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Entries in victorian (21)


Summertime Gothic

Time was in Melbourne when many goths wandering like lost souls through the streets were a very familiar sight. Having gone through art college myself, they were never a threatening or repugnant presence to me as they were to some, and I was always intrigued (and entertained) by their bold sartorial expressions.

What a spectacular head dress! (from @mywitchery; outfit @burleskacorsets-blog.)Their mania for emulating the darker aspects of the Victorian period in respect of dress seemed to work well for winter – frock coats, puffy sleeved shirts, cloaks, big boots – but I marvelled that so many seemed at a loss as to what to wear for summer, always a concern for sweltering days in an Australian city, even one so far south as Melbourne.

Melbourne Goth & Victorian Picnic 2017I always felt sorry for them, suffering on broiling days in their multiple floor-length layers. They really needed a stylist I decided, poor things, to help them figure out a ‘summerweight’ goth look. I was sure their angst-ridden expressions had more to do with suffering from imminent heatstroke than affected Victorian anguish.

You don’t see many goths in Melbourne anymore however. Perhaps the old goths of the 90s and Noughties have grown up, or moved to the suburbs and got haircuts and real jobs. Research lead me to discover the goth movement is still going strong in Europe, with many large annual festivals (mainly in Germany) still being held and attracting tens of thousands, with steampunk and even ‘steamgoth’ now entering the field as well.

Melbourne Goth & Victorian Picnic 2017One way to keep cool – not for everyone however; Melbourne Goth & Victorian Picnic 2017In October last year, the Melbourne Gothic & Victorian Picnic was held in the Fitzroy Gardens (north of the city proper), it is pleasing to discover. However a quick perusal of photos shows that most goths are wearing quite heavy garments for mid-spring, with a few concessions in the form of punk-inspired torn lace or lingerie – a revealing look not for everyone.

I’ve long wanted to do a tongue-in-cheek homage on a summer version of typical goth splendour, but have held off until I secured just the right outfit. I finally found it, and here it is to celebrate the last day of summer: a billowing silk, floor-length dress featuring some cobwebby lace in the yoke, a nod to gothic Victoriana for the more modest young lady. The loose skirts, low back and front, and sleeveless cut make it perfect for an Australian summer.

Add a lace parasol (I only had a cream one, but a real goth might prefer tattered black) to protect one’s delicate pallor from the burning rays of the Australian sun, a dour expression, and you’re good to go. For an evening wrap against potential night chill, consider a black lace shawl which can be prosaically wrapped round the shoulders, or draped over the head for that funereal aspect.

Visit A Study of Goth Subculture (2009) for both dissertations and detailed fashion information; a relatively recent story at The Conversation on Goth, Steampunk and the State of Subculture Today (2016) is also worth a read.

Photos: March 2017


In the Purple

A modern violet ribbed knit and wooden necklace are worn with a Tyrian purple lampshade I hated purple for most of my life scarred as I was by a hideous magenta dress that my mother forced me to wear when I was about nine years old, to an older sister’s wedding. Purple is my mother’s favourite colour, and I think she picked out a horrid long-sleeved scratchy magenta dress trimmed in cream crocheted lace simply because she liked the colour. I hated the style of the dress, but the colour unfortunately became tainted by association for me for more than twenty years. I don’t think I started wearing it until my 30s when I discovered jewel tones suited me so well.

Many colours are named after things of the natural world, such as flowers, minerals, foods, and before synthetic dyes began to be produced, they were also made from them. Purple is certainly no exception. There are a myriad shades, including these examples of lilac, lavender and mauve, but violet stands quite apart on the colourwheel …

Byzantine Emperor Justinian, mosaic in St Vitale church, Ravenna, Italy

Tyrian Purple

Purple is the colour most often associated with royalty, most likely because in days of antiquity the production of purple dye – known as Tyrian purple, after one of the coastal Phoenician cities in which it originated – was long, difficult and expensive. It was made from the gland of a sea snail called the spiny dye-murex, and produced varying shades of purple from crimson to magenta to a much deeper bluish hue, depending upon the type of snail and how it was made.

Tyrian purple became the favoured colour of the wealthy: kings, nobles, priests and magistrates all around the Mediterranean. It is mentioned in many works of literature of the ancient world: Homer, Sappho, and the Old Testament of the Bible.

Cloth dyed with Tyrian purple‘In modern times, Tyrian purple has been recreated, at great expense. When the German chemist, Paul Friedander, tried to recreate Tyrian purple in 2008, he needed twelve thousand mollusks to create 1.4 ounces of dye, enough to color a handkerchief. In the year 2000, a gram of Tyrian purple made from ten thousand mollusks according to the original formula, cost two thousand euros.’ [Wikipedia]



Violet is actually a spectral colour in its own right as it has its own wavelength, unlike purple, which is made up of two spectral colours – blue and red. It also sits on the colourwheel between purple (next to crimson) and blue.

As my birthday falls in February, my birthstone is amethyst, and my flower is the violet. My mum grew these shy and tiny flowers in her gardenbeds, and they were always special to me for this reason, as well as their divine and subtle scent.

Interestingly, this violet ribbed jumper (sweater) of mine was very difficult to photograph. In reality it is distinctly an almost luminous shade of violet, but the camera captured it almost as cobalt – I had to colourcorrect it in Photoshop. This curiosity may have something to do with the ‘Bezold-Brücke shift’: when violet brightens, it begins to look more and more blue; the same effect does not happen with common purple.

Vintage 60s wool hat and gloves are worn with modern items


Another subtle shade of purple is lavender, also named after a flower. While there is a myriad of shades used by designers of all kinds, the colour is most associated with the actual flower, a medium purple or a light pinkish purple. The word was first used in English to describe a colour in 1705.

The colour is also associated with decadence, in the sense of a lifestyle devoted to enjoying aesthetic sensual pleasures such as art, music food, and wine. Lavender-coloured roses are symbolic of love at first sight.

A modern pale lilac knit worn with a pink wool scarf and vintage pleated skirt


The lilac flower is another of my favourite flowers because of its gorgeous beauty and scent. How heavenly it would be to have a lilac tree growing in one’s yard! I remember one of my uncles had one when I was a child. The colour obviously takes its name from the flower, but shades can vary of course, from more bluish to more reddish tones. The first recorded use of lilac as a colour name in English was in 1775.


My knit might be described as ‘opera mauve’ (first used in 1927) and the bag as ‘mauve taupe’ (first used in 1925)


Mauve is the newest colour of the lot, and the most interesting history. It was first created in 1856 by a young scientist named William Perkin. Perkin was experimenting with coal tar in an attempt to synthesise quinine (as a cure for malaria), when he stumbled upon a process producing a bright purple liquid. He had once dreamed of being an artist, dipped a piece of silk in a beaker of the liquid, and realised he had created a light- and wash-proof dye.

He first named the colour Tyrian purple, but soon after adopted the French name for the mallow flower: mauve. Ironically, it was a dye that was also difficult and expensive to produce, just like its original namesake.

Mallow flower, called mauve in French

However, in 1857, after Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, discovered the colour and decided it was an exact match for the colour of her eyes, the dye became a hit. Queen Victoria took note, and wore a dress of rich mauve velvet to her daughter’s marriage. In August 1859, Punch declared that London was ‘in the grip of the ‘Mauve Measles’, and by the time Perkin was 21, he was a rich and well-respected man.

Mauve was extremely popular during the Victorian period. Frances Adeline ‘Fanny’ Seward by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, early 1860s

Dress (afternoon bodice), 1860s Jessie Benton Fremont, American, MFA Boston


Interestingly all these floral shades of purple are also associated with half-mourning, being one of the acceptable colours (along with grey) worn in the final stage of mourning, after black. And as the Victorians aged, the popularity of the colour also went into a decline, becoming forever associated with the older generation.

But now, more than a century later, when young women are doing the previously unheard-of: adopting lavender rinses (and pink, blue, green – errr, every shade but their own!), perhaps these hues will have a renaissance?

Photos: July 2016

Silk tulle dress made for Queen Alexandra, Henriette Favre, French, 1902


A Picnic on Valentine’s Day

What could be more clichéd and romantic to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a picnic? What could be more fun (and spooky) than to celebrate it with a Picnic at Hanging Rock, complete with period costume à la the characters in the Australian film of the same name? Preferably ending the day without the disappearing act. Or perhaps you could use it as the perfect setting for a break-up!? Ahem. Maybe not.

I’ve based my picture above on the style of the embossed, diecut greeting cards popular in this era, like those which the schoolgirls in the story would have exchanged.

What could be more fun (and spooky) than to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a Picnic at Hanging Rock?

A couple of years ago I dressed as Mlle de Poitiers, the French teacher character from Peter Weir’s seminal film (based on the book by Joan Lindsay). I was attending a costume Christmas party, and the theme was Australiana. I cobbled together my costume from garments and accessories I already owned: a broderie anglaise blouse that I bought in Barcelona years ago, and a real Victorian petticoat (gasp!) bought from a Canadian Etsy seller.

My accessories I had collected over the years. The parasol was bought in Queensland on a holiday in my 20s, while the boater (of indeterminate vintage), and the 70s or 80s crocheted gloves both came from an op shops. The brown leather boots and the stretch suede belt are both new, bought online. I even carried a cane picnic basket (you can see that in the photo below.)

All my work colleagues loved my costume. It was actually a hot day, so I suffered, and I could only imagine how hot it must have been wearing layers of petticoats in the Australian bush during summer. No wonder Miss McCraw lost her layers in the film!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photo: February 2016 / December 2015

Posing under that Aussie backyard icon – the Hill's Hoist clothesline – decorated in lieu of the traditional Christmas tree.


The Perfect Harmony

While I have been waxing lyrical about not wearing all black (all the time), I do love all grey and all white. Just as great are black and white worn together – they are a classic pairing and you could never go wrong … except perhaps being mistaken for a waiter in a restaurant. That could be rather embarrassing for both parties!

Joking aside, for those who say they like to wear all black because it makes it easy to put an outfit together, it is just as easy to put black and white items together. Coco Chanel was a great champion of this combination. She said: “Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

Chanel’s successor, Karl Lagerfeld has said: “Black-and-white always looks modern, whatever that word means.” Timeless, Karl; it looks timeless, so it always looks contemporary. Neither shade is synonymous with any particular decade; they are always in fashion.

 “I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.” – Coco Chanel

If pure white does not suit your complexion, try a softer shade of ivory, vanilla, cream or eggshell. Nor does black suit everyone (contrary to popular opinion). According to colour theory, black is not the best shade for light and warm springs, or summers of any description. Click here for more information on finding your perfect colours.  

And if you are not accustomed to wearing colour, then a gentle way to introduce some is by adding a single coloured accessory to your black and white garments, without fear of looking clownish, or the angst of trying to match different colours when you are unpractised.

Fashion Notes

This modern silk blouse, by Decjuba, and Banana Republic skirt are really quite detailed enough on their own – I wouldn’t add more than a pair of shoes and a bag to wear them on the town. But just for today, I have gone all-out fun with adding vintage accessories into the mix.

From the top: an Edwardian velvet and sequin toy top hat that I purchased from a UK-based eBay seller; vintage 60s polka dot net gloves bought from an American Etsy store; a vintage 1940s black bag with soutache embroidery that I pounced on in a Sacred Heart Opportunity Shop; and a pair of modern Italian-made woven leather heels by Stefano Stefani, which also came from a thrift store, this time the Salvos.

Next time you go to assemble an all-black outfit, why not throw caution to the wind and throw in a bit of white? In the immortal words – echoing Coco Chanel – of the song, ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony.

Photos: February 2016


Post-Christmas Stock-take

No, I’m not referring to Boxing Day sales with that headline, but rather the third spirit to visit poor old Ebenezer Scrooge, which is the most terrifying, for it resembles the Grim Reaper. This is the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come, and he serves Scrooge a warning of what is in store for him if he continues in his wicked ways.

This ghost wears a cloak of black that conceals his entire form, except for one pointing hand; he has no need to speak, and fills Scrooge with horror. “It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.”

Quite miraculously, I again delved into my archives and found a picture of me wearing a 1930s black lace gown (awaiting repair for years, alas) and a velvet black and cream satin hooded cape of the same era. I am proffering kid gloves with my hand, rather than pointing, which is rather funny in the context of Dickens’ character.

This phantom turns out to be kind in the end, for he does allow the chastened Scrooge the chance to wipe the slate clean. And thus we come to the moral of the tale, ripe enough for the end of the year when we all naturally evaluate the year that has passed, and look forward to a new one.

At least one resolution is clear for me: I must mend my ways and mend that dress at last, for I took that photo four years ago!

Photo: April 2012