The other day when I was resting on the fringe of the women’s section at a WestRoads department shop I slowly became aware that I was surrounded by racks of women’s clothing that had parts of their shoulders, or the complete shoulder removed. It appears that leaving part of the shoulder exposed, or the whole shoulder and upper arm exposed, is the must-have look for 2017. The cold shoulder look is everywhere; dresses, jumpsuits, bridal gowns, and even bathers. And surrounding the cold shoulder displays were racks of Hippie Laundry label smocked off-the-shoulder tops, tie-dye popover tops, and destructed shorts.
As the sales associate wandered by I turned to her and with a slight smile said
If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t really there.
The sixties welcomed tie-dye shirts, long flowing gypsy skirts, fringed vests, and peasant blouses; I learned that women had shoulders. The associate was staring off into the display of cold shoulder clothes and answered
I had a halter top sundress and a batik tie dye halter top.
I wouldn’t wear the cold shoulder; it’s for the young ones.
I don’t remember going shopping for clothes back when. Mum made most of my clothes until I was in my late teens. It’s impossible for me to forget the blue blazer and grey long trousers that she made for me; I was maturing into a teenager and it was time for me to wear grown-up clothes. The blue blazer and grey long trousers were about twice the size they should have been, but they were made for me to grow into; maybe the loose, baggy fit was some cool early sixties look that I didn’t know about. Mum said that the blue blazer and grey long trousers were to be kept for best; they were my going out clothes.
On school holidays mum and nanna would take me with them when they went into town on one of their shopping days. Like everybody back then they would wear their best dresses, and sometimes gloves when they went into town. I would wear my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes. We would stop at Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the Block Arcade and I would sit with mum and nanna, and the other shopping ladies enjoying their sandwiches or if it was later in the day scones and a cup of tea; they were all in their stylish suits or dresses. I was in my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes.
If you looked closely into the dark night you could just make out the glow of the new landscape that television was carving out across Melbourne. But it was still a time when going to the pictures in town on a Saturday night was a special occasion; a special night out and you would wear your best clothes. Dad would wear a suit and tie, and mum her best Saturday night going out dress. I wore my loose, going out clothes; my baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers.
I was a young teenager when I first caught the train to Yarraville to take learn to dance classes at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom. I was expecting the debonair Pat McGuire and his wife Marjorie to turn my two left feet into dancing sensations; I would glide across the floor showcasing the pride of Erin, foxtrot, and the evening three-step. Mum was so happy that I wanted to learn to dance; I was so happy for the opportunity to meet girls. Mr McGuire would walk the boys through a dance, and Marjorie did the same with the girls. When he thought it was time to practice the dance he had the boys line one side of the hall and the girls the other. Most of the time it was boy’s choice so you had to invite a girl to dance. The girls didn’t know if you had mastered the dance steps or not; I’m not sure they cared because they were at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom to meet boys. I know it wasn’t my pot cut, I was growing my hair into a long sixties style, which caused the girls to turn down my invites to step onto the dance floor. Every week the refusals repeated themselves and I would spend the night sitting in front of, and leaning against, the boy’s wall. As I sat in front of the boy’s wall I searched for the reason why the girls refused my invitation to join me on the dance floor; the only common denominator that came to mind was that my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes made me look like a dork.
I stopped going to dance classes at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom and I never wore my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes again.
I remember when The Beatles invaded Australia as part of their 1964 world tour. We all wanted a Nehru collar jacket. A year later Jean Shrimpton shocked Melbourne when she wore a mini skirt to Derby Day and caused absolute silence in the member’s lounge at Flemington Racecourse. It was five inches above the knee and her legs stopped a nation. And that was the first time I appreciated women’s fashion. I learned that women had knees and thighs. I was neither a mod nor a rocker but I did take charge of mum’s electric sewing machine and peg my jeans to produce a stovepipe effect. I turned the legs inside out and sewed a new tapered seam alongside the original seam; creating a small opening at the bottom of the legs that I could just squeeze my feet through. Even though I was rewarded a new freedom when I became a college student at Footscray Tech I still needed mum to provide food, shelter, and clothing. I wanted to shop for my own clothes; the closest I got was telling mum what I had to have. It was the late sixties and cool college students rejected the hippie fashion of tie-dye, leather sandals, flowers and peace signs, and beads and fringes; that would all come later.
Our uniform was corduroy pants and desert boots. I did persuade mum to buy me a paisley shirt. It was a time of conflicting idealism, protest, rebellion, and freedom of choice. We could choose to be hippie, bodgie and widgie, mod, skinheads, or surfers; and I became a little of each depending on what I could persuade mum to make with her sewing machine. A bottle green duffle coat, navy blue reefer jacket, a green jerkin, tapered jeans, bell bottoms, and black ripple sole shoes were the only constants as I brushed up against the late sixties and early seventies subcultures. I remember owning a suit. I left the suit in Australia when I set out in the early seventies on my first hallowed rite of passage searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. Mum would have kept the suit, but I never wore it again.
Carnaby Street was on the cusp of its heyday when I was living in London. In the early sixties, it was the birthplace of Swinging London, the home of mods, skinheads, and punks. It was the place to be if you were creative and in search of inspiration. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks made Carnaby street a legend; in the early seventies its rebellious reputation was fading.
The fashions of yesterday in the leftover menswear boutiques were making way for the emerging punk culture. I resisted becoming a dedicated follower of fashion during my search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary; my journey started and ended in jeans. When I returned to Australia after wandering Europe and drifting through the Middle East and into India along the ill-defined hippie trail, I left my jeans on the bedroom floor for mum to wash. I wore my Indian kurta shirt, harem pants, and scarves the first few times I walked Douglas Parade.
And as I sat back resting on the fringe of the women’s section at a WestRoads department shop I started to ponder why is fashion only for the skinny, gap-tooth smiling, youthful young ones and why is fifty plus the age that makes us no longer style conscious.
|If fashion designers refuse to create daring, provocative, everyday fashion that allows all of us fifty plus to flaunt an intense, emotional street style image then we need to create our own. Every pop culture that we travelled through defined itself by the clothing and fashion they established and left behind; hippies, bodgies and widgies, mods, skinheads, surfers and punks wore their individual clothing in a collective way. I think we need to forget about the 50 and older sections in clothes shops that are stocked with age-appropriate clothing and just shop in whatever section we want. Ours is the right to create a mix-and-match wardrobe.|
But there is a place for the trousers with an elastic waistband that straddles the back of our waist and needs to be positioned just above where our stomach starts its bulge. We need to lower them so they sit low on the hip, below the waist, and below the waistband of our brightly coloured, patterned boxer shorts. We need to reveal our underwear. Sagging shouldn’t be the exclusive fashion of Justin Bieber.
Fashion predicts that hipsters will combine clothing styles. Hipster chic street styles will be a mix of grunge and hippie must-haves such as matching button-ups, knee-high socks, polka dot tights, cool striped crop tops and big floppy hats. So it’s time that we reach into our wardrobes and storage boxes and reclaim our skinny jeans and trousers, the corduroy jacket with the leather patches on the elbows, the leather sandals, tie-dyed and paisley print, and shirts decorated with beads and fringes, bell-bottomed jeans, Nehru collar jackets, and the duffle coats and refer jackets of yesteryear.
For the last thirty years, I have headlined floral print shirts year-round. And I bought shorts from Australia and wore them before they were popular in the mid-west; before the united parcel delivery driver or postmen wore shorts. Mum would only let me take a little from each culture; pegged jeans here and a paisley print there so my wardrobe is bare. If only I could wear my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes one more time. This time with a floral print shirt and I would glide a partner across the polished dance floor in my own maverick style.