Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sweater girl

Today was the final straw! As I walked to a screening I could feel my underwire protruding from my bra and poking me in the armpit. So, after the film I went straight to Myer, where I first asked one of the floor staff to recommend me some bras, and then asked a bra fitter to finesse the sizing.

Unsurprisingly, given some of the stuff I've been reading online, the staffer recommended balconette-style bras. These have wide, shallow cups and straps that sit on the edge of the shoulders rather than closer to the neck. It means I can choose a cup size that ordinarily would be too large, but would get the extra room in the back.

The bras the staffer recommended fitted me perfectly in the cup, which surprised me because they were D-cups. I have worn a C-cup since my early twenties. However, they were still too tight and flesh-squishing in the back. I was considering wearing them with a bra strap extender, but the bra fitter pooh-poohed this idea.

She was a no-nonsense older lady who reminded me of Miss Blankenship, Bert Cooper's elderly secretary from Mad Men who was assigned to Don because he would never try to seduce her.

"It's a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are."

This is the bra she recommended and that I have bought: Barely There by Berlei. This is their standard T-shirt bra.

It's actually the same style as the bra I was wearing, but I had the older version with daggy wide 'comfort' straps.

Berlei has listened to its customers, who want thin, modern straps that will look okay with singlets, or peeping out from a neckline.

When this style first came out, I recall trying it on and then doing Austin Powers fembot pewpewpew boob-thrusts because the effect was so comically prosthetic. Back then, padded bras were for teenagers with no boobs. Moulded 'T-shirt bras' that provided a Barbie-smooth silhouette and camouflaged nipple show-through were a novel idea.

But of course, they are now the dominant bra construction, and it's difficult to find non-moulded bras. I came to really like the look of a T-shirt bra, and I bought several Berlei Barely Theres because I liked the cleavage they gave me.

Anyway, the floor staffer had given me an 18C and quite liked the look of it, but Miss Blankenship was dissatisfied and got me a 16DD. Yep. Not a D. A double-D. I thought there was no way I would fill out those cups, but I did.

As I noted last year, pop culture associates D-cups and DD-cups with massive, sexpot norgs. To cite just a few songs:

Kanye West: "Girls go wild and pull ya Ds out"
Frank Ocean: "Double-D, big full breasts on my baby"
A$ap Rocky: "Bad bitch, double-D, poppin' E"
Ludacris: "Ludacris fill cups like double-Ds"
3oh!3: "Tight jeans, double-Ds makin' me go (whistle)"

Today I happen to be wearing a tight cream angora sweater, and with my new DDs I feel like Jayne Mansfield or something.

Jayne Mansfield with Dan Dailey in The Wayward Bus (1957).

But I'm still not sure I'm wearing the right size bra. The back is tighter than I'd prefer, although I know it's going to stretch with wear. More worryingly, it sits higher at the armpits than any bra I've previously worn. It's not digging in, exactly, but I'm more aware of it than I feel I should be.

Do you remember how it felt to first wear a bra when you never had before? You were constantly aware of this new, unfamiliar feeling. But gradually, you stopping 'noticing' your bra. It just felt like your clothes. I wonder if I will stop noticing the way this bra fits, or if it will continue to bother me, in which case I can conclude it 'doesn't fit'?

I feel particularly troubled that when I sit down at my desk, the fat pad on my torso bunches up and exerts upwards pressure on the underwire, whose outer edges them splay away from my body into the insides of my upper arms. That probably happened with my last bra too, but I can only feel it now because DD underwire is taller than C underwire.

And, more importantly, this is something a bra fitter would never pick up because women always try on bras while standing up. Like a drill sergeant, Miss Blankenship made me lift my arms above my head, and then bend at the waist, to see how the bra behaved with my movement, and she was satisfied with this one. But she never asked me to sit down.

I worry that I've wasted $54.95, which for me is a vast amount of money to spend on clothes. The rest of my entire outfit probably cost that much, including my shoes.

Monday, July 29, 2013

More heartache in the underwear department

I had some free time before my first MIFF film on Friday, so I went to Target where they are currently having an underwear sale. I urgently need to buy a plain, everyday pale-coloured bra – white, cream or pale pink – because mine are so old their elasticity is almost gone and they are that sad grey colour. I came away empty-handed, of course.

You can see from this instore display that Target is buying into that oft-cited statistic about the percentage of women who wear ill-fitting bras. I tracked down the journal article they cite; I can't read it without an institutional subscription (paywalled academic publishing is a GODDAMNED RACKET) but it charmingly says in the abstract: "women were found to have a poor ability to independently choose a well-fitted bra, which was not improved by trying on several bras or using bra-sizing measurements."

Women's ignorance is the key message conveyed by this "wrong bra size" statistic when it's cited in the popular media. We are portrayed as idiots who blithely squish or flop our boobs into ill-fitting bras, and who need the assistance of 'expert' bra fitters and extensive how-to literature.

Here is Target's 'checklist' for well-fitting bras:
1 The band sits horizontally around the body.
2 The centre front panel sits flat against the chest.
3 The cups are smooth and wrinkle-free.
4 The breasts are fully contained within the cups – no bulging or spilling out of the top or sides.
5 The underwires surround the breasts without digging into the breast.
6 The straps are secure but not tight – the main support comes from the body of the bra, not the straps.
Women are not idiots. We know all this stuff. We know it because we are constantly reading a bazillion media articles telling us we're doing it wrong.

Here's an alternative view: what if women just want to come home with a new bra? Like other heartache-causing garments including swimsuits and jeans, bras are something women go on missions to buy, knowing it will be no fun but suffering through it because they need the garment and don't want to go home empty-handed.

What if women get so fed up with the poor selection available that they pick the best of a bad lot and learn to live with it?

I really want to hammer home that so many of the problems we face with clothing size and fit are retail issues. For instance, negative experiences with customer service (and my survey unearthed some heartbreaking stories) deter us from seeking 'help with sizes', and poor stock replenishment means we can never access a complete size range in the one store.

So many times I'm forced to settle for a bra I don't really like because they don't have a suitable size in the one I do like. On Saturday I went to Big Dubs, where I tried on various styles of bra in four different sizes. The store didn't have my preferred size in any of the styles I liked, and none of the ugly bras I tried on fitted me either.

I turned myself over to the 'expert' advice in Target's 'bra book', and measured myself according to the instructions. The size chart tells me I should be wearing a size 22B. That is interesting, since Target does not make such a size and nor does anyone else. I am not the only one to call bullshit on Target's bra sizing.

Target recommends solving fit problems by trying larger or smaller cup or band sizes, or trying on a style of bra you wouldn't have picked yourself because it's frickin' ugly. For instance, if underwires are jabbing you, they recommend "a minimiser style as they are designed for a wider breast shape." Too bad if you don't have big boobs that you want to minimise, or if you like to wear low-cut tops.

Target also advocates 'swing sizes' – rather than a 12C, try a 14B or a 10D. Good luck trying to find those in the store in the style and colour you want. But swing sizing only works if you stay within the conventional 10A-16D. If a 16C doesn't fit, you can't try an 18B because there is no such size.

Indeed, it is very hard to find bras with small cup sizes in relation to the back size. I'd be interested to see the percentage of women who have this body shape because I imagine it's quite low – too low for brands to be bothered trying to market to it.

There is, however, a market for fashionable lingerie for small-bodied women who have comparatively large breasts for their size. Culture is beginning to normalise (rather than fetishise) this body shape, although large-breasted women get slut-shamed and female politicians including Julia Gillard and Angela Merkel have been criticised for showing cleavage.

Yet there isn't a complementary bra market for large-bodied women who have comparatively small breasts for their size. They get the obesity stigma of plus-size, yet they lack the bountiful 'curves' that plus-size women often use to combat obesity stigma by associating themselves with retro-styled pinup glamour.

Judging from Target's plus-size range, fat chicks must clamour for either nanna-beige minimisers or 'sexy' bras in bold prints and bright colours, doused in cheap-looking machine lace. Target did not stock any plain, pale-coloured bras in sizes outside 10A-16D. They were black, red, purple and leopard-print vampish styles with lots of lace and satin.

My search for a plain, pale-coloured bra that doesn't make me look like a trussed ham continues.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

My week in clothes

Apart from the stupendous reunion, this past week I wanted to blog some tidbits that are perhaps not deserving of their own entire blog posts.

On Tuesday night I went out for drinks with my colleagues at Junkee, and the taxi I shared home dropped me outside the Salco Group on Elgin Street. I couldn't get over the British Country-ness of this window display.

I've always thought Salco was some random corporate and uniform manufacturer, but it has a long history in that spot on Elgin Street, Carlton – it's been there since 1922. In 1942 it seems to have landed a wartime military uniform manufacturing contract, because it was advertising for machinists.

It seems to specialise in menswear (especially shirting). It has its own men's shirt brand 'Abelard', and also has the Australian production and distribution rights to American brands including Gant, Geoffrey Beene and Tommy Bahama, and UK brands Thomas Pink and Jeff Banks.

These are all quite preppy, traditional brands, so no wonder the window display looks like this. It's fascinating, though, to be reminded that brands trading on 'heritage' (for instance, citing London shirtmakers' district Jermyn Street, or ties to Ivy Style and WASPy resort wear, or Jeff Banks' Swinging London past and association with the Eurythmics) are not necessarily manufactured in 'authentic' ways.

Yet, ironically, Salco has its own kind of authenticity simply by operating for more than 90 years in the one location, even though it doesn't have any of the 'cultural' authenticity markers of the brands it manufactures.

Here I am on Friday in the Body Shop store in the Bourke Street Mall. I am wearing the other dress I bought from Hunter Gatherer in my 'two for $10' bargain. It's not the greatest; the skirt is a bit frumpily long and the print is a very '80s paint-swish abstract, but I like the colours, plus it has POCKETS, which was really helpful when I was standing around instore and wanted access to my phone. (It was also great wearing a dress with pockets to the MIFF opening night; I didn't have to worry about carrying a bag around all night.)

I was there as part of an event to mark the brand's 30th anniversary in Australia and its store redesign. There was a deal whereby if you bought $40 worth of Body Shop products, you got a free copy of my book, which I could tell you about and sign for you.

I'm coming to realise that I've written the sort of book that's hard to categorise – just look at all the various bookshop sections I saw it shelved during Home City Book Tour. But once I could tell people about it in person, they seemed quite interested and animated about the issues at stake. I gave away about 25 books, which hopefully went to people who mightn't otherwise have discovered my work.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reunited, and it feels so good

Last year I bought a fancy scarf for $1 from the Brotherhood of St Laurence op-shop in the Royal Arcade. It was from a basket of scarves out the front of the shop, and I was drawn to the bright red, pink and violet colours.

It is a very long strip: long enough to loop loosely around my neck and still have enough length left for a decent pussy-bow. I remember wearing it to the Emerging Writers' Festival program launch in early May last year, double-looped and pinned to the inside of a plunging black dress, like an underlying blouse, and someone complimented me on it.

Here I am wearing it last September to meet my friend Tash's new baby Max (I have flipped the pussy-bow over my shoulder so I do not suffocate a small baby with it):

Anyway, I was planning to wear it to tonight's MIFF opening gala as a contrasting sash for my electric blue dress. But then I was walking down Brunswick Street yesterday and on a "two for $10" sale rack outside Hunter Gatherer, which is the Brotherhood's pricier, more upmarket 'vintage' brand, I saw… THE DRESS MY SCARF WAS THE SASH FOR!!!

I actually squawked aloud, "Omigod, omigod, omigod…" like a parody of a retail-obsessed airhead. I tried it on and thanks be to elastic waists: it fits me and looks good!

It's a '70s Ossie Clark-esque design that's actually perfectly in sync with the opening night film, Pedro Almodóvar's '70s sex comedy throwback I'm So Excited. The skirt is full and swishy, and has groovy thigh-high side slits (why!?). It also has POCKETS!

The bodice is daringly low-cut: I could wear it braless with double-sided tape, but since MIFF is technically a 'work' event for me, it's probably more dignified to wear a slip or camisole underneath.

Left: Cate Blanchett wears Ossie Clark to Vogue Australia's 50th anniversary event; right: Emma Watson wears Ossie Clark to the London premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

You have to understand how uncanny this is. This dress has no label and is probably handmade. Clearly it was donated, with its matching scarf, to the Brotherhood, but they got separated. The dress was deemed 'vintage' enough for Hunter Gatherer while the scarf was siphoned off to the regular Brotherhood stores, and both items clearly hung around long enough to be reduced to bargain-bin status. And I was lucky enough to stumble across both of them, more than a year apart.

How serendipitous op-shopping can be! To fill up my 'two for $10' bargain I also bought another printed, elastic-waisted dress. It's okay – nothing special. Well, not nearly as special as this happy reunion…

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jeans: the litmus test of fit

Last Sunday was quite nippy, so I wanted to wear my Christmas jumper. Underneath the jumper I wore a navy and white striped T-shirt. First I tried teaming this with a royal blue miniskirt with red tartan leggings, but it looked too busy and choppy. So I tried it with my black cigarette-leg pants. It looked good, but it bothered me that the top was navy while the pants were black. Then I remembered… my jeans.

Now, I hadn't worn these jeans since the ill-fated Collingwood Skipping Club performance at the State of Design festival opening in 2011. They were part of that night's story of crushing humiliation, and I balled them up in a drawer and forgot about them.

But I put them on today, and I was shocked by how ill-fitting they were. I don't think my body has changed too much since 2011, so did I actually wear these terrible, baggy jeans on a regular basis? Prepare yourself for some ugly photos…

This is the best photo. They don't look too bad here. But you can already glimpse…

…that phenomenon colloquially dubbed 'ghost penis' or 'polterwang'. Also known as a pants tent, this is that bunchy, saggy thing that loose pants do in the crotch. It's particularly unfortunate on women.

It was difficult to photograph these jeans well enough to properly convey the horror. In this pic you can see the elephantine bagginess through the thighs and knees. But gentlemen, grasp your manhoods, for here comes the money shot!

Dear god! These are the worst-fitting pants ever! To me they are an excellent illustration of why I never wear jeans.

But a better explanation for why I never wear jeans is that jeans are one of the most difficult garments to fit properly. Unless they're deliberately baggy, they have to fit snugly yet comfortably in the torso, buttocks, crotch, thighs and calves, which is a lot to ask of a mass-manufactured garment when there is such a vast amount of variation in the human body.

This is why jeans companies have partnered with 3D body scanning technologies. Jeans labels and retailers are the most prominent of the participating brands with Me-Ality, the 'virtual fitting room' startup that has kiosks in North American shopping centres.

The idea is that you have yourself scanned using the same Alvanon scanning booths that I experienced as part of Target's sizing survey, and then the software actually directs you to the shops in the same mall that stock your 'best-fitting' garments. Target, too, made it all about jeans; I was offered a time-limited discount off Target jeans for having participated in the scanning survey.

Bodymetrics is a scanning startup that uses the same white light technique as the XBox Kinect. Here, the TechCrunch team road-test the technology in Bloomingdale's:

It's fascinating, though, how coy they are about the process. White light scanners require you to strip down to your undies in the booth, but TechCrunch gracefully evades actually showing the scanner in action.

Based on the scan data, Bodymetrics then assigns you to one of three orthovestic 'body shapes' and recommends the corresponding jeans, which it euphemistically names Emerald (a straight figure), Sapphire (an hourglass figure) and Ruby (a pear-shaped figure).

Marks and Spencer's Body Shape Denim range also sorts you into three orthovestic categories, named after Hollywood stars and dictated by waist-hip ratio. 'Lana' is designed "for a fuller waist and a slim hip"; 'Marilyn' is designed "to follow the contours of an hourglass figure with well-defined waist and shapely legs"; 'Eva' is "for a small waist and curvy hips".

A red flag comes up about how shitty jeans will always look on me when the 'Lana' style is recommended for those with a waist-hip differential of 22cm or under, and my waist-hip differential is 9cm. According to M&S's size chart, my waist measurement dictates I choose jeans four sizes larger than the size recommended by my hip measurement. Which size should I choose, even in this supposedly shape-conscious jeans style?

No wonder my jeans, which I painstakingly tried on in a shop and bought primarily because they did not create a 'muffin top' at the waist, fit me so badly.

As I gesture to here, jeans have become an omnipresent casual uniform – so much so that they're often regarded as 'essential' and 'classic', and culture tells me again and again that I should go to as much effort as possible to find a pair that fits me. I suppose if I cared enough I could get some jeans custom-made, but honestly there are so many other nice things to wear, why would I bother trying to squeeze my body into this particular genre of garment?

This is a prime reason why we should let our own tastes guide our dressing, not external notions of what we 'should' wear. In the end, I put my black pants back on and wore those, even though navy and black don't go especially well together.

Friday, July 12, 2013

British Country Winter

I have become obsessed lately with a kind of midcentury British winter country look: chunky jumpers; kilts; boots; brogues; scarves. If my last sartorial theme was Seven Sisters Summer, this season I am all British Country Winter. Here is the, ahem, monarch of that style:

I am not into wearing headscarves like that; however I love those giant silk scarves themselves, and own quite a few in that style. It's so hard to wear them without looking dowdy, though – but that is the challenge of British Country Winter.

Last Friday I teamed my argyle knee socks with my dad's Balenciaga wingtips, which I am ashamed to say have scuffed toes because of my bad habit of resting the toes of my shoes on the floor when I sit at my desk. As a fun aside, the argyle pattern is said to be derived from the Clan Campbell tartan, whose lands are in Argyll.

This is a beautifully made navy and jade wool kilt by Fletcher Jones that I bought on my recent Savers trip. Intriguingly, it's size 17 – a size I have never seen before.

I probably bought it because just recently I was discussing Fletcher Jones kilts with my aunt. I was under the impression that the brand was still in business but she said it wasn't. This is correct; it went into administration in 2011 and all the stores closed that year. Just goes to show how off my radar the brand is.

Fletcher Jones is a very traditional brand specialising in well-made, well-fitting investment suiting for a mainly older clientele. I would never have shopped there. The above image depicts its Chadstone Shopping Centre store during the 1960s. It has recently reinvented itself as an online store selling a limited range of basics. (The womenswear range is only pants and jeans.)

I think some loyal Fletcher Jones customer (or her relatives) must have donated her collection of kilts to Savers, because there was also a cream-coloured one and a russety-brown one. But the navy and jade was the most to my taste. My mother will probably laugh at me when she sees me wearing it, because it looks more than a little like my high-school winter uniform skirt.

I bought this jumper above as it combines traditional cable-knit, polo-neck styling with the bright colours I love. I think colour is a good way to wear conservatively styled clothes without looking too dowdy. Plus, it's super cheerful in winter.

I also had my eye out for a Fair Isle jumper. Ever since I got my Christmas jumper I've been a little obsessed with them. Like argyle (which is still associated with golf), Fair Isle knits were popularised in the 1920s by the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor.

By all accounts he was a prize dickhead: a permanent adolescent whose own dad said, "After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in 12 months." However, in terms of his influence on menswear, he is up there with Beau Brummell. Other fashion trends sparked by him include the glen plaid (better known now as the Prince of Wales check), the tartan suit, and the midnight blue evening suit. His personal tea blend – Twinings Prince of Wales – is one of my favourites. I refer to making a cup of it as "cracking a Prinny."

Vintage Target! 

My new Fair Isle jumper isn't as colourful as I would've liked, but I like the snowflake motif and the grey and gold colours. I happen to own a stretch pencil skirt in the same gold, so on Monday I paired it with the jumper (with a black T-shirt underneath), plus herringbone textured tights and my new black patent mary-janes.

To jazz it up a little, I wore my silver pendant, which I got from the Rose St Artists Market. It's made from an old piece of silver-plated cutlery.

There's a certain nostalgia – a class nostalgia – about British country style in a similar way there is to Ivy style. The clothes originated as practical garb for country sports such as riding, shooting, golf and fishing, but have now themselves become emblematic of a certain posh, landed country lifestyle.

I'm reading a fascinating book at the moment called Gentry by historian Adam Nicolson, which tells the story of this uniquely British upper middle class through the archived diaries, papers and correspondence of particular families. They built and consolidated their social power through property, strategic marriage, political alliances and colonial trade.

But land – the saleable commodities it could nurture, and the rents it could generate – was the heart of the gentry, which is why they're so often called the landed gentry. Country dress has changed very little over the last 50 years – check out this insane online guide, which unironically uses the word 'jolly'.

What if 'classic' styles are classic not because (as we are often told) they 'never go out of style', but rather because this very sartorial petrification communicates wealth?

This hasn't escaped class fantasist Ralph Lauren: here's his Fall/Winter 2012 collection:

But British country style overlaps with what we could think of as 'academic' or 'intellectual' style. Here I'm not speaking of bohemian or creative style, but the 'tweediness' we associate with Oxbridge in the first half of the 20th century, or with stereotypical lady librarians, or perhaps with Bletchley Park staffers during WWII.

Last week I gave a talk on the costumes from the film Cabaret, and was intrigued by Brian Roberts' (Michael York) dress. Brian, you'll recall, is a PhD student living in Germany in 1931. His friend Sally Bowles is a bohemian, but Brian is more straitlaced.

That's actually quite close to how real 1930s clothes look. I found some pics of period knitwear. Note how short the jumpers and vests are, because of the high-waisted, baggy, pleated pants.

This old-fashioned Oxbridge nerdiness is, perhaps, what the Doctor Who costume designers had in mind for Matt Smith, although the shortness of his pants gives them a punk edge, and the tightness is fashionable right now.

His new outfit, with the waistcoat and frock coat, is much more reminiscent of teddy-boy styling:

But I do love the wingtip boots! Mixing browns, blacks, greys and navies is a key aspect of British country style. However, if you go too far in one direction you get steampunk; too far in the other direction, you get Frankie. It's going to take me a while to nail this style.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Expedition to Savers

In Out of Shape I write about an expedition I made last year to Savers. It actually turned out to be a good-value expedition because I bought a bright yellow self-stripe skirt that I've worn a lot in both winter and summer, and some jewellery I've likewise got lots of wear from.

Two pairs of earrings and a brooch

The skirt is a much more lurid acid-yellow than it appears here. I photographed the waistband because I was so proud of altering it from a dropped waist to a high waist.

Me modelling the skirt (weirdly tucked up at one side; I dunno why) and my book outside Luna Park last week, during Home City Book Tour.

But on the day I was really annoyed because I wanted to emerge with a 'haul', yet none of my pet items were there. The items above were literally all I bought.

Well, my imminent appearance on the Today show (Tomorrow! 8:20am! Channel 9!) gave me the excuse I needed to make another pilgrimage to Savers. I was really annoyed at myself because I started out too late, meaning I had less than an hour in the store before it closed, and I didn't give myself enough time to go through all the departments properly.

However! Savers Mill Park had some GREAT stuff this time around! I was super excited to see this Diane Freis dress (as collected by Kate Millett of Bombshell Vintage), but disappointed that it was too small in the bust and kind of squished my boobs flat.

Sorry about my bad, blurry photography. I have terribly shaky hands. The sleeves were very full and blousy, and the skirt lovely and wafty, and it had a contrasting band of fabric defining the waist. It might still be there!

I was also taken with this muumuu, an authentic made-in-Hawaii souvenir. However, as I detail in the book, muumuus have acquired cultural connotations of slovenliness and decrepitude, and I just couldn't bring myself to try it on. I already fret that my fingers are too fat to use the phone.

Now this is fascinating. I've read about half-sizes but I've never actually seen one before. Basically, these were like a mixture of petites and plus-sizes: they assumed a shorter height, lower bust and curvier figure. If a half-size is 20 or above, it's probably a plus-size; otherwise it might just be for a shorter person.

Apparently, half-sizes date a garment to between the 1940s and the 1970s. This was a very '70s-looking party frock with long sheer chiffon sleeves, a full accordion-pleated chiffon skirt and an elastic waist. I wish I could find out more about  the Janelle label; it's not listed at the Vintage Fashion Guild and in my searching I can only find 'Janelle' used as a name.

There were heaps of other great dresses on the rack, in the bright block jewel colours I like. But they were either too tight, or too drapey in a way that would have people solicitously offering me their seat on public transport, if you know what I am saying. There was one violet dress (I am really into violet-purple at the moment) that nipped me in Hendricksically at the waist, but I know from bitter experience that it would get unwearably uncomfortable after about half an hour.

Before I knew it, the store was closing and I still had a few dresses I had yet to try on. So I recklessly bought them anyway. The above purple print button-through frock is one of them. Because it has a sash tie at the back, I thought I'd be able to cinch it in if it was too big. But when I tried it on at home, I realised it's clearly made for someone bigger than me. The sleeves are too baggy for my arms, and my boobs don't fill out the bust.

I figured I'd resell the purple dress, since plus-size vintage is so hard to come by. It has no labels and I think it might be home-made, although the neckline is interfaced and the seams are overlocked. It's a light, silky fabric that feels like rayon or viscose. Flat measurements: waist 61cm; bust 64cm (from armpit to armpit); centre back length 102cm; sleeve length 26.5cm (from shoulder seam).

The bodice is in three panels, gathered slightly at the waist so there's room in the bust, and the sleeves are slightly gathered at the shoulder. There are small shoulder pads to create a structured 1940s look. The skirt is perhaps a half-circle shape in seven panels and has two pintucks: one on each side of the front.

The back of the dress, showing the sash which can be used to tighten the fit.

Detail of the fabric and the buttons. You can also see the waist seam just below the third button.

If you're interested in buying it or know someone who might be, please leave me a comment or send me an email.

I also bought these shoes. I have discarded my previous philosophy of fewer and better shoes because honestly, I wear through them all just the same. Either I grind down the inner sole from inside or I grind down the outer sole until it cracks or splits. I try to prolong them using insoles, but I grind those down too.

Black mary-jane flats are one of my 'collecting focuses'. I always look for them in op-shops when my last pair is nearly gone. They always look slightly different – the toe squarer or rounder, the upper more ornate, the heel moulded in slightly different ways. These patent ones replace a pair with flowers stitched to them (which I am wearing in the Luna Park pic above), which replaced a pair with decorative cutouts and contrast stitching, which in turn replaced my Grosby leather ballet flats that split in the sole.

And peeping into the frame you can see the other dress I bought without trying it on, which I'm actually pretty chuffed with. In daylight it looks chocolate brown but I think it was originally black but has faded with age. It's '70s does '40s, with a wrap top, long sleeves puffed at the shoulder with little shoulder pads, and an accordion-pleated skirt from an elastic waist.

This is how I styled it on Sunday. I was trying to look a bit retro because I was talking about the Wizard of Oz costumes at ACMI. I assure you my victory rolls looked better IRL than they do in this pic.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Napoleon's hand-in-waistcoat pose

I bet you have wondered why Napoleon Bonaparte is so often depicted with his hand stuck in his waistcoat. Again, we must return to the shit-scared aristocracy after the French Revolution. This was a time when it was very bad taste to dress in a foppish way.

In England, the aristocracy sought to redefine itself as strong and patriotic – "don't guillotine me, bro!" – through associating itself with such social institutions as the public school, arts patronage, organised fox-hunting and the reform of the armed forces. Each of these developed their own specific costumes.

Beau Brummell's rise began as an Eton schoolboy; his first sartorial innovation was, apparently, to add a gold buckle to the traditional Eton white cravat. He then took his style to Oxford, and finally became an officer in the Prince Regent's own regiment, the Tenth Royal Hussars.

We should perhaps not judge Pride and Prejudice's silly Kitty and Lydia Bennet too harshly for lusting after soldiers, because the Napoleonic-era military were the rock stars of the day, and their uniform was an exercise in what today we might call 'swag'. Beautifully tailored, brightly coloured and decorated with sashes, gold buttons, and ornate piping, fringing and braid, it was designed to look dashing and impressive, no matter how inadequate the body of the wearer.

An 1830 English instructional pamphlet offers specific ways in which military uniforms could camouflage an unimpressive physique: "an insignificant head" hidden under a helmet; a coat "padded well in every direction"; and the sheathing of "bandy legs, or knock knees" in stiff, thigh-high leather boots with two-inch heels!

Perhaps the transformation wrought by this finery is partly responsible for that genre of heroic military portraits depicting soldiers with their hands tucked in their waistcoats. They look almost vulnerable, as if wanting to reassure themselves their bodies are still there!

The 'hand-in-waistcoat' pose is most associated with Napoleon, but by his ascendance it was already an English portraiture cliché – one artist was accused of using it to hide his inability to paint hands! The gesture of touching the body through a suit is associated with "manly boldness tempered with modesty", as François Nivelon puts it in his 1738 etiquette guide, A Book Of Genteel Behaviour.

It appears so often that this loopy conspiracy-theory website (and other similar sites) identifies it as a secret Freemason signal: the "sign of the Master of the Second Veil". Apparently, Napoleon helped revive the Knights Templar, and there are pictures of other known Freemasons posing like this, clearly signifying their membership to anyone in the know!

I am going to be generous and allow that this coded meaning could be legit. After all, Exodus 4:6 describes God instructing Moses to stick his hand "into thy bosom" (in other translations, into his robe or his cloak), bringing it out all white and leprous, then sticking it back in again and retrieving it whole and unharmed. It's a miraculous sign for Moses to wow the Israelites with in case they are skeptical that he is truly God's chief dude. So the pose could signify faith in God's power.

This is like something from The Sign and the Seal, the ridiculous conspiracy-theory book I have been struggling through. I was hoping it would be a ripping Indiana Jones-style yarn, but I kind of gave up halfway when the author mentioned Atlantis.

I think it's more convincing to trace the pose, as Arline Miller has done, to the spirit of classicism that prevailed in 18th- and early 19th-century Europe. The pose is about re-infusing the male body with classicist dignity and honesty after an era of baroque dissipation.

Many Georgian and Regency artists copied the pose from ancient Greek and Roman statues; the 4th century BC actor and orator Aeschines of Macedon had argued it was ill-mannered to speak with one's arm outside the toga.

Basically, Aeschines' beef was that most politicians of his generation didn't behave with dignity: as Paul Zanker writes in The Mask of Socrates, "they no longer observed the traditional rules of conduct but gesticulated wildly for dramatic effect, just as the demagogue Kleon had been accused of doing in the late fifth century."

For those not down with ancient Athenian political personalities, Kleon was the hawkish politician who vigorously prosecuted the Peloponnesian War after the death of the cultured, cautious Pericles. Kleon was anti-intellectual, anti-elitist, and boy did he hate the Spartans. He had a forceful, hectoring oratorial style; both the dramatist Aristophanes and the historian Thucydides wrote unflatteringly about him. Clearly Kleon was still disliked a century later, if Aeschines still used him as an example of how not to speak.

Here's a Roman copy of a Greek statue of dramatist Sophocles, c330BC. It's strikingly similar to the statue of Aeschines:

Do NOT be telling me that these guys were Freemasons. (Maybe Freemasonry originated in Atlantis, LOL.) Doesn't it make more sense to imagine that later statesmen adopted the pose to lend them classical gravitas?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Home City Book Tour

As advertised, a few days ago I went on a book tour without leaving my home city. I was chauffeured by Affirm Press's sales and marketing manager Keiran Rogers in the company Prius (Affirm Press is a socially and environmentally responsible publisher, so that's how they roll).

It was a wonderful winter's day to be out and about – crisp and sunny. At first I was embarrassed to admit to being the author of my book ("Uh, do you have Out of Shape by Mel Campbell?") but Keiran was very matter-of-fact about it, and the booksellers totally knew the drill.

They were a great bunch of people: friendly, knowledgeable, and genuinely passionate about reading and writing. I really encourage you to buy books in bricks-and-mortar stores if you can. The ones I visited were all lovely places: airy and well laid out.

I tweeted our progress around town, photographing my book in various shops, and I've made the tour into an interactive map, so you can follow where we went. Just click on the placemarks to see the photos and text, and if you find the pop-up boxes extend off the map, click and drag anywhere on the map to reposition it and pull the info into view.

View Home City Book Tour in a larger map

In other news, I wrote an op-ed about Cosmopolitan magazine's recent, ridiculous "Size Hero" body image campaign for Junkee, which was syndicated to The Guardian. Here's a taste; click through to read the rest.
It is comically naive to think we can counteract a lifetime’s worth of immersive, pervasive cultural messages about body size and shape just by bunging a few scantily clad celebs and plus-size models in magazines. But weird magical thinking aside, we should reject all these campaigns for the same reason: they teach us that our bodies are other people’s property, to be gazed at and judged. You shouldn’t need Cosmo’s permission — or anyone else’s — to feel good about yourself.

And, excitingly, I've been invited onto Channel Nine's breakfast TV show, Today, this coming Wednesday (10 July). I'll be on air at 8:20am, talking about 'change room anxiety' and other issues. So I'll be making a flying visit to Sydney next week and hopefully will be able to pop into some bookstores there to chat to booksellers and sign copies of the book.