Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Shanghai Silk

I am a total sucker for anything embroidered. It draws my hand irresistibly like a magpie to shiny things. (I also love shiny things.) This vintage 1960s, exquisitely decorated silk blouse, one of two I own, was embroidered by hand in Shanghai.

The real heyday for such embroidered garments were the 1950s and 60s, when the label ‘Made in China’ did not have the connotations it does today. The labels on both my blouses are written in English as well as Chinese, indicating that they were made for the tourist market. Perhaps they were unwanted souvenirs, for neither look worn.

Embroidery and most other needlework arts are believed to have originated in the Orient and Middle East. Paintings and pictures on sculpture illustrating embroidery with silk thread, precious stones and pearls indicate that Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 BC – no wonder this example is so fine: they’ve been practising a long time! Elaborate embroidery on garments, household goods and religious artefacts has been a mark of wealth and status in many cultures since.

Just look at this detail!While the Industrial Revolution brought machines that replaced hands, and made embroidery more accessible for the masses, freehand embroidery has never died out, and its fineness cannot be contested when it is laid side-by-side with a cheap, mass-produced item. One can only marvel at the skill and patience needed for such fine needlework.

I am lucky enough to own a short-sleeved silk blouse embroidered in a similar style, as well as two other plainer Chinese silk blouses. All of them were found in the same Salvos store on separate occasions. I always wonder: Who gets rid of these beautiful things?

Vintage lovers will also be familiar with the beaded and sequined knits of the same era, and detailed beaded evening bags, most of which declare Hong Kong as the origin – look out for more on these in coming days.


I am also wearing a modern silk skirt by Carolyn Taylor, and belt by Alannah Hill.

Photos: March 2018


Venus x Abigail

There is such a joy in op-shopping when one stumbles upon a rare and fabulous find such as this 1970s Regency-inspired maxi dress with shirred bodice in tomato red with slit bell sleeves featuring prints of a hybrid Botticelli Venus-Flora figure. (No fashion journalist could ever have dreamed of penning such a sentence!)

I actually must credit a Vinnies staff member for bringing this priceless treasure to my attention, for in my excitement at finding another 70s dress (hand crocheted turquoise) I had unbelievably missed spotting this on the same rack! The lady declared it a quintessential 70s dress, and reminisced how she herself had worn such garments when she was young to her high school prom.

Someone whose chest was too ample to close the zip had actually altered the dress. The back had been opened up and sewn flat, and two sets of ties had been added to the back. I think the fabric for them had been cut off the hem of the dress, as the hem is not very well hand-stitched. When I got it home I unpicked all the stitching, hoping that it would fit me, and fortunately it does.

Of course the caped sleeves are mind-blowingly awesome, and I also love the little peaked shoulders, but the pièce de résistance is the printed lady. I immediately recognised her as Sandro Botticelli’s Flora, the goddess of flowers and the season of spring depicted in the painting Primavera (painted in the late 1470s or early 1480s) – she’s the one casting flowers about out of the folds of her robe. But what is even funnier, I realised later, is that the head is that of Venus, flipped around, from another of Botticelli’s paintings, The Birth of Venus (1485)! (Was this the designer’s answer to avoiding copyright infringement?)

Primavera, Sandro Botticelli (late 1470s or early 1480s)The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli (1485)The label is Clementine, and states ‘dry clean only’, at which I scoffed as I laid it into a laundry tub of water to hand wash. It is probably a poly crepe, or at best, part rayon as well.

The dress really comes to life in movement. I am planning to wear it to the opening night of Abigail’s Party, a 70s period next on stage at the theatre I work at. It is exactly like something the titular character might wear herself. I shall have to make sure to swish and swan about just like her.

A scene from Abigail's Party (1977), Mike Leigh's film of his own original stage play (Abigail is wearing the red dress)

Photos: Yesterday (March 2018)


Same, Same, But Shorter

I had my hair cut again last Wednesday. I decided I needed the chop a day or two previous, rang my salon, Lady Marmalade, and fortuitously my stylist had a cancellation the next day. Hurrah!

I knew I needed it cut off SHORT, but not quite as short as the pixie last year. I wanted a super-short fringe and for a while looked up pictures of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (I’ve always been partial to her do in that film). But it turned out it was not quite as short as I imagined, not even shorter than it currently was.

One of the pictures my stylist Alex used as reference for my haircutThen I remembered a fashion editorial from a few years ago that I knew I had put in one of my tearsheet scrapbooks – but where was it? I knew the photos were taken by Ellen von Unworth … I scrambled for half an hour or more and finally found the pages.

Another of the pictures – the back is exactly like this, pretty muchOf course shortly after I arrived for my appointment, my stylist, Alex, asked me if I had brought pictures. “Of course I have!” I told him. “I know how you love pictures.” He approved them, and after a consultation, started chopping away.

And voilà! Just like the pictures, only shorter! (You can’t see the back yet, but you will – I did lots of certified fresh photoshoots today.)

Photo: Last Wednesday


Words of Wisdom

On this International Women’s Day, I give you a homage to a woman who hardly needs an introduction: Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993). As famous for her grace and beauty of spirit as her chic appearance, Hepburn was a model, an actress and a humanitarian, working with UNICEF in her later life.

Here are some of her words of wisdom, always and forever relevant:

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!

Paris is always a good idea.

Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina (1954)About a year ago I cut my hair super-short for the first time since my early twenties (quite a while ago!), in a pixie-cut. And although I don’t think I took any reference pictures of Audrey to my hair stylist, I was later reminded of her pixie cut during the filming of Sabrina in 1954. So here I am, emulating a publicity portrait of her with gloves.

I hope you have had time to celebrate the day with your best women friends, for in Audrey’s words: ‘The best thing to hold onto in life is each other’.

Photo: March 2017


Life is a Bowl of Cherries

We are enjoying another string of summery days this week – so much for autumn – and what more summery way to celebrate that than to wear a sparkling cherry necklace?

I had to go to market today to buy not cherries, but coffee beans, and I wore this necklace along with some other cheerful red accessories and a checked navy and light blue 70s cotton sundress. The enamel and crystal necklace was an op shop (thrift store) purchase quite a while back, and it really is the cherry on top when it comes to accessories.

The lady serving at the coffee shop no sooner clapped eyes on me than she complimented my outfit, insisting I was the best-dressed person at the market today. “Are you going somewhere special, or do you always dress like that?” she asked me. I laughed, and answered, “I always dress like this.”

But even a trip to the market can be special, and why not? Life’s too short to dress dully: stop to smell the roses, and eat wear the cherries!