Decluttering: The Joys of Fluid Ownership


Do you cling to possessions? I have in the past, but I’m getting better at letting them go.

Moving house is a great way of shedding the fixation with stuff that so many of us suffer from. This is because you end up forgetting half the things you actually own and it’s a nice surprise when you start opening the boxes at the new place – it’s like opening presents.

My recent move from my shabby old deco flat was so rushed that I ended up giving things away, donating them or just putting them on the hard rubbish pile. There just wasn’t time for a garage sale.

When I got to my new place – a first floor sixties flat in a bayside suburb – I still had too much stuff. Luckily I now have time to downsize at my own pace. I will sell some of these things, and if they don’t sell, I’ll give them away as gifts or donate them.

But my attitude to stuff has changed. I am much more willing to get rid of things I have no room for. I want objects to be functional and if they don’t play their part I will part with them. My huge vintage radio, which has never done a day’s work in its entire time with me, has recently gone to a new owner who may even be able to get it working again.

My thirties standard lamp didn’t survive the move intact, and the other day I put it on the hard rubbish pile outside the flats with hardly a twinge of regret – it’s gone already! I’ll eventually buy a lamp that can be adjusted so that the light is close enough to read by – something I couldn't do with the standard lamp.

This relaxed attitude to things is what the freecycling movement is all about. It’s about embracing an alternative way of looking at goods – ownership isn’t permanent any more. You use something until you simply have no use for it, and then you pass it on to someone else. It’s not so much collective ownership as fluid ownership.

I freecycled my old cream couch before the move and I offered some things for freecycling that didn’t get taken – time was partly the problem. Embracing freecycling completely would probably mean rarely having to make any major purchases – you give stuff away you don’t need, and get stuff for free when you need it (people on my freecycle list post ‘WANTED’ ads as well as offers). But I cannot, at this point, be a complete freecycler. I want to sell some of my old stuff rather than give it away – it took me so long to collect! If it doesn’t sell easily then I’ll gracefully let go of it by other means.

Different ways of freecycling

Sometimes there are things that are just too sentimental to give up completely, even if you have no room for them. One option is to lend them to trusted family members on a long term basis (a written agreement might be helpful here). It’s still fluid ownership, but you know that in a few years’ time you can reclaim your stuff if your circumstances change.

Fluid ownership is a great principle when it comes to clothes. Swap meets are wonderful for getting rid of clothes that are still wearable but that you are simply sick of. We all need novelty and if you are fashion conscious, endless rotation of your existing clothes won’t be enough. At a swap meet everyone comes home with something new, yet no new resources have been used to produce your ‘new’ items.

When it comes to clothes, roommates often practise fluid ownership as second nature. Thrift stores are also a way of practising fluid ownership – we sometimes donate things just because we’re sick of them, and hopefully find things that other people have donated for the same reason.

In whatever form you practise fluid ownership, my belief is that it produces good karma when it comes to stuff. When you give stuff away freely or at a reasonable price, you are more likely to get bargains or freebies back again when you need them.

Do you practise fluid ownership and if so how?

Until next time!

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The Secret Reason We Buy Too Much Stuff

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(Picture: Jerry Bakewell)
There are many reasons why we indulge in retail therapy, but one of them isn’t mentioned very often. It’s so obvious we don’t even think about it.

Sometimes we buy things just because we have the space for them.

This realisation struck me when I moved house recently (when they say it’s the most stressful thing you can do, they’re not kidding!). I moved from a huge art deco apartment to a decent-sized two-bedroom flat with one less room.

I’d already given away a lot of stuff before I moved but was amazed at what I still had.

The most surprising thing was that I had quietly amassed a collection of thrift store pictures over the almost ten years I’d been in the apartment. I had a total of more than thirty pictures altogether! This is without any conscious collecting on my part – just a desire to fill the empty spaces on the large walls.

The irony is that there are very few picture hooks at this new place, and I am reluctant to ask the landlord if I can put them up at this early stage in the tenancy. So the majority of these pictures are going to have to go – I’m intending to sell some of the better ones on eBay.

Having amassed all these pictures has taught me a lesson in restraint. I did get very skilled at picking pictures with future potential – the more kitsch the better – and was proud of the way I arranged them in my apartment. And I will keep some of them at the new place, and rotate them on the few picture hooks I have so I don’t get bored.

But nothing is forever, and I will let the majority go with grace.

I know now there is always a new picture around the corner. Only a week ago I found myself staring longingly at a large, abstract print in an op shop in the inner city suburb of Port Melbourne. I knew I didn’t have room for it. When enough pictures are sold, perhaps I will let myself buy one or two new ones.

So next time you're about to buy some little knick-knack or a piece of furniture it’s worth asking yourself the question: am I buying this just to fill space?

Perhaps there is just one thing you buy too much of, because you’ve started a collection – collections have a tendency to constantly demand that they be added to!

If you tend to do this, next time you could rethink whether you really need the item. If it still ‘calls’ to you, is there something you already have that you could get rid of?

Another question it's worth asking when you’re buying a piece of decor: is there something else the money could be used for, like a great experience or a large savings goal?

Until next time!
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Store Loss and Disenfranchised Grief

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I stood with my head pressed against the glass. Behind it, a thoroughly empty shop, long and narrow. The bald fact of it: walls, carpet, back door. Everything else – the shelves, the posters, the old counter at the back with its pale pink curtain into the inner sanctum that held the DVDs – all gone. The closing down signs still mocking the windows, a picture of understatement.

How absurd, to get upset about a video store closing! How old was I? Well, it was early January, which is always a disorientating time for me. And this was a local video store, not a franchise, owned by a sweet family headed by a short, white-haired middle-aged woman who always treated me with kindness and courtesy. This family were already installed in the store when I started to use it after returning, ten years ago, to live in the nearby suburb where I grew up.

It was a damn good video store, with plenty of stock to choose from. It charged only $3 for new releases, obviously an attempt to compete with the DVD vending machines that had become a fixture at supermarkets in recent years.

It had no pretensions to being an arty place aimed at cinephiles – I used to think how much more it could do to capitalise on the hordes of students in the area – but the owner had realised, she told me once, that keeping a back catalogue of videos rather than selling most of them off was good for the business, tiding it over whenever the crop of new releases was particularly disappointing.

My angst came from several sources. I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye and thanks for being real, and independent, and genuinely friendly. Mixed in with this was the frustration of human curiosity – I’d missed the inside story. I’ll never know whether the owner had simply had enough and was retiring with a nice little nest egg, or, much more likely, was a victim of the switch to vending machines along with the rise of Quickflix and internet streaming – and perhaps rising store rents.

But it wasn’t just the owner I’d lost the chance to say goodbye to. It was the shop itself, its familiar layout, the time I used to spend painstakingly choosing my five weeklys for only $6.50. I’ve used those DVD vending machines, but it’s just not the same. Going out to choose a video is still a treat for me, and having a machine dispensing it takes all the fun away.

The small losses of daily life

As we get older, familiar places seem to become more important. There is so much change, and yet another small adjustment can sometimes seem like a blow.

Gerontologist Professor Kenneth Doka has an expression for the sense of loss that we have trouble letting go of because our grief is not socially sanctioned – he calls it disenfranchised grieving.

Such losses are often large but they can also be small ones. Life is full of them – every new stage we enter results in the shedding of old routines, places and companions – but modern life changes so fast that we may be in a state of constant adjustment, never having the chance to find our feet until the next earth tremor of change.

Pic: Grove Arcade bookstore, by Joel Kramer
Shops are commercial ventures, but the ones we visit regularly become part of our psychic maps, our mental touchstones. I hadn’t expected to feel bereft when the Borders store at my local shopping mall closed. This occurred when the entire Australian arm of the business went into receivership in 2011. All over Melbourne Borders stores were holding closing down sales and I joined the swarms of bargain hunters combing the fast-emptying shelves for books going for a couple of dollars.

I wasn’t prepared for the sense of loss once the Chadstone Borders at closed. I knew that it was a heartless multinational, had read somewhere that workers in its US stores were so poorly paid they had to get second jobs to survive. Nevertheless there was something profoundly civilising about all those books in my local shopping mall. I’ve always fetishised books and it was the sheer number at the Borders store with its two floors that captivated me.

Still, losses have their consolations. About a year ago a new independent bookstore moved into Chadstone, with genre labels that look a bit home made, and a refusal to grant the kinds of massive discounts that stores like Borders and Dymocks have relied on. It’s a new branch of the independent chain Robinsons Books, and seems so far to be well patronised – long may it reign!

Have you ever experienced a sense of unexpected loss when a familiar store closed down?

Until next time!

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Ethical Investing: A Greener Term Deposit


Please note: the following is not financial advice. You need to do your own research before making any investment decision.

I’ve been frustrated with the options for ethical investing in Australia for a long time. Then I read Greenwash by Guy Pearse and it clarified what I’d been closing my eyes towards – the bank that underwrites my term deposit, the National Australia Bank, is continuing to invest in new coalmining projects at record levels. I’d had enough. It was time to find something else. But options were limited.

I think I have found the answer – a green term deposit.

If you want to buy shares, in Australia at least there aren’t that many blue-chip, mainstream companies that can be described as ethical; it’s not an option for me to invest in supermarkets (gambling, coalmining, high greenhouse emissions, duopolising exploitation of suppliers) or mining companies, and after that you’re not left with many options apart from dodgy telecommunications companies.

I don’t have a large enough sum to make it worthwhile to hire a financial planner, and I don’t like the idea of the high fees and commissions that you pay if you put your money in an ethical managed fund.

It’s amazing what a little exploration on the internet can yield. I’d never heard of the Maleny Credit Union but as far as sustainable financial institutions go, they’re not doing too badly.

Maleny is a small, scenic town north of Queensland on the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The credit union was set up in 1984 by townsfolk who wanted more local credit, and two in particular who wanted to direct investment into ethical and employment initiatives. From the start members were determined to retain it as a community owned resource, and even volunteered their time to keep it open.

Then, in 2011, the board voted that the credit union merge with one of Australia’s largest credit unions, Credit Union Australia. But the townsfolk would have none of it. They wanted to keep it as a local enterprise that would always put people before profit.

Today Maleny Credit union is a social enterprise, which basically means that ‘its purpose is to improve the lives of members through ethical, sustainable and community focused services’.

The credit union’s ethics policy is quite extensive but I would have liked more detail about specific things that the credit union is investing in. In the absence of alternatives, however, I’ve decided to go ahead and take out a term deposit with them.

Credit unions versus banks
My experience in Australia is that credit unions per se are a good choice for term deposits even without sustainability credentials, because their main aim is not to make a profit, but to benefit their members. I intend to keep some of my savings in my current credit union while opening a term deposit with Maleny.

In the longer term, I’ll start to research putting some of my savings into ethical shares. The beauty of term deposits is that they give you somewhere to park your little nest egg while you decide what the heck you want to do with it in the longer term.

(Credit unions also tend to be much cheaper to bank with – by restricting different types of transactions I completely avoid monthly fees on my account, Also, given I’ve got an online savings account, I’ve never been fined when my online everyday account goes into the red!)

My term deposit with the bank is due to mature at the end of the week. When I made the decision to remove my savings, I wrote to National Australia Bank explaining why. I’d suggest doing this if you decide to remove your money from banks with dodgy investments, or sell shares for the same reason. I think it’s worth letting the companies know. If enough of us put our money where our beliefs are, the world would be a cleaner, greener place. Here’s a portion of my letter:

Recently I read a book called Greenwash by Guy Pearse. It highlighted the hypocrisy of companies like yourselves that provide copious information about cuts to operational emissions while continuing to expand your investments in dirty, emissions-intensive industries, particularly coal mining and export. These industries, as well as speeding up catastrophic climate change, are also ultimately bad for our economy because they make the Australian dollar very high while providing very little employment, relatively speaking. Further, much of the profits go out of Australia.

Have you decided to green your investments? If so, what has your experience been?
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A Rant about Packaging

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A few weeks ago I went to buy a simple torch from the supermarket. It wasn’t until I got the thing home that I realised how overpackaged it was. The torch was attached to a large, hard plastic backing – by three rings of plastic (as shown in the pic above). It also came with a completely superfluous hessian holder that can be attached to a belt.

Is there anything more irritating than the overuse of packaging in consumer goods? In the absence of effective regulation, packaging is wasteful in the extreme. How many acres of forests are lost each year, how much superfluous hard and soft plastic is produced in order to make run-of-the-mill goods seem exciting and sexy?

The Australian Conservation Foundation wants the Australian Government to set up a federal agency with powers to ensure that packaging is ‘kept to the minimum required for the preservation, labelling, safe handling, and economical usage of goods’. This is a great idea, but such a body would also need to require manufacturers to choose the most sustainable options for their (minimalist) packaging.

The government could offer assistance that made it financially viable for companies to do this. This would have the flow-on effect of encouraging companies to produce environmentally responsible packaging materials - fostering innovation and new green industries and jobs, possibly selling to global markets.

Manufacturers view packaging as being vital to their branding – the ideas and emotions they want consumers to associate with their product. Yet if they were forced to reduce it, they might think up more imaginative ways of appealing to their customers – indeed, a reduction in packaging would actually appeal to many customers anyway, contributing to a green image that had some substance to it.

New uses for old packaging

Another item I’ve been looking for is a sustainable pencil case – I looked on Etsy and the Australian version of Etsy, Handmade – and found some lovely examples, such as this cute knitted pencil case.

But then I decided I didn’t really need to buy a pencil case at all, because I just used a plastic holder that had inexplicably arrived with a recycled toothbrush I ordered over the internet (pictured below). What was the use of producing a toothbrush from recycled plastic, I asked the manufacturer at the time in an email, when it is accompanied by unnecessary packaging? So I have at last found a use for this plastic container, which I couldn’t bring myself to throw away at the time. (Another option would have been to use a wallet from an op shop.)

Plastic recycling has come a long way, but manufacturers seem to be using this as an excuse to keep producing more of it – in its produce section, Woolworths now provides small plastic bags that are a pleasing grass-green hue with the comforting message that they are produced from ‘at least 30 per cent recycled plastic’. Why don’t they encourage customers to bring their own mini-plastic bags for fruit, vegetables and nuts?

Wikipedia describes greenwashing as ‘a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation’s products, aims and/or policies are environmentally friendly’. Superfluous packaging often appears in examples of greenwashing. For example, Scotch tape has produced what it cannily calls (perhaps to avoid accusations of greenwashing) a ‘greener’ rather than a ‘green’ tape. But this greener tape comes with its very own mini plastic dispenser, encouraging buyers to purchase a new dispenser every time they buy tape.

I don’t want to discourage readers from trying to buy green. I originally planned to write a blog entry on green stationery items for kids going back to school. It is worth shopping around for more eco-friendly items from online stores such as BuyEcoGreen, and Officeworks now stocks many more green stationery options that it used to. But until we have tough Australia-wide laws on packaging, the waste-a-thon of cardboard and plastic production will continue.

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Necessities or Luxuries: Which Do You Put First?

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Happy New Year! Now that the Christmas spendathon is over, and the January sales spendathon is in full swing, I’m in the process of dutifully parting with the unspecified sum of money my parentals always grace me with at Christmas in lieu of a present.

The difference is that this year I am not going to spend it on something big. In fact I’m in the process of buying those boring things that I usually put off buying because I am trying to save money, can’t be bothered searching, or have throughout the year prioritised frivolities and ‘extras’.

But the fact is, when I put my mind to it I love buying these necessities. It makes me feel as if I am looking after myself.

After a misspent (literally) youth of frivolity with money, I became a rabid stinge in my early thirties. Along with this came a willingness to get the basics paid for first – rent, bills etc – and to stock up on the dull necessities of life before venturing to buy anything frivolous. I adopted the kind of mentality that privileges having enough underwear in your drawers over having a new pair of tailored pants, a glamorous dress or Italian shoes.

It’s a sane way to live, but I think I overdid it for a while. For example, I used to spend a fortune on vitamins, and I’m not sure I needed all of those tablets rattling around in my insides.

In the last few years I’ve been rebelling against this tendency a bit, and buying a few frivolities ahead of necessities (although I will always be a stinge – most of my frivolities come from op shops). But when I received my Christmas money this year, I knew it was time to get back to basics. I’ve been ignoring some dull requirements for a few months now, and it was time to play catch up.

So here’s the list of basics I’ve either bought or am intending to buy:

Cruelty-free lipstick – it can be a hassle finding cruelty-free lipstick if you don’t want to buy online. I’ve discovered that three mainstream brands, Innoxa, Australis and Face of Australia, are cruelty-free (it’s sad that there are so few since many of the big brands started selling to China, which demands animal testing). These brands are available at some Priceline stores and Innoxa is also sold at Myers.

Neck support – for tele watching. Aesthetically unpleasing – downright daggy in fact – but very comfortable.

Lumbar roll – long overdue. I need support for my lower back while using the computer, watching tele, reading on the couch, etc, etc.

Neem oil – this seems to be the go-to oil for organic gardeners. Apparently it keeps away the little pests such as snails while not harming beneficial insects like butterflies and bees. I am also hoping it will deter (without actually poisoning) the possums that populate my garden and love eating my succulents.

Oversized hair rollers – these are perfect for getting my flyaway fringe under control – the standard size rollers don’t do the trick at all.

Big new diary – of course I would have bought this anyway, but I have bought one of those A4-size ones and it’s carbon neutral to boot!

New torch – I dropped and broke the last one during the traumatic period a few weeks before Christmas when I went for three days without electricity while some of the wiring at my place was being fixed. It was a nightmare time and dropping the torch didn’t exactly help matters.

Cute shower cap – for the bath, not the shower. (Does anyone wear a shower cap in the shower anymore?) Must have more baths this year.

New hessian bag – for library books and the beach. Hessian is incredible, a light material that holds heavy weights and lasts for years. My last hessian bag, 15 years old at least, finally bit the dust in 2013, so it’s time for another.

New saucepan – boring but necessary.

Hair cut – I would have had this done anyway, but may as well use the Christmas money for it!

Calendar – I always buy these after 1 January to save money, and this year will be no exception.

Parasol – currently I use my boring navy blue umbrella as a parasol on those boiling hot days when a hat just isn’t enough. I am looking for a cute parasol that will do the job with a bit more style.

That's enough necessities for now. Even when I'm buying necessities I still use my intuition, which makes it more likely that the things I buy are right for me.

And I did manage to also buy a half-price, oversized wool top at the Salvos in Malvern, certainly not a necessity for this time of year but a bargain too good to pass up.

Do you normally skimp on necessities but buy luxuries instead, or do the opposite? How do you feel when you put luxuries first, and how do you feel when you put necessities first?

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Is Vintage Fashion Dangerous? The Guilty Pleasure of Watching Mad Men

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I have a very embarrassing confession to make. I have just discovered Mad Men. I know, I know. It's only been around for about a gazillion years, spawning many a conversation about Don's conquests, Betty's scarves and Peggy's career trajectory - not to mention more serious discussions about the representation of African Americans and women in general, and its characters' changing attitudes to queerness, whether their own or other people's.

Don't think I wasn't tempted to tune in initially. I heard and read all the hype. I even went to the exhibition of the clothes (shown below) at my local shopping mall, and still I kept away.

Picture: Fernando de Sousa
To be honest, I dreaded watching it because of all the noise about the sexism it depicted. I thought, from the publicity, that the show would glorify the sexism rather than critique it. I feared it would be depressingly retrograde.

In fact, it does both. The sexism traps the characters, but is also part of the mystique and glamour of the show. This contradiction is the source of both the danger of Mad Men and its charm. It is also surely one of the reasons the clothes in the show are so fascinating. Clothes are not just clothes in Mad Men. They are clear signals of gender, and the different kinds of power that gender allowed and continues to suggest.

In the biologically driven gender minefield that is the Sterling Cooper ad agency at the dawn of the sixties, the kingpin, the chief ape, the unofficial leader is Don Draper. Charismatic, brooding, tall, dark and handsome and attracting women like Tippex to a typewriter, he is a paradox wrapped in a contradiction, a walking cliche of sixties manhood except for the existential angst, a feature more to be expected in a beatnik. Don's not fooled by his own publicity. He's only good at what he does because he's so familiar with the universal insecurities that his advertisements tap into.

Picture: AP
At the beginning of the sixties when the show opens, men's power came from having a higher social status than women. Revered in the home as mothers and wives, women were essentially second class citizens in the public realm. At Sterling Cooper they play the role of subservient handmaidens and sex objects who are referred to by the men as 'the girl' or by their first names, while they must address the men using 'Mr'.

In this world, male attractiveness is a very different beast from female sexual allure - it's tied up with social power, high status and action. The suits on these perfectly groomed men are designed to reflect their knowledge, ability and authority, thus enhancing their position in the social hierarchy.

For women, clothing has a very different function. The only kind of power women can openly wield is sexual allure, and the most powerful woman in the office at the beginning of the first series is the most sexually attractive, Joan Holloway (below). Joan simply cannot fathom that Peggy, who starts as a secretary but blossoms into a talented copywriter, might want a different kind of power and influence.

Joan, of course, does wield other kinds of power, particularly over the other secretaries in her role as chief secretary. However, that this authority is tied in with her sexual power becomes sadly evident in the second series when she tries to sack a secretary for breaking into the office of the company's head honcho.

The secretary is immediately reinstated by company partner Roger Sterling, because he wants to have an affair with her. The irony is that Sterling had been carrying on a secret affair with Joan for years; now that Joan is engaged to someone else, Roger uses his superior power to get his way.

It's true that Joan is also valued and needed because of her ability to organise the office. In fact she's one of those people that every large office seems to have - the person that manages to hold the whole place together, the person you go to when you want to complain for the umpteenth time that the airconditioning is making the office too cold. However, it's doubtful whether, in the extreme environment of Sterling Cooper, Joan would be afforded the respect and occasional indulgence of the men in this powerful role if she wasn't stunning.

Yet, as the sixties progresses Joan comes to realise that her role deserves credit and she starts to describe herself as the 'office manager' rather than the 'chief secretary'. This reminded me of the way women stopped calling themselves secretaries sometime in the eighties and became personal assistants.

Don Draper's wife Betty also dramatises how limiting gender stereotypes were for women after the Second World War. In the first series this perfectly groomed woman with her porcelain complexion and blonde bob is a fifties ideal of the suburban Mom, but she is also an archetypal representative of  all the discontentments that would give birth to second wave feminism.

Betty starts off representing the staid, conservative fifties rather than the turbulent sixties but her domestic role is no barrier to her being a style icon.

The image she exudes of the perfect wife and mother is one of the reasons Don has married her, and it's clear the man has a bit of a madonna-whore complex. Betty is the 'angelic' mother of their two children, but he has affairs with career women who are intelligent, sassy and independent.

Of course the turbulent sixties are about to hit Sterling Cooper, and feminism and black power will shake up that cosy little world - which brings us to Peggy Olson.

Young Peggy is easily the most evolved character in the show. Fresh-faced, honest and hardworking, she storms into Don's office and tells him 'I don't understand ... I tried to do my job, I follow the rules; and people hate me. Innocent people get hurt and other people, people who are not good, get to walk around doing whatever they want. It's not fair!' She is The Future, she is Diversity, she is getting there through talent and hard work rather than networking and privilege. She is the secret story of the legions of women who have done battle in a man's world while dealing with their lack of power over their own bodies.

More superficially (!), she also develops a great tailored look as she advances in her career and in her confidence as a young professional.

And she demonstrates that intelligent, ambitious and forthright women are damned attractive, even to neanderthals like Pete Campbell.

So why is there guilt in the pleasure of watching Mad Men for me? Because the show glamorises the power differentials it depicts as much as it critiques them. It wants a bet both ways, but I think we viewers do too. We know what a cost there was to these gender differences, and the fact that the clothes underline the differences makes them somehow complicit.

Given the show's glamorisation of oppression, it's not surprising that so many people don't get the irony. I remember reading the blog of a male copywriter who said something along the lines of 'It's okay to be a bit sexist since Mad Men'. Surely it should be even less okay to be sexist after Mad Men, not more?

The problem is Don, of course. He is confused, emotionally isolated, an imposter in his own life, but he's also in control in so many ways, never more so than with the ladies. And the trouble is, the show seems to like him wielding sexual power over them. It offers him as a role model even as it reveals the farce that is his picture-perfect life - in the first series, anyway. Patriarchy and male privilege have never been so alluring.

Some of the female actors in Mad Men don't get the irony either, their publicity shots showing poses that make them look like objects of lust and not subjects of it. Corporations are also reaping the benefits. The Mad Men cosmetics line by Estee Lauder cashes in on the mystique without the critique - and the actors oblige by allowing themselves to be photographed - or it appears that way - smoking away in retro sixties style.

Perhaps I don't have to resolve the ambivalence I feel watching the show - perhaps I just need to be aware of it. Mad Men is about how the past affects the present, and it is a warning as much as as an exercise in nostalgia. Women are not yet equal to men even today, but even the gains we've made are constantly under threat.

Let's adore the full skirts, shimmery evening gowns, complicated hairstyles, perfectly arranged scarves, and the neatness and tailored suaveness of Pete and Don. But let's also remember that prescribed gender roles come at a huge cost. These roles are appealing because they make us feel secure, and hark back to a time when it was all much simpler, but in the end they bring out the worst in both women and men. The men in Mad Men are too competitive, too 'up themselves', they're rude, self-centred, terrified of intimacy and prone to alcoholism; the women are bored, angry and unfulfilled, passive-aggressive, and chronically insecure. Somehow as a species we have to let these roles go and just learn to be ourselves, to fulfil ourselves as human beings and treat one another with respect. It's a much harder ask but the question is - can we do it and still enjoy the fun of fifties and sixties fashion?

You betcha.

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Fringe Furniture 2013 Delivers a Fresh Burst of Design Imagination

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Melbourne's Fringe Furniture exhibition, part of the annual Fringe Festival, is famous for its fresh, inventive and cheeky attitude. This year's theme was 'Make it true', a call to bring imaginative ideas to life. Many entries combine artistic flair with unexpected uses of recycled materials. I popped in last weekend and took some pics.

Fringe Furniture has become an iconic Melbourne event. Established in 1986, it showcases the work of some of the country's most exciting emerging designers. It is entirely open access and includes an awards program and a mentor program. Its home in recent years has been the Abbotsford Convent  a trip to this artistic hub is an outing in itself.

The standout exhibit for me was the scary chair pictured above. Made from a recycled piano and plumbing fittings, with lighting coming from open mouths on curved tentacles, it has an uncanny touch of the Addams Family about it. Titled 'The festering', it was indeed inspired by Uncle Fester, who would power lightglobes by putting them into his mouth. It's the brainchild of Amanda Gibson and Peter Drofenik.

A very different kind of seating (and colour scheme) can be seen in this comfy looking bench by Celine Huggins. Its materials include food cans and synthetic ply towelling and the slats are pool noodles, no less.

The piece below is the very definition of conceptual elegance. By Adam Raphael Markowitz, it's called the Möbius Chair and is made from laminated birch plywood.

The uncanny crops up again in  'Fledgling', a striking light shade made from ostrich feathers, stainless steel and rusted steel. It's by designer Alex Sanson.

Why hasn't someone thought to combine the chair and the sleeping bag (or is it a windcheater) before? The result is an invitation to withdraw into domestic comfort. This design, 'Cocoon', is by Evan Mery.

I loved the bold yet natural colour shades on this coffee table, which is made from a salvaged pallet, with a base of black zinc steel. It's by Marcus O'Reilly and is fittingly titled 'Palletto to pallete'.

Here's a close-up of the surface.

The flash photo below doesn't fully convey the charm of this next piece, which has a 'steampunk' feel. Known as 'Jacklight', it was made from mixed materials by Donna Kirkwood and Patrick Neil at Zom8ie.

This trio of a stool and two tables had a pleasing spidery feel and an earthy asethetic. Created by Christopher Herman, the tops are Australian limestone and the legs are corten steel.

The striking light shades below are porcelain designs from Colin Hopkins's Porcelume collection, created in his studio at the Abbotsford Convent. Hopkins's delicate, translucent designs are hand thrown on a potters wheel and then etched by hand, creating a shimmering feel. 

These are only a few of the almost 100 pieces in the Fringe Furniture exhibition, which runs until 6 October. Opening hours are Wed – Sun, 11 am – 5 pm. It's at the Abbotsford Convent, 16 St Heliers St Abbotsford. It's well worth a look if you're in Melbourne  stroll around the convent grounds afterwards, and have a cuppa in one of the cafes.

Until next time!

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Advanced Style – A Fashion Blog that Advances the Image of Women

Picture:  Caitlin Bussey

There are so many great fashion blogs on the web these days, it’s difficult to keep track of them all. One blog that stands out is Advanced Style, which celebrates the fashion flair of older women. 

The blog’s creator, Ari Seth Cohen, roams the streets of New York taking beautifully styled photographs of older people with creative personal style.

The success of this blog has been phenomenal. It attracts around 150,000 visitors a month. It’s featured on television many times, there is an upcoming documentary and Advanced Style coffee table book and colouring book. One of Cohen’s favourite subjects is Ruth, a 100-year-old woman who dresses elegantly every day, exercises daily, travels overseas with her boyfriend and still does Pilates.

There are so many reasons to love this blog, but it’s what it avoids doing as much as what it achieves that makes it so radical.

Advanced Style doesn’t talk down to its readers. Just the opposite – it invites their participation. For the women who regularly showcase their outfits on the blog and have become friends with Cohen, it often becomes a collaboration. Their involvement helps to shape the blog.

There’s hardly a tight forehead in sight. No judgement on those who succumb to ‘enhancement’ such as Botox or plastic surgery, and I’m sure a few of those featured have had the odd nip and tuck, but it’s refreshing to see women who aren’t trying to look young. Instead their aim is to look great and stylish at whatever age they happen to be.

It encourages diversity of expression. Traditionally the only option for the stylish woman as she grew older was to choose the elegant, refined route – pearls, linen, crisp suits and so on. Luckily that no longer applies. The blog includes plenty of traditionally elegant women, but this is just one option. And often a chic line is combined with a bold use of colour and shape to provide eye-catching looks that are both elegant and adventurous; in other words, elegance doesn’t have to be boring.

It encourages creativity and fun. Advanced Style demonstrates that as we grow older, style can become more individualised. These women dress to be noticed, but they also dress for themselves and for creative freedom. The approach is lighthearted. Too often fashion is presented as a serious business. This blog celebrates the creative, fun aspects of fashion.

All this has important implications for both the cultural image and self-image of older women. The point is not to look alluring to a man, but to dress for yourself and, if you are so inclined, to create your look as a work of art. Attention, originality, detail and experimentation are the catchwords here.

This has the potential to lift the confidence and self-esteem of older readers. Not that all readers need such a nudge of course: the women featured in the blog have truly come into their own, and this is where the message to the wider community – that older women are to be respected and their power acknowledged – comes in. (The blog doesn’t exclude stylish men – they are in the minority of course, but some extremely stylish older men are featured.)

Younger readers also get the message that not only is it okay to get and look older, but getting older is an opportunity to grow as a person, and to develop a stronger sense of self. In a sexualised, youth-obsessed culture, these women are role models for younger women.

There are a few drawbacks. Many of the women do wear clothes that are, well, pricey; New York’s well-heeled are not absent from Advanced Style, and sometimes the lifestyle aspects are, ahem, aspirational. However, there’s also a fair bit of upcycling and op shop chic, and plenty of vintage and alternative designers. Overall the blog is refreshingly free of fashion ‘snobbery’.

You don’t have to be rich to gain from this blog. You just have to love the idea of expressing yourself through what you wear – you can do this at any age, of course, but the older you get, the better you’ll get at it.

Advanced Style is not the only blog to celebrate getting older with flair. Pilgrim’sMoonNot Dead Yet Style and The Style Crone are also well worth a look.

Until next time!

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Fabulous Vintage Fashion at Sacred Heart Spring Fashion Parade

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Last week, frugal fashionistas crowded into the Sacred Heart Mission Op Shop in Elsternwick to watch its spring fashion parade, showcasing a fabulous range of one-off vintage and designer fashion for the coming season. All proceeds from the store go to the Mission's wonderful work for people facing crisis in Melbourne.

The MCs were celebrity milliner Peter Jago (shown below wearing one of his own amazing creations) and comedian and writer Fiona Scott-Norman (in the following picture), who also modelled some stunning sixties and seventies designs. 

The fashion items, just a fraction of the cost of buying new, included designer labels such as Alannah Hill. Sacred Heart staff and volunteers featured in the parade, wearing top-to-toe ensembles that the fussiest fashionista would be proud of. The bubbly flowed and the atmosphere was merry.

Picture: Sacred Heart Mission

Picture: Sacred Heart Mission

Picture: Sacred Heart Mission
Sacred Heart Mission provides many wonderful outreach services for disadvantaged people. These include short term crisis services, meals and support as well as long-term housing and aged care. Sacred Heart has a philosophy of empowering people and bringing them back into the community, and partnering with research organisations to provide best practice services. Volunteers are welcome to join its vibrant range of programs.

Until next time!

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