Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Wednesday
Mar202019

Colours of Happiness

Today is the International Day of Happiness! And I have spent today and much of the last few days in bed, or otherwise resting, as I have been sick with a horrible chest cold – hurrah! My workplace was having a morning tea in celebration of the day, and we were told to wear yellow; while I didn’t make it to that, I still managed to wear yellow – my kimono is yellow and white gingham.

I shall share instead some pictures from Saturday, when I visited my parents for lunch and wore a new favourite vintage 70s dress – a cotton voile spaghetti-strapped straight dress, belted at the waist. Its standout feature is the gorgeous print, in colours that really do make me happy! The dress is in very good condition; I found it recently in a thrift store. I am also wearing 40s sunglasses, 50s hairclips and am carrying a vintage Chinese paper parasol.

The label is Miss Jo Melbourne, and I surmise that was inspired by Jo from Little Women, the famous book by Louisa May Alcott. I don’t know anything about the label’s history unfortunately, and have only spotted one other dress – a brown polka-dot, 30s style frock – at Le Sourceress on Etsy. With such a romantic name, I’d love to know what else the label produced.

Photos: March 2019

Tuesday
Mar052019

What I Actually Wore #0147

Serial #: 0147
Date: 25/09/2013
Weather: 29°C / 84°F
Time Allowed: 10 minutes

You may have noticed a weird disparity in the ‘time allowed’ quantities I usually quote. Most of the time I am referring to how long it takes me to decide what to wear in the morning, which I most often do while I am showering. I very rarely stand in my bursting closet and look blankly around – I’m not one of those people who wail, “But I have nothing to wear!” Five minutes is often probably an overestimation – sometimes 30 seconds is all it takes!

On this morning I apparently spent a whole five minutes trying to decide which hat to wear with my outfit; nowadays I am usually picking out a hat first and matching my outfit to it. This is because my hat collection has expanded exponentially, and it would be shocking if I didn’t actually wear all the amazing hats I own. Often I’ll whiz through my cataloguing app to pick out something I haven’t worn all season.

I am pretty sure that only the vintage 50s pleated grosgrain bandeau and the suede peep-toes are the only items still in circulation. I think the top was culled entirely because I decided it was a bit too baggy, although I love the colour. (Yellow!)

I am an atypical Melbourne girl who avoids black like the plague (except on very rare occasions), and the neutrals I most often reach for are grey or white. I went through a phase of loving grey with accents of colour, and the light blue and mustard here work great with the grey tones.

Items:

Jacket: AEFFE Spa
Top: Anthropologie
Skirt: Staff Women
Headband: Betmar, vintage 50s
Shoes: David Lawrence
Earrings:
Mimco
Ring: Roun
Watch: Kenneth Cole

Photos: January 2014
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