Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Entries in textile (159)


Gypsy Mood

“You look like a gypsy!” That was what my mum would say to me years ago when I was attending art school and dressed very colourfully in piles of beads and Indian skirts and vintage clothes that I found in the op shops at lunch time around college.

The word ‘gypsy’ has such picturesque connotations: one thinks of nomadic folk living a bohemian, happy-go-lucky and simple life, thriving on the freedom of travelling wherever whim took them – in quaint little caravans drawn by sturdy horses of course. It’s a romantic notion, and undoubtedly they must endure the harsh realities of life just the same as the less adventurous of us.

I’m not nomadic (although I have travelled a little), but I still sometimes dress like a gypsy, when the mood strikes me.

Fashion Notes

In keeping with gypsy values, I am wearing quite a mish-mash of items, most of which is second hand. The most spectacular piece is the silk taffeta skirt of course, which I bought in an op shop last year for around $7. I wasn’t sure if it was silk at the time, and I doubt the staff member who priced it suspected it was silk; there are no labels in it. I just thought it was fabulous.

The organza blouse is by an Australian designer, Carla Zampatti, and is I think a highly amusing relic from the 80s. The silk shawl around my hips was a birthday gift from a friend, and the pink sequin scarf in my hair was another thrift store find. My jewellery is a mix of vintage (a white 40s bead necklace) and antique (Turkish coin earrings, the Afghan bead tassel); second hand from op shops; new retail, and souvenirs (the bangles, from Vietnam) and even a turquoise ring hand made by me.

Fashion Disaster!

The skirt is extremely well made, with every seam inside perfect, and over-locked, so I didn’t want to even snip a piece from inside to do a burn test and ascertain the fibre content. However, something disastrous happened right after this photoshoot. It was hanging in the bathroom and I inadvertently swiped some Lucas Papaw ointment – which has a petroleum jelly base – on it.

I inadvertently swiped some Lucas Papaw ointment on it.

First I tried spot cleaning the stain with dishwashing liquid (which can work on greasy stains if used immediately). Nothing doing. I left it for a few days while I pondered whether to take it to the dry cleaner. Finally, after doing some research I referred back to my laundering app (‘The Stain’ – highly recommended) on how to deal with oily stains. It doesn’t mention mineral-based oils, but I tried the method of sprinkling talc on the stain and lifting it onto paper towel with the application of heat (using an iron). Then I hand-washed it, immersing the entire skirt to avoid possibly leaving a water-stain (in for a penny, in for a pound).

Then something marvellous happened – aside from the stain lifting: once the skirt was dry, the fabric had softened considerably and I knew without a doubt that it was silk. I assume the previous owner had only ever dry-cleaned it, and that accounted for its starchy crispness. Some may prefer that finish for taffeta, but I think it is much nicer to wear now.

Photos: December 2016


Homage to Her Royal Majesty

It was a sad day last August when iconic French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel passed away (from complications of Parkinson’s disease). She was a fashion legend, and was the inventor of the Poor Boy Sweater, which features high cut armholes and a shrunken fit that makes it cling to the body. It was her own solution to finding stylish clothes to wear during her pregnancy in 1962. Italian-made, and sold through her husband’s store, it was eventually featured on the cover of French Elle magazine. And so the Queen of Knits was born.

I own a few knits from her label – two with pom-poms – which have featured in this style journal over the years, but this striped sweater with the skinny necktie was my favourite. (You can see it better here.) Sadly it developed quite a few holes that I darned, and continued to wear until it looked just too sad. I think I eventually donated to charity, and now I wish I had kept it as a Comfort Sweater to wear around home.

In these photos from three years ago, I am wearing it with black wide-leg trousers and a red wool beret. (I love my hair here too!)

Photos: August, 2014


Wartime Knit Kit

The 1940s is one of my favourite eras for clothing because I love the silhouette, and the mix of minimalist, military-inspired tailoring with soft draping fabrics – the wool suiting, the knits. It’s a pretty rare thing to find original 40s knits in Australia, however. Happily, the look of the era comes in and out of fashion, so it is relatively easy to find contemporary clothing with the same or similar silhouettes.

This short knit jacket is one such example showing a Forties influence: the collar and lapels, the puffed sleeves and the pockets are all telltale details. I really love the short sleeves too – they’re not often seen in modern jackets. Below are two original jackets from the era that show the details that inspired mine.

Tailored double-jersey mock rib jacket features wide reveres and a darted sleeve head, by John SmedleyThis jacket is cut along military lines, with metal-buttoned patch pockets and a high neckline; by John SmedleyOf course the Second World War had a huge influence on the types of clothing worn in the Forties, especially with hand-knitted garments, tailoring, and military styling. The War introduced a ‘previously unknown democratisation into fashion. Notions of class-based and elitist styles were overturned as civilians and the armed services dressed alike.’ [Vintage Fashion Knitwear, by Marnie Fogg, Lark Books, 2012)

The other key looks of the decade in knitted garments were knitted jackets, the Sweater Girl look, shoulder pads, American leisurewear, draped jersey and fitted styles.

By the end of the decade, the military influence and tailoring becomes more relaxed, shown below in an outfit I covet: a jersey shirt with an exaggerated collar and plunging, broad placket worn tied (with an awesome giant shoelace!) at the waist over a pleated black skirt, both by Carolyn Schnurer. It’s such an elegant look that would not seem out of place on today’s streets.

Photo: August 2016

Jersey shirt and pleated skirt by Carolyn Schnurer, 1949.


Fashion Alchemy

My minimalist side traditionally abjures prints and patterns, but my maximalist side squealed with delight when I flipped a page in a reference book and my eyes beheld this marvel of Forties novelty. Fluffy lambs gambolling in a field! Clouds (also fluffy) and birds! A cloud-shaped appliqué collar – scalloped sleeves! The wonders of this dress seem as endless as the horizon.

What seeming novelty arose from wartime rationing. ‘The United States Wartime Protection Board, in 1943, imposed various restrictions on clothing manufacture and the use of fabric considered essential for the war effort.’ All silk was certainly verboten, as it was used to make parachutes. Fancy trims were restricted too, and sequins and embroidery were banned (I wonder if that applied to the home seamstress recycling second hand items even then?); and glass beads, formerly imported from imported Czechoslovakia, were also unavailable.

This 1945 dress by Gilbert Adrian (1903–1959) instead utilises perspective in an imaginative print, rather than the more usual repeat pattern, and is inspired by Surrealism. The follow-through in the detailing on sleeve and collar is particularly lovely.

The fabric is rayon acetate – remember, rayon is made from purified cellulose, or plant fibre, so though it must go through a virtually alchemical process to be transmuted into fabric, it is natural in origin and so not as repulsive as say, polyester.

What is wonderful is that out of such severe restrictions, Adrian managed to produce fashion gold. One could only dream of coming upon this in a thrift store!

From Fashion and Textiles in the International Collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, by Robyn Healy, National Gallery of Victoria, 2003.



Over two years ago, one blissful Saturday afternoon I was shopping in a Sacred Heart Opportunity Shop and unexpectedly hit the jackpot. Against the rules, I had taken so many promising garments into the change room (only four were ostensibly allowed) and was frantically shedding clothing as speedily as possible in case there were impatient customers waiting outside and champing at the bit.

One of the items I was excited to find was this silk pleated dress by Parisian brand Suncoo. (At least the label boldly states Paris.) It had never been worn, for the label was still dangling attached. It was priced at a pittance, a mere $10. I adored the colour, and I adored the flouncing pleats, the pin tucking, the details on the cuffs – everything about this dress I adored! I wore hearts for eyes. That’s probably why I didn’t notice one important detail …


I did not notice this frivolous circumstance until the day I desired to wear it to work for the first time. There it was, a little innocuous white bowling-pin-shaped receptacle of indelible ink obstinately attached. I wore something else.

Some time passed before it occurred to me that the lovely and clever ladies and gentlemen of the Wardrobe department at work might be able to assist in ridding me of this embarrassment. I took it with me one day and sheepishly explained the situation while they grinned at me. Another colleague walked past at that moment and scoffed at my protestations of innocence.

The learned costumiers scratched their heads and confessed they had never seen this particular style of device before. So probably it was from France, and I was forced to wonder whether the original owner had liberated the dress from a store (they are excessively fond of liberté in gay Paree, after all). Wardrobe declared confidently, “Leave it with us.”

Happily for me, one brilliant seamstress had the idea to unpick the stitches at the waist, ease off the device, and then sew the seams back together. It was lucky the device was attached to a seam, for miraculously this shifty operation worked! Voila! they said triumphantly.

But the story does not end here. I took the dress home, and the next time I decided to wear it, I discovered that some of the stitching on the back had torn, and the concertina effect was ruined. What next! I despaired, and I repaired the stitches.

What next! I despaired, and I repaired the stitches.

What next indeed … Pleased, a couple of years later I finally got around to photographing the dress in order to write this story, and after the shoot as I was lifting it over my head, what should I do but smear scarlet lipstick on the front?! Hélas! What a series of unfortunate events! Was the dress hand-washable? Would I ruin the pleats (as I have done before) by willy-nilly ignoring a ‘dry clean only’ instruction?

Hélas! What a series of unfortunate events!

But the dress was indeed hand-washable. After applying an oil-free make-up removing tissue to the stain, removing as much as possible, and leaving a large oval-shaped mark on the panel of buttons, I hopefully washed the dress. (This useful tip I gleaned from a make-up artist once upon a time.) I cringed a little as I immersed it into water.

But hey presto! The stain came out, the pleats did not, and finally, finally, the dress is prêt-a-porter!

Photos: February 2016

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