Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Entries in regency (11)


Fashion Plates

If you have ever wondered why the photography on this fashion journal looks a certain way, or if there was any inspiration behind the artwork, here it is: antique fashion plates!

The look of SNAP was not a premeditated decision, but evolved out of necessity. Helping out a former colleague with a university project, I wrote and illustrated two stories on sustainable fashion for her. It all happened very, very quickly, and I had to take the photographs in my apartment with no background but a folding screen draped with a calico dropsheet, and I was the model to boot.

Nor did I have any photographic lighting, so to combat the yellow apartment lighting and dodgy shadows, I developed a style that deliberately emulated the illustrated look of fashion plates with strong outlines and tinted back colours.

In magazines, illustrations gave way to photography of course, and the publishing industry suffered a loss. Of course, there has been a slow revival of fashion illustration, and it has become more like art than merely graphic communication, which is all to the good.

However, there is great beauty in these antique fashion engravings, isn’t there? They look delightfully quaint. I also love how the figures have been taken out of their natural context, and stand against a plain background with no, or very few, props – just like a modern studio photography shoot. They inspire me more than ever.

Scroll down for more, including a Regency man attired in very high-waisted trousers!


Venus x Abigail

There is such a joy in op-shopping when one stumbles upon a rare and fabulous find such as this 1970s Regency-inspired maxi dress with shirred bodice in tomato red with slit bell sleeves featuring prints of a hybrid Botticelli Venus-Flora figure. (No fashion journalist could ever have dreamed of penning such a sentence!)

I actually must credit a Vinnies staff member for bringing this priceless treasure to my attention, for in my excitement at finding another 70s dress (hand crocheted turquoise) I had unbelievably missed spotting this on the same rack! The lady declared it a quintessential 70s dress, and reminisced how she herself had worn such garments when she was young to her high school prom.

Someone whose chest was too ample to close the zip had actually altered the dress. The back had been opened up and sewn flat, and two sets of ties had been added to the back. I think the fabric for them had been cut off the hem of the dress, as the hem is not very well hand-stitched. When I got it home I unpicked all the stitching, hoping that it would fit me, and fortunately it does.

Of course the caped sleeves are mind-blowingly awesome, and I also love the little peaked shoulders, but the pièce de résistance is the printed lady. I immediately recognised her as Sandro Botticelli’s Flora, the goddess of flowers and the season of spring depicted in the painting Primavera (painted in the late 1470s or early 1480s) – she’s the one casting flowers about out of the folds of her robe. But what is even funnier, I realised later, is that the head is that of Venus, flipped around, from another of Botticelli’s paintings, The Birth of Venus (1485)! (Was this the designer’s answer to avoiding copyright infringement?)

Primavera, Sandro Botticelli (late 1470s or early 1480s)The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli (1485)The label is Clementine, and states ‘dry clean only’, at which I scoffed as I laid it into a laundry tub of water to hand wash. It is probably a poly crepe, or at best, part rayon as well.

The dress really comes to life in movement. I am planning to wear it to the opening night of Abigail’s Party, a 70s period next on stage at the theatre I work at. It is exactly like something the titular character might wear herself. I shall have to make sure to swish and swan about just like her.

A scene from Abigail's Party (1977), Mike Leigh's film of his own original stage play (Abigail is wearing the red dress)

Photos: Yesterday (March 2018)


Girls in Pastel

Here is my family, recently immigrated to Australia, going by the age of my next-oldest sister, Star, the baby in the photo. Innocent pastels were clearly in fashion for young girls at the end of the 60s, for there are my sisters wearing pale pink florals, and blue with white, and white bobby socks with white shoes – quite reminiscent of the Regency period in English fashion. Don’t they look sweet? New country, new clothes.


Texture Tactics

As evidenced by the pages on this Journal, I have very eclectic taste in fashion, and while I would never wear an outfit like the above day-to-day (it’s far too costume-y), what I do like about it is the contrasting textures. As visually appealing as they are though, the real experience is tactile.

Even when colour is minimal, interest can be created with a judicious mix of fabrics and textures. Here herringbone tweed contrasts with various types of lace: butter-soft leather gloves with lace cutwork (amazing!), a Battenberg lace parasol, and crocheted lace inserts in the cotton dress. A blue satin sash adds colour and a sensuous shine against the tweed.

Tactile fabrics are of course always more appealing when they are made from natural fibres. They drape beautifully (think of a genuine silk compared with a cheap polyester fabric), and they also breathe better, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. Invest in them and your sense of style will benefit too.


Whatever Happened to the Spencer?

Once upon a time, in the Regency period, the spencer was a woman’s short jacket worn over the long empire-line gowns of the era. Day dresses, particularly for younger women, were usually made from white muslin or other light colours, and the spencer added some colour – as well as warmth – to the ensemble. They often featured puffed shoulders as well as decorative trim in the form of braid or tassels, or intricate detailing in the fabric such as pleats, gathers or ruffles.

Hat from Naples split on the sides. Spencer in velvet with bursts in satin. Dress has flounces.A cream spencer gorgeously edged in black and trimmed with tasselsMy herringbone patterned spencer is by Catalan designer Celia Vela, and is part of a suit. It is an unusual hybrid, featuring an Oriental neckline and closure (those little buttons are a right pain to fasten and undo), but it has puffed and gathered sleeves rather than puffed shoulders in the Regency manner. It was those sleeves that sold me when I saw it in a boutique in Sitges, Spain.

A modern day equivalent to the spencer would be the Spanish bolero, which is most often buttonless and worn open. This more formal and tailored jacket should not be confused with a shrug, or short cardigan, which is typically knitted.

But today there still exists a spencer, in the form of a warm knitted undergarment – that may or may not be matched with that very elegant piece of lingerie, the longjohn. The woollen spencer allows one to wear skimpy clothing in the depths of winter, and is thus a very useful garment to have in one’s arsenal.

For all its brevity my little woollen tank spencer has its own charms, does it not? I did own, once upon a time, a matching long sleeved spencer – the perfect length of the three-quarter sleeves kept it safely out of sight when worn under tops – but it has long-since gone to the Great Tailor in the Sky. I had black and white versions with both long and no sleeves in fact, but only this black tank survives.

Strangely, these versions of the spencer are difficult to find today, which is a pity, for they would prove extremely useful to those pretty young things who insist on gallivanting about on freezing Saturday nights in inappropriately flimsy garments.