Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Tuesday
Dec182018

In the Mood for Qipaos

I don’t remember what first inspired my admiration for the traditional Chinese cheongsam, or qipao – very likely a Chinese film – but I am sure it had a lot to do with the sumptuous silk embroidered fabric that many are made from. Many years ago I once owned a beautiful example made from oyster-hued silk, embroidered heavily in red, silver and gold. Unfortunately it was a little small for me, and I stupidly culled it from my wardrobe in a mad fit of minimalism in my late 20s, since I thought I would never wear it. Ever since then I have been looking for a new one.

Qipao of the Daoguang Period (1821–1850); Empress Xiaoshen, image from WikipediaThe history of the qipao is long and complicated, and (according to Wikipedia) its origins are controversial. Generally people believe that its origin is in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but some scholars argue that in fact the cheongsam was first worn two millennia prior, in a period between the Western Zhou dynasty (1046BC–771BC) and the pre-Qin era (221BC–207BC). Whatever is the truth, the qipao of the Qing dynasty could not be more different from the style common today. It was floor-length and loose, and cut in an A-line that revealed the figure not at all. Only the head, hand and the tips of the toes were visible.

Chinese singer and actress Zhou Xuan wearing a cheongsam in 1930s in Shanghai; C.H. Wong Photo Studio; Image from WikipediaIn China, women’s liberation had as much effect as it had in other parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century, and the Republican period (1912–1949) is known as the golden age of the cheongsam. It is from this era that the cheongsam as we know it took form. Along with the ending of traditional foot binding, women began to bob their hair, and took to wearing this formerly exclusively masculine attire: one-piece clothing called Changshan or changpao. Now, too, the style was influenced by western fashion – the body-skimming bias-cuts popularised by Hollywood stars – hugging the figure, with hemlines gradually rising and formerly merely practical splits running much higher.

While the Communist Revolution virtually ended the popularity of the cheongsam, Shanghainese emigrants and refugees took the fashion with them to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and kept the style alive there.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Wong Kar Wai’s beautiful and bitter-sweet film In the Mood for Love is based on the Shanghai diaspora from the Revolution, and is set in Hong Kong in 1962. Its heroine, played by Maggie Cheung, wears a gorgeous collection of cheongsams – I remember seeing the film in the cinema when it was released in 2000, and I found the costumes no less breathtaking than the cinematography.

I was very excited when I finally found my new cheongsam, on my Day of Yellow Bonanza, the miraculous Saturday a few months ago when I found several yellow items scattered in thrift stores across Melbourne, including a 1940s ballgown. The cheongsam is made from a luminous pale-yellow brocade of chrysanthemums, which is a popular flower in Chinese culture. It is one of four seasonal symbolic flowers representing autumn, and is also the flower of the ninth moon. The dress probably dates from the 60s, and the fabric is rayon. It actually needs to be tailored to fit me a bit better, which is why you see me with hands on waist to disguise the bagginess there. I am wearing it with a pair of patent yellow stilettos by Aldo, also found in a thrift store.

Read more about the history of the qipao here, and about Maggie Cheung’s wardrobe for the sublime film In the Mood for Love here – I am inspired to watch it again.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000

Photos: August 2018

Tuesday
Dec112018

Size Matters

Cherries are a delicious fruit, one of my favourites since childhood when I would go cherry-picking in the orchards of the Victorian hills with my family. Who didn’t, as a child (if not an adult as well!) dangle multiple cherries from their ears? The fruit is a popular motif in fashion as well – I have a few accessories featuring cherries, including two quite different necklaces, and these very playful fluffy cherries dangling from my keyring.

While they are certainly fun, and I adore pom-poms, I bought them primarily for their practicality. You may laugh, but because they are so enormous, they are easy to find in my capacious tote bag!

I did discover though, the first time I went to put my keys in an evening bag, that they suddenly are not quite so practical! It took me a while to work that out, as I often go out in the evening straight from work, when I have my tote bag with me and it is not an issue. What I need is a second set of housekeys on a tiny little keyring, which is a perfectly reasonable excuse buy another accessory, right?

Photo: November 2018

Monday
Dec102018

The Sweeter Side of Yellow

What’s in a name? I declare, a yellow by any other name is still distilled with sunshine. Some might argue that, more properly, this shade of acid yellow would be described as chartreuse, a shade of green with a yellowish tinge that takes its name from the aromatic French liqueur. Chartreuse is distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants and flowers, and varies in colour from green to yellow, with the latter variety being milder and sweeter. This hat is definitely on the sweeter side of chartreuse.

This was a hat I spotted on Etsy and drooled over for quite some time before I finally succumbed to temptation and bought it from the shop Mel’s Vanity. It is vintage 1940s, and is a kind of elongated boater, trimmed in sumptuous silk ribbon, with roses above and below the brims. Yes, brims plural. I love that it has four layers! I have never seen such an extravagant feature in any hat before.

There is also the remnants of a very beautiful taupe-coloured, patterned silk veil which is unfortunately very deteriorated. This is the main reason I have not yet worn the hat out – that, and the fact the hat arrived in the winter, which clearly meant it had to await warm weather. But I haven’t yet discovered any replacement netting of equal beauty, and I can’t bring myself to snip off the existing remnants. Maybe I will just wear it tucked up.

The hat has two small combs inside which are obviously meant to fix it to an up-do, and in the 40s it was probably worn atop a victory roll, and tilted forward. Unfortunately achieving that effect is impossible with my short hair. Regardless, it looks so pretty, and different from every angle, which you can see in the pictures below – I particularly love the bow under the brim at the back. Bring on the sunshine!

Click image for larger version

Photos: October 2018

Wednesday
Dec052018

Snowing for Christmas

Since we were speaking yesterday of gussying up shoes with clips, I thought I’d pull a pair from the archives where I did just that one Christmas. In 2009 I wore these red satin peeptoes festooned with vintage pearl clips to the family Christmas celebrations. Like silver stilettos, there are moments when even red satin heels need a little extra pizzazz. They look delightfully like snowballs, don’t you think?

Tuesday
Dec042018

When Silver Louboutins Are Not Enough

It is seldom indeed that one might declare, “Silver Louboutins are not enough on their own!” But it might be at the height of the silly season, n’est pas?

When this occasion arises once a year, may I propose a pair of vintage 60s silver crystal shoe clips to remedy this untoward situation? Shaped like snowballs, pom-poms or what-you-will, these articulated beaded clips will shake merrily all the way to the party.

I found mine in a thrift store, but there are plenty to be found on Etsy new and old to delight the festive spirit. Start decking out those party feet now!

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