The Major Shop – Retail Clothing Part Nine

The big retail shop – Coleworths, Flyers, Getar, Big Letter, etc. exist in every major Australian city – indeed they have branches in multiple locations downtown and at shopping centres. In addition to white goods, manchester, and bargain bins full of toilet brushes, they sell clothing. A lot of it.

Many people stock their wardrobes exclusively from these stores, and can live comfortably by doing so. The goods they buy are generally reasonably well-made, reasonably well-fitting, and reasonably priced. But there is one disadvantage for the shopper: they will look like 250,000 other Australians each season. If they are frugal shoppers they will look like this more cheaply, but one season out of synch.

I can sympathise with this – I am equally well dressed, but in many cases the season is Winter, 1962.

The buyers for the big stores wield tremendous economic power in the clothing business, as they have very big purses indeed. And they are canny – they are always trying to achieve the perfect purchase…the garment that sells out completely on the last day of the season, leaving room on the shelves for the next attraction. But with this skill comes  responsibility. They are going to make the country look the way they buy for at least the next year.

Sometimes they get it right, and we all look decent. Sometimes they get it wrong and we all look like prats. And sometimes they get it disastrously wrong and we look like grubby, smelly prats. If you doubt me, I mention two words: nylon shirts.

I do not mind the clothing from the big stores, inasmuch as I buy anything. Their underwear does not chafe and their sweatshirts are good for at least a year. But I always pray that the designers and buyers will have done their job whilst sober. We have had far too many years when every garment has a logo printed on it somewhere and cannot be worn decently outside of a football stadium or tractor pull.

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Army And Navy Surplus – Retail Clothing Part Seven

I was a child when there was Army and Navy Surplus that meant something. My father bought a bomber engine at an RCAF surplus auction in Airdrie, Alberta and ran it in our basement. He also bought lightweight drafting equipment from the RCAF that used to be on the navigator’s flight table. I aways wanted him to bring home the Fraser-Nash gun turret that was on sale as well, but my mother was a spoil-sport…

I mention this as a preface to gently prime you for a fact of life; there is no army and navy surplus any more. The bomber engine was left over from WW2. The army and navy now need all the stuff they have and are frequently engaged in horse trading amongst themselves to gather enough of it together in one place to operate on. They don’t have any spares to sell.

What is sold in the surplus stores is cheap imports from Pakistan, India, and worse places. If it can be made of bad cotton or brass – if it can be made crudely but with a certain brutal flair – if it can be sold as an aid to camping, or fishing, or genocide – the stores will get a sea container of it in and sell it. Whichever category it fits into and whatever it is, you can find one common thread – it will be overpriced.

Don’t avoid the surplus stores because of this. Go into them, by all means. Education is always expensive and shopping there is no exception. Set yourself a price limit that is painful but not horrifying, and go spend to that number. Who knows – you may need the fake ammunition box or the Pakistani exploding alcohol stove – or the Confederate flag or the 70 cm folding knife – for some legitimate purpose.

Just don’t ask for Fraser-Nash turrets…

Blindsided In The Big Bed

Some Sunday afternoons are dull times…particularly when the weather has closed in and there’s nothing new to see. You sort of languish. So you can understand why I was delighted with an invitation from one of Perth’s belly dance sorority to call at her studio and take some pictures of her class teachers – she said they were to be casual ones for studio records. No need for me to bring the entire lighting suite…

Well, you can’t be too casual. I worked out a good travelling two-light setup with the new camera and packed it into the car. I noted that there were a few cars out on the parking area at her place but whose they were didn’t register. I walked to the front door and rang the bell that didn’t seem to ring. Just as well someone was going by the hall at time and saw me waiting patiently on the doormat.

Well, I was ushered in gracefully by Belyssa and directed to go set my camera and lights down. She’s got a big, purpose-built, studio space in her home that has an exotic theme – it looked like there were plenty of spaces for a decent posed group once the others arrived. I asked, in a professional manner, how many were to be expected.

And that was the signal – Belyssa gave the high sign and they all flooded out of the kitchen. And I was gleefully informed that it wasn’t a professional call-out, but a party given in my honour. And that it was I that was to be photographed…

I take these things well – rarely falling to the floor unconscious. I also take well to a glass of red wine and a plate of snacks and the cheerful conversation of people who I had photographed in the dance business for many years. And there were a number of war stories about theatrical performances and costume embarrassments.

Then they dressed up, and dressed me up, and packed into the spare bedroom set and sat me up at the top of the bed and that’s the last thing I remember. I’m told I had a good time, and I’m prepared to believe it.

I shall never look at Sunday the same ever again.

The Bunnings Phenomenon

I’ve written of Bunnings before – the local Australian version of the DIY shop or Home Depot. It is undoubtedly like other shops in other countries in that it sells nails and plumbing fittings, but in other respects it is wholly our own.

The first time I cottoned on to this was on World Talk Like A Pirate Day. All the staff dressed up as pirates – and we’re talking about senior citizen employees as well as junior staff – and talked like pirates. It was a bit disconcerting, when all I went in for was a can of spray paint, to see hardware clerks rolling their Rrrrrr’ses early in the morning…

Today they supplemented the standard sausage sizzle stand that parks out front of the place with Christmas cupcakes. I have no idea whether these are a commercial product or fundraiser’s specials, but I do salute the imagination that used a pretzel for the reindeer horns…

One cake is missing. Not my fault.

 

 

Mummy? Why Is That Man Dressed Like That?

Hush, child. He is a re-enactor. It takes some of them that way. Try not to stare.

Yes, I know it looks funny, but that is how it is meant to look. Yes, I know it looks uncomfortable. I’m sure it is. But at the price he has had to pay for it, he is bound to wear it anyway.

No, I’ve no idea what it has to do with us. It is from the olden days and from far, far away. From the land of Osprey. No. 138, I think. The lady standing next to him is from No. 94. That is a completely authentic outfit of the olden days. No, I don’t know how she goes wee wee in it. I don’t think she does – perhaps they didn’t go wee wee in the olden days – perhaps they just died young with desperate looks on their faces. She’s practising hers now.

Yes, it is a funny hat. But I’m sure it’s a very nice one. That’s why he has it tied on under his chin. He doesn’t want to lose it, and if it blew off I doubt he could bend over to pick it up. Not in those trousers. Not in mixed company.

Well, go and ask him. I’m sure he’ll let you feel it if you ask nicely. Offer him some of your fairy floss. Just push it right in there in the eye-slits.

That’s just how they talked in the olden days. And down on the docks. Perhaps he is a sailor or a pirate. Go ask him to show you his RRRRR’s. In those trousers it will be a memorable event.

 

The Costumed Society – Everyday Re-enacting

If you’re bored and want to start a fruitless argument, ask a group of re-enactors to justify what they do. You’ll get a variety of responses – angry, scholarly, theatrical, comical, righteous, etc. The only other topic that will set them off quite as violently is a discussion about correct period shoes.

People who re-enact dress up and play up on a regular basis. They’ll have something to do on a weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or yearly basis, and the amount of effort put into it increases as the interval lengthens. An annual trek to a medieval fair or a famous battle recreation can take far more than a year to prepare for and recover from.

Most re-enactors have daily jobs, uncostumed lives, modern connections. Few can live in a historical location, dressed in authentic garb, doing period activities. None of them wish to be doing this when it comes to sanitation, hygiene, and health emergencies. It is analogous to choosing where you want your horse to throw a shoe – outside the blacksmith’s or 130 miles away. You decide…

But there are facets of re-enacting that can be incorporated into daily life, and at a very modest price. Unlike buying the authentic, hand-last, organic died, battle-axe that you lusted over in the Pakistani catalog, there are things you can do for free.

a. Read about your chosen period. Libraries. Internet. Other people’s collections. There is never any dearth of new history written about old history.

b. Read in your chosen period. This is different from (a.) above. This time you don’t read other people’s reports – you read the literature of the day that was… not today. If you can’t read it because you can’t read Greek, or Persian, or Aztec, well you have your work cut out for you. Off you go. Start from the basics. Your goal is to see what the people said when they said it.

c. Consider the manners of the chosen period. If it is a time when there were no manners, you will have to bear that in mind for the next section…

d. Reproduce the manners of your chosen target time – and your chosen persona. You see – if you think being a Viking berserker is the finest weekend activity you can engage in, you may not be able to stretch this forward to Tuesday when you actually have to go to work at the local Beaurepaire’s or meet a professional client. You might have boxed yourself into a circumstance where you cannot play all the time.

Think again. If you are old and grey and slow, perhaps choosing a different pattern to model yourself upon is a good idea. A gentleman or lady of whatever period should usually have enough manners to be acceptable in any company. Likewise a philosopher, a literate, a scientist. If you local law prevents you from swinging an axe and howling  in the Coles checkout on a regular basis, try for re-enacting of a different sort.

e. Live your life in the rhythm of the day – as it was lived back then. If your period of time saw people getting up at daybreak and subsiding after dark for want of light and warmth…do so yourself. Readjust your clock – you can still wash clothes in a washing machine and use a refrigerator and poop in a flushing toilet – no need to go primitive and dangerous – but do it in the daytime.

Carouse at night if you must, but even here make sure that you do it within the economics and time frame of your target. You’ll save money and make less of a goog of yourself.

f. Readjust your speech. Here is where your early researches pay off. Use old words and eschew new ones. Use period phrasing and punctuation in your written communications. Write letters and post them. When you write an email to someone put the equivalent amount of postage that you would have used had the letter been a physical one into a jar with a narrow opening. When the jar is full, break it and use the money to buy your next physical accessory or costume item. If you have not got the price of the postage on you, consider well whether your communication need be written at all.

See? You can start to live the life with no big outlay, and if you continue steadily, you may find that you are having the most authentic of experiences.

As for myself, I have stopped cursing people, as it is not genteel. Or terribly effective. I now tell them that they may go to another place and do another thing…an authentic Victorian bowdlerization of telling them to go to hell and be damned. I do offer the occasional handbasket…

 

Returning To Somebody’s Roots

I am prompted to write today’s column by an advertisement that appeared on a Facebook timeline. It touted some form of cultural cringe session entitled ” Return To Roots “. The images fronting it suggested that the participants would be from Central American jungles, but I suspect that this was nothing more than graphic designer’s code for ” Come along and get drunk on expensive beer. ”

Nothing wrong with that, as many of my friends will attest, but using it as a catchphrase was damnable. If you REALLY want people to return to their roots, you are going to have to accept that the roots that they return to are neither exotic, erotic, or interesting. The crowd you are going to get is going to have to revert to being teenagers in the 1980’s in outer city suburbs…and you can get fresher versions of that at any servo on the Albany Highway right now.

No – what the advertisement was calling for was for a to return to someone else’s roots. What exactly it wanted us to do there is questionable. Root around? Dress up? Play act? I can do that in the traditional garb of my forefathers – a shirt and trousers – while drinking the mystical potion of the tribe – the highball. I do not need to put warpaint on my cheeks and shake a spear to be warlike. Our tribe put on khaki clothing and shook rifles…and it worked.

I’m as guilty as the next re-enactor of aping something that none of my family ever remotely enacted in the first place. As far as I can tell, none of the Steins or Sheedys were ever at Waterloo – except me – and I was 180 years late, thank goodness. What I did then and others do now is not re-enacting…it is acting. If we were better at it we would be paid money and solicited to give our political opinion on CNN.

But as far as returning to roots? I hardly remember some of their names, let alone addresses or faces…I still have a rash, however…

Featured Image: Fake Petzval lens effect. Real geezer.