Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Entries in style (102)


My Spectacular Sunglasses

I have often talked about accessories, and how they add the finishing touch to an outfit. What is even better, is a vintage accessory. You just can’t beat it for uniqueness, whether hat, glove, scarf or sunglasses – they add a certain je ne sais quoi to a look – or authenticity. You can tell the real deal a mile off. It’s in the quality of the materials and manufacturing; it’s an old adage but true: they just don’t make them the way they used to. And for something like a pair of sunglasses that you will likely wear every day, you want to really love it.

I am a bit of a fiend for sunglasses (and here you thought it was just hats) and have quite a collection, a few designer and lots of cheapies. Over the last year I determined that it was past time I ventured into the vintage sunglasses game.

Quite quickly, I stumbled across my first pair: 1930s tortoiseshell celluloid (above), with lenses that had an olive tinge. I found those in an op shop, and miraculously they came with their original leather case. Gold text on the front flap, partially scratched off, proclaims in swooping script the name of J. B. R. Burgess, with the tail of the final ‘s’ forming a swoosh underlining the name. In a small serif font underneath it is inscribed ‘Culwulla CHBR’ Castlereagh St, Sydney. Presumably it belonged to someone living in this building, Culwulla Chambers, which was built in 1912 and hailed as Sydney’s first ‘skyscraper’ standing 50 metres high.

The next pair of sunglasses I bought were 1940s wire-framed shades (below), with dark lenses and flexible arms. I found these on eBay, from a seller who had boxes of deadstock. Donning them took a bit of getting used used to – I was quite clumsy at first with slipping them around my ears. What a classic pair of sunglasses! I’ve always loved aviators, but these are even better.

The third pair took a little longer to land in my lap. I knew I wanted a pair of light-coloured celluloid frames, but these are extremely rare in Melbourne. I had been keeping my eye on a 40s pair with pale peachy pink round frames (my holy grail of sunglasses) on Etsy, but they were very expensive; I kept on putting my money towards vintage hats, my true love. Then one day I found another pair of deadstock 40s sunnies (top), these ones cream-coloured. The Dutch seller had two pairs, and I snaffled one of them at half the price of the pink ones, and was very pleased. (Tragically, a short time later, someone else snatched the pink ones out from under me, and the second pair of cream ones also sold.)

I call my reading glasses ‘my spectaculars’, but this trio really are. I adore them all. Though three is plenty to keep me going for now, I don’t think my adventures in vintage sunglasses has ended just yet – I still want my rose-coloured glasses!

Fashion Notes:

The dress is vintage 1940s, bought from Birthday Life Vintage earlier this year, the beret is by Australian brand Mimco, bought in a thrift store, and the earrings are vintage 50s, also bought in a thrift store.

Photos: November 2018


Ballet Slippers

Ballet slippers were made for dancing, for water nymphs and fairies and swan maidens, for delicate creatures who float through life on tippy-toe. On the other hand foot, ballet flats are made for rather more down-to-earth women, those who need to run and jump puddles and get things done pronto! But these seemingly antithetical women have one thing in common: they need footwear that won’t hamper them or weigh them down.

A Capsule History

Once upon a time, the ballet slipper was only a shoe worn by professional ballerinas. It was first invented in the mid-eighteenth century, with increasing modifications occurring over the following decades, until the modern dance shoe as we know it was developed by famous dancer Anna Pavlova – with some assistance from the renowned Italian purveyor of ballet shoes, Capezio. (Pavlova also, incidentally, inspired the eponymous Great Australian Dessert.)

Anna Pavlova, 1920A Claire McCardell outfit from the 1940s with matching ballet flatsIn the 1940s, American designer Claire McCardell had an epiphany when she chose to use Capezio’s ballet slippers in her 1941 collection, asking him to add a hard sole. And thus the ballet flat was born! First Brigitte Bardot began sporting them, and the beatniks soon followed suit, until a year later, Audrey Hepburn in her role as a beatnik turned model in Funny Face (1957) made them world famous and popularised them for that new breed of human: teens. Offscreen, she wore flats by Capezio and Ferragamo.

A Personal Journey

Decades later, I myself as a teen tried ballet flats numerous times, but was never able to find a comfortable pair. I came to the firm belief that ballet flats were the most uncomfortable shoes ever invented. And though I loved the idea of them, I gave up on them for another couple of decades until I came upon a pair in a thrift store by chance.

This is not my photo, but these were the beloved Sambag shoes I owned. According to the designer’s Instagram account, the label will be relaunching soon to be sold online only. The ballet flats I spotted were in ballet pink, a colour I had recently come to highly favour, and were by the Australian brand Sambag. I had once tried some on in a retail store, but as they were quite expensive, with my past history of painful ballet flats, I was unwilling to trust they were a good investment. The secondhand shoes I found were still in their original box, the soles so pristine they had surely been worn only once or twice. I gladly handed $30 to the store saleslady.

Brigitte Bardot in ballet flatsThese shoes turned out to be one of the most comfortable flat shoes I have ever owned. It was a miracle! I still wore heels at work, but I wore these ballet flats constantly on the weekends, with the sad but inevitable result that they wore out too quickly. I ought to have taken them to be resoled before it was too late, but couldn’t bear to be parted from them for the requisite few days. … Ever since I have kept my eyes peeled for another pair in thrift stores, and actually spotted some once, but lamentably in a size too big for me.

Audrey Hepburn made ballet flats world famous through her 1957 film ‘Funny Face’A few years later, I discovered the brand Yosi Samra on a sale website selling ‘foldable flats’. These are specifically designed to be stored in tiny little drawstring bags to keep on hand (ahem) when the need to relieve one’s feet from high heels becomes urgent. I bought several pairs, including ballet pink ones that are very reminiscent of my beloved Sambags. The leather is extremely soft and flexible, and they are very comfortable, although they don’t offer a lot of support to the foot – they are not meant to be worn for extended periods of walking.

Full Circle

Finally, not that long ago I came across an actual pair of ballet slippers by Blochs (manufacturing dancewear since 1932) once again in a thrift store! I have the most amazing luck. They were a little bit small, to be honest, but for $6 I decided they would be great indoor shoes. The leather was so soft I was sure they would stretch enough. When I took this comparison photo (top) I was quite amused to see that the Yosi Samra flats on my right foot were extremely similar to the dance slippers on the left. The colour is a perfect match. 

Audrey Hepburn’s ballet flats worn at home (1960–70), auctioned off by Christie’s earlier this year. “[Audrey Hepburn’s] training as a ballerina probably contributed to the elegance and poise that we associate with her. She had quite a number of these flats in her possession [because] they were her slippers when she was casual at home, [but] these were the only pink ones. She liked to be casual; she was very much a human being.”Ironically, in 2009 another celebrity – this time from the music world, Amy Winehouse – began wearing actual ballet slippers by Gandolfi in place of regular flats. So ballet slippers danced a full circle, and have gone in and out of fashion several times. But as the second decade of this century draws to a close, they have become firmly established in their status as iconic shoes, and I don’t believe they will ever go away.

One day I’ll go back to that Sambag retail store and invest in a new pair, or three. The pink is my favourite, for the same reason ballerinas first wore them: they seem to disappear on the foot, creating the illusion that one is floating just above the earth, lightly and quickly – for I have always daydreamed of having wings. 

Photos: September 2018


Always Buy in Shoeplicates

The other day while I was doing some catch-up photoshoots of outfits I had worn, I donned my favourite pair of raspberry suede peep-toes by Wittner, an Australian shoe brand, and I thought, “Awww, my old favourites are getting beat up!” I had already had them resoled, and the toe tips repaired, but even the repairs will soon be in need of repairing.

Over the years, I have often wished I had bought a second pair of these and held them in reserve, and as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I had even seen this very pair in a thrift store, but they were unfortunately too big for me. It made me realise that I did not often enough pay attention to one of my own long-held fashionisms: Always Buy Two.

Always buy two, just in case. In case the first ones fall apart, get lost, are shredded by the cat – oh, there are many reasons. In case it turns out to be the very best most awesome favouritist thing you ever owned. In case of time.

Always buy two … in case it turns out to be the very best most awesome favouritist thing you ever owned.

The first things I remember buying two of was a pair of shoes in the early 90s. They make me laugh to remember them now: a pair of 1–2-inch-heeled black leather pilgrim shoes with enormous silver buckles, but they were so very comfortable and I loved them! I bought the first pair, and then a week or two later I went back to the shoe store and bought a second pair. I was very glad I did. However, they have long since gone.

Another beloved item I found in Country Road was a silk jersey t-shirt (below) with slit capped satin sleeves, and a cut-out in the scoop neckline that tied with shoe-string ties. This t-shirt was so fabulously fitted and comfortable I bought three of them: black, smoke grey and cream. I wore all those to death too, and was very sad when I retired the last one – the black. It lasted the longest because I make it a policy not to wear black often.

I have bought lots of basic wool knits from Kookaï and have found them to be very reliable. Another great purchase I made was two linen knit long sleeved t-shirts from Seed, one in a natural flax colour, and the other in a dark blue. These were quite expensive (for someone used to shopping in thrift stores), but have proven a good investment.

Nowadays apart from underwear, socks and shoes, I buy most of my clothing from op shops or vintage boutiques, so the opportunity to buy more than one rarely arises. However, I will still snap up certain good quality wool items when I see them, regardless of the fact that I already own a lot of wool knits – because they eventually do wear out, and they are expensive to replace at retail prices.

Sometimes you don’t know that a particular item is going to become a beloved favourite … you just have to resign yourself to your miserable fate of a distant future without it …

White or cream silk blouses, which I am very fond of, regularly need to be replaced because the underarms stain easily and so visibly. In point of fact I have one favourite Veronika Maine silk blouse that I wish I had bought in duplicate. I’m going to try soaking it in that wonder detergent, RetroClean, to see if I can bring it back to life.

Sometimes you don’t know, of course, that a particular item is going to become a beloved favourite, and then you just have to resign yourself to your miserable fate of a distant future without it, but good quality basics are always a sure bet at the very least.

Photos: September 2018, May 2012


Farewell My Golden Shoes

One pair of golden boots was found, another pair of golden shoes was lost – albeit quite a long time ago now as I unearthed these out of my archives of unpublished stories.

Though how I loved these soft suede wedges by Sole Society! I adored the goldenrod colour of course, and they were so comfortable and surprisingly easy to walk in. I really wore them to death, until the suede uppers developed some balding patches and dirty smudges, and the leather wedges became scraped at the toes.

As soon as shoes start looking shabby however, I become utterly ruthless. I photographed them in memory to happier times, and then I laid them to rest … in the bin. Farewell my golden shoes!

Photo: September 2014


Call Me Ruth

It’s getting close to that time of year again: the turn of the seasons, when I face the daunting task of swapping my winter and summer wardrobes in and out of storage. That is the perfect time to do a wardrobe cull as well. However, my closet is currently bursting at the seams and I am pondering a mini-cull this weekend.

Seeing this picture, taken in March 2015 after a summer cull, of dozens of empty hangers is inspiring, but also daunting, as I suspect I won’t want to chuck so much this time.

Below are some even older photos, taken after a winter cull in December 2011. Winter garments hung in garment bags, ready for storage, and bags and bags of castoffs. Clearly I was particularly ruthless that weekend.

“If it doesn’t give you joy,
get rid of it.”

In the last year or so, I have found some amazing vintage items that have made my wardrobe explode, almost literally. I need to wrangle me some more room, and I just don’t know what I will be able to let go. I know all the rules: “If you haven’t worn it for six months, get rid of it …” bla bla bla. I prefer the newer injunction: “If it doesn’t give you joy, get rid of it.”

The problem with that is, it all gives me joy! I fear I shall be entirely ruth this time round.