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No hippy chic(k)

summer fashion
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I recently decided to take a summer holiday in northern NSW, starting at Ballina, staying with friends at Byron Bay, Bangalow and Brunswick Heads and eventually ending up in Brisbane.  It was to be a super casual vacation with no big parties or dinners, no events, just pub lunches and café brunches and lots of ocean swimming.

There was absolutely no need for anything dressy. I had no plans to use an iron, or a hair straightener. High heels were irrelevant. I began packing and it felt weird.  Everything looked so…. unglamorous. I pulled out the Louis Vuitton suitcase and tote bag and popped in a Hermès beach towel, just to ramp things up.

My friend Ian met me at Ballina airport in his thongs and boardies and laughed as he saw the Vuitton luggage emerge on the carousel. “Well, I needed some luxury oomph” I said. “I haven’t even packed an evening bag.”

“I think we need to go to Kmart, Ian.” I said, and we headed to the Ballina shopping centre in the asphalt-melting heat.

The ‘Nordic hipster’ thongs.

There wasn’t much in my suitcase; silk shorts, tank tops, flat sandals, three swimming costumes and four dresses, a couple of washed cotton shirts. Two cardigans. A pair of hoop earrings. And three gigantic cosmetic cases full of product, because, although I am learning to be more casual since I left Vogue and began writing from home, a world without makeup and expensive skin care is not one I wish to inhabit.

Ian worked at Chanel for years, so he knows his way around a Paris atelier, but on holidays he is as $2 dollar shop as they come. “There is a clearance sale at Kmart if you need to top up your summer beach wardrobe” he said brightly, pointing to his fetching grey, black and red singlet. “$4”.

We got back to his lovely seaside apartment and I began pulling out what I had brought. Aside from four inappropriate dresses, the only things I had with me that could vaguely be called beachwear were the silk shorts, and my new Duckfeet leather health thongs from Denmark, which I thought looked cool and a bit designer, in a Nordic hipster way.

“I think we need to go to Kmart, Ian.” I said, and we headed to the Ballina shopping centre in the asphalt-melting heat.

“What about a $6 T-shirt?” Ian pointed at the piles of women’s tees. No.

“I know, the men’s section!” We found some great white cotton V neck T-shirts for $6.  It seems to be a rule of thumb that men’s fashion in the chain stores is more generous, both in the cut and the quality of fabric. I bought four in XL. I like a roomy tee. But I really needed a dress. We had dinner booked at the surf club the next night, and I certainly wasn’t going to wear shorts.

We headed for Bangalow, which has at least a dozen fashion shops. I was on a mission to find the perfect dress, with Ian, my enthusiastic partner.

The ‘almost Marni’ dress.

The main street was shimmering lazily as we parked the car and I laid out the rules to Ian. “I’m not paying more than $200” I said. “And there are elements we need to consider given I am no longer 25. Nothing that comes in under the bust, baby doll style makes you look blowsy. Nothing too short, it should reach the knee. Nothing too voluminous or mock flamboyant a.k.a. stay away from caftans. Nothing strapless, frilly, cute, flammable or embellished with sequins. And plain linen can be ageing, it’s a fine line between Marrakech and Bowral.” He understood the brief.

We tried store after store, but there was always something not quite right, most of all with the length. “Is it a tunic or a dress?” said Ian quizzically, holding up something that what was really not much more than a longish shirt. I would suggest that is a question women constantly find themselves asking when shopping for a new dress.

We stopped for lunch at the pub. I was very happy in my floppy shorts, oversized mens cotton shirt and thongs. I just needed a wrist full of friendship bracelets and some essential oil. Two days in and I didn’t care. I’d be barefoot next.

“Maybe I don’t need a new dress” I said to Ian after the second Chardonnay, who remarked that we would no doubt find one in the last store we visited. Which we did. It was in a beautiful green and blue printed cotton, a bit Marni if you squinted. Full, but not too full, knee length, sleeves without too much of a puff. Minimal frills. $98. Snap.

I put it on the next night, ready for tapas at the Surf club. I wore the hoop earrings, and flat sandals with my curly hair full of saltwater. Ballina glamour at its best. But it turns out the kitchen closed at eight and we had forgotten to BYO wine. So we went home and had a BBQ and I changed back into my shorts.

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