Thursday, 31 March 2011

Planning a Winter Wardrobe - Part 2

 Some more advice on planning a winter wardrobe, this time from the ever-knowledgeable Mrs. Betty Keep.

"How do I achieve a well-balanced wardrobe? Mine always has the appearance of being thrown together."

"This problem is one that appears frequently in my fashion mail-bag - and here is the answer.  In order to be successful in anything you have undertaken it is necessary to have a plan, and in fashion this rule is a golden one.  It is not how much you spend; it is how much you plan.  The girl or woman who has a wardrobe full of unrelated clothes and accessories will never look smart and well-turned-out no matter how much she spends on clothes. 

I consider a chic wardrobe is based on classic lines, with colour and accessories to individualise the wardrobe to the wearer's own style.  The intelligent girl puts her own style before high style.  A perfectly planned, balanced wardrobe has no room for passing fashion fads. 

The first step in planning is to know which classics will outlast changing fashions.  This is what I consider to be the backbone for a winter daytime wardrobe:
  • one un-belted camel-hair coat or a tweed one
  • one single-breasted three-button tailored suit
  • one long-sleeved and one short-sleeved shirtmaker blouse
  • a cashmere cardigan sweater
  • a coat dress
  • a wool skirt
  • one late-day dress
The second step in being well-dressed is to plan a wardrobe as a whole. This can be done by choosing a basic colour scheme.  For perfect colour planning, buy coats, dresses and suits before blouses, hats and other accessories. 

The best basic colours are black, navy, brown and beige, because they are the easiest to accent with other colours.  The correct shade to flatter your eyes and hair can multiply your attractions.  But don't forget that artificial light changes and will often fade out a colour. 

The third step in planning is to make a periodical inventory of your wardrobe and discard worn-out garments and re-plan any unrelated pieces.  Clothes that can be interchanged are true wardrobe builders. 

The fourth step is the careful choice of accessories, and when purchasing be sure all items are good mixers.  For a small wardrobe the classic accessory is best.  Particularly good is a classic shoe in fine leather.  The same rule applies when choosing a bag.  It should not be exaggerated in size, colour, or shape.  A beret in a becoming colour is a chic and economical hat. 

Gloves are important, and I can think of few occasions when a well-dressed woman is seen without them.  Have at least two short pairs in white; the washable kind - and keep them spick and span."

(from The Australian Women's Weekly, 8 July 1953)

(from The Australian Women's Weekly,  29 July 1953)

I have enjoyed reading Betty Keep's column, "Dress Sense", and was interested to find out that she joined the staff at The Australian Women's Weekly in 1947.  Apparently she had already "occupied a prominent position in journalism" for the previous ten years, presumably in something to do with fashion.  In 1947 she had three children, Tony, Margot and Dickie, aged 22, 16 and 12 respectively.

To quote from an AWW article from 1947:
"She says she herself has never owned a large wardrobe.  "My guiding principle," she says, "has always been to have a small, carefully considered collection of clothes.  Then I aim at perfection in accessories.  Hats are my real fashion hobby, and to buy one once a week is my fashion dream.  Actually, I buy two new ones
every season.  Modern living is too streamlined to have much of any one thing - least of all clothes."

I was fascinated to find that the State Library of NSW has a 2 hour interview with Betty Keep from 1992, and I'm looking into whether I can access a copy of it, or a transcript. 


Last Friday my cousin Alice (from WAMP Nation) opened her very own shop at 220 Gertrude St, Fitzroy!  It's called Edgeley, and it's like a lovely French salon inside, with peach walls and curly gold lights.

Finally I can show you the hats I have been working on for her collection!  They are called Lorax, after the Dr Seuss character, and have a ruffle of net around the bottom, and a pompom of maribou on a long stalk, very silly. 

For the opening, I made Alice an even bigger version, with a houndstooth stalk and an ostrich feather puff on the top.  I like the way it looks like it is growing out of her head!  The evening was a great success, and if you're in the neighbourhood, do drop in and see Alice's lovely collection. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Mystery Woman - The Wattle

The Wattle was a popular cafe on Little Collins Street, and this is where our Mystery Woman was spotted on a February afternoon in 1950, standing in the downstairs foyer. 

She wore a black moire faille (finely ribbed silk with a watered pattern) cocktail dress, with a full skirt and "angular pockets at the hipline."  The bodice, while described as plain and "featuring the new plunge neckline", looks like it had a shawl collar and cap sleeves.  The Mystery Woman wore a small hat of black grosgrain, perched on the back of the head, with a rolled brim and a bunch of grosgrain at the side.

Her accessories were a rope of pearls (knotted at the neck by the look of the picture),  black suede gloves, and a black suede handbag with a gold clasp, and her black suede shoes were commented upon favourably as being "the low-cut classic court style which is proving so popular with dressy frocks at the present time."

 The Mystery Woman turned out to be Lois Borella of South Yarra.  I did a quick Google search, and turned up an inscription on a gravestone in the Mathoura Pioneer Cemetary for a Lois Borella Aslangul, who was born in 1928.  If this is her, it would have made her 22 at the time this sketch was made, which seems about right.  I wonder if this eye-catching young woman in her black silk dress is the same woman who died in the small town of Mathoura in NSW, aged 71, the "loving mother of Rex and Andrea"? 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Women of the Qashqai

Qashqai women weaving (from Persian Carpet Guide)

I am fascinated by ethnic costumes, and one of my favourite is that of the nomadic Qashqai (pronounced Kash-ky) people of Iran. I first came across these enchanting outfits when I watched the 1996 Iranian film Gabbeh. Taking its name from a type of Persian carpet, the film begins with an elderly nomadic couple washing their carpet in a stream, and goes on to tell the story of a young nomadic woman who's courtship by a stranger to the tribe is depicted in the carpet's design.

It is a beautiful film, with an almost magic-realism feel to it, and the visuals are just stunning, with the most amazing vibrant colours.

The Qashqai mostly live in southwestern Iran, and speak a Turkic dialect. They were originally nomadic pastoralists, who move their herds twice a year across the Zagross mountain range, from the summer highland pastures to the lower winter pastures. This journey between their summer and winter camps takes two to three months, and usually 10 or 12 families travel together. Since the 1960s, most Qashqai have become at least partially settled.

Qashqai women weaving (from Carpets of Yunt)

The Qashqai spin the wool from their sheep, and dye it with natural dyes from plants and insects. The yarn is then woven into carpets, using looms which can be quickly assembled and disassembled on the road. Qashqai carpets are renowned for being some of the most beautiful in Iran.

A Qashaqai women photographed by Nasrollah Kasraian

The women's costume consists of a long tunic-like dress with splits up the side, worn over several gathered skirts with ruffled hems. A long, gauzy scarf, sometimes decorated with sequins, is draped over the head and held in place with another scarf tied around the head. Hair is worn long, parted in the centre, with two sections either side of the face, and the rest of the hair hanging down the back under the scarf.

Veil dance at a wedding, photo by Yiannis Kelesakos
For special occasions, such as this wedding, the women seem to favour very bright, rather synthetic fabrics. It looks like the shinier and more sparkly the better...
Photo by Nico in Scotland on Flickr
Look at those glorious colours together! I love the amazing gold embroidered tunic on the left.
Photo by Nico in Scotland on Flickr

Monday, 21 March 2011

Beauty Alphabet - Q

"Q" is for Questionnaire

Do you get full marks for this questionnaire?
  1. Now that the hot weather is here, are you especially careful about your personal freshness?
  2. Do you use a deoderant cream after your daily bath?  Do you freshen up your skin in hot weather with an all over rub of eau-de-cologne or toilet water?
  3. Do you slip on clean undies every day?  You never make that garment last another day "just this once"?  And you always rinse your nylons out at night?
  4. Do you give your feet the care they deserve?  Frequent foot baths in hot weather, and a rub down with eau-de-cologne?  Are you as careful of your toe nails as your finger-nails?
  5. Are you sure your breath does not offend?  Clean teeth and a daily mouth wash and gargle should be sufficient guarantee of sweet breath if your health is good.  For special occasions you can obtain breath sweetening tablets from your chemist.
Full marks mean that you leave nothing to chance, and on the matter of personal daintiness, you can never afford to take chances.

(from The Argus, 7 December 1950)

Friday, 18 March 2011

Melbourne Metal Collective

If you have a chance, do go and check out the Melbourne Metal Collective exhibition, which is on now at 25 Jane Bell Lane, QV Melbourne, until the Sunday 20th March.  It showcases the work of five young Melbourne jewellers, including my lovely friend Polly Van Der Glas.  Some of her work is shown above (my terrible photo), she does a lot of things with hair, both real and cast in silver, and also teeth. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Planning a Winter Wardrobe - Part 1

 It's that time of year again, and my mind has turned to that annual task of planning my winter wardrobe.  I've tried this in the past with mixed results, but I'm determined this year that I will succeed!  By the time the cold weather arrives, I want to have assembled a wardrobe of clothes that I actually enjoy wearing, that are practical yet stylish, reasonably comfortable, and that can be mixed and matched in order to provide enough variety for the next four months or so.  

In order to inspire myself, and perhaps you, dear reader, I've been trawling around trying to find vintage advice on wardrobe planning.  This brief article from 1948 has some good tips for starters: 

Winter Clothes: Hints on Planning a Wardrobe
by "Karara"

"Planning a winter wardrobe is no easy task for anyone and especially difficult when the choice of garment is restricted by a small budget.  The following suggestions may prove useful in helping to select a wardrobe that will serve its owner throughout the season.

Firstly, take stock carefully of all garments owned at present.  Sort them in orders of smartness, usefulness and colour.  If most of the will harmonise with one basic colour, such as brown or navy, it shows sensible buying in the past and provides a good start for the coming winter.  Accessories are often the most expensive items in a budget and also the most important ones.  After sorting out, discard garments for which there is no further use.  It is a good idea to make a bundle of them and give them to some deserving organisation.

Make a list of the articles you need.  If one of these is a good topcoat, which incidentally is a "must" in all wardrobes, choose one that will tone with most other colours.  A pale fawn coat will look well with nearly every shade, while a cinnamon shade may be allied with most greens, soft blues and browns.  If your accessories are to be navy this winter try to match shoes, bag and gloves as well.  Choose hosiery carefully too, since this is an important point towards achieving a well-groomed look.

Naturally, last season's suits and frocks will not have the "new look" but there is a possibility that they can be altered in various ways to obtain the new silhouette; hemlines can be lengthened, waists tightened, and shoulders rounded.  If they cannot be altered in any way do not worry.  Remember that the majority of women cannot afford to change their wardrobes overnight but must make-do with last year's clothes, whether they be outmoded or not.

When buying a new suit or winter dress choose deliberately and wisely instead of rushing the first one you see and like.  Make sure it fits and hangs well and have a good look at the quality of the material and the suit finishings.  Having made a selection, look around for matching accessories, remembering that they must match other garments too.  Have as many changes as possible in sweaters and blouses to wear with a suit.  This will supply a certain amount of variety in a person's dress.

Once a wardrobe is as complete as your budget allows, remember to look after it.  A would-be smart appearance is often marred by split seams, creased skirts, or food and drink stains.  Fairly frequent dry cleaning pays dividends with suits and coats, and so does careful washing of woollies and constant cleaning of shoes.  Clothes, like most things, demand time, energy and patience, if a good result is to be assured."

(from The Western Australian, 9 April 1948)

Thursday, 10 March 2011


There's a nip in the air here, now we've moved into March and the first days of Autumn. I thought it might be nice to have a look at some clothing for warmer weather, so I am presenting to you Fall Fashions from Life magazine 1947.

The afternoon dress with satin-dotted bodice (on the model sitting down) is my favourite, although I'm pretty sure that lovely bronze colour would look awful on me. It was by Jo Copeland, and cost $165 ($1580 in today's money)

This wool cape by Pauline Trigère uses 6.5 yards of fabric. Doesn't it look marvelously warm and elegant?

1947 was the year that Dior brought out his now-famous New Look, with the nipped-in waist, rounded shoulders and full skirts. However, this was not the only look that was fashionable that year, and Life titled their article "The Newest Styles Give Every Woman's Figure a Chance". The two main looks were The Pinched-Waist Look and The Wrap-Around Look, the latter "especially becoming to a stout figure".

Love the shoes on the far right!
Among some women the New Look was quite unpopular, and protests were even staged, such as the one illustrated above, in Dallas, Texas. It's difficult now to imagine how universal fashions were in those days. If skirts became fuller and longer, you just had to go along with the trend, even if it didn't suit you. To do otherwise would have looked terribly outmoded.
Even hem lengths had fashions. Here are some photos from Fifth Avenue, showing the new longer-length skirts which had just come into fashion. The new fashions were particularly popular among young women.

However, such a drastic change in silhouettes meant that in order to remain fashionable, many women would have to buy a whole new wardrobe, or at least alter their older clothes. Life predicted that "it may take two years of wearing out present wardrobes before the new look becomes familiar on America's many Main Streets".