Wipe your tears with shoulder pads

Yesterday I nearly spent my life savings on a dress. Granted, the dress was only $230, but I’ve never been that good at saving. And as any media industry members out there will attest, for the first few years you are definitely paid in experience, not cash.

It was a pretty speccy dress, all the same. And on sale for $50 off the rack price, which is a sneaky little tempter to distract you from a solemn vow never to spend more than $50 on any one item of clothing unless you happen to be getting married.

It was black, tight, and fitted perfectly. And I would probably never have had the guts to wear it anywhere but my flat during a 90s grunge-pop montage. But still. I would have felt pretty damn good dancing in my bedroom all the same.

Needless to say, I left the store empty handed. But it led me to thinking about the clothes I own that instantly make me happier. This, combined with some rather intense questioning on why I own leather pants and four straight episodes of Sex and the City, has culminated in this post: the definitive top 10 wardrobe mood lifters. Let’s begin.

1. The leather jacket
I bought this about two years ago after a week of late nights on EBay. It’s a 1970s Country Life black biker jacket, complete with flannel lining and customary rips and cracks in the boot-thick leather. It does not fold, weighs more than my cat and restricts arm movement to that of a squeezie action toy. But I don’t care. It could render me unable to walk and this would still be my favourite piece of clothing. I want to die in this jacket but I think the leather would stop a bullet.

2. The Dior
I found this at a recycled clothing sale a few months after I moved to Bunbury. It’s a 1980s cropped cream Dior sportswear jacket with unseemly shoulder pads and a cross over front. It does not suit me at all and is currently at the drycleaners recuperating from a red wine encounter. The material is itchy, the shoulder pads and giant lapels add bulk where I already have ample and I feel uncomfortable in any colour lighter than, well, black, but it’s a Dior, darling.

3. Nana sweater
Some people would argue that cream, gold and tassels should not be combined outside of musical theatre. Those people are correct, and would probably not approve of this sweater. It’s a very 1960s short-sleeve knit with outrageous gold embroidery and weird little gold charms sewn on. It would probably quite suit Broadway. I wear it to work.

4. Suede skirt
This winter I went on a hunt for a velvet skirt. Only to be expected after three solid weeks of listening to The Cure and watching Empire Records. I thought I’d found the perfect one – black, high-waisted, not too short – until my sister haughtily informed me it was suede, not velvet. No matter. Suede is nineties enough for me.

5. Leather pants
This was another unfortunate movie-inspired purchase. On Friday night I watched Grease. And on Saturday morning I bought leather pants. Not even Sandy in a slutty-phase pants – which are actually Lycra. These are clearly designed for riding a Harley, with generous seat room and tapered calves so as not to get caught in any mechanisms. Oh, and a tiny, tiny waist. They look like leather jodhpurs. They are awesome.

6. So bad it’s good red dress
Bunbury is a gold mine for opp shopping. Clothes that would have been snapped up, steam cleaned and marked up 400 per cent by the nearest vintage store in Melbourne are put on the fancy dress rack for cross-dressing footballers to draw boobs on in good ole WA. Thankfully I rescued this number, which is bright red with giant white hibiscus-esq flowers, shoulder pads galore and a wrap waist. It prompted my friend to coin the phrase I think sums up my entire wardrobe: “That looks hideous. It suits you.”

7. So bad it’s actually quite bad pink dress
The whole fashion world is taking their cues from Mad Men at the moment, but this particular 80s does 60s number is more Pregnant Peggy than Joan Holloway. It is essentially a large pink floral smock with pearl buttons and a belt, which nips it in and allows passers buy to distinguish your womanly shape from a walking mattress. I wore this a lot last autumn. And for the life of me, I can’t think why. It must be because nothing says “I don’t care what you think” like an oversized pink floral moo-moo.

8. Green K-mart dress
This had been languishing at the bottom of my ‘to hem’ pile from an opp-shopping bender in Wangaratta four years ago until I rediscovered it when packing for WA last year. Since then it has been hemmed, and worn and re-worn, admired by some and derided by others, and completely adored by me. Which is, after all, what this list is all about.

9. Little black work dress.
A boring mention, I know. But every (I was about to say “working girl” – ahem – journalist, whatever Paul Barry might think there is still a distinction between the two) needs an oh-shit-I-forgot-about-that-breakfast-meeting/press conference outfit in case of emergencies or hangovers, and this is mine. And yes, it cost less than $50.

10. Vinyl skirt (dec.)
If you’ve stuck with my self-indulgent rant, well done, but I ask you to indulge my sensibilities a moment longer with a minute’s silence for this departed friend. I had been looking for a leather pencil skirt for longer than is fashionable, and settled on this vinyl number a few months ago. I have worn it to interview everyone from the mayor to politicians to the sartorial ladies at the Bunbury Women’s Club; attended countless meetings and drunk to excess in the comforting wrap of material that was originally intended as cheap flooring for 1970s British flats. And then, just last week when I was contemplating how on earth it was supposed to be washed short of being hosed down, I saw it – a tiny but conspicuous tear. I almost cried. I certainly considered superglue, and may yet take that option if I can’t find a replacement quick smart. Poor little vinyl skirt. All you gave me was love and what appeared to be a contact burn. You were too good for this life.

So there you have it. Happiness is just a few bad outfits away. On a related note, if you happen to see a vinyl skirt on your travels, hook me up.

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The hills are alive

Gosh, Victoria has some pretty country.

There is an expression Terry Pratchett sometimes uses – “gnarly country”. It means land which is all scrunched up, containing more geography per square inch than it has a right to.
It’s not a term I would have applied to Victoria before – I grew up on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, so the hills and valleys that populate most of the state and south eastern New South Wales never really impressed me. But having spent the last 11 months in WA, previously unnoticed inclines now seem mountainous.
It’s a curious shift in perspective – an indication that I am becoming westernised. I had previously thought WA was stretched out. Now I think home is scrunched up. And it is becoming less ‘home’ than ‘my parent’s place’.
Of course, West Australians strongly resist the assumption their state is as flat as Big Brother season eight ratings. Whenever I mentioned it in my first few months, the response inevitably came: “You haven’t been up to Collie, then? There is a hill in Collie.”
I must confess, I still have yet to make the trek up the hill to Collie. Yet I am doubtful it can compare to the journey from Melbourne to Albury, where finding the flat bit presents the greater challenge.
West Australians are very parochial about their hill. We don’t seem to notice ours.
About half of the hills flashing past the window of the XPT train have been cleared. The ratio swings more toward the bulldozer the further north you go. Removing my rose-tinted homesick glasses, it’s bloody ugly. The South West is more objectively aesthetically attractive. But since when has beauty been an objective assessment?
You can keep your karri forests. I’ll take this box-ironbark scrub, dotted along road verges and ridges too steep to graze. I’m not interested in sunsets over long white beaches. I like hollowed-out little towns where half the railway cottages still have remnants of an outhouse and everything feels like it should be shrouded in fog even in the height of summer.
I’ll take frosty mornings and hot, sharp summer air over a climate-controlled year-round Mediterranean forecast. Ridiculous heritage values over booming development. Good coffee over big coffee. Green swings over Liberal heartland.
My mother told me she felt comfortable settling in Everton because the trees felt like those in her childhood home on the western fringe of the Hunter Valley, at the other end of the Dividing Range. I seem to have inherited her craving for familiar county. This connection to place is a peculiar yearning, as both of us wanted nothing more upon graduation than to run far away and never return.
Not that we’re afraid of a change of scene – the Bunbury anniversary is looming next month – but neither career nor family nor a new life can disrupt the connection to country.
My sister is earnestly making preparations to uproot her and fiancée’s life in Sydney and replant it in Perth, where the work is more interesting for a pair of engineers. It will be a permanent move, for a given value of permanent.
I couldn’t do that. There is a clock ticking on WA. The draft townhopping schedule is dictated by work, but I won’t settle until a three hour drive lets me see the mist rolling off the hills.