Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You have to smile

Usually I come staggering out the gym in a lather of sweat and exhaustion, fit for little more than gentle questioning and a hot bath. On Saturday morning though it's different because the dog salon nearby is open and many of the clients are looking out the window.

It's an odd thing - I never see a cross dog in there. As you walk past a small group will run to the window, tails wagging, evident pride in their newly clipped nails and freshly washed coats. Invariably I am sans camera but not this week - and thank God, because I doubt I'll ever see as sweet a smile as this again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

No one was more happy to see him than I

Lovely things happened while I was in the Buddhist op shop on the weekend.

First, while I was idly inching my way through the frock rack, a man in his forties came in, looking for his sister who works in the shop.

"She's just gone up the road," the lady behind the counter advised. The man was with their mum, an elderly lady leaning on a walking stick, gracious and calm in a navy blue frock. Mum and brother agreed they'd go looking for the sister.

As the search party set out, I found a silk floral Laura Ashley frock.
Pretty fabric, silk and fully lined. Things looked hopeful but not for long. My potential new frock was cut on the bias and while it gave me an hourglass figure like I had previously thought I could only covet on other women, it was too long and a bit big around my narrow shoulders.

Meanwhile the sister came back. "Your brother and mum were looking for you!" the assistant told her. "They've gone up the street to find you!" The sister went rushing back up the street to find them.

And then I found the Von Troska.

I've explained before how much I love this Australian label - beautiful tailoring, great fabrics and designed with due reverence to working women, the Australian climate and the boho spirit. The dress, I hope my photo illustrates, wraps around, and is cream with black and two shades of brown forming a grid. It was a light but practical rayon-cotton mix.

I'd just tied the wrap, and was making a sulky face in the mirror at the poor fit, when mum and the brother came back, still looking for their sister. "She's just gone to find you!" the shop assistant told them. Mother and son wisely decided to wait; I sadly took off the dress that was cut for a much taller woman and decided to try my luck for the third time at the dress rack. Also, I wanted to hear the greetings when the little family finally managed to meet up.

I got very lucky indeed for there was a silk knit cardigan and a blue silk blouse that had just made it on the rack. While I tried on the blue blouse the sister came back and there was much excitement. So much in fact I was too busy enjoying their talk to remember to photograph the blue blouse (which was great and is now in my wardrobe).

While I was trying on the silk cardi, Uncle Peter turned up. The brother was overjoyed - there was much happy hugging and slapping of shoulders. It transpired they had not seen each other for nearly thirty years.

I liked my cardigan.
I believe I liked it better when I saw Uncle Peter and overheard him telling his nephew (in the smoothest and most perfect received English) that he had just scored a large Collins dictionary for nine dollars. Here he is in the background.

And yes, I bought the cardi. I thought it would be great with light tops and flowery dresses. It is already known as the Uncle Peter cardi. I also scored two books - the lyric poems of Keats and Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer.

I always have fine times and kind experiences in the Buddhist op shop. They get some great donations, are very reasonably priced and all the proceeds from the shop go to women and children's charities in India and South East Asia.

The brother and sister and mum and Uncle Peter comprised the nicest family. Their happiness followed me around Newtown, on the streets and over a very late breakfast, all Saturday.

There were baby sitting duties to attend to on Saturday evening. I hope in thirty years' time we will be as loved by our nephews as Uncle Peter is by his.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The weekend! Oh, and whiskers. Don't forget whiskers.

There are no mittens in my glove drawer and I haven't much time for string. Notwithstanding, these are few of my favourite things:

Brooches on wool coats

Pansies in the park

The old wood cooker in my kitchen


Carefully washed hairbrushes dried in the sun. (Every three weeks my friends, every three weeks.)

Grandmother coat hangers from op shops. Knitted (or otherwise crafted) coat hangers can't be beat. Always inexpensive, always a wonderful example of some dexterous woman's unpaid labour, always pretty and always superior to clanging wire hangers. My inordinately patient spouse literally trembles when he sees me looking at coat hangers in op shops. Here we see a pink crochet number carefully supporting a vintage silk Bill Blass dress that makes several appearances in the summer months.

Gardenias! They make me swoon.

Choosing my jewellery in the morning and remembering where I was when I bought it.

Sorting the ironing and establishing a new colony of orphaned spousal socks. (Where are all the missing sockmates? The world must be littered with them.)

Vintage handbags. Here is a small selection including Pucci, Bottega Veneta, Missoni and Dries Van Noten.

And most importantly ...

I hope you have lots of favourite things coming your way this weekend.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nothing but the truth

My learned friend who sits just down the corridor from me came bursting in to my office this morning to see if I was wearing the floral dress. He reprimanded me when he beheld a sober brown pinstripe number with a black cardi and a black belt. "Where are the flowers?" he demanded.

Maybe tomorrow.

It was fiendishly busy today - I'm glad I was in pinstripes. They kept me focused, and kept me from lamenting the glorious bright yellow Sydney weather that I couldn't actually experience.

I had lunch at my desk while I read the paper and sent emails at the same time. On the way home I mentally packed for my next holiday break, which will be in San Francisco early next year. Everything I'm seeing on the Northern Hemisphere blogs - scarves and tights, dresses and coats - is exciting me. I've mentally packed my tights and scarves a thousand times.

Which brings me to two special purchases I made at the final winter sales a few weeks ago:

A pair of neutral boots to help me make my way through the Yosemite park.
These are from a store called Trenery, a relatively new chain that mercilessly targets women like me - forty something, working, wanting to wear nice things, striving not to look like she's competing on a low grade reality television program. The boots had been reduced several time and were waiting patiently, in my size, for $109.00. They are the second pair of boots I have bought new in my lifetime (my boots overwhelmingly hail second hand from eBay).

And a blossom coloured woollen scarf, soft as bunny's belly.
I swear this scarf wriggled suggestively at me when I walked past it on a rack. "Psst," it whispered. "I'm down to $29. I'm all merino wool, fold up real small and like travelling. Feel me. Aren't I something? Are you really prepared to keep living without me swaddled around your throat?"

I am very vulnerable to chatty accessories.

Now, my sordid confession: I'm still getting the hang of the photographing-oneself-thing here. I take lots of photos but they never look right and my incongruent blend of vanity and shyness makes it difficult to work out how I should be displaying my clothes and personal clothing choices. I really admire the other bloggers who post photos of themselves and wish I could mimic their confidence and style.

In the meantime you'll have to cope with Kate, who always looks great but doesn't really waiver in her daily wardrobe.
Needless to say, any tips or clues you can give me about posing for blogworthy photos would be most appreciated.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's supposed to be in colour

So far this week has not been wildly adventurous. Yesterday I wore a black dress and today I wore a black dress. Tonight I was packing my gym bag and wondering idly what I might wear tomorrow. "A black dress," I decided.

So here's how I wore today's black dress...

..a Veronica Maine crepe dress with a cotton knit cardi and two pendants. The big pendant is a locket. The small pendant...
...is a heart. An anatomically accurate heart. I bought it from a very clever silversmith who has a fascinating store in the Flinders Street Arcade in Melbourne. My heart was originally strung on a very thin thread of silver chain and packed in a silver test tube. I could have also bought a liver or a brain pendant. I liked all three pieces very much, and I liked the silversmith's explanation of her pieces: "They're essentials," she told me. "You can't live without any one of them."

And here's my gym bag. It is one of my favourite things in the world:

It's from Comptoir des Cotonniers , a French fashion chain that specialises in clothing for smart adult women and their teenage daughters. I would not have thought that such a range would be possible but it is and it is great. This bag - which can hold my gym gear, papers, shoes, lunch box and an armadillo should I need to carry one - was part of a range of clothing from there Spring range about two years ago. I'm still kicking myself for not buying the matching skirt. (I did, however, buy a black dress. Well, it was Paris. I think it might be unlawful not to buy black dresses when you visit Paris. )

My bag hangs around while I plough through these.

I think these files are one of the reasons plain black dresses are currently so appealing. Maybe the work will be less onerous if I throw caution and black dresses to the wind and wear this,
an extremely cheerful frock I bought at a sale on Saturday. It is by a local label called Musee. I love the fabric - a light soft rayon - and I love the cheerful print.

What do you think? An absence of colour for dreary files or a bunch of magenta flowers to make work seem a little more bearable? Do you have particular work dresses for particular kind of work days? Do black dresses make you feel happy or invisible?

Monday, November 22, 2010

It said jade is the new black

I am especially enjoying the blogs of the Northern Hemisphere at the moment. Everything is so different for the European and North American bloggers - they have shorter days, thicker clothes, snow in some cases.

Over the weekend in the Southern Hemisphere I was faced with the fact that summer is definitely here. I addressed this point of geography thus:

They're my favourite black Birkenstocks, doing some Saturday work with a pair of J Brands and a peach coloured Jigsaw blouse that I steadfastly refuse to throw out despite three immobile stains it now carries.

There's a lot to love about the Sydney Summer, even for pale, burn-to-a-crisp-in-an-instant women like me. For one thing, all the flowers out.
And there is toe maintenance to be had. I am a disciplined person in many respects and pride myself on my occasional convent-like austerity in some matters, but frankly I would sell my siblings if it meant I'd get a foot rub. Hence my pleasure in planning a pedicure. The colours of the flowers and bright skies helped me narrow it down to two colours.
Sunday was pedicure day and I wore my favourite purple Birkenstocks. On my way to Newtown, where there is a nail salon staffed by friendly women and stocked with excellent magazines, I had my toenail colour scheme challenged by the jacaranda.
So you can imagine my satisfaction when I was able to find a colour that was just right, and turned my toes into ten little Chinese charms. I present spent Jacaranda blooms and the grass as my reference.

My smugness was short lived when I arrived home to find Ellie had outdone me yet again. Her toe-maintenance is far less labour intensive yet the results are infinitely prettier.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Things to do, purposes to be served & a bag of chips, please

I crossed paths with this very impressive male at a zoo recently. He wanders around all day, attending to various bird tasks and making submissions to all the food outlets for hot chips. I love his focus and determination as he heads to door of this cafe. He's not supposed to to eat hot chips but frankly I don't know how you could refuse him anything. I'd hand over my phone, watch, wallet and hot chips if he asked.

Tomorrow is a busy day for me. I have meetings, an ornery document to complete and a couple of issues to negotiate. I feel like I should be wearing something utilitarian like a boiler suit (or maybe a garland of bright blue and green feathers) but have instead narrowed it down to this:

This is a light navy jacket from an Australian store called Von Troska. I love this store because the clothes are elegant and last forever. They also have the best sales which is when I visit. With purpose. I like it with this:

This makes me feel almost as powerful as I imagine that tail makes our chip-eating friend feel. It's very pretty.
It's a piece of Czechoslovakian glass I found it at a flea market years ago for a few dollars. It's a hard thing to team with work clothes but when I can manage it, I always feel it sends out a definite message - "don't mess me with me for I'm wearing a pendant the colour of CLEMENTINES."

Sadly this is as far as I've got with tomorrow's outfit. I'm going to have to factor in a skirt (I'm thinking beige) and some shoes (absolutely no idea. I wish I had some clementine coloured shoes.).

What are you wearing today?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Excuse me while I block the aisle

It's become pretty clear on this blog that op-shopping (or thrifting or scouring charity stores, depending where you're reading) is one of my favourite past times. Maybe you and I frequent the same store. You'd know it if we do - I'm the one on the floor, crouched over the scarf bin, getting in everyone's way as I painstakingly go through each piece, looking for the lovely silk numbers.

It's a worthwhile effort. Silk scarves are practical and pretty. You can wear them to work, you can wear them in your hair, you can channel Jean Seberg or Jacki Onassis or Marilyn Monroe or the Queen and use the same scarf for each look. And there are some great bargains to be had. Here's how I search and what I look for.

First - the most sought after and expensive fabric is silk twill. This is the fabric used for the best quality scarves. It is a dense fabric, a tiny bit papery to touch, but smooth and quite durable. It actually rustles when you wave the fabric, and because of it's strength it holds dyes and prints very well. If you're not familiar with the feel of good silk, hang around the scarf section of your local department store. Take a bit of time to feel the weights of the silk scarves, then do it with your eyes closed. Check the label, compare the feel of good silk to polyester. This will help you identify good scarves when you're thrifting.

Okay, so you're on the floor in the thrift store and you got a little rustling pile of silk scarves to go through. How can you tell the really really good ones?

I check the edges first.
The best quality silk scarves will have rolled edges, not machine hemmed. They means your scarf has been finished by hand - literally rolled around the edge like a pastry and carefully stitched closed. This is done to prevent the edges from fraying.

Next, look closely at the pattern:
The attention to detail in this critter is high, the colour saturation is quite deep and the print is even - no colouring outside the lines, no streaks or patches and a high level of fine draftsmanship. A cheap scarf won't have the same level of care in its patterns: the colours will be outside the lines, they'll overlap, the colour will be uneven and maybe garish because of the cheap dyes used.

The patterns and use of colour can be of great significance - a design or a colour scheme can be used to represent a collection or favourite them of a designer:

This is from Madame Gres and dates from the early seventies. This French fashion house was renown for it's sophisticated and womanly clothes. She used lots of shades of cloudy blues in her suits and dresses.

Now you've examined your scarf up close, shake it out and look at the entire design. It will look like a framed image. Whether it is design, a print or a scene, when you see it in the context of the entire scarf it will work as a full picture:
This is a Gucci Accornero, as are the butterflies I've been featuring. If you like Gucci you've probably seen variations of this prints a lot in the last few years. All of these illustrations look as like pages from a very handsome botany text book. These incredibly pretty & skillful designs were originally issued on clothes and accessories in the sixties and seventies, and were all drawn by an artist called Vittorio Acconero. (You can read about him and the history of his designs for Gucci here.) Alot of people actually collect silk scarves to frame, so intricate and beautiful are the designs. The Accorneros would all make for a pretty impressive gallery. I have been lucky enough to find two - one with a pink border that does a lot of work with my summer clothes, and another with a brown border that looks great with denim. Each Accornero was found in a scarf bin; the pink one was ten dollars and the brown one ..
...was eight dollars.

Here are some other names to look for - I found all of these in local op shops and vintage clothing stores:
Missoni, four dollars in an Enmore op shop.
Louis Feraud, ten dollars at the Kirribilli Markets.

Pucci, five dollars at an op shop in Newcastle.

Chanel, thirty dollars in a vintage clothing store in Darlinghurst. (More than I would normally pay but, well, it's Chanel. And a beautiful shade of green. And there's little purses! )
And, yes, I've found the mecca of scarves too:
Twice. The military Caty design was five dollars, the dog design below was six dollars. I bought them at op shops in Enmore, and within two weeks of each other. Lightning does strike twice!
Not all the scarves I own have designer names. Some have the same high quality details but no name. All good thrifters know that finding a good brand is part of the thrill of the chase, but we also know that some of the best made and most flattering pieces in our wardrobe are anonymous.

And finally - my personal favourite in the kaleidoscope that is my scarf box. I can pick one of these designs at a thousand paces across a crowded flea market with my sunglasses on:
Liberty of London! No scarf collection would be complete without them.

Do you have any scarf tips for me?