Monday, February 27, 2012

An afternoon out of time

The good old days weren't always the good old days. Think about what we have now - particularly health care and most particularly pain-free dentistry! The good old days - in any era - were undoubtedly much better if you were well-heeled; that's true of this very moment. We romanticise the past in tv shows and movies, and I'm as susceptible to longing sighs for a world before the intrusions of mobile phones, the internet and speed cameras as the next person.

My chosen era to sigh over is the 1920s. This was an exciting time per se, but a very exciting time for women as they shrugged themselves out of long skirts and corsets and into comfortable clothes, low-maintenance bobbed hair and a sense of power. The Great War had changed everything; women had a taste of independence as they took on roles left by men who'd gone to fight, and had no intention of going back to being subservient little creatures. They smoked in the street, they wore makeup, they defiantly wore dresses that showed their knees - or to the horror of their mothers, trousers -  and thanks to Marie Stopes had a lot more control over when they intended to have children. (Sadly however equal pay for women was a loooong way off!)

That's just the tip of the iceberg. I could rant on, but this post takes a delicate sidestep, a slight Charleston if you will or perhaps a Black Bottom, into the realms of 1920s fashion.

I'm a sucker for 20s fashion. Unfortunately I have a curvy 1950s body which means that the slimline boyish dresses of the period don't fit me as well as they should, but this was a period of real glamour. Again, particularly if you were well off. Sequins, beading, luxurious materials, floating panels that swirled out when you danced, feathers and filets... glorious glamorous stuff.

Three years ago I went to a vintage fashion fair and bought a reproduction 20s dress made in India of modern materials - knitted cotton lining, net over the top embellished with heaven knows how many sequins and beads. I'd get dizzy if I tried to count them. The dress was less than $100 which was great for me but probably not so good for the poor little bugger in India who'd hand beaded it.

Anyhow, there I was with this heavenly dress in deep purple and nowhere to wear it. Until I discovered the Roaring 20s festival at the Blue Mountains. Apparently it runs every February and there are plenty of events you're invited to frock up for.

So I frocked up and dragged my long-suffering husband along yesterday to the Jazz Afternoon Tea at the beautiful Paragon Cafe in Katoomba. The Paragon was built in 1916 and has recently changed hands, with the new owner slowly restoring it to its gracious original beauty. Luckily there is a wealth of original features untouched for nearly 100 years, including art deco mirrors and panelling.

Armed with champagne cocktails we both had a fantastic time, got chatting with the German jazz singer who, when she is at home in Hamburg, is a family court judge, explored the Paragon, danced the Charleston (Yesss!!! Another thing ticked off the bucket list), ate too many delicious Paragon chocolates and generally had an afternoon out of time.

What I loved most was how different I felt, dressed in this sparkly purple dress, with my home-made satin bandeau and the purple kimono-type jacket I'd finished the week before. I moved differently from head to toe. I walked differently. I caught sight of myself in one of the Paragon's old bevelled mirrors and in the dim lighting I was someone I didn't quite know; not the dag who spends most days in jeans and a t shirt or bizarre tops and leggings, but an elegant creature from an earlier time.

Yes, I dress well when the occasion demands it, usually business suits or smart modern clothes for business meetings. But this was different. Now I understand why people - adults - play dress up. Why period costume conventions are growing in popularity. The good old days weren't always the good old days but the glamorous bits, in a throwaway world whose pace is far too swift, are worth recreating.

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