Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in textile (158)

Tuesday
Jan012019

Picnic-Perfect

The first day of January is a perfect day for a picnic, and what is a more perfect picnic outfit than one featuring gingham? There is something just so cheerful about this fabric, and my favourite combination is red and white, although I do have other colours.

Gingham is usually made from cotton or cotton-blends, but the origin of it is open to speculation, possibly originating from the Malay, or from a town in France, or even perhaps from the Dutch. Many women would associate gingham with school uniforms, which may put them off, or imbue it with an affectionate nostalgia. My high school uniform was a green and grey plaid, so I have no such reminders. (I don’t think I’d want to wear a dress made from my high school plaid though – the notion makes me laugh aloud.)

There is something just so cheerful about this fabric …

Perhaps the picnicking connotations has to do with red and white checked cloths traditionally used in picnic baskets? While a picnic did not after all transpire on my first day of the year, I did have a friend visit for afternoon cake and coffee on my balcony, and we went for a walk in the local Botanic Gardens. I was pleased to wear a red and white gingham dress rather than this exact outfit, as it was far too warm for denim.

This blouse was actually gifted to me by the friend I saw today, which is apt, and the vintage 60s hat I purchased on eBay. The adorable heels were purchased from Anthropologie on sale. They were a bit expensive to start with, and I dithered so long over buying them, by the time I finally did they were drastically reduced – hurrah!

It was a lovely sunny day in the gardens (I carried a red parasol), and while my friend and I ambled around, we came across plenty of picnicking parties – a pleasant beginning to the year indeed.

I hope that 2019 brings you joy and fulfillment, and the strength to see any challenges through. Here’s to a fresh new year!

Photos: September 2018

Monday
Dec312018

Shine On, Magpie!

If it glitters, you can guarantee my fingers will get itchy and I’ll be drawn to it like the magpie of yore, which explains why I have so many sequinned garments feathering my nest. I can at least justify this excess by the fact that I actually wear them – working at a theatre allows me to indulge in my, ahem, theatrical sense of style.

… sequins are the quintessential party wear, and an excellent choice to ring in the new year …

In the nineteenth century, sequins were made of shiny metal – I have a late 1920s or early 1930s hat trimmed in tiny metal sequins (they need replacing and will be difficult to source), and also an antique Berber rug, originally worn as a cloak (incredibly heavy), that is interwoven with silver metal sequins. In the early twentieth century, flat or faceted to catch more light, they were made of celluloid, meaning they were dangerous to wear as they are flammable. But by some accounts of vintage sellers I have read, they have a special extra-shiny quality not found in their modern plastic counterparts. In the 1930s, there were even electroplated gelatin sequins. Obviously not very durable, these did not stay in fashion for long!

60s pink and white wool tank, silver velvet skirt by Top Shop, 1980s sequin beret; 1960s red 1960s red sequin wool top, modern skirt by Ojay and red sequin bag (era uncertain); 60s white sequin and red bead wool top, modern skirt by OjaySequins have been used in decoration for much longer than this however: the first evidence for them is in the Indus Valley around 2500BC, when gold sequins were used to trim clothing and other ‘paraphernalia’ – possibly for ceremonial or royal use. [Wikipedia] Note that ‘spangles’ are actually made from coiled wire that is hammered flat, though today the term is used interchangeably with sequins, while ‘paillettes’ usually refers to large, flat sequins.

Black sequins two ways: modern sequin dress worn as top with Bettina Liano puff shorts, Victorian miniature velvet top hat, 60s pearl earrings and modern heeled sandals by Wittner; modern sequin dress worn with rhinestone earrings by Aldo and modern red satin pumps by BarkinsThe modern name for these shiny decorative disks comes from the zecchino, a Venetian ducat coin, by way of the French translation, sequin. After Napoleon’s invasion of Italy in 1797, the coin ceased being minted, but the Conqueror carried the name back to France in triumph (okay, I’m romanticising here), and the term sequin came into use in France for the decorative trim shortly after.

Modern Australian flag sequin souvenir dress, 1980s straw beret, modern plaited white heels by Stefano Stefani. This dress made me laugh when I spotted it in a thrift store – a pity it is not a French flag, to match my story better! It was obviously a cheap souvenir dress, and I paid $6 for it, although I haven't found an occasion to wear it to yet!I have been hoarding this shiny story literally for years, but as sequins are the quintessential party wear, and an excellent choice to ring in the new year, this New Year’s Eve seems an appropriate time of year to finally release them into the world.

In fact, I haven’t even included everything in this collection – I also have a miniskirt of giant iridescent green paillettes, a grey tee of matt sequins, another modern sequin tank trimmed in silk chiffon, and a few sundry accessories. Out of this set, I think either the red sequin top, or the cropped robin’s egg blue tasselled top are my first vintage sequinned purchases. They were both purchased online, the former on Etsy, and the latter at eBay auction. I remember I was on a picnic with friends when I excitedly received the notification my bid had won the top! All the other items were found in thrift stores, except for the black Bettina Liano shorts, an indulgent Australian designer purchase.

Whatever old thing you slip off for this evening’s party dress, shiny or not, I hope you bling in a bright and shiny new year! Here’s to a happy 2019.

50s robin's egg blue sequin and bead tassel wool top, modern skirt by Ojay, vintage jewellery; 60s turquoise sequin and star-beaded wool top, modern skirt by Ojay, vintage jewellery; 60s celadon sequin and bead top, modern skirt by Ojay, vintage jewellery; 60s yellow sequin wool top, 1960s linen blend skirt by La Gonda, sterling silver, lemon quartz and agate earrings hand made by me

View all the items here in my new gallery All the Shiny Things.

Photos: (black set) March 2014, (Australian flag) February 2016; (pink and green sets) March 2018

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Read more about the history of sequins and spangles in this excellent article by The Dreamstress.

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Tuesday
Dec252018

A Christmas Angel

Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King! 
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, 
God and sinners reconciled” 
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, 
Join the triumph of the skies; 
With th' angelic host proclaim, 
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.” 
Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King!”

Well, I knew this song had been around for a long time, because they don’t write lyrics like they used to, but I didn’t know that it was written in 1739 by the famous Methodist preacher Charles Wesley. Interestingly, he requested slow and solemn music, and it was not until one hundred years later that the more joyful music still used today was composed by Felix Mendelssohn.

Wesley had based his lyrics on the angelic choir I talked about in yesterday’s Christmas Eve story, so today’s picture is a fitting, if more stylised extension, as I depict the angel heralding the shepherds.

I decided to go for a Renaissance style angel in gloriously colourful and billowing clothes, sumptuously golden wings (large antiqued wall ornaments, borrowed from Hurn & Hurn – which you can actually buy – fantastic!) and a deliciously gold background reminiscent of some paintings and frescoes of the era, or Byzantine icons (another art period I love).

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful and celebratory day, however you spend it.

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Fashion Notes

I am wearing a blue top with silk puffed sleeves by Australian designer Lisa Ho, a silk taffeta vintage 70s skirt, beautifully dyed and embroidered fabric that I think must have been a sari as it is so long (I bought this in a vintage boutique in Sydney when I was a teenager!), and a copper metal headpiece of flowers by which label I remember not.

Photo: December 2018

Tuesday
Dec182018

In the Mood for Qipaos

I don’t remember what first inspired my admiration for the traditional Chinese cheongsam, or qipao – very likely a Chinese film – but I am sure it had a lot to do with the sumptuous silk embroidered fabric that many are made from. Many years ago I once owned a beautiful example made from oyster-hued silk, embroidered heavily in red, silver and gold. Unfortunately it was a little small for me, and I stupidly culled it from my wardrobe in a mad fit of minimalism in my late 20s, since I thought I would never wear it. Ever since then I have been looking for a new one.

Qipao of the Daoguang Period (1821–1850); Empress Xiaoshen, image from WikipediaThe history of the qipao is long and complicated, and (according to Wikipedia) its origins are controversial. Generally people believe that its origin is in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but some scholars argue that in fact the cheongsam was first worn two millennia prior, in a period between the Western Zhou dynasty (1046BC–771BC) and the pre-Qin era (221BC–207BC). Whatever is the truth, the qipao of the Qing dynasty could not be more different from the style common today. It was floor-length and loose, and cut in an A-line that revealed the figure not at all. Only the head, hand and the tips of the toes were visible.

Chinese singer and actress Zhou Xuan wearing a cheongsam in 1930s in Shanghai; C.H. Wong Photo Studio; Image from WikipediaIn China, women’s liberation had as much effect as it had in other parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century, and the Republican period (1912–1949) is known as the golden age of the cheongsam. It is from this era that the cheongsam as we know it took form. Along with the ending of traditional foot binding, women began to bob their hair, and took to wearing this formerly exclusively masculine attire: one-piece clothing called Changshan or changpao. Now, too, the style was influenced by western fashion – the body-skimming bias-cuts popularised by Hollywood stars – hugging the figure, with hemlines gradually rising and formerly merely practical splits running much higher.

While the Communist Revolution virtually ended the popularity of the cheongsam, Shanghainese emigrants and refugees took the fashion with them to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and kept the style alive there.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Wong Kar Wai’s beautiful and bitter-sweet film In the Mood for Love is based on the Shanghai diaspora from the Revolution, and is set in Hong Kong in 1962. Its heroine, played by Maggie Cheung, wears a gorgeous collection of cheongsams – I remember seeing the film in the cinema when it was released in 2000, and I found the costumes no less breathtaking than the cinematography.

I was very excited when I finally found my new cheongsam, on my Day of Yellow Bonanza, the miraculous Saturday a few months ago when I found several yellow items scattered in thrift stores across Melbourne, including a 1940s ballgown. The cheongsam is made from a luminous pale-yellow brocade of chrysanthemums, which is a popular flower in Chinese culture. It is one of four seasonal symbolic flowers representing autumn, and is also the flower of the ninth moon. The dress probably dates from the 60s, and the fabric is rayon. It actually needs to be tailored to fit me a bit better, which is why you see me with hands on waist to disguise the bagginess there. I am wearing it with a pair of patent yellow stilettos by Aldo, also found in a thrift store.

Read more about the history of the qipao here, and about Maggie Cheung’s wardrobe for the sublime film In the Mood for Love here – I am inspired to watch it again.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000

Photos: August 2018

Saturday
Nov242018

Impressed!

A few years ago, my friend Rapunzel bought this vintage 60s suede coat at a vintage warehouse sale for a fairly modest sum. The clothing, I believe, was purchased unseen by the container-load from America. While all the other clothing at the sale seemed to have suffered no lasting damage, this coat looked like it had been drenched in the brink. It was so wrinkled, and strangely textured as though it was encrusted with salt.

My friend, however, never wore it, saying she had never got round to taking it to a drycleaner, and didn’t like wearing coats for commuting anyway, as she tended to overheat, and so she was reluctant to spend a large amount on professional cleaning. She donated it to me.

I was pleased to accept the coat, but it couldn’t be worn in the state it was. I forgot to photograph it in its original state, but I would describe the texture as resembling a piece of paper that had been screwed up into a little ball, then poorly smoothed out.

I would describe the texture as resembling a piece of paper that had been screwed up into a little ball …

I took the coat to my regular drycleaner and asked his advice. With very serious face he examined the coat and remarked that it did look like it had fallen into the ocean. That seemed unlikely, but perhaps it had been splashed at some point in its life. He did not think cleaning it would improve its appearance – the two apparent stains visible on the right side (near the collar and the middle button) were actually abrasions of the leather, so cleaning would have no effect on those. He suggested pressing it instead.

Ironing leather! I have talked before about the importance of ironing, but it never would have occurred to me that it was appropriate to press leather. For a modest sum of $15, I agreed to see if that improved the look of the coat. When I returned to pick the coat up, I was very impressed (pardon the pun) to see the improvement.

This suede, mink-trimmed coat transmogrified from a sozzled 60-year-old harridan into a gently-used dignified dame. Disfigurements became faint scars proudly marking the stately passage of time, and the coat was eminently wearable. Amongst so many coats I already own, I still managed to wear it a few times this past winter, an excellent result.

Photo: August 2018