Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Amateur hour

I have no training in garment design or patternmaking, but some idiotic impulse in me fills me with the confidence that, when it comes to it, I can totally make my own clothes without using patterns. Sometimes this works really well. Most of the time it works okay. Sometimes, I fail miserably.

Of course, things would be much easier for me if I simply bought a dress pattern. But for some reason this seems much more difficult to me than quickly cutting and resewing sleeves and hems, or pinning a garment on me and then resewing it. Also, I use clothes I already own as templates, modifying the lines to suit what I'm making.

My biggest triumph in this way was probably my Collingwood Boxing Club T-shirt, which was an enormous baggy thing I bought from Savers. I unpicked the sleeves, recut them and the body to match the shape of a T-shirt of mine whose fit I liked, and then sewed them back together.

Oh god, my hair looks like Bret Michaels or something. That pic was from early in 2005.

I also made a dress to wear to my undergraduate valedictory dinner. It was long and bias-cut with spaghetti straps and a cowl neckline; I remember that I made it by laying the fabric on the floor and placing a dress of roughly the same length and shape over the top at a 45-degree angle to act as the template. I made the cowl neck by allowing a generous semicircle of fabric at the top of the dress, which then hung loosely inside the neckline.

There was also my Donatella Versace costume, which I made for my 26th birthday party (the theme was "More dollars than sense"). It was beyond my limited abilities to make a Versace evening dress (like this one Donatella is wearing, left; Saturday Night Live comedian Maya Rudolph is at right), but I wanted to look a bit fancy, so I found an apricot-coloured satin slip/nightgown and an apricot-and-bronze patterned chiffon scarf in an op-shop.

I cut the neckline very low and added a border of the chiffon scarf material, which continued as shoulder straps that fastened in the back. I also cut out triangular panels in the nightgown over the ribs and under the bust and filled them in with panels of the scarf material. It was a real challenge to match the bias cut of the dress with the replacement fabric. I cut a big slit in the skirt over one thigh, and made the skirt longer by adding an edging of the chiffon.

At the party I wore the dress with my skin painted nugget brown and a long white wig. I later wore the dress for an Incredible Melk photo shoot. You can see my hand protectively on my boob to stop it falling out of the dress.

I also don't own a sewing machine or a dressmaker's dummy, so all these things are sewn by hand and I adjust the garment as I am wearing it in front of a mirror.

This week I am attempting another ambitious dressmaking project. It's doubly ambitious because it's an attempt to rescue a failed dressmaking project from last July, when I tried to make a '70s-style 'Grecian goddess' prom dress from some vintage hot-pink gauzy fabric I found at Savers. It's some synthetic fabric – rayon, probably.

It was meant to come out looking similar to this:

But I really screwed up because this was the first time I had attempted to make a dress from scratch without a pattern. I can't quite explain it, but I had imagined very clearly how the dress was going to come together. I could picture the dress in 3D and mentally turn the image around as if it were a Rubik's cube, imagining how I would need to cut and pin and drape the fabric to create this image.

Anyway, I was very rushed and tired and it got to 3am on the night before the prom. I had the dress pinned on me and I was cutting it at the same time, but I accidentally cut it on an angle rather than straight, totally ruining the dress.

But I have decided to attempt to turn it into a '60s-style cocktail dress. Here is a crappy diagram of the way I would like the dress to look. I have drawn the skirt too short; it sits just below the knee.

I have cut out the pieces of the bodice, which looks the same in front and behind. The band goes around the ribs and the skirt begins at the true waist. It is gathered finely at the shoulder, bust and waist – doing this by hand will be the tricky part. Because of the semi-sheer fabric I have allowed two layers in the bodice.

At this stage I'm thinking I'll begin by gathering the shoulder pieces, then sewing the front and back pieces together at the shoulders. Then I will pin the band in place on me and tack it in the front so it sits properly. Once I've put the bodice together I'll attach the skirt. I think there's enough fabric from the old prom dress for more layers in the skirt; I'm thinking about creating a 'self-petticoat' edged in tulle to make the skirt stick out. Then I'll add a side zip.

Time will tell if this project is a success or an abject failure.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The look of comfort

What follows was commissioned by The Age back in June, but due to a series of comical misunderstandings it was never published. Not to let my work go to waste, please enjoy it here.

Cruel winter is a time to dress for comfort. Fleecy tracksuits, layers of cotton jersey, shapeless jumpers and cardigans, fluffy socks, flannel shirts, slip-on shoes, and even this season’s key piece – a fleecy blanket with sleeves.

As a keen proponent of the notion of “No Pants Friday”, I can attest that baggy tops and tunic dresses worn with leggings are some of the cosiest winter outfits around. I write this while wearing harem pants.

Problem is, comfort and fashion don’t often coincide. Vitriolic condemnations are proffered at and Lindsay Lohan’s well-documented love of leggings is often considered one of the American actress’s personal troubles, along with her controlling parents and drug abuse.

Harem pants have also endured a backlash, especially in their current drop-crotch incarnation. Some say they distort the body’s natural proportions. Others ridicule harem pant-wearers for resembling MC Hammer, a penguin, or a baby with a full nappy.

Indeed, dressing for comfort is generally considered the antithesis of caring about your appearance. People are quick to condemn comfy clothes as ugly, slovenly, and even warning signs of mental distress.

For some reason, comfortable shoes especially enrage fashionistas. Crocs have become the shoe people love to hate, ousting Ugg boots, Birkenstocks, hiking sandals, massage sandals, sheepskin moccasins and those dove-grey vinyl shoes with zippers. The Facebook group I Don’t Care How Comfortable Crocs Are, You Look Like A Dumbass has close to 1.5 million members.

I must admit to a feeling of dumbass-ness as I clomped around in a pair of black suede, Velcro-fastened ankle boots by sensible German brand Ara. They had been given to me by my mother, for whom they were slightly too small. “I know you’ll think they’re ugly,” she’d presciently told me.

But the true ugliness of these shoes wasn’t their actual appearance, but the way they made me seem like someone who doesn’t care how she looks. No amount of physical comfort, it seemed, could offset this social discomfort.

But by calling comfortable clothes “ugly”, we reveal that they don’t operate in a separate sphere from fashion where aesthetic considerations don’t matter. Instead, fashion’s denigration of comfort reveals its own high stakes.

The fashion world has always defined style as something ineffable and difficult to acquire. Learning this sensibility is a mental discipline and fashionable clothes themselves are a bodily discipline. Difficult-to-wear things such as teetering high heels, stiff tailoring and corsetry are mimetic symbols of the effort and sacrifice it takes to be chic.

Many criticisms of comfortable clothes also carry socio-economic inflections. Moccasins and flannelette shirts are deemed bogan uniforms; outer-suburban mums are fashion criminals in leggings and baggy windcheaters; silky tracksuits by Kappa and Adidas are “woggy”.

Wearers of Birkenstocks and Crocs (themselves derived from peasants’ clogs) are mocked for being pretentious bourgies, while we sneer at nouveau riche celebrities for their Juicy Couture velour tracksuits and Ugg boots.

However, one of fashion’s most iconic names made her reputation by turning devalued symbols of class into statements of luxury. I’m talking, of course, about Coco Chanel.

As dramatised in the current film Coco Avant Chanel, Gabrielle Chanel came from humble, provincial origins and made her own clothes by adapting men’s sportswear. French fishermen’s everyday clothes inspired her high-fashion silhouettes, and she created glamorous, feminine garments in cotton jersey, which had formerly been viewed as a cheap fabric for men’s undies.

Disdaining the Belle Epoque’s corseted waistlines, fussy ornaments and enormous, feather-filled hats, Chanel found new elegance in simplicity and freedom to move.

With layers of padding and interfacing, Dior’s traditionally tailored New Look garments were incredibly heavy and sometimes needed help to put on. By contrast, Chanel’s famous tweed jackets were made by simply sewing the lining to the outer shell, and were as light and comfortable as cardigans.

“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury,” opined Chanel. And while I wouldn’t claim she inspired the Snuggie, it’s true that luxurious things are those purely intended to give pleasure. There are definitely tactile delights in swathing our bodies in soft flannel and fluffy angora – and even much-maligned fabrics such as polar-fleece and Tencel are designed to be pleasant to touch.

Dressing for comfort doesn’t mean giving up on looking good, either – it has visual pleasures. Soft fabrics fall into exciting, sculptural folds. Bias-cut garments skim the body gracefully, creating fluid waves as the wearer moves. Loose garments skim flatteringly over pudgy or gaunt figures.

Sorry Mum – nothing is going to make those German walking boots stylish. But funnily enough, the main reason I’m not wearing them is because they’re cut awkwardly just above the ankle and dig into my legs as I walk. They’re simply not comfortable.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Design journalism

About a week ago I was commissioned to write a 1000-word feature on 'capsule collections' that are joint ventures between fashion labels and retailers. The story was for Design Reporter, an initiative of the 2009 State Of Design festival that was independently produced by Chase & Galley and edited by Penny Modra and Ray Edgar. (The astute observer will realise that I worked with Stuart and Penny on Is Not Magazine.)

It's really a magazine, with news, features, interviews and reviews about different aspects of design and debates within the field, but it uses the newspaper format to provoke questions about what we currently settle for in design writing and journalism in general. I haven't actually got my hands on a copy yet, so I can't tell if it's achieved its ambitions, but I'm amused by the way the front page makes design topics – which are so often arcane and elitist – seem like urgent news for everyone.

As you can see, my story ended up with the tiniest headline on the front page (it appears just above the giant EAMO'S), which may be a good thing as I worked really hard on it but wasn't especially happy with the results. Within the word limit, I pretty much just had space to give a broad overview of some of the best-known designer/retailer collaborations, gesture towards the way they were viewed by designers, retailers and consumers, and suggest some criteria for a 'successful' collaboration.

I feel frustrated that I didn't really get to the bottom of why these collaborations are everywhere right now, and what's at stake for everyone involved. I can't help thinking that if I'd had more time to think about and shape the piece, more incisive ideas would have emerged. Lately I have been thinking that the way I write often feels like the process of hewing a statue from a hunk of marble – revealing and polishing ideas using words as my tools. The more I chip away with my writing, the more I feel the essence of what I'm trying to say emerges in a recognisable, elegant form.

However, this isn't really compatible with the 'reportage' approach that was important for the Design Reporter project. I felt as if my final story had been a compromise between an interview-driven story and an analysis-driven story, without the strengths of either genre. Also, having to depend on interview material to shape the story was logistically difficult. As well as Fat, I had approached TV, Alpha 60, Alice Euphemia and Chip Chop! for interviews, but only Bianca Wiegard from Fat and Karen Reischieck from Alice Euphemia were able to respond by my deadline. I felt bad about not including Karen in the story but then I didn't want to turn it into a story about how independent boutique owners view mainstream design collaborations.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts on the constraints and compromises involved in the production of this particular story.

The Beautiful And The Damned

Zac Posen For Target: A replica of the Posen evening dress Katherine Heigl wore to the 2007 Emmy Awards. Only 50 of these dresses were made for Target, retailing at $299.99.

When fashion designers – or fashionable celebrities – “collaborate” with retail chains, it raises intriguing questions about the value we place on “designer clothes”. Just as the movie industry has invested heavily in logics of auteurism, so fashion’s fulcrum is the notion of a single creative vision, distilled in the ‘label’ and personified by the ‘designer’.

These collaborations owe their frisson to the presence of a famous name in a mundane retail environment where it usually doesn’t belong. Linking themselves with labels and designers adds a certain gloss to downmarket retailers.

In return, designers get to grow their brand without having to use their own logistical and marketing resources. The bargain is especially tempting for emerging designers.

Some collaborations operate more like designer diffusion lines exclusive to one retailer. There’s Ksubi’s Alba Fan Club, sold only at Jeans West, and in August, Sportsgirl will spin off The Beautiful And Damned from jeans label 18th Amendment.

Sportsgirl were interested in us creating a one-off style for them and we thought we would go one step better by designing an entirely new brand,” designer Rachel Rose recently told Vogue Australia.

However, collaborations also tend to suffer from a perception of inferior workmanship and dull styling. They can cheapen a designer’s brand and erode its value to smaller boutiques that pride themselves on unearthing new talent and stocking ‘directional’ merchandise.

With new collaborations constantly entering the marketplace, it’s hard to remember the genuine excitement in 2004 when Swedish chain H&M announced it was working with Karl Lagerfeld. Could a couture designer adapt his creative vision to the tyrannies of the fast-fashion marketplace?

Turns out he could – Lagerfeld’s range sold out within hours, and H&M went on to collaborate with Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, Jimmy Choo, Roberto Cavalli and Comme Des Garçons. Celebrities designing H&M ranges have included Madonna and Kylie Minogue, but the best-known celebrity collaboration is Kate Moss for Topshop, in May 2007.

In January 2006, Target in the United States launched its Go International house brand, which has featured Proenza Schouler, Alexander McQueen and Thakoon Panichgul. US Target has no corporate relationship with the Australian chain of the same name, whose first designer collaboration came in October 2006 with a range by Alice McCall.

Recently, proudly fat singer Beth Ditto’s collection for British plus-size chain Evans has generated some old-school, Lagerfeld-style buzz. The contrast with Lagerfeld is delicious, considering that the once-obese German had railed against H&M’s decision to sell his designs across their full size range. “What I designed was fashion for slender and slim people,” he harrumphed to German magazine Stern.

Lagerfeld swore he’d never do a collab again, also complaining H&M had deliberately made too few garments. “I find it embarrassing that H&M let down so many people,” he said. “I don't think that is very kind, especially for people in small towns and countries in eastern Europe. It is snobbery created by anti-snobbery.”

Meanwhile, the Designers For Target label earned notoriety in March 2007 for the frenzied consumer response to its Stella McCartney collection. Spurred on by the novelty of international designer merchandise in a discount department store, shoppers splurged on huge and random armfuls of clothing, most of which ended up glutting eBay and being returned sheepishly to Target stores.

These are the tensions that plague collaborative ventures: exclusivity versus availability; the ordinary versus the special; a designer’s vision versus consumers’ tastes.

“I’m in two minds – I’m yet to decide whether it’s good or bad,” says Bianca Wiegard, director of Fat boutiques. “From our perspective, as a boutique, cutting-edge retailer, it dilutes the brand for us. What these [designers] are doing, essentially, is selling the same collections that they’re selling to boutiques like us, but with cheaper fabrics.

“But obviously it gives designers the opportunity to get a huge injection of cash,” Wiegard continues. “These big companies come along and they’re obviously targeting businesses like ours, so they’ll see who are the up-and-coming designers and then they’ll offer them cash upfront. A lot of the designers would never have seen that much money.”

Wiegard’s colleague Ben Esakoff adds: “In this market, designers need opportunities, because it’s tiny. For them it’s that fine line between doing something really commercial and selling themselves out to their core market.”

Esakoff wagers that smaller retailers might actually benefit from the collaboration phenomenon. “It’s a different demographic to us at the cheaper end, but creating a cheaper brand makes it more aspirational, which is beneficial for us,” he says. “The only thing that’s bad for us is if the brand is overexposed.”

It also doesn’t pay to underestimate consumers, who’ve become much less willing to be seduced on the promise of celebrity alone. They’re no longer the star-dazzled dupes who filled trolleys with Stella McCartney clothes – indeed, proudly parading around in clothes identifiably from collaborative ranges carries a “Stella stigma”, a whiff of fashion illiteracy.

To succeed these days, collaborative collections must seem like meteorites landing, bright and hot, in a paddock. They’re only exciting if they arrive, fully realised, from somewhere else mysterious and inaccessible, and if they look radically different to everything else in that paddock.

A major criticism of Romance Was Born for Sportsgirl and Josh Goot for Target was that both labels replicated designs from their existing collections. Other collections, such as TV for Sportsgirl, Chip Chop! for Sportsgirl and Zac Posen for Target, disappointed blog commenters and fashion forum users who deemed them “bland” and “boring”.

Without that alien allure, more pragmatic considerations come into play… like uniqueness, price and wearability. “Wearable” is somewhat of a fashion industry euphemism for “unimaginative design”, but from the consumer’s perspective, it’s about quality fabrics and tailoring that make a garment look good when worn. For this reason, Yeojin Bae’s Target collection got a big thumbs-up from fashionistas.

No amount of hype about the designer will save garments that are deemed “overpriced” or “cheap-looking”. The clothes will hang forlornly in the stores forever, getting ignominiously cheaper and cheaper.

“I actually bought the Gail Sorronda black denim skirt today for $4.86, because I needed something to paint my house in,” gloated one Vogue Forums user.

The notion of ‘designer-ness’ alone won’t dazzle shoppers into buying anything. But there’s definitely a certain magic when designer/retailer collaborations yield something genuinely original.

This article first appeared in Design Reporter.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Further thoughts on colour

Since I first posted about my resolution to dress for colour this winter, I have realised just how little colourful clothing I own. I really don't have enough to do top-to-toe layering in more than a few colours. Reds, pinks, purples and blues, mainly – dressing for colour is a great way of getting a fresh perspective on your wardrobe.

Sadly for my wallet, dressing for colour has also been an excuse to buy colourful new clothes. I have been getting a lot of wear out of a bright apple-green cardigan that I got from a cheap-shop, and I went to Cotton On, where I purchased a large red patterned scarf, a magenta scarf in T-shirt material (purely so I would have something to match with my new harem pants), a pair of turquoise leggings and two men's T-shirts in sky-blue and red (on special for $5 each).

It's interesting that I had to raid the men's department to find bright colours in winter. I'm quite shocked at how few colourful clothes are in shops right now. I can walk into a shop and from its entire winter range, I can pick out only three or four garments colourful enough to interest me. Even tights this year are in muted colours, and the availability of brightly coloured opaques is usually something you can count on in winter. On the flipside, this is a wonderfully economical way to shop.

This experiment has made me realise how cruelly my dress sense was previously governed by silhouette. I used to choose outfits based on how they draped, revealed and concealed my body. However, the new regime of colour is much looser and more layered, far less neat and preppy than what I would wear in the past. Yet I don't feel sloppy or frumpy; the bright colours make the outfit look carefully assembled.

I'm also finding I'm far more adventurous with contrasting and clashing colour combinations, such as red and purple, orange and pink, and yellow and blue. However, as I think I may have written on this blog before, I just can't bring myself to wear green and red (too Christmassy), yellow and green (too Aussie) and blue and red (too much like Superman).

Another thing I've decided to do is to layer clashing prints as well. So I'll have polka dots with checks with florals with stripes with geometric prints, but all in the same colour family so they blend together. Or I'll layer several different-coloured versions of the same print: maybe a striped dress with a differently striped top underneath. I really liked this look from the Sartorialist's recent trip to Australia (although I must say his coverage of Melbourne was really pitiful – why do we persist in giving overseas visitors the misleading impression that Chapel Street is Melbourne's fashion hub?).

Here is a bizarre photo montage of my outfit from yesterday. I was very uneasy with it at first, but then as the day wore on I got happier and happier. By the time I was walking down a drizzly Swanston Street at 11:30pm, surrounded by people wearing dull black, grey and other wintry colours, I felt wonderful, like a peacock. I didn't care whether I looked ridiculous or not.

This is my outfit today. You can see my recent acquisitions, the apple-green cardigan and the blue T-shirt, and I realised that the necklace was the same colour as the T-shirt. There's a history to the scarf: my mother made it for me only recently from some remnant fabric she found while cleaning out a cupboard.

It's a dark turquoise microfibre (it came up lighter in the photo) that I picked out in 1993 for a dress my mother made me to wear to my year 10 school 'semi-formal' dance. My friends and I ended up getting extremely drunk before the semi-formal and then were horribly, publicly sick at the event itself. The next day, my dad took my dress to the dry-cleaner where he met my school vice-principal, who was getting her own dress dry-cleaned.

The dress was never the same after the dry-cleaning, I have to say. I wore it only once more, as an in-joke, to my year 12 valedictory dinner, and I have long since fattened out of it. But the scarf is a fun reminder of the whole debacle.

The sharif don't like it

Almost a month ago I was in Supré, "just to see what they had", and I came away with three new garments: a pair of red tartan leggings, a pair of black harem pants, and a pair of what can only be described as magenta three-quarter-length MC Hammer pants.

They also had them in violet and in black. I don't know why I bought the magenta ones, because as I've mentioned, magenta is one of those colours that looks wonderful and vibrant in the shop, but that I find really difficult to match to the rest of my clothes and accessories.

The label described the magenta pants as having a 'drop crotch'. Reader, this was not true. The 'rise' of the pants (the space between the waistband and the crotch) was actually smaller than the average pair of pants, and if not worn very low on the hips, they were horribly tight and bunchy in the crotch. I actually undid the crotch seam and re-sewed it lower down to loosen up the pants.

2009 is definitely shaping up as The Year Of Drop-Crotch Pants. These have been hanging around (pardon my pun) since at least 2007, then Radar was sure they were heading mainstream in 2008, but it's only this year that mainstream fashion commentators have started talking about them and Australian designers have started including them in their collections. And, of course, they've trickled down to fast-fashion stores such as Supré.

These aren't so much your traditional harem pants that are voluminous all through the leg and then gather at the ankle. Rather, they're in cotton jersey material and are pleated or gathered at the waist or hip and voluminous to the knee, then tight or ruched to mid-calf or ankle.

Fashion Flux has an interesting 'pattern' for making your own – just get some stretch jersey fabric and use your favourite leggings as a template, but make the crotch lower and allow more material around the thighs. Livejournal user Moohoop went one better and converted an old windcheater into drop-crotch pants – an idea of such simple genius that I want to run to the op-shop right now to do the same.

Many observers seem to have a problem with drop crotch pants because they distort the body's 'natural' silhouette, making the legs look ridiculously short and the body too long – "like a penguin", was one response. Other people think they're unflattering on all but the tallest and thinnest body shapes. Others can't get over the '80s/'90s-ness of them – they are ashamed to look like MC Hammer. Some think it looks as though you've pooed your pants. And others think drop crotch pants just look badly designed or fitted, as though the wearer has borrowed someone else's clothes.

The counter-argument is "but they're so comfortable!" Especially because they're usually made from soft material that drapes nicely, drop crotch pants are kind of the fashion-forward version of tracksuit pants. They're also far more forgiving on the body than leggings – which are still being worn as pants, despite at least two bloggers' outrage. You don't need to worry about visible panty lines, cameltoe or polterwang. And the pants skim right over the wobbliest parts of your legs.

A related phenomenon is boyfriend jeans, so-called because they're so baggy and oversized they look borrowed from the man in the wearer's life. The way they're often worn with the cuffs turned up also reminds me of harem pants, because this tends to draw the jeans in at the ankles. Also, men's jeans tend to have longer rises and more room in the crotch, which, when worn by women, creates the drop-crotch effect.

These jeans, too, are about comfort – as well as the actual fit, they imply the comfortable domesticity of having a man about the house whose clothes you casually borrow. It's curious to think that in a way, boyfriend jeans are another kind of harem pants in that they suggest the wearer 'belongs' to a man, just as an odalisque or concubine belongs to the sultan. Could drop-crotch pants, with their radical de-emphasising of a woman's buttocks, crotch and thighs, be suggesting that the wearer isn't sexually available to the viewer – that she's already 'taken'?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

True colours

On Tuesday I bought a pair of harem pants (more on this later) in magenta. The pants were available in black, violet and magenta, and for some reason, magenta is one of those colours that I buy because it seems really striking when it's on the rack, but then I find it really difficult to work in with my other clothes when I get it home.

The same is true of some other colours I love. There's a blue that I call cornflower blue but (according to my computer monitor) is closer to Persian blue. I first bought this as a T-shirt, then another T-shirt that's orange with stripes of this blue, then I bought matching canvas ballet flats, and after a very drawn-out search for accessories in the same colour, I was very excited to find an Indian silk scarf in this blue in a $1 basket at Camberwell Market.

Another colour I'm obsessed with is a light orange-red (scarlet?). I first became obsessed with this colour in lipstick and nail polish, but I now own several T-shirts in various hues of it, plus several scarves. I own a lot of red clothing, but it varies between a 'true' medium red (stop sign red), a faded medium red, a blueish red and a rich ruby red.

Being from Melbourne I own a lot of black clothes – I now own five pairs of black pants, four black skirts, two black cardigans, four black jackets, three black dresses, and so many black tops that I have to pick them out by the feel of the fabric when I want to wear one in particular. Sometimes I get into hopeless rages because I can't find the particular black top I want, and I have to empty them all onto my bed to sort them out.

When I feel especially despondent about the way I look, I will wear black because it is easy to look 'put together' in an all-black outfit. But in shops, I prefer looking at colourful garments. Today I was in French Connection and I was drawn to a bold orange winter jacket with square buttons (they want $260 for it, tell 'em they're dreaming!) and some knitwear in oranges and apple-greens… purely because these things stood out from the boring blacks, greys and navies in the rest of the store.

So this winter I have decided to dress for colour rather than for silhouette or texture. Being a fat chick, I find dressing for silhouette quite dispiriting because I simply don't look good in many sculptural clothes: for instance, nipped-in waists with voluminous skirts, tops tucked into high-waisted pencil skirts, or form-fitted dresses with voluminous sleeves.

Dressing for texture I see as something ageing women do to show they're still 'in fashion' while wanting to de-emphasise their bodies. So they'll layer different textures with stuff like scrunched-up satin, embroidery, fringing and beading, knits of various gauges, and varying amounts of sheerness and opacity. Maybe I'm wrong about this being something that older women do, but I think it can be quite ageing on young people.

Fool, 2009 L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival. Image:

Fool, 2009 L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival. Image: Melbourne Street Fashion

I was really inspired by Fool's collection at this year's Melbourne Fashion Festival. They brought out some models in very bright contrasting colours, with playfully oversized knit accessories. But my favourite outfits were the ones that layered different shades of the one colour. I think it looks really striking.

I was also really inspired by the outfits that Isla Fisher wears in Confessions Of A Shopaholic. I love the bright yellows, pinks and oranges she wears, and I especially love her colourful leather gloves.

So my strategy this year is to wear relatively soft and shapeless garments, but to layer different shades, or wear bold contrasting (or even clashing) colours. I even want to wear clashing prints, such as polka-dots with tartan or different florals together. I would try to make sure that there was a common colour in all the prints to hold the look together.

The risk you run with colour layering is that you look like a batty old lady. Here I always think of Linda Jaivin when she appeared on that old ABC arts panel show, Critical Mass, always with her red glasses and red accessories. I find it embarrassing when people have a 'signature colour' and that's all they ever wear.

The opposite risk is that you look matchy-matchy, which is my word for the sad result when you can tell someone has attempted to match the colours in different parts of their outfit but it looks very timid and fussy. For instance, the other day I saw a woman wearing a pink top, grey pants and pink shoes – but they were the wrong shade of pink. Her top was more like a salmon colour, whereas the shoes were fuschia. You could almost imagine her thought process while getting dressed that morning: "Yeah, I'll wear my pink shoes".

I used to mistake matchy-matchiness for elegance, but (largely after reading The Sartorialist) now I feel it's much more elegant to echo the colours of an outfit rather than attempt to match them precisely. You don't want to look as though you're in uniform: you want several small colour details to leap out at the eye.

Today I am wearing my fuschia Hammer pants with my cornflower blue T-shirt, scarf and shoes. I am wearing a black cardigan over the top but for once I don't feel it's too 'Melbourne' of me, as in this new way of thinking, the black is the highlight colour rather than the base colour.