Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in style (110)

Wednesday
May292019

The Cap Sleeve

Today I am starting a new special feature on sleeves. While I enjoy the sleeveless garment in the heat of summer, I love to don an interesting sleeve as soon as the weather allows for it. I confess I particularly adore a puff sleeve – the bigger the better – and that is one reason why I love 1930s fashion, which focuses strongly on the shoulder line.

Serving both function and decoration in a garment, sleeves come in a multitude of lengths and shapes – here I shall cover as many as possible (as many as I own and can photograph!), beginning with the shortest: the cap sleeve.

The cap is a style of short sleeve that is cut and seamed to fit on the shoulder, and tapers to nothing underneath the arm. It is not usually loose-fitting, but is fitted to just cover the shoulder. It can add flair to an otherwise plain sleeveless top.

I’ve created a Sleeve Styles gallery under the Look Books menu, where you’ll easily be able to refer to the different styles as I add them.  

~

I am wearing a vintage 1950s blouse with an ikat-like floral print from my closet, which I have sadly culled from my closet since I took this picture. (Sometimes I am too ruthless for my own good.)

Tuesday
May212019

Feathered Fantasies

Models at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, showing off scandalous new gowns showcasing the S-line (and their figures), and enormous hats of course, Paris 1908During the Edwardian period, the ideal image of womanhood was to look fragile and delicate, and the fashion was for the flattering S-line, with long luxurious hair piled high to show off slim necks. Enormous hats fantastically trimmed were the crown of these ensembles, designed to complement and set off the feminine silhouette.

The years of the Edwardian British period covers the short reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910, although sometimes it includes the years up to WWI. At this time, hats were a crucial part of the dress code for people from all walks of life, young or old, rich or poor. There were different hats acceptable for each strata of society – but all wore hats, all the time. Women changed their hats with their outfits several times a day and would never step out tête-nue (with a bare head) – that was considered a huge social solecism. It was acceptable only for beggars to be hatless.

1909A lady and an assistant settle down to the pleasures of selecting and decorating a stylishly large hat from the befeathered and beribboned collection available at the Paquin couture house millinery rooms, 1909. From ‘The Golden Age of Style’ by Julian Robinson, Orbis Publishing 1976Milliners could and did go to town, extravagantly decorating these wide picture hats with silks and velvets, ribbons and artificial flowers, and after the death of Queen Victoria, bright colours becamse hugely fashionable. The most popular millinery trim of all were feathers, for throughout history, plumes on hats have been a sign of status and wealth. The rich of this time were no exception – some of the hats were insanely huge, even obscenely ostentatious.

Feathers of all kinds were fashioned by the 800 plumassiers in Paris that employed around 7000 people. Anything from little spiky trimmings to boas, tufts and sprays of feathers called aigrettes were cut, dyed and arranged from a wide variety of feathers: cockerel, pheasant, marabou, ostrich, ospreys, herons or birds of paradise. Sometimes even whole stuffed birds perched atop these monstrosities.

Bird of paradiseSuch decorations were extremely expensive; a hat trimmed with natural bird of paradise plumes could fetch a price of $100, a fortune in those days – that is over AU$4,400 or US$3,045 in today’s values. (For comparison I spotted a YSL black rabbit fur felt hat on Farfetch for over $3000 – it does have an elegant shape and details, for example tasselled ties, but that seems laughably overpriced for a comparatively unexciting hat made of inexpensive materials.)

The feathers of the Roseate spoonbill are so gorgeous they almost lead them to extinctionAnother bird that was hunted almost to extinction is the roseate spoonbill – in the late nineteenth century its feathers were literally worth more than gold – $32 per ounce, compared with $20 for gold. [al.com] Their almost total disappearance was one of the factors that lead to the formation of the Audobon Society, dedicated to conservation, eventually leading to the banning of the usage of feathers from endangered species.

Fashions at LongchampFashion from Paris – Les Modes February 1907c. 1912 Jane Renouardtc. 1900 The Bonita Hat – Huge oblong circle shape made of black plush with flamboyant turquoise lining that shows. It is trimmed with black and turquoise ostrich plumes. There is a turquoise and purple ribbon and velour 'grapes' on the ribbon. Originally sold on Ruby Lane.Three out of four hats featured feathers or whole birds, such was the popularity of plumage in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Today, feathers are still popular of course, but milliners have become more creative with the feathers from farmed ostriches, pheasants, ducks and cockerels.

During the militant phase of the Suffragettes and Blue Stockings around 1908, fashion began to simplify, and while hats were still de rigeur, they too fell in line with Reform fashions, for not even Suffragettes would cease wearing hats entirely – they were reluctant to outrage the establishment so utterly. Huge bows in sumptuous fabrics became more favoured for trimming, with the first cloches appearing in 1917, heralding the way for a vastly different style of hat in the 1920s.

Simpler hats of the latter Edwardian years, top right 1910, all others 1912Hat featuring a fabulously huge bow, Ladies Home Journal, 1910

Photos: Vintage images found on Pinterest; I have tried to include information and original links where available.

Additional reference: The Century of Hats, Susie Hopkins, Chartwell Books 1999

Tuesday
May072019

New Bags: Approved!

Two recent-ish vintage finds have been added to my wardrobe: a 1960s snakeskin square-framed bag with a kiss clasp for winter, and a white cane clutch for summer.

The snakeskin bag is by Gold Crest, an old Australian brand about which I can discover nothing. It has quite a few pockets and partitions on the inside, so it is great for organising contents. The white bag has a leather clasp, and is by Laura Ashley – possibly vintage 80s or later.

‘an afternoon bag to wear with city ensembles and slightly dressy outfits’

In A Guide to Elegance (1964), written by French style guru Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, decrees that alligator is only for sports or travel ensembles – I’m not sure what she would think of snakeskin. However, of the bags she approves, the snakeskin bag would certainly fit under the heading of ‘an afternoon bag to wear with city ensembles and slightly dressy outfits’. Renowned Hollywood costumier, Edith Head, says one type of at least three bags should be ‘the ladylike leather bag to wear with suits and tailored dresses’. [From How to Dress For Success by Edith Head and Joe Hyams, 1967]

Dariaux frowns heavily on white accessories, and deems them suitable only for summer in a tropical city; however beige basket-weave for summer is perfectly acceptable: ‘a beige straw handbag, which can be of a rather coarse weave if you spend your summers in the country, or of a finer texture, such as Panama, if you stay in town. … [It] is an indispensable accessory to summery cotton and linen dresses.’

I am going to give myself a Pass.

Friday
Nov302018

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

Friday
Nov022018

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