Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in pearls (13)

Saturday
Jul062019

The Luxury Hat

Felt is an ancient fabric, and perhaps the first made by man: it is made rather easily as it is not woven and does not require a loom. According to legend, in the Middle Ages a wandering monk named St Clement – destined to become the fourth bishop of Rome – happened upon the process of felt-making quite by accident. It is said that to make his shoes more comfortable, he stuffed them with tow (short flax or linen fibres). Walking in them on damp ground, he discovered that his own weight and sweaty feet had matted the tow fibres together into a kind of cloth. After being made bishop (with the power to indulge his whimsy), he set up a workshop to develop felting production … and thus he became the patron saint for hatmakers, who of course use felt to this day.

Parisian costume, 1826Men and women’s beaver top hats, Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashion, 1876Today most felt is made of wool, but in the past, animal fur was used to make a high-quality felt. Animal fur has tiny, microscopic spines which lock together much like Velcro when heat and moisture are applied. Beaver was the superior fur because its spines were prominent and helped produce a high-quality felt; hats made from it date back to at least the sixteenth century, and they were a staggeringly expensive luxury item. Naturally, to reduce the cost of fur felt, other furs were used such as rabbit or hare, camel, and angora (mohair).

Men wearing beaver hats, 1886But it was another type of hat altogether that toppled the beaver from its luxury perch at last: the silk top hat. First invented in 1797 and scandalising the general public with its fearsome appearance, by the mid nineteenth century, the silk top hat cost half the price of beaver, and overtook it in popularity owing to changes in lifestyle which meant the hardy fur felt hats were not needed.

50s hat of angora fur felt; authorised reproduction of a Claude Saint-Cyr designI was initially attracted to this red 1950s pixie hat because of its dramatic shape, and the pearls (which I love) sewn all over it. It is made with Melusine, a felt made from rabbit fur. Melusine has long, fine fibres that are brushed to create a silky long-haired finish. In the past I had presumed ‘fur felt’ was a misnomer, and that such fabric was actually made from wool to look like fur. I was a bit sad when I realised this hat was real rabbit fur; however, at least it is vintage and recycled.

An amazing pink fur felt reproduction Regency hat, by Jane Walton, 2019I have a few other vintage hats also made from melusine, all from the 50s and 60s. While wool felt is certainly more common these days, you can still buy new fur felt hats (some sources nebulously state the fur is a ‘by-product’) – even top hats made from beaver that are worn by top cats at Ascot – and they are still quite expensive.

Photo: June 2019

Monday
May272019

Sweater Clips DIY

I have always wanted a pair of sweater clips, for those times you want to draw your cardigan close, but not button it up, or for those garments that do not have closures, such as vintage 50s outerwear. I’ve searched in thrift stores to no avail, for they are an item one just does not see in Australia. Maybe they simply were never a popular fashion accessory here. I have searched online of course, but with such high shipping costs (when buying from America in particular), they became ridiculously expensive.

So I decided to make my own. First I found a pair of giant 1980s pearl clip on earrings. Then I scoured op shops for a suitable chain. And I waited patiently. And I scoured some more. Finally I found a gold necklace that had a more interesting chain than the usual link. I already had some suitable gold findings from a previous repair, and at last I set to work with some jewellery tools.

I’m really pleased with the result. It’s been a very mild autumn in Melbourne and I’ve yet to break out my vintage cardigans, so I am looking forward to using the clips now that the weather is finally becoming cooler.

Wednesday
Dec052018

Snowing for Christmas

Since we were speaking yesterday of gussying up shoes with clips, I thought I’d pull a pair from the archives where I did just that one Christmas. In 2009 I wore these red satin peeptoes festooned with vintage pearl clips to the family Christmas celebrations. Like silver stilettos, there are moments when even red satin heels need a little extra pizzazz. They look delightfully like snowballs, don’t you think?

Thursday
Nov292018

Pearls of Wisdoom

Pearls are one of my favourite precious gems, and unfortunately pearls are fabled to bring tears. They certainly have in my case. I once was horror-stricken when the large Broome pearl fell out of my engagement ring – it was found, but the engagement was broken off (the right decision, it transpired). And now a couple of weeks ago I was devastated when I arrived home one day and discovered the mabé pearl in a favourite ring was smashed off!

Somehow it’s worse to find it half-smashed than lost altogether. In the latter case I might be able to console myself a little that some lucky person was enjoying it. Now, all I can imagine is that the fragments of pearl shell were crushed underfoot by some oblivious passer-by. Ironically, this ring was a gift from the same man, so perhaps it was doomed after all, though it took more than a decade for the day of its reckoning to come.

On Moh’s scale of hardness, pearls rate a 2.5–4.5 out of ten; next time, give me pure carbon, the hardest substance known to man. It just doesn’t have the same ring, though, does it?

Photo: November 2018

Wednesday
May162018

Knit One, Pearl Seven

I picked up this mohair beret at the start of spring last year from an op shop (thrift store). I am a sort of connoisseur of berets, and this mauve number was unlike any I already owned. Someone had clearly donated it because it was missing quite a number of the pearls decorating its top, so it was priced accordingly, but this I knew was an easy fix if I could find matching pearl beads.

The warm weather was coming up, and knowing I was unlikely to wear it for many months, the hat languished on the mending pile for some time before I attended to it. I found Swarovski pearls that matched closely enough, and one day on a mending frenzy, I finally attached them.

And voilà! Someone else did not make do, but I mended, and I now have a rather cute little hat to wear in the coming cold weather.

Photos: March 2018