my bathroom where I could gaze upon it fondly and sigh reminiscently.

One day in a fit of madness, I gathered my resolve and took it to my sister Blossom, who over the many years we have been sisters, has generously made and altered countless garments for me.

She – and her husband, an involved observer one afternoon as she and I examined a portion of my wardrobe that needed rescuing – both assured me that indeed the kimono was too shabby to wear any longer.

I’d had the idea that something could be made of the good pieces of fabric, and I made my revolutionary suggestion … A CUSHION!

I know, brutal – shocking even, all things considered; I did suffer some pangs for a while. But I figured if I had a cushion I would put it on my favourite armchair and lean against it every day, and thus extend the life of the kimono.

The cushion doesn’t match the rest of my interior décor at all, and my yellow gingham kimono, though cheery, is not in the slightest degree exotic, but I don’t regret the loss anymore. I actually have a large collection of vintage dressing gowns, and enjoy sometimes wearing a 60s rayon satin with a stylised floral pattern. (I don’t wear it often for my cat Mimi attacks me in rage when I do – I think because it’s too slippery in my lap for her liking – she’s very opinionated.)

Maybe I’ll go to South-East Asia again one day, and then I’ll have another one made.

Photos: June 2009, March 2018

Friday
Aug312018

A Farewell to Winter

I am a long-term fan of tweed for winter. There is something so cosy about this fabric, if it is good quality wool. I particularly love the herringbone pattern and have managed to collect many examples of it over the years, most of which is vintage, or merely secondhand, and a little of which was purchased new. [You can read more about the different types of tweed patterns, and how to distinguish them here.]

A really fun way to wear it, I have decided, is all at once if you can possibly manage it. Even better if they are separates that all differ a little; in this case, a proper suit scores low styling points.

[The coat] clinched my decision that it was time I made another homage to tweed.

This 1970s coat I am wearing has a very amusing label: “Richard Shops – Such Clever Clothes”. I found it in an op shop in the midst of a heatwave last summer. I suffered trying it on, but it was worth it. I certainly didn’t need any more coats, but I loved the tailored shape of it, and the enormous lapels. It clinched my decision that it was time I made another homage to tweed. The occasion of the first homage on these pages was way back in 2009, so it’s about time I reprised the look.

I’ve had the baggy pants for a few years – they remind me of plus-fours styled this way – but going by the drop crotch, they are modern. The label is clearly designer, it’s so difficult to read: white embroidery on cream, which is twisted and folded. I eventually decrypted it and read ESS Laboratory. Established in 2001, the label is Melbourne-born, and the two designers Japanese. (My effort was rewarded, because their bio alone is pleasingly intellectual. You can read more about their work on their blog.)

The Pierre Cardin blouse is a silky herringbone print, also found in an op shop, but in spite of its designer associations, it is disappointingly made from polyester. The cut is too awesome though for the fibre to be a deal breaker.

While the 1950s tweed hunting cap does not have a herringbone pattern, is does suit this outfit very well.

I am happy to say I enjoyed wearing the coat and pants together recently, although with a warm wool knit instead of a blouse, and a different hat. However, that is the last time for this winter, for tomorrow it will officially be spring – hurrah!

Photos: May 2018

Thursday
Aug092018

The Determined Recycler

Anyone who as ever gone op- or thrift-shopping must surely be familiar with that sinking feeling one gets as soon as the shoe rubs or the sweater itches or the zip pinches: That’s why this lovely item was in the thrift store! One either discards in turn, or resolves to repair the issue. This is where we separate the determined recyclers from the dilettantes …

I am a determined recycler. I don’t give up on garments or accessories I really like: like Scarlett O’Hara, I will find a way! (I have not tried making clothes out of curtains yet however.)

I am a determined recycler. I don’t give up on garments or accessories I really like …

I really liked the colours in the pattern of this vintage 1970s tweed jacket. The herringbone is made up from chocolate and caramel shades of brown with cream, and scattered amongst the chevrons are minute flecks of blue, yellow and red. The effect is very subtle. I bought the jacket a couple of winters ago during a day of op-shopping with my sister, despite the fact that it was a little too big for me, and it was missing its belt. I felt sure that I must be able to find a belt in my huge collection that would work with the jacket. A long flexible leather tie-belt, perhaps.

In fact, I knew that I did not own any such tie-belts, but very fortuitously I found two in subsequent op-shopping trips shortly thereafter. This was promising! It was certainly unlikely that I would ever find one that exactly matched – that would be a thrifting miracle. What else could I pull out of my hat?

The first belt I tried was a thin tan stitched belt. While I liked the colour, I immediately saw it was too insubstantial for the bulk of the jacket.

Next came a vintage stretch red and white belt, with a leather and brass buckle. I liked how the stretch belt really pulled the waist in. This contrast was rather good, and unexpected! It also put me in mind of Gucci, which is not a bad thing – even better without its brash designer logo emblazoned everywhere.

Perhaps another patterned fabric belt might work? I had a houndstooth wool tie-belt, but that looked terrible. Scratch that idea, I instantly decided. Sometimes I like mixing patterns on patterns, but these two did not harmonise at all. Next!

A very long black leather tie-belt also looked quite good, I decided. It was so long, wide in the central area and tapered to the ends so that I suspect it was designed when obi fashion belts were the trend. The leather was supple and soft however, and the black was a pleasant counterpoint against the tweed.

The last belt I tried was the other leather tie-belt, this one a khaki-tinted brown. Unfortunately that shade clashed somewhat, and it was not as long as the black one, so did not form as nice loops. It transpired that this belt worked very nicely with a pair of tweed pants that need cinching, so the belt stays permanently on them.

That left the black leather belt, and the figure-flattering red stretch belt, the unexpected alternate winner. I tend to wear that one more often than not. The only drawback with it is that if I undo the belt, it won’t stay in both belt loops, so I have to keep an eye on it so as not to lose it. But compared with not wearing a likable jacket at all because it’s too shapeless, it’s a small ask. The Determined Recycler wins again!

Photos: July 2016