Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Saturday
Jul062019

The Luxury Hat

Felt is an ancient fabric, and perhaps the first made by man: it is made rather easily as it is not woven and does not require a loom. According to legend, in the Middle Ages a wandering monk named St Clement – destined to become the fourth bishop of Rome – happened upon the process of felt-making quite by accident. It is said that to make his shoes more comfortable, he stuffed them with tow (short flax or linen fibres). Walking in them on damp ground, he discovered that his own weight and sweaty feet had matted the tow fibres together into a kind of cloth. After being made bishop (with the power to indulge his whimsy), he set up a workshop to develop felting production … and thus he became the patron saint for hatmakers, who of course use felt to this day.

Parisian costume, 1826Men and women’s beaver top hats, Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashion, 1876Today most felt is made of wool, but in the past, animal fur was used to make a high-quality felt. Animal fur has tiny, microscopic spines which lock together much like Velcro when heat and moisture are applied. Beaver was the superior fur because its spines were prominent and helped produce a high-quality felt; hats made from it date back to at least the sixteenth century, and they were a staggeringly expensive luxury item. Naturally, to reduce the cost of fur felt, other furs were used such as rabbit or hare, camel, and angora (mohair).

Men wearing beaver hats, 1886But it was another type of hat altogether that toppled the beaver from its luxury perch at last: the silk top hat. First invented in 1797 and scandalising the general public with its fearsome appearance, by the mid nineteenth century, the silk top hat cost half the price of beaver, and overtook it in popularity owing to changes in lifestyle which meant the hardy fur felt hats were not needed.

50s hat of angora fur felt; authorised reproduction of a Claude Saint-Cyr designI was initially attracted to this red 1950s pixie hat because of its dramatic shape, and the pearls (which I love) sewn all over it. It is made with Melusine, a felt made from rabbit fur. Melusine has long, fine fibres that are brushed to create a silky long-haired finish. In the past I had presumed ‘fur felt’ was a misnomer, and that such fabric was actually made from wool to look like fur. I was a bit sad when I realised this hat was real rabbit fur; however, at least it is vintage and recycled.

An amazing pink fur felt reproduction Regency hat, by Jane Walton, 2019I have a few other vintage hats also made from melusine, all from the 50s and 60s. While wool felt is certainly more common these days, you can still buy new fur felt hats (some sources nebulously state the fur is a ‘by-product’) – even top hats made from beaver that are worn by top cats at Ascot – and they are still quite expensive.

Photo: June 2019

Tuesday
Jul022019

Break the Rools with a Bajillion Jools!

You may have heard of that old adage – attributed to Coco Chanel – ‘take one thing off before you leave the house’ … today I am going to declare war on discretion! I pooh-pooh Parisian chic! I flout thee, minimalism! LOAD EM UP! More is more is more – the more the merrier, I say! Why wear one WHEN YOU CAN WEAR THEM ALL?

I own a lot of costume jewellery – mostly bought on holiday as souvenirs or in thrift stores – and for a long time I have been hesitant about wearing a single strand of beads because it just feels too 90s to me. A much more fun way to wear them I have found is to wear lots and really make them a feature of an outfit rather than a discreet accent.

But there is a secret to wearing a bajillion jools without looking like a Christmas tree, and it is this: pick one hue or theme and stick firmly with it. In these three examples of excess, I have done just that.

The first outfit included a holey wool top, and I decided to embrace the circle theme and wear a jumble of wooden necklaces of similar tones and shapes. In the second example I am wearing three brooches at once, all white, and all birds – note the silver earrings are feathers! And in the last, I am wearing three different green wooden necklaces on a fairly plain cool grey wool dress.

Be mindful to not go OTT with your other accessories to keep focus on just one area. Or you can say hell with that and go all out everywhere! Just be prepared to be goggled at.

Photos: August 2018/October 2018/May 2019

Wednesday
Jun262019

Reach for the Stars!

Here is a re-cap of my starry sequinned 1920s wool felt cap, teamed this time with the blue starry knit I bought more recently, and the same mother-of-pearl star earrings. The star shape or polygon is a not only a great graphic, but holds significance in many instances of art and culture, and regardless of how many arms the star has, impressions of astronomical stars provide the term.

I was amused to learn that in heraldry a mullet is a straight-sided five-pointed star – it seems to bear no relation to the favourite men’s hairstyle of the 1980s. Nor the fish. (The dictionary does not even include the hairstyle so I can’t ascertain its etymology.) Sometimes the mullet it is referred to as a ‘golden five-pointed star’ … On the other hand, a star with wavy rays is called an estoile, which is a much prettier word. More regally however, the mullet is an ensign of knightly rank, and the symbol is incorporated in some way by every order of knighthood, which raises it above its other more unpleasant associations.

Above all though, the star – especially employed en masse – conjures up the heavenly sphere, bejewelled and twinkling; Cecil Beaton’s celestial visions in the 1920s; and delightful paper moon photographic backdrops. Irresistible!

Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star for the Galaxy Ball, by Cecil Beaton, 1929Unknown sitter, by Cecil Beaton, 1920sPaper moon in the Victorian eraPaper moon in the 1920sPhoto: June 2019
Other images found on Pinterest

Monday
Jun172019

Walking Papers

When I was in my late teens I started to wear broad-brimmed hats in summer for protection from the sun simply because I loathed the stickiness of sunscreen and decided I would only put up with it at the beach. From sun hats to parasols was a small step, and I began to collect parasols – because if a hat gave you some protection from the sun, how much more a parasol? (And from summer hats to their winter counterparts was a small leap, and thus a lifetime love affair with hats was born.)

The first proper parasols I found were Chinese and Japanese oiled and plain paper parasols in thrift stores. They were not something I found often, but when I did they were usually inexpensive: under $10, some even under $5. The most recent acquisitions are the two that I am carrying in these pictures. I was thrilled with the flower-shaped one (possibly a Japanese one, with its cherry blossom painting), and the small one I deemed was very convenient to carry in my tote. And since I took this photo, I have found yet another – a green paper parasol.

I did see one oiled paper umbrella once which was priced around $20, but since it wasn’t significantly different to the ones I owned already, I passed on it. A quick look on Etsy ascertains that $20 is a very low price; there are many for $80 or more.*

I always assumed that the coated paper parasols were lacquered, but in fact they are oiled to make them waterproof. As the oiled paper ages it becomes rigid, and easier to break, but with sufficient care one should last for 20 years. I suspect mine are past their use-by date and won’t test them out in the rain, although I’d love to!

Japanese family group, 1920s. (Image found on Pinterest; no original source linked.) Kyoto 1955, by Kansuke YamamotoAccording to Wikipedia, the oiled paper umbrella originated in China, and spread to Korea and Japan during the Tang dynasty (7th–10th centuries). Early umbrella materials were mostly feathers or silks and only later were they covered in paper; it’s unknown when the oiled paper umbrellas were invented. You can read an interesting history about the Japanese wagasa (umbrella) and how they are painstakingly created by hand here. It’s not surprising to learn that the craft has dwindled after WWII, when synthetic umbrellas made their way to Japan. Today production of handmade wagasa is very limited.

If I ever go to China again, or to Japan, a new one will definitely be on my list of desirable souvenirs. I wonder if anyone makes feather ones? What a fashion statement that would be – something else to add to my list of Holy Fashion Grails!

Parasols on the beach, 1920s; click through to the link and scroll to the very bottom of the page to read more about beach parasols in this era.A lovely modern image of a woman with an umbrella in the snow

Fashion Notes

I am wearing a classic Chinese-style silk blouse with mandarin collar and frog fastenings by Sarah-Jane, which I found in a thrift store in country Victoria; the pants are modern, by a French label bought online. My bangles, ring and earrings are cloisonné, also found in thrift stores; the technique of cloisonné had spread to China by the 13–14th centuries where it became hugely popular; to the present day it is one of the world’s best known enamel cloisonné. The fabric necklace of insects and flowers was a souvenir from Hang Nga Guesthouse, popularly known as “Crazy House” for its architecture in Da Lat, Vietnam, and likewise, the beaded and embroidered slippers are a Vietnamese souvenir, bought in the main market in Saigon.

*All prices in Australian dollars

Photos: March 2018

Sunday
Jun162019

Keep Those Peepers Peeled!

Who has Holy Fashion Grails? They are those rare, hard-to-find items – perhaps vintage, perhaps not – that you would give your eyeteeth to lay your hands on. I have a ton of them always lurking in the back of my mind, and they come to the forefront when I am thrift shopping, or trawling online marketplaces. I keep a shopping list for items on my phone to refer to when I am out and about – it can be easy to forget things in the heat of the moment when you come upon something else you didn’t know you desperately wanted!

A little while ago, on two separate occasions, I came across two things that had been on my wishlist for a while: yellow leather heels and a watermelon bag. They may seem strangely specific, but I am always on the lookout for anything yellow, so these patent leather heels by Aldo were an exciting find. I’d been looking on sale sites on and off for a while at shoes very similar to these, but couldn’t justify spending big on shoes when I already own so many. However, a pair of barely-worn shoes for under $10 were irresistible.

I first saw a gorgeous straw watermelon bag in a Melbourne boutique many years ago, but at around $100, I regretfully deemed it too much to spend on such a frivolity. Then last year I spotted one online, and that cost even more, even at the heavily discounted sale price. Then sometime later while shopping in a thrift store and waiting to pay for some other items, I spotted this hard-plastic version sitting behind the counter, waiting to be priced. While it wasn’t the covetable straw, I enquired, and a staff member returned to tell me it was only $9. It pays to keep your eyes peeled! I know plastic does not seem very desirable, but after all, Bakelite is a plastic, and vintage examples are extremely collectable now.

Other things I’m always on the lookout for are any 1930s items, a vintage pink-and-white striped dress, a 30s or 40s Hungarian embroidered blouse in white and red, a new old chenille bedspread, and hats of course.

It’s even more of a bonus when one finds great things in the thrift store: both virtuous recycling and a bargain! So always keep an eye out, you never know what you’ll stumble across when you least expect it.

Photos: July 2018