Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Chocolate Box

You would not guess it from the image above, but I am not a chocaholic. That is why you can glimpse two additional, half-eaten blocks of chocolate nestling amongst the fabric. They get lost in my pantry. Recently I even found a block of chocolate on a very high bookshelf that I believe I hid from a boyfriend sometime in the last two years. It was a strange colour and didn’t taste very nice.

There is no risk of losing this skirt in my wardrobe, however. I call it my chocolate box skirt.
I clearly remember the moment I saw it. I was looking for something special to wear to a friend’s wedding when I was walking down Chapel St with another friend, and spied it through an op-shop window. “That’s it!” I squealed. “Quick!” I made my friend take her life into her hands and run through the traffic lest someone else snap it up.

It is Indian-made from lovely fabric, like crinkled gold foil. The three tiers of ruffles flounce out and remind me of a flapper’s evening gown. It belonged with a very ugly, quilted vest that I was forced to purchase owing to the manager’s shortsightedness. “But no-one in their right mind would ever wear them together,” I argued in vain. “You’ll get more if you sell them as separates.” No dice. I paid my $25 and immediately donated the sleeveless vest back. It is still there for all I know.

On its first outing I wore the skirt with this – aptly – chocolate-coloured top from Monsoon and turquoise snakeskin pumps. I have also worn it to an eighties-themed party (it is a rah-rah skirt, after all) and an Arabian Nights dinner party. And I have no doubt I will wear it again on the next suitable occasion.

I was quite chuffed when a year or two ago I saw Burberry did a very similar skirt – at ten times the price! Mine is worth its weight in gold.

I'm seeing spots!

This photo has always fascinated me. A bed in the field! Children romping in shortie dresses — that may be my second oldest sister on the far left. I love the plethora of patterns: stripes and florals, spots and plaids. I love the baby (my cousin) in her little white bonnet. There seems such a story to be told in this candid moment, but there is nothing even written on the back. I am sure I must have asked my mum why there was a bed in the field but I can’t recall what she answered.

That is my aunt in the wild print dress which dates the photo to some time in the fifties, although her hair looks distinctly thirties style with the marcel waves. My mum is wearing the polka-dot scarf and numerous layers (the topmost of which is spotted too). Seems safe to say she was not the fashionably-minded one in the bevy of sisters!

However, she continues to be enamoured of spots, as you will see in the photo below. This is 1967, making my sister in her spotted dress nearly four years old. I bet that dress my mum is wearing is made of polyester, and I like to imagine the print is purple, as that is her favourite colour. Note the sensible loafers both women are wearing.

I know hardly anyone prints their photos anymore, but I adore the deckle edge of these, and the slipshod, off-centre printing; the spots and scratches. They need to bring the deckles back and then they might see a resurgance of photo printing the world over. Everyone loves a bit of instant nostalgia.


Point me to the boulevard, s'il vous plaît

I call this my hybrid Belle Époque–vaguely forties–with a touch of Helmut Newton’s sixties–new look. I have never worn this outfit on the street before, but there is a strong possibility I will one day: in my fantasy I am strolling down some seaside boulevard under a blazing summer sun. The light sparkles on the waves of the ocean, a breeze ruffles across my arms…

It all began with the serendipitous discovery of the peplum-style top.

As delightfully frivolous as it is, this top is by no means perfect. It is, for starters, a size too small. This unfortunate defect necessitates much undignified gyrating and jumping up and down just to do up the zip.

Each time I put it on and wrestle for grim death with the zip, I mutter through gritted teeth: “I’ve done it up before; I can do it up again!”

When finally I tug it all into place I understand the difficulties women had breathing when wearing corsets. Notwithstanding the constrictions of my ribcage, the plunging neckline gapes somewhat as I lack the physical endowment to fill it out.

On the pro side of the list: it is adorable! I like the colours, the geometric pattern and most of all the peplum-like balloon shape. Its exaggerated proportions demanded a contrasting lower half. I remembered the very long and narrow, navy linen Donna Karan skirt I had put aside, unworn.

I had not yet tried the outfit on, but it put me in mind of something a Belle Époque beauty might have worn whilst taking a turn on the promenade in gentlemanly company. That evocative picture plainly required the presence of a hat to complete it. And I had just the one: an enormous red saucer by Mimco. Uncrushable, it can be moulded into any shape.

It still left an expanse of bare flesh that demanded decoration; so on went half a dozen bangles that I never ordinarily wear (they hamper me), and a necklace handmade by myself from golf-ball-sized translucent beads. Green platform heels by Mollini were the last accessory to complete the ensemble.

Below are the vintage originals that evoke the spirit of my strange hybrid.

Both fashion plates possess different but similarly exaggerated proportions. At the turn of the 20th century, long narrow skirts became fashionable, called the ‘hobble-skirt’ – because women did, of course. It wasn’t enough to restrict their breathing!

The wasp waist and enormous skirt of the forties’ New Look translates into my tight empire-line waist and billows of fabric. Mini peplums (above left) and narrow skirts were also popular. These two looks below are from the fifties.

Quite different to mine, this hat (left) is also large enough to hide the face and retain a sense of mystery – and of course shelter one from the blistering rays of the Australian sun.

The look of now, on the beaches; a back bared beautifully to the waistline, and the stunning counterpoint of a hat as wide and sheltering as a beach umbrella. This one, in mango pink straw, is anchored against lifting sea breezes with a wimple of nylon marquisette. Weedmans, Brisbane and Surfers Paradise, 84s.

Main photo: original photograph of backdrop by Robin Lowe.
Illustration credits:
(Top left) Fashion plate, 1912-13, Dresa, from A History of Costume in the West by François Boucher; Thames & Hudson, 1966. (Top right) Pochoir fashion illustration Dieu! qu'il fait froid by Georges Lepape of a fur-edged coat by Paul Poiret, for La Gazette du bon ton, 1913, from The Fine Art of Fashion by Julian Robinson; Bay Books. (Middle left) ph: Henry Clarke, 1953; (middle right) ph: Henry Clarke, 1951; (bottom left) ph: Irving Penn, 1959; (bottom right) ph: Henry Clarke, 1956; all from In Vogue, by Georgina Howell; Condé Nast Books, 1991. (Left) Australian Vogue,  Summer 1960; ph: Helmut Newton.


What I Actually Wore #0004

Serial #: 0004
Date: 01/10/2008
Weather: Fine and mostly sunny, 24°
Time Allowed: 5 mins

All day everyone was exclaiming how they liked my 1950s look. It began with the skirt, an easy pencil style with asymmetrical stitching in rust brown on a beige background. It was the bright spring weather that dictated once more I must wear some colour, and this sky-blue top seemed particularly appropriate. It’s also a nice combination with beige.

The geometric-print, silk scarf seemed far more interesting than a necklace, and the faux pearl earrings, also vintage, look like a bunch of grapes. I bought those at the Salvos for $4 and have loved them since the instant I saw them. A classic pump style, the shoes are made interesting by their strange colour: a purplish-brown that is really only obvious outdoors. Another vintage accessory: the purple 70s sunglasses with gold arms were bought on eBay.

This outfit is patently all about the accessories, so here’s a close-up below:

Now, back to the scarf. I know these pretty young things today like to be practically strangled by their enormous scarves. The former are simply and loosely wrapped around the neck, but if you are going to wear a thin silk scarf, you need to know how to tie it properly. I wore mine in a basic square knot, but there are dozens of other styles if you want to experiment.

Just don’t get strangled like Isadora Duncan


Top: Portmans
Skirt: Veronika Maine
Shoes: Zoe Wittner
Scarf: vintage
Hair clip: Paris Mode
Earrings: vintage
Watch: Kenneth Cole
Ring: NGV Gallery Shop


Like sheep, they have all gone astray

Whatever happened to FOLLOW me magazine? I’m not talking about its most recent reincarnation in 2005 – a failed renaissance, and a short-lived one at that; I refer to the original magazine of the eighties. I was only a teen when I read it, and I didn’t have access to many international magazines (there was no Borders), but compared with what I could get my hands on then – Dolly, Cleo, Cosmo, Vogue – it was so much more original.

The editor of the relaunched title, Mark Vassallo said, "Back in the eighties we blew people’s minds with our forward-thinking and radical designs."1 This was so true. When the latest issue hit the newsstands, I was so excited I would snatch it up and immediately buy it without even bothering to flick through the pages first.

Even today’s so-called alternative Australian magazines have a ubiquitous look about them.

As for the mainstream fashion magazines (yes, I’m talking about you, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar) why would I buy them when I’ve already read the articles printed therein on the pages of the international editions months ago?

Take a look at these spreads below, photographed by Martyn Thompson (now an internationally renowned lifestyle photographer) and styled by Jayson Brunsden (now a fashion designer). It’s not just their work that is admirable, but the art director and the copy writer have turned what could have been a pedestrian fashion editorial into something witty. They weren’t just interested in showing the clothes in every detail, but in the colours and shapes they make on the page. 

This was a magazine that was designed – not just laid out – in the manner of Alexey Brodovitch and Carmel Snow of Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s–1950s.

I’ve typed out the captions for your enjoyment…

Taking a cue from the couture of the Fifties, fashion wraps up, Balenciaga-style. So slip on the gloves, a real hat, a flash of technicolour, and darling, do lunch!

(Left) Totally coutured with the perfect accessory, the mini Kelly bag by Hermès. Bright red overcoat from Mondi, over Wendy Heather rust-coloured pullover; the hair wrapped and parcelled in Hermès ribbons. (Right) Lunch on pearls and cashmere in classic black by Trent Nathan. Strands of pearls from The Vintage Clothing Shop.

(Left) The chic suit by Robert Burton. Hair wrapped up in Hermès silk scarf. (Right) Perfectly topped in huge saucer-brimmed hat by Annabel. Rust suit by Ian McMaugh, over cropped black sweater by Wendy Heather. Earrings by Hermès.

(Left) Two ladies to lunch. Woollen wrap from David Jones, over Carla Zampatti suit and, in the foreground, suit by Charles Jourdan, silk scarf by Jendi. (Right) Flashes of Fifties technicolour in Covers bright mustard-yellow wide-collared jacket, bodysuit and brown skirt.

(Left) So chic, the shoe by Charles Jourdan. Rust-coloured pullover by Wendy Heather, the polo-neck strung with a tumble of jet beads from The Vintage Clothing Shop. (Right) Curved and carved in a wasp-waisted suit by The House of Merivale.

FOLLOW me, Feb/Mar 1988, Photographs by Martyn Thompson. Cover FOLLOW me #35, July 1988. Photographer unknown.

1 You can read B&T magazine’s full article here if you wish.