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Maid Marian celebrates Christmas

For some strange reason I am thinking Robin Hood girl when I look at this image. Not because this outfit will certainly enable me to easily camouflage myself in the English countryside. No. I think it must be the mask combined with the jailbird stripes.

A sense of mischief inspired this dress-up. It is wholly about the graphic nature of contrasting stripes; the mad combination of red and green. And just a little bit of fun! (Of course my other noble goal was to make the picture strobe and hurt your eyes.)

Some people say you must never wear red and green together, especially at Christmas. Not me.

Just look: this outfit has so many things going for it! Cherry-red lips, mary-janes, classic black-and-white stripes in horizontals and verticals (pick your poison), the cutest striped stockings and a polka-dot embroidered silk skirt in vivid emerald green.

How could you go wrong this festive season, I ask you?


When does eccentricity segue into costume?

In theory, I love polka-dots. They are so graphic and playful. I have many fond memories of them. Once, when I was about thirteen and on a summer holiday in the company of two cousins, we all bought matching multi-coloured polka-dot tank tops. We thought we looked ace. In fact, we must have looked ridiculous. (What a pity; I don’t think any of these photos still exist.)

In practice … I am uneasy.

I wore the dress above out once. I felt conspicuous. On reflection, I think it was its prettiness that unnerved me rather than the fact I resembled a walking optical illusion. I am uncertain that orange sunglasses, silver sandals and metallic turquoise nail polish edgify it quite enough. The outfit on the right is obviously pure costume: amusing to look at but utterly absurd as street wear (blue nail polish notwithstanding). The shirt is not only polka-dotted, but it is accordion-pleated!

On reflection, I think it was its prettiness that unnerved me rather than the fact I resembled a walking optical illusion.

Years ago I saw an amazing-looking girl on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. She wore a long, slim-fitting black dress. Halter-necked, it clung to the waist and then flowed into a long, swishy skirt that fell to the calf. On her head was a floppy straw hat with an enormous, sky-blue ribbon that tied under the chin (somewhat reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story). She walked with her eyes fixed ahead, gazing into the distance, completely and complacently conscious of the stares. They were her due.

While she did look extraordinary – I had to admire her guts, and I wear hats aplenty – she also looked like an escapee from the set of a bosom-heaving costume drama. All that was missing was a basket of cherries dangling from her fingertips. What she should have done is wear that hat with high-waisted, wide-legged pants in 40s style via the 70s. Maybe some mirror sunglasses. And sharp cheekbones. Offset the sweet and pretty with something defiant or daring.

As suspicious as I am of this dress however, I am not quite ready to say ‘out, damned spot!’ – I just need to find the right scene to wear it in.


What I Actually Wore #0007

Serial #: 0007
Date: 20/10/2008
Weather: A deceptively sunny 17°
Time Allowed: 0 minutes – I dressed on the fly

Japanese-inspired and printed in the most demure shades of blue, this pretty vintage scarf demanded something equally soft in colour.

My eye immediately went to the liquid silver of this satin shirt. I like its soft floppiness.

As the scarf is the hero of this outfit, I wore basic grey trousers. A cobalt blue patent belt was added from necessity, and cobalt suede kitten heels were selected at lightning speed. The sterling silver hoops with the dangling grey pearls match my ring, although I bought them from different places.

I purchased the scarf recently as part of a lot on eBay that included a perplexing tulle bonnet/veil; this scarf is the prettiest of the lot. It, and the mysterious tulle accessory, determined my bid. This scarf is also the best quality of them all as I believe it is made of rayon, a natural fibre (although the manufacturing process is not particularly environmentally friendly).

I know I've said it before, but I normally try not to match my accessories too closely; however this is so pretty I even matched my book for the photo!

Scarf: vintage
Shirt: Equipment
Trousers: Miss Shop
Belt: Alta Linea
Shoes: Paolo Bondini
Earrings: Baku
Ring: NGV Gallery Shop
Watch: Kenneth Cole


Scarlet speaks frankly (and gives a damn)

Scarlet’s style is fairly classic. She likes things simple, but a little off the beaten track, with minimal embellishments. The blacks, whites and creams she often finds herself wearing complement her usual slim silhouette, although she professes that green and purple are among her favourite colours.

But there’s a whiff of seventies; an eighties vibe. Scarlet says she inherited her enjoyment of vintage things from her mum, who has filled her house (and Scarlet’s former bedroom, much to her dismay) with eBay bargains.

Princess quizzes Scarlet about her outfit:

What were your first thoughts when you were getting dressed today?
I wanted comfort; something free-flowing – in case I had a big lunch! Then I wouldn’t have to worry.

Did the weather forecast influence you?
It was a funny Melbourne day, about 20°. I hadn’t worn that top for a long time, and because it’s polyester and doesn’t breathe, it keeps me warm.

How long did it take you to put it together?
About two seconds!

Tell me more about that top. It has a great print.
It’s a vintage seventies tunic, which I bought from an op-shop for $4. It’s a bit big for me, so needs to be cinched. Today I used this new eighties belt – also second-hand – made of grey, woven elastic. It has a lion’s head for a buckle.

And the jeans?
I love skinny jeans! I always buy them from Sportsgirl. These ones are high-waisted. I have bought about five pairs over the years, because they are a perfect fit on my body type.

You have a magpie’s collection of jewellery there, and that watch has a beautiful turquoise face. Tell me about the pieces.
My rose ring is new, from Diva. It’s a bit big, but I loved it! The necklace was a recent birthday present. It’s a sterling silver dove on a chain by Allan Ryerson from Body. I had my eye on it for a while, but then my friend Georgie surprised me with it. I absolutely adore it! One of the bangles is a sentimental hand-me-down, and the other is Tiffany & Co, a present from my mum; so were the earrings. The watch is DKNY, and was a 21st birthday present.

You're decked out in presents! I can see the sunglasses are by Bollé. Where are the shoes from?
Yes, the sunnies are vintage and belonged to my mother in the eighties. The ballet flats are from Payless!

Well… lesson learned: girls, don’t ever write off your mum’s – or other people's mums' – wardrobes. Thanks Scarlet!


Point me to the boulevard, s'il vous plaît

I call this my hybrid Belle Époque–vaguely forties–with a touch of Helmut Newton’s sixties–new look. I have never worn this outfit on the street before, but there is a strong possibility I will one day: in my fantasy I am strolling down some seaside boulevard under a blazing summer sun. The light sparkles on the waves of the ocean, a breeze ruffles across my arms…

It all began with the serendipitous discovery of the peplum-style top.

As delightfully frivolous as it is, this top is by no means perfect. It is, for starters, a size too small. This unfortunate defect necessitates much undignified gyrating and jumping up and down just to do up the zip.

Each time I put it on and wrestle for grim death with the zip, I mutter through gritted teeth: “I’ve done it up before; I can do it up again!”

When finally I tug it all into place I understand the difficulties women had breathing when wearing corsets. Notwithstanding the constrictions of my ribcage, the plunging neckline gapes somewhat as I lack the physical endowment to fill it out.

On the pro side of the list: it is adorable! I like the colours, the geometric pattern and most of all the peplum-like balloon shape. Its exaggerated proportions demanded a contrasting lower half. I remembered the very long and narrow, navy linen Donna Karan skirt I had put aside, unworn.

I had not yet tried the outfit on, but it put me in mind of something a Belle Époque beauty might have worn whilst taking a turn on the promenade in gentlemanly company. That evocative picture plainly required the presence of a hat to complete it. And I had just the one: an enormous red saucer by Mimco. Uncrushable, it can be moulded into any shape.

It still left an expanse of bare flesh that demanded decoration; so on went half a dozen bangles that I never ordinarily wear (they hamper me), and a necklace handmade by myself from golf-ball-sized translucent beads. Green platform heels by Mollini were the last accessory to complete the ensemble.

Below are the vintage originals that evoke the spirit of my strange hybrid.

Both fashion plates possess different but similarly exaggerated proportions. At the turn of the 20th century, long narrow skirts became fashionable, called the ‘hobble-skirt’ – because women did, of course. It wasn’t enough to restrict their breathing!

The wasp waist and enormous skirt of the forties’ New Look translates into my tight empire-line waist and billows of fabric. Mini peplums (above left) and narrow skirts were also popular. These two looks below are from the fifties.

Quite different to mine, this hat (left) is also large enough to hide the face and retain a sense of mystery – and of course shelter one from the blistering rays of the Australian sun.

The look of now, on the beaches; a back bared beautifully to the waistline, and the stunning counterpoint of a hat as wide and sheltering as a beach umbrella. This one, in mango pink straw, is anchored against lifting sea breezes with a wimple of nylon marquisette. Weedmans, Brisbane and Surfers Paradise, 84s.

Main photo: original photograph of backdrop by Robin Lowe.
Illustration credits:
(Top left) Fashion plate, 1912-13, Dresa, from A History of Costume in the West by François Boucher; Thames & Hudson, 1966. (Top right) Pochoir fashion illustration Dieu! qu'il fait froid by Georges Lepape of a fur-edged coat by Paul Poiret, for La Gazette du bon ton, 1913, from The Fine Art of Fashion by Julian Robinson; Bay Books. (Middle left) ph: Henry Clarke, 1953; (middle right) ph: Henry Clarke, 1951; (bottom left) ph: Irving Penn, 1959; (bottom right) ph: Henry Clarke, 1956; all from In Vogue, by Georgina Howell; Condé Nast Books, 1991. (Left) Australian Vogue,  Summer 1960; ph: Helmut Newton.