In 175 years of David Jones, I found myself

David Jones 175 Years: The Exhibition
David Jones 175 Years: The Exhibition

Style, grace and quality is on show at the David Jones 175 Years Exhibition. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski

At what point did I lose my fashion mojo? When did cardigan sets and knee-length skirts infiltrate my wardrobe? Has the ability to accessorize slipped through my fingers like spaghetti straps off a wire hanger?

I used to be able to embellish an outfit with the best of them – Dutch fisherman caps, Victorian broaches and even a WWII Eisenhower jacket I picked up in Minnesota.

But lately, I’ve been looking in the mirror and seeing blah.

Knowing change requires inspiration, I go out and buy a truckload of fashion mags, peruse the shop windows and surreptitiously people-watch from behind “classic” Ray Bans. But it’s the fashion fairies that point me towards David Jones’ 175th Anniversary Exhibition – and my ultimate enlightenment.

The exhibit’s on the seventh floor – which I didn’t even know existed. As you’d expect it’s filled with historical documents; vintage posters emphasizing haberdashery and millinery; pedal-powered sewing machines; and leather (crocodile) hat cases with matching steamer trunks. Interesting in their own right but I’m here for my mojo.

First off the rank is a black “day dress” circa 1887. To me it bellows Little Women in mourning – morose, high-necked and with a backside bustle that could double as a nightstand. Not at all to my liking but I can’t help being impressed with the craftsmanship – rigid pleats that give it the fullness; double turned hems that add weight to the fabric while eliminating the visibility of cut ends that is omnipresent in today’s clothes (mainly because the raw end requires less work thus making it cheaper to produce produce).

Moving to the 1920s, there is a lovely black flapper dress with hand-stitched silver beads paired with black silk and rhinestone-studded shoes.

I learned something too – since flapper dresses were the first to expose legs and feet, this is what spurred the hosiery and designer shoe industry. It makes sense but I just hadn’t put two and two together.

Further along, into the 50s, 60s and 70s I start to see a pattern. While the silhouettes and designs are unique to the era, it’s the hand-sewn features with the inclusion of a single accessory that relay style.

That’s when it hits me. Each of these dresses (well maybe not the stifling and constricting one from the 1880s) could stand on its own today.  And it’s not just the monochrome palette (black is always the “new black”) but also rather the time-tested simplicity accentuated with just one accessory.

At that moment, I realized my aptitude for accessorizing never really left; it just got a bit confused between fad and favourite. I wasn’t wearing the fisherman’s cap because it looked quirky but because my parent’s bought if for me while in Amsterdam. The vintage broach?  It was my grandmother’s while the Eisenhower jacket was acquired during a rare (read: teenage) mother/daughter excursion.

So, I guess I have actually found my own style. It’s simple but sentimental – and in my opinion, that will always be on trend.

David Jones 175 Years: The Exhibition

May 25 -June 23

Level 7, David Jones Elizabeth Street


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