Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in vintage (519)

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

Thursday
May092019

Delicious Apricot

You will not be surprised to read that the colour apricot, like orange, takes its name from the fruit. The word first used in English to describe the fruit was abrecock, from Middle French, but it was not used to describe the colour until 1851.

Orange, on the other hand has been around for a little longer, first coming into use three centuries earlier. But before the descriptor ‘orange’, such shades were described by English speakers as giolureade – ‘yellow-red’*.

Apricots and agate‘Apricot Candy’ rose, and paint swatchesFour different swatches for the colour apricot found in Google Images

Imagine then having to describe pale yellow-red! It’s no surprise that so many colours are simply named after an object – the only problem is that such things can vary in tone. Apricot is no exception – the fruit is variegated, and there are many variations of swatches available, but the shade is generally accepted to be much paler than the actual fruit. It is more yellow in tone than its sister shade, peach.

Apricot is a colour that I have never liked. In fact, the original concept of this story was ‘colours I hate’! For me, as I imagine for many others, it has always had connotations with bland, sickly 1980s interior décor (see below). Hideous – like a nightmare you couldn't wake from.

80s apricot interior design But a funny thing happened one day when I was browsing in a vintage bazaar with a friend. We conceived the humorous plan to each find the ugliest dress we possibly could, and try it on for a laugh. The chiffon apricot 70s dress is what I pulled out of the racks.

Unexpectedly however, once I had put it on, preened in front of the mirror and done a few twirls, it began to grow on me. Even my friend protested that I had chosen a dress that was not nearly as ugly as the one she had picked out (see below). 

My friend Sapphire and I try on some 80s dresses in a vintage bazaar in Geelong

The dress – the label declared it was by Elegance, which I have never seen before – was inexpensive, so whimsically I decided to buy it. I have even actually worn it out to an Opening Night at the theatre, with my pink Victorian cloak.

If you have light skin, there is a risk of looking naked wearing apricot and other such shades (who can forget Carrie and her ’naked dress’ in that episode of Sex and the City?), but there is no danger of that in this dress with its billowing sleeves and skirt. The dress has belt loops which are sadly bereft – I imagine it once had an extravagant sash. 

These sweet and pale tones were favoured in the 1920s to the 1940s for women’s lingerie – in such use, made from georgette, chiffon and satin and trimmed in pretty lace, were apricot and peach at the height of their powers. Delicious!

The colour has been seen in fashion since of course, especially in the 80s, when pastels, and brasher shades of coral and watermelon were the rage. It’s akin to Pantone’s 2019 Colour of the Year, Living Coral, and is already popular in interior design, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a renaissance of full-blown apricot-hued revival soon. I bet you can’t wait!

1930s lingerie1970s jumpsuits, Brooke Shields in the 80s

*From The Secret Lives of Colour, by Kassia St Clair, John Murray 2016)

Images found on Pinterest
Photos: March 2017

Monday
Apr292019

Bags for Every Day

In modern life, a small handbag is not very practical for day-to-day activities. It is a sure indicator of a leisure occasion, when only the essentials required: perhaps a lipstick, a purse (or loose money or card at least), tissues, a phone.

When I am at work I always like to go out at lunchtime to run errands, or shop, or merely for some air. I don’t like to lug my large work tote with me, so I always bring a small handbag everyday as well. I make an effort to change them daily to match my outfit.

It’s a challenge sometimes, simply because I am always in a hurry dressing in the mornings. I tend to rely on a small selection of practical bags that are easily accessible because they are in regular rotation.

Here is a small selection of vintage and antique handbags that belong in my collection. All of these are woven from a different material, and they were all found in thrift stores. These are bags that are more special, and less practical for day-to-day use, and they are all indicative of an age when women perhaps did not work, and did not feel compelled to lug around her entire life with her every day. Incidentally, nearly all of these would fit that crucial modern-day item, the phone!

The little hat-shaped bag of straw and velvet trim is a particular favourite. When I bought it, one of the staff in the store, a Frenchwoman, told me the bag was antique, and was a specialty from a particular town in France (stupidly I neglected to ask her for details). I’m not sure of its age, but the looped handle suggests 1930s or earlier. The straw is quite soft to touch, and more intricately woven than one generally sees today.

The other rather singular bag is crocheted from silk, and is likely Edwardian. It’s very finely crocheted, delicate, and in pristine condition, and as with the straw hat, I am scared to use it for fear of ruining its shape! Its style is reminiscent of a reticule, a kind of pouch bag that was carried by women during the Regency period (1795–1820), many of which were home-made. 

And though the 70s jute bag is nowhere near as old, it too is fragile. I did carry this a lot as a summer lunchtime bag, and all that carting about has made some of the strings fray – it is in retirement now.

More sturdy are the mid-century structured bags, one of smoke-grey beads, and the other of raffia in robin’s egg blue (one of my favourite colours).

When I bought it, it was filthy and horrid to touch, but that is another shade of blue I love so I was sold. 

The periwinkle blue nylon crocheted bag is practically indestructible, however. When I bought it, it was filthy and horrid to touch, but that is another shade of blue I love so I was sold. A good soak worked wonders. I also changed the original translucent white plastic handles to vintage bamboo handles – after I found another unworthy handbag in a thrift store and butchered it!

Recently I realised I was very boringly carrying the same red handbag nearly every workday, so I have recently been making much more effort to dip into my large handbag collection daily. It’s madness to collect them and never use them, after all, and it makes dressing much more fun.

Photos: March 2018

Sunday
Apr282019

That Gown!

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1939Ah, the 1930s – my most favourite fashion era! It was just so elegant and sophisticated. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate clothes from other eras of course. Last week I stumbled upon – via Pinterest – the Tumblr blog OMG that dress! and spotted some lovely gowns from many eras. Here are a few I swooned over. The striped Schiaparelli is my favourite – I can never go past stripes!

Madeleine Vionnet, 1938-9Jeanne Lanvin, 1937

Tuesday
Apr232019

The History of the Easter Bonnet

1940sIn Australia there is no tradition of wearing Easter Bonnets, except for young school children making their own hats in the classroom and parading them for the benefit of their local community.

As you could imagine, these chapeaux were generally a horribly kitsch conglomeration of brightly coloured eggs, bunnies, and chicks that are rendered charming only by the knowledge that someone’s cute offspring had earnestly and excitedly stapled it together.

So I was most amused to discover that adults were equally adept at assembling hideous Easter bonnets – albeit with more skill and imagination – to parade at Eastertime in America.

1940sMorecambe UK, 1959

The famous Easter Parades had their origin in the 1870s, when people would stream out of churches following the Easter Sunday service, dressed, of course, in their very best. Naturally a magnificent hat topped their ensembles. The very first parade along Fifth Avenue seems to have been an impromptu event, as the upper echelons of New York society poured out of St Patricks Cathedral and strolled up the street. With each successive year, the Parade became more popular and drew hundreds and thousands of spectators.

Easter Parade New York, 1922Easter Parade New York, 1922Prince George and Jane Erdmann, Easter Parade New York, 1933Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, 1948Early on, people simply showed off their most stylish and newest spring garments, but as the parade grew in popularity, grandiose themed pastiches began to appear – similar to the kind of hideous hats sensation-hunting women sport at various racing carnivals around the world.

1920sOn the other hand, Easter was an opportunity for more aesthetically-pleasing fun: Easter bunny hats or complete outfits. Personally I would prefer to don a pair of rabbit ears than crates of eggs precariously balanced on my head!

For a more detailed history of the Easter Bonnet, visit The Eternal Hedonist; and visit Today for a slideshow of more vintage images of the Easters of Yesteryear.

1920s (my favourite)1940sActress Ruth Roman, 1940sA modern bunny ears rendition

(Imgages from The Eternal Hedonist, Today, Daily Mail UK and Pinterest)