Monday, October 26, 2009

Dressing Vintage in Adelaide

Quite a while ago now Kitty asked me this question:

As a fellow (now expat) Radelaidean, I'd love to know how you find having such a distinct style in a town that, let's face it, is not particularly stylish or tolerant of people who stand out from the crowd.

Don't get me wrong - I'll always love Adelaide, but I know from personal experience that people who look a bit different can cop a lot of stick there!

I decided I would answer it in a blog post because I thought it was a very interesting question. It’s just unfortunate that it took me so long to get around to answering it!

The short answer is that I find it just fine – I never get any trouble, as such, but people do stare and quite a lot of people compliment me, too.

I’ve been dressing differently for quite a few years, now – before it became incredibly popular I had a scene/’emo’ look which most people confused for ‘goth’ but I never really got a hard time about it. My art teacher in high school used to poke a little fun at me saying things like ‘I feel sorry for you goths in summer, wearing all that black!’ Here’s some photographic evidence:

I suppose I started to move away from that style just as the term ‘emo’ was becoming a mainstream one so I think I avoided all of the negativity directed towards those who wear skinny black jeans, black eyeliner and all that jazz that came afterward.

In between that style and this one my transition period involved a bit of experimenting, some vaguely ‘indie’ styles as well as some forays into vintage inspired or Rockabilly-esque looks. There was a period of one or two years, I guess, when I didn’t really have a distinct style as such but then I realised that I not only felt more comfortable in vintage styled outfits but that fashions of the 1940s and 1950s were far more flattering for me, too. So I started to only buy things that I felt reflected that look and began to get rid of those which did not. It was quite a process, looking back on that time.

The past three years I’ve been attending AC Arts TAFE (doing a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design majoring in photography) and it is during this time that my style has really flourished. So, I’ve mainly been surrounded by a lot of open-minded people and I never feel out of place there, even though none of my classmates dress like me. The lecturers I’ve had have generally been rather complimentary, too. One of my favourite compliments was from the gallery director (who also lectures) when she told me that she always looks forward to seeing what I might wear next and that I was like a living work of art myself! Another time, she and another lecturer stopped me and were asking me about my stockings, etc., and commented on how my look is a full-time job. Combine that with parents who are not only very supportive but incredibly proud of me and I suppose it’s been quite easy for me to develop a fairly distinct style, without a lot of ‘hassle’.

I should also mention that, during that time, most of the places I went out to were indie clubs and I suppose I sometimes felt a little overdressed but I never felt mocked. More recently I’ve taken up swing dancing and, having braved my fear of new social settings, have attended a few of the social nights where people are really encouraged to get ‘dressed up’.

On a similar note to Kitty’s question, a girl I met a few weeks ago, who also dresses vintage, asked me ‘Do people ever ask you things like ‘What are you dressed like that for?'' I told her that I’ve never had that specific question asked but a few people have assumed that I was wearing a costume. I realised, though, whilst typing this that a guy at Jive did once ask me what I was dressed up for and I just shrugged and said ‘This is how I always dress!’ I can’t remember what his response was as I was feeling a little harassed (but only because I was merely waiting in line for a drink and didn’t much feel like talking to drunk strangers) but I know it wasn’t anything negative.

Stef did mention she thought someone once asked me if my hair was a wig and I have a vague recollection of that happening but it was either so traumatic that I’ve blocked the memory or, and this is more likely, it bothered me so little I didn’t see a point in remembering it! Solanah, it seems you’re not the only one (though that was the only time anyone has ever asked me that!)

People do stare at me, a lot, which can get exasperating but I do dress quite differently and I do stand out so it’s only to be expected. I can’t read minds so, of course, I can’t say what these people are thinking. I have to admit sometimes I’ll be getting ready to go out and I may, for instance, want to wear a pair of cat-eye glasses and I’ll think ‘Oh, but people will stare at you if you wear something like that – it’s too outlandish!’ Then I look in the mirror, chuckle, and think again ‘Well…people stare at you, anyway, so why not just go for it?’

More than anything, I get older ladies telling me how lovely I look! It’s great when that happens but sometimes they are a tad effusive in their praise and I end up awfully embarrassed and don’t know what to say but to repeatedly say ‘Thank-you’. I’ve also had a few girls walk past me in the street and yell back at me ‘I love your dress!’

All in all, I don’t find it very difficult to dress the way I do – people either stare or are complimentary and if they are saying anything negative, then I’m blissfully unaware!

However, when I was having a chat with the singer of Lucky Seven, I told him about this question (but not that it was asked on my blog – for some reason, I feel a little embarrassed talking about my blog in ‘real life’) and he said that sometimes when they’re all dressed up they get people yelling out things like ‘Oh, look, it’s the Blues Brothers’ or ‘Are you supposed to be the mafia?’ I wonder if they get more trouble because they are men and I’m a woman? (They always look absolutely fantastic, anyway. It’s such a pleasure to see men dress up, too).

I certainly feel lucky that, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t get any negative responses because I’ve read responses to similar questions on forums about the place and quite a few people seem not to have the same support that I do, even from their family and friends. I feel really sad about that, to tell you the truth.

What about you, my lovely blog readers? Do those of you with a distinctive style find it difficult to get along that way where you live or is not an issue?

Forgive the uncommonly wordy post – I usually like to keep my posts short and sweet, because I know that many people, such as myself, have very short attention spans but I wanted to answer this question properly. Feel free to ask any other questions, too.

I've had this all typed up and ready to go for a couple of days now and, funnily enough, I came across this post on Twila Jean's blog, today!

Andi B. Goode


  1. Great post, Andi - thanks for answering my question! I'm glad the reaction to your look is usually positive, because you look fabulous and deserve nothing but compliments! I imagine if you were ever to hear a negative comment, it would be borne of jealousy - like Twila Jean says, most women wish they looked more glamorous day-to-day but few are willing to put in the effort. Keep on rockin' your look!

  2. Kitty: I'm glad you liked it! Thanks. =D My mum always says that, too (about people being jealous).

  3. Great post...I have over the years tried various looks, yet I feel at home in vintage...I get stares and the odd rude brainless remark, usually teenage girls, but I look at them and think if you cant even make the effort to brush your hair , who are you to give an oppinion on my look..Like your self I wear vintage hair, makeup and clothes everyday, were different, don't let them change us!take care x

  4. Thanks for an interesting and honest reflection Andi - I can certainly relate, having grown up in Perth which was equally small and artless when I was developing my sense of style. I too went through a punky/emo stage, though I must say I think you pulled it off better than I ever did!

    It's so encouraging when strangers compliment your style. I think that makes up for all the strange looks and backhanded comments. My dress is far less outrageous than it used to be, but my hairstyling has developed, and although I've never been asked if my hair is a wig people always ask me if I do it myself, which is funny as it's usually not particularly complex! I'm tempted to tell them I have a private hairdresser who comes over every morning, but I usually just look confused n say 'um...yes?' then mumble something about hairspray ;)

  5. People that read my blog know I'm not new to vintage clothing, but I'm just venturing into vintage hairstyles and makeup.

    I get looks from time to time, but I've come to the conclusion that each to thier own.

    My family once asked me if I was going out after a get together because of what I was wearing, When I answered I'd worn the dress to work and was going home they asked me "if you wear that for work, what do you wear for going out?"

    I couldn't explain to them that for me, getting dressed up is comfortable, and a way of expressing myself.

    I'm like you in that the 40's, 50's and some of the 60's suit my shape and that's what I try to convey.

    I don't care what people think about me, and niether should anyone else who loves vintage.

    I love your look Andi, and like I've said before if you want to sell any of your dresses - the 1940's yellow swing dress with red detailing especially :) - I'll be happy to buy it from you.

  6. You do have a lovely collection of dresses, so sweet and feminine. I also love getting dressed up -it's wonderful, and I also receive lots of compliments.

    Do stop over at my blog for a retro giveaway!

  7. I have gotten some mean comments in the past about the way I dress - one lot of teenage girls yelled some comments that absolutely ruined my day, I simply burst into tears and went home (I still get frustrated about my reaction to that - as if I should take sartorial sass from people who think leggings are an appropriate substitute for pants!) I sometimes get dirty looks and comments at the train station near my house - people seem to think I'm getting uppity or dressing 'too good' or 'trying too hard' for the region. Which is baffling! I probably spend -less- time on hair and makeup than the girls in the area with their fake tans, lipgloss and pin straight hair! It's simply that I choose to wear things that appear more glamorous.
    That said, it's interesting that once I reach the city I -do- get a lot of lovely compliments from strangers, and that always makes my day. (One lady offered to give me all the clothes she saved from the 60s and couldn't fit into anymore! But I forgot to get her number! ;_; I'll never stop beating myself up about that!) I simply have to remember that dressing in this style has made me feel more comfortable and happy in myself than any of the other looks I've tried out in the past.

  8. What a terrific post, thank you for sharing about some of the history behind the evolution of your personal style. (I think you made for an adorable emo-esque girl, but like your vintage look even more! :D)

    Wishing you a deeply beautiful week, honey dear!
    ♥ Jessica

  9. Hi Andi,
    Great blog, i've wanted to bring up this topic for a while. London is of course a diverse place with many different varies of weird and wonderful, however there are still alot of ignorant people who cannot seem to understand why I choose to dress like this and seem to somehow be offended by it. On a daily basis travelling around I hear people talking about me, not seeming to realise that I can hear them, one particularly unpleasant incident was when a couple were sitting opposite me on a train when I was reading a book were having an argument about the way I looked, it was the man incidently that was defending me, while I heard the woman say 'but it's not the olden days is it, you have to accept it and move with the times.' The most horrible incident happened earlier this year when I was all dressed up on my way to a party when a group of 4 or 5 grown men shouted across the road at me 'it's f***ing 2009!'. I don't really understand why they are so concerned with the way in which i choose to dress, i'm not asking them to like it, but there is never any need to be rude. I work in a museum that happens to be about WW2, so everyday about 100 times people comment 'do they pay you extra to dress like that' or 'why are you the only one in costume?' I do get embarrassed sometimes when someone starts questioning me loudly about my eyebrows or how I do my hair, but I too have to except that I do look a little different. But on the whole people are very complimentary, i have to pose for quite a few pictures too which can also be embarassing. Anyway, sorry for the longest comment ever! I just wanted to get all that off my chest! Keep it up Andi! Lots of love, Jen x

  10. Oh and P.S, I have been asked if my hair's a wig before too!

  11. I too was into the scene/emo thing. I had a Monroe and everything! I still have my flowers in the attic tat on my arm, and my hair is still growing out from the super short layers. It's been a few years too! he he! I've always been into vintage but my new taste is so much better!

  12. I just read Twila Jean's post, too. It's an interesting discussion. I have to say that because I don't dress vintage head-to-toe everyday, I don't have the same problem. I also live in a vibrant, colorful city where people dress in every which way. But after reading Twila's post and now yours I think I can understand the scrutiny you might go through in dressing vintage. Maybe that's why I chose not to go all the way vintage with my look. It's definitely interesting to think about. Like you, Andi, I dressed kind of punk in high school, but I also started wearing vintage then as well. I remember wearing a 50s dress and saddle shoes to school and as I was changing into them at gym class some girls asked if I was in a play. I think I may have said yes just so I didn't have to explain, "Uh, I just like wearing this?" Recently a car drove by me, and a man hollered at me with "I'm going to the library RIGHT NOW!" Which was a tad annoying but actually made me smile. I mean how often to women get hollered at like that?

    I almost wish someone would ask if my hair was a wig. I'd surely take that as a compliment. That would be mean it looked too good to be true! Someday, I'll be able get my hair is BOMB as you, Andi... someday. And also, you might be my bff in the land down under if you want a cute boy, hot guys reject you and you still listen to weezer ; )

    <3 <3 <3

  13. great post!

    fortunately living in nyc you can get away with a lot and no one will look at you twice ... looking really different is almost encouraged here.

    vintage looks are much more complementary (i think) than the goth phase... very refreshing to see the old photos though. it's inspiring to see that we all might be able to achieve looking like we came from another era. :)

  14. I loved this post Andi! Thats Adelaide for u, people certainly do stare at anything/anyone slightly different. Its great that youve had so much positive support. Ive bought a few vintage dresses lately (I have to edit them before I wear them) and my mum keeps saying 'why do you want granny dresses', which is really getting on my nerves.
    Im really suprised about the 'emo' look you had, doesnt even look like you really, much different to your dress these day :)


  15. we've had some very thought provoking posts this week. Well written Andi! On a lighter note, I usaully venture out in wigs and on the one day I didnt wear one to class my friend pulled my hair convinced I was wearing one.

    XX Rosina Lee

  16. "As if I should take sartorial sass from people who think leggings are an appropriate substitute for pants!"

    So true, Miss Emmi! Words to live by!

  17. I love this post and seeing how your style has developed!
    At my old job in NYC, I gradually went from wearing standard business casual (slacks and v-neck sweaters, mostly) to things I felt were more me. I don't think my way of dressing is particularly counter-mainstream, but I often got comments like "it's fun to see what you'll wear each day!" I did get one bitchy comment (about a Swirl dress, one of my favorite vintage pieces), but most were quite nice.
    I think if people are staring at you, it's because they are fascinated (in a good way)!

  18. Thanks to everyone for the comments. They mean a lot. =D

  19. Super post Andi!

    At Adelaide Uni, my dress sense definitely used to get attention... oh and the rainbow bicycle.

    I don't think my style is particularly out there though!

  20. wow, I only just stumbled across your blog today and reading this is VERY reassuring. I can relate to almost everything you said, so much so that it is kind of spooky. My mum is the same, she is totally proud of my vintage flair and really goes out of her way sometimes to find me something I've been looking for or something I would get into. I catch the train to work everyday and have had people comment on my clothes often, but as you mentioned it has never been anything negative (even on the northern train line). I too, when I had darker locks was asked if i was wearing a wig... strangely enough I wasnt offended either and from memory I think i simply laughed it off. It is the same with "why are you dressed like that?" comment, I have been asked several times as the group of people I tend to go out with does not dress like myself, and I specifically remember one time simply turning around and saying "because i like these clothes... why are you dressed like that?" and left the questioner speechless.

    Just had to comment, even though i know this post it old.

    PS Miss Emmi - your leggings quote made my day!


I read and greatly appreciate each and every comment. Thank-you! x