Do my thongs match my suit? How do my socks look in these sandals? Is this black leather mini-skirt appropriate for the wedding?
Looking at the fashion sense of many Australians, it is tempting to think that when such questions have been asked, friends have decided to give a joke answer. In truth; however, such fashion questions are usually not asked because many Australians are either driven by an overwhelming sense of pragmatism that results in them putting need before style, or they have such confidence in themselves that they will wear what they like, irrespective of whether it makes others giggle. For example, in the 1940s, PM Joseph Benedict Chifley refused to wear ceremonial clothes and became a Privy Councillor in his own suit. In the 1970s, politician Robin Boyd wore shorts to parliament as they were more comfortable. Finally, in the 1980s, artist Clifford Possum met the Queen wearing a top hat and a pair of hand painted sneakers.
The mentality of pursuing pragmatism over conformity pressures gave rise to the Ugg Boot, arguably Australia’s most famous fashion export. Legend has it that the boots were invented by surfers needing easy to put on footwear that was comfortable for the trek home from the beach. After considering the problem, an enterprising individual wrapped masking tape around wool to create 'ugly boots.' Although they served the purpose quite well, they looked a little strange when some ladies wore them to keep their feet warm while wearing the skimpiest of bikinis, which suggested that they didn’t feel cold at all.
In technical terms, one characteristic of poor fashion is that the various items of clothing have poor syntax. This basically means that they don’t seem to be in harmony with each other. For example, wearing running shoes with a business suit has a poor syntax because each item was designed for a different purpose; they don't match.
Aside from a syntax existing between cloths in an outfit, there is syntax between the entire outfit and the context it is worn in. For example, a lady wearing an evening gown, high heals and a necklace would look lovely at a cocktail party. However, a lady wearing the same clothes would look misplaced at a football game. The combination just doesn't match.
Poor syntax is usually interpreted as poor fashion because it seems to indicate that the person was too socially clueless to weave the items together into an outfit that was suitable for the context. Ironically, fashion is often lead by playing with the syntax so that something odd is normalised. For example, when soccer player David Beckam sported a Mohawk haircut while wearing a business suit, he was combining things that didn’t normally go together. Although some people looked at him as a fool, other people saw him as exerting great confidence in himself, which they found endearing and subsequently copied. Likewise, when bogan Australian women wore Ugg boots to the beach, Ugg boots had an image of a low class product that only women without fashion sense would wear. However, when an American promoter paid actress Pamela Anderson to wear the Ugg boots while posing in a bikini on the beach, Ugg boots were redefined as having a kind of Playboy bunny sex appeal. Beach bogans subsequently seemed to be ahead of the fashion trend.
The Australian attitude to fashion can probably be traced to the penal colony days, where “fashionable” people tended to look foolish, which in turn, turned pre-conceived notions of fashion syntax upside down. Specifically, in the colonial era, fashion merchants imported top hats and black jackets. Although such attire could be comfortably worn in cool European climates, they made their wearers look ridiculous in the 40 degree heat of the Australian summer. To compound matters, fashion was used to demean the Convict population. As part of their punishment, Convicts were issued with demeaning prison clothing known as 'Magpie' suits. An arrow printed on the uniforms intended to demean the Convicts by signalling that they were owned by the crown. Repeat offenders were dressed in yellow and black uniforms that had them resembling a jockey or court harlequin. Such suits were specifically designed to be extra humiliating. Understandably, being forced to wear demeaning clothes did little to endear Convicts to the expression: "clothes maketh the man."
Convict clothing was specifically designed to be humilating, which in turn probably made the convicts think that fashion sense isn't everything.
The lack of respect for stylish fashion was soon expressed in people wearing clothes that publicly mocked high fashion. In the colonial era, an emancipists named Billy Blue operated a ferry between Nth Sydney and Circular Quay wearing a top hat and a discarded military uniform.
Billy Blue - A black convict that became famous for his top and discarded military uniform.
Since colonial times, experinmenting with clothing syntax, exerting self confidence, and adapting to the environment has produced a range of Australian fashion items. Brands such as Billabong and Piping Hot have
been producing cutting edge designs for almost three decades. Aside
from being innovative in the use of material use as canvas, corduroy or denim,
surf shorts are made extremely durable. Often double or even triple stitched,
they are able to withstand being torn apart by the big Australian surf.
surfwear is particularly sexy. Short skirts are fashioned out of light material
that flutters subtly in the ocean breeze, giving onlookers a suggestion of the
bikini concealed beneath it. Still teasing men, female surfwear is sometimes embroidered
in a strategic location with a suggestive word like "naughty". Not only
do the words draw attention to curvaceous lines, they trigger the imagination
when doing so.
To ensure that the curves
of the breast are well packaged, bikini tops are usually unpadded. Although Australians
generally think this is normal, in Asia the bikinis are padded as the ladies are
embarrassed about their nipples protruding in the cold ocean.
from the Ugg boots, great Australian footwear includes Blundstone boots.
Initially made to specifications required by Diggers during the gold rush, they
are able to survive the tough Australian land where the thin toil soil exposes
sharp rocks that take little time in tearing ordinary boots apart. Their
durability has them prized by bushwalkers, farmers, wine makers and outdoor photographers.
In recent years, they have also found a sympathetic eye in the cities, helped
along by catwalk appearances and the dance trope Tap Dogs.
Tap dogs - Tap dancing with workboots. A juxtaposition of ideas and style.
sleeveless Australian rules football jumper is another unique and adaptable fashion
item. On the football field, its durability allows it to withstand being pulled
from every conceivable angle. As Australian football players develop impressive
arms, being sleeveless also allows for the display of flesh that improves the
chance of evoking an appreciative eye from a female onlooker.
the field, the jumper remains a tremendously adaptable item of clothing. The lack
of sleeves makes it perfect for working on machinery such as car engines where
loose material can get caught. Furthermore, the choice of jumper allows an individual
to express an aspect of their personality. If one wishes to express an association
with the obnoxious or criminality, a black and white Collingwood or Port
Adelaide jumper is a good selection. If one wishes to make a statement that
looks aren't everything, there is no better jumper than the brown and yellow of Hawthorn.
In a barren land with
harsh sunlight and a thin ozone layer, it is no surprise that Australia has produced
a large range of hat styles. For the ladies, hats are crafted out of materials
as diverse as leather, felt, straw, feathers, gum nuts or ribbons.
On the first Tuesday of every November, new designs are paraded before an appreciative
audience at the Melbourne Cup. Although people come to the track to look
at the horses, most men need blinkers to prevent being distracted by the ladies.Such fashion parades have a charm lacking on
the catwalks of Milan and Paris. Melbourne Cup fashion is culture
in its natural setting, not removed from it like some wild animal in a zoo.
Melbourne Cup Fashion
classic unisex hat is the broad brimmed Akubra. So attached to owners become
to their hats, they are retained even as time wears holes into them. But rather
than lessen its appeal, the holes actually increases it. Aside from improving
ventilation, the holes express a sense of durability and ruggedness.
most famous hat of all is the cork hat that was initially invented by Aboriginal
jackaroos. Preceding the days of aeroguard, the swinging corks keep away the flies.
On the downside, arguably the cure is worse than the affliction. Swaying corks
can make one feel dizzy, almost as if the wearer is still be affected by the bottles
of booze that had to be drunk to attain the corks.
Although fashion is settling into a more consistent syntax, at present world opinions about Australian fashion are still quite derogatory.
It is generally accepted that Australian Olympians are the world's worst dressed of all Olympians, and Qantas stewards are the least well-groomed of all airline workers. There is also a saying that if you want to determine if a businessman is Australian, you just need to look at their shoes.
Questions to think about
The picture below shows various outfits worn at a Melbourne concert. Comment on the various combinations of shoes, dresses, jeans, shirts and sunglasses and whether the people look confident.
Tiger out of the jungle
The following photo is of people at a day time music event in Melbourne. The Tiger lady has good syntax with her various items in her outfit, but comment on whether the syntax matches that of other people and the event she is attending.