I have shed any guilt about my passion for fashion

Even if it makes others think less of me, I love fashion because it makes me look and feel good.

I have a confession to make. For years I’ve kept mum about a passion of mine, for fear it would dent my credibility as a serious, hard-headed, investigative journalist with a keen eye for politics. Worried it would make me appear ditsy or frivolous in the eyes of men and women in the corridors of power that I have trodden as a broadcast journalist and guided as a political adviser.

But now, I have convinced myself that part of being a fearless, independent woman means caring less about what people think of you.

So here I reveal this secret love of mine and to hell with the consequences.

I love fashion. Yes, there it is. I have a passion for fashion. Shoes, bags, clothes and accessories. I buy them, I ogle them, I covet them. I browse through fashion magazines and websites. Not just brand-new fashion – I collect vintage fashion too.

I know about ruching and embroidery, wedges and peeptoes, can turn old kimono silk into a bias cut dream (not bias of the left or right kind), I can tell crepe from georgette and know Alencon lace from Battenburg. I’m up on early Schiaparelli design and Trifari trinkets. I can pick synthetic at 10 paces and I scour op-shops and markets for that rare old beauty that has been neglected for years.

 My first vintage purchase was at the age of 17. A pair of micro mosaic earrings from a little op-shop under Glenferrie railway station I would occasionally visit on my way to Swinburne Uni. I remember the horrified reaction from my mother. “But they are old!” she despaired. “The person who owned them is probably dead.”
That’s true. Today I guess I own many dead people’s clothes. I reckon they would be rather chuffed that someone likes their fashion taste and has recycled their attire. I know I would be.

When I started my career as a journalist there were few women in the field, even fewer in politics. But I remember one of the first female cabinet ministers in Victoria telling me what she thought of fashion and clothes. She was a smart, strong, talented MP and I admired her tenacity amid the sea of suits and ties in the then government. I’m not sure how the conversation came up, but she told me fashion and shopping was frivolous and a waste of one’s time and energy. Those words have stuck with me for years and I confess to feeling guilty about this time- and mind-consuming passion of mine.

It’s not just the intellectual guilt, there’s also the moral guilt that modern fashion is burdened with. Those super skinny, ultra young girls on the catwalks of Paris, New York, Rome etc, that shape the body image of our teenage girls who aspire to look like them. The cheap labourers earning a fraction of a living wage in China and India who are producing garments and textiles under intolerable working conditions for a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry.

There’s a growing trend in Australia to buy Australian, to read the labels on our supermarket products to see where they come from. Perhaps the same rigour should be applied to the labels on clothing: where it came from, who made it and how much of it is Australian content.

There’s little wonder I have carried this secret for so long. There are probably many other good reasons to feel guilty about owning a pair of Miu Miu or Prada; the price tag alone is one.

So while some women are shedding their make-up and hair dye, I am shedding the guilt about wearing them and about wearing and loving fashion.

I take a second glance at stylish men and women on the streets of Melbourne, and I reckon occasionally I attract a second glance too. I want to look good, I want to look stylish, not for the opposite sex, not to appear alluring, not to hide my imperfections. I want to look good because it makes me feel good.

If that makes me less of an intellect, if that makes people think less of me, if that means I’m frivolous, then so be it.

There, got that off my chest. Now, where did I put that Voguemagazine?

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant.

This article was published in The Sunday Age on 29 March 2015

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