2014 Frocktober round-up

I know many of my blog-readers have lives, which means they don’t spend their waking hours terrorised by the multi-headed, fire-spewing beast that is Social Meejah, so I thought it might be opportune to re-post here the images and words I published each day through October in one fell swoop. And while I hope it makes for entertaining reading, it might also have the added benefit of coaxing more of you to dig deep and add to my Frocktober sponsorship tally here, if only out of sympathy for the depths I’ve stooped to maintain people’s interest in my month-long quest.

So, starting from Day 2, as you’ve already had the pleasure of Day 1 in my previous post – please come with me on a non-chronological journey through the windmills of my wardrobe. And for those of you who have already been subjected to these images on Instagram and Facebook, it might be time for you to avert your eyes.

Day 2 Singapore, November 1983, en route back to London after a year of living dangerously and fabulously in Sydney, Darwin, Broome and Perth – but mostly Sydney for a year’s working holiday. Raffles hotel is the backdrop here – we couldn’t afford to stay there, but had a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar anyway. The outfit was designed by Perth friends Annie, Gem and Brett, who had an indie label called XX. The hair, well, it was the 1980s. Enough said…


Day 3 Let’s go back more than half a century – sigh… My favourite form of attire from about the age of seven (which is about how old I am here) until, well, now really – but only in the privacy of my own home… Hair obsessives who have still not got over the last photo, please note the straight tresses, due in no small part to my mother’s vigorous brushing regimen (and a snug-fitting riding hat). It was brown velvet as I recall. Tally ho!




Day 4 Heading to a wedding (not ours, I hasten to add). It was 1976 and I was 20 years old, and wearing a cream crepe culotte ensemble, doubtless from my father’s shop, Belle, in Queensway, Bayswater (of which you’ll see more later in this post). The bold accessory in the grey top hat to my left was the best man – but not for me it turned out, much to my eternal relief…




Day 5 Here’s a sun-kissed number from 1984, on a package holiday in Tunisia I went on with one of my oldest friends, Charlotte, who had, and still has, big hair non pareil. But, my friends, the sky-high hair here is not the limit – there’s bigger hair to come, so stay tuned.




Day 6 Enough of the hair, already, although in 1968 or thereabouts when this was taken, I could have done with a bit more. The only girl in class with a short cut – not a happy time for an insecure tween. Having more or less grown out of drawing horses, I had turned to ‘fashion illustration’, including the one here, for an ad my father put in the local rag to tout his maison du couture in London. I’m guessing my inspiration came from the cartoon romance comics of the day, including Romeo and Jackie.

Day 7 One week down in my Frocktober quest, so it must be time to hit the drag. It’s 1983, and I’m ready for my first Sydney Mardi Gras. The make-up and hat are by my sadly departed first Australian friend, Danny Smylie (aka Beautiful Jenny), a window dresser and part-time drag queen who took me under his wing when I was flown out to Sydney from London in 1980 for two weeks to repaint the faces of the mannequins at Grace Bros in Chatswood (as the store was known then). At the Mardi Gras party, I was swept onto the dance floor by a gallant gent who whispered into my ear, “Love your drag, sweetie.” I still wonder whether he realised I was a girl. Story of my life, actually…

Day 8 You’ve seen my 1983 Mardi Gras debut; now see my finale, in 2000. Rather more restrained on the drag front, though I think the pink suede boots should get brownie points, n’est ce pas? Pictured with me here are Andrew (foreground), whom I’ve known since the big-hair days of the mid-80s in Perth, and, making ready for a hasty departure at the front door, François, another Perth-vintage pal. Both of them were founding members with me and another beloved Perth boy, Robert, of The Miserable Club – all boyfriendless together, comforting ourselves regularly with Flintstone-sized schnitzels at Una’s restaurant in Kings Cross and laughing more than I’ve ever laughed since. One of my rules of thumb of friendship is invariably having more fun getting ready together than being at whatever event we are getting ready for. And here I rest my case…

Day 9 What goes around comes around – corduroy hot pants with bib and braces, anyone? It’s 1971 and we thought we were so hot right then, even before so hot right now was a thing. Most of our time was spent holed up in my or my friend, Amanda’s, bedroom, brandishing hairdryers, Carmen heated rollers and Mary Quant three-toned eyeshadow sets. Here we are, in a brief interlude from preening – Manda, a tortured-haired me and my cutie-pie little sister, Belinda. Manda had a boyfriend who was a hairdresser, pretty much the coolest kind of boyfriend you could have in 1971. They were the Brangelina of the Stonegrove Jewish Youth Club. I just played ping pong.

Day 10 So I’m cheating a little here, but cars have always been my favourite accessory, and this will always be my favouritest of all – a 1961 Holden FB ute, with scarlet bench seat and original three-on-the-tree gear shift. I would drive to work with Cake blasting out of TripleJ, and still can’t listen to ‘The Distance’ without it conjuring up this beast’s rolling gait, and me and my dear friend and (then) workmate, Leah belting out, “He’s going the distance, he’s going for… speeeed!” as we headed home from the city up Oxford Street, our elbows hitched over the window ledges like proper tradies. Annie (blue cattle dog) and Judy (Paddy’s Market mutt) in the back completed the ensemble out of office hours. The outfit here is of the suitably Aussie-serviceable vernacular – swimmers and shorts – but not Hard Yakka brand, I hasten to add. One has to draw the line somewhere.

Day 11 A Saturday-night special, and a brief respite from moi for a change. My grandma Esme (my mother’s mother), in 1920, aged 20, ready for her first fancy-dress dance. Nothing more to say – just sensational.






Day 12 Camp Ecstasy, 1989. Those of you who’ve been trudging through this month of fashiony fun with me so far will have already encountered Horsey Sal on Day 3, as well as XX label-clad Scarey Sal outside Raffles hotel on Day 2. Here, it all comes together in a slightly more louche get-up (that T-shirt must have been at least five years old – never let it be said that I don’t get plenty of wear out of my clothes, as those who know me will testify). A weekend spent camping at a friend’s property, with a whole bunch of 24-hour party people gathered to celebrate a 30th birthday. The name is probably self-explanatory – it was Woodstock, only a whole lot faster, with a soundtrack heavily tilted towards Soul II Soul, Inner City, De La Soul and New Order. The Silver Fox and I drove there in his 1970 maroon VF Valiant – no wonder I fell for him…

Day 13 Frou-frou Sal, circa 1959, in pink bridesmaid dress for my aunty Valerie’s (my mother’s sister) wedding. On the back of this photo, my mother has written in pencil: “Three guineas – from Nurseryland in Edgware. A bloody fortune!” Apparently this outrageously overpriced frock was then handed down to my sister, then family friends’ daughters, which is something of a relief, because in today’s money, that dress would be worth about a trillion dollars. As for the crazy patterned carpet – no wonder our childhood pets were always so neurotic…



Day 14 Circa 1980. Window-shopping on the Kings Road, Chelsea, after a day painting mannequins at Adel Rootstein. I was on my way out with friends from work (one of them, Cheryl, took this photo and sent it to me in solidarity for my fundraising efforts this year, bless her cotton socks). The hard-to-spot apple-green shirt was a hand me down from my then flatmate, Kaya, whose weight spookily dropped in direct proportion to the weight I gained while I lived with her. The black dinner jacket may have been from the Chelsea Antiques Market or Antiquarius. I think the bag was from The Great Gear Trading Company or perhaps Stop the Shop, and the skirt might have come from Wallis (still trading), whose head of merchandising at the time, Kevin Arpino, eventually took over the Rootstein business after Adel died. My friend, Jed, not pictured, but with us that evening, told me of a dream he had in which my ankles got thinner and thinner until my feet dropped off and I was left walking on little points. Not hard to imagine looking at this image. Those black suede shoes had scalloped edges, and I loved them, but that didn’t stop me looking for more. Plus ça change

Day 15 An English wedding, June 14 1996. Mine actually (and the Silver Fox’s, of course). Pictured here with my dynamo mother, who arranged the whole event in 10 days – from the day I popped the question, to a perfect midsummer afternoon reception in a lovely country pub called the Bedford Arms, in Buckinghamshire, with 40 friends and rellos. She, the SF, my girlfriend, Val and I went shopping in Hampstead for an outfit a couple of days before the big day, and this was the first one I tried on. It’s a Karen Millen number, before she apparently took hallucinogenic drugs and discovered hyper-bling. It was bling enough for me (and short enough for the Silver Fox). The shoes were from Hobbs, also in Hampstead, and I still have them, though they’re a little mould-stained from 18 years of cupboard life. The jacket was chucked out this year, also stained, and the dress a couple of years before that (no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fit into it and keep what dignity I still had). If you are wondering at the continued absence of the Silver Fox among these images, it’s because he prefers to eschew any interweb presence, and, after all this malarkey, I can’t say I blame him.

Day 16 This one brought the house down on Instagram – can’t imagine why… It’s 1971, and we’re on a family Easter holiday in Holland. I learnt from my mother after I originally posted this photo, that it was actually taken in Monnikendam, not Amsterdam, a town that’s the namesake of mum’s uncle Maurice, husband of her beloved aunty Marjorie, who lived way beyond her centenary. So here we all are without even the benefit of having visited one of those Dutch wacky-tobaccy cafes (although perhaps we should have, as Mum and I might have looked more relaxed and happy).

Day 17 More fancy dress – this time for the Silver Fox’s 40th birthday party in 1998, which he shared with a friend, who insisted on a ‘Renaissance and Sporting Heroes’ theme. She’s a history teacher and rugby union coach, so it kinda made sense at the time. Kinda… I painted a mural-sized rendition of Botticelli’s ‘Venus’, among other things, to decorate the room (you can just spot it behind me on the left), but ignored the dress code and hired this twinkly number just because I liked it (and because my sporting hero is Ginger Rogers). One wag asked me if I’d come as the Queen Mother. One was not amused…

Day 18 Proving that leopard print and brogues never go out of style. I posted this photo, taken sometime in the early 1960s, to pay tribute to my sister Belinda’s birthday and as a homage to elasticated waistbands.






Day 19 Well, I had to get this over with at some point. My first wedding, November 1983. The bride wore black (and a surfeit of netting), the groom wore a shiny, chat-show host jacket, and the reception was at the bandstand on Observatory Hill. Guests included my pal, Danny, as his alter-ego Beautiful Jenny, and a cast of mohawked crackpots from Sydney College of the Arts, where my husband was studying. We all ended up dancing on the stage at a Spanish restaurant/flamenco spot in Liverpool Street, while the marriage ended amicably about eight years later.


Day 20 Venice Lido, mid-1960s. Rocking the pink and the beribboned pigtails. So successfully, I might add, that I stole the heart of a dashing young (extremely young) waiter called Franco at the hotel where we were staying, the posh Quattro Fontane. It was the first time I’d had my bottom pinched and eternal love declared to me in a sexy accent (in fact, the only time for either, come to think of it). I wonder whatever happened to Franco…

Day 21 A carefree time – 1961 – the days of frilly knickers that matched one’s frocks. My mother was – and still is – a fiend for ‘matching’ and I still get the once-over every time we get together. The one powerful memory I have of this garden, in our first home in Edgware, Middlesex, is of picking tiny wild strawberries growing at the bottom of it. I’ve never tasted any as good since.



Day 22 Sometime in the 1960s. Me, my little sister and our family pooch, Petra, named hopefully after the smart and handsome dog on our fave kids’ TV show, Blue Peter, but sadly lacking in the looks department. This worked to our advantage when we entered a picture of Petra ‘grinning’ into a competition on Eamon Andrews’ ‘Today’ show on TV, for the Daftest Dog in Britain, in 1970. She was a finalist, so Mum had to go on the show with Petra. It may have been Mum’s then-Arian-blonde good looks and uber-fashion-forward herringbone maxi coat that clinched the deal with the judges (among them, actress Sheila Hancock), but our dear old pet-shop pooch won, and was presented with a bone bigger than she was, tied with a large red bow, a crown and a cheque for five pounds.

Mum made the local paper looking characteristically strained under the glare of publicity and photography. Petra never made it through that bone, but lived a full and happy life, nevertheless, out of the media spotlight. And I never did find my waist.




Day 23 This photo, dug up by my mother, is of Dad’s aforementioned boutique – the last and grooooooviest of the three he owned. He designed the interior – inverted-scalloped ceiling and all – as well as being a dab hand at window dressing, as you can see. Mum ran the lingerie section, and was one of the first to stock Gossard Wonderbras (of which she had a vast personal collection in various colours – with knickers dyed to match). I would drive at weekends with Dad to work as a ‘Saturday girl’, and listen to Kenny Everett on Capital Radio. Not sure when this was taken, probably the very early 1970s. My sister reckons the shop was still there a couple of years ago, in Queensway, Bayswater, with scalloped ceilings intact. Our father was nothing if not visionary…

Day 24 Circa 1980 – the mannequin painter. More photos courtesy of my former workmate, Cheryl, one of a bunch of creative, eccentric and exhilarating people I worked with at Adel Rootstein in Chelsea, from 1976 to 1981. Style notes, clockwise from top left: turquoise glitter sunglasses, frequently matched with a turquoise lurex tie and Annie Hall-esque shirt, jacket and pants (had a huge crush on Diane Keaton and Woody Allen); painting Joanna Lumley (or at least her facsimile) with oil paint (other mannequins of the time included Cher, Marie Helvin, Sayoko – probably the first Japanese model to make the big time – Pat Cleveland, whose daughter, Anna, is now also modelling, and Joan Collins – all sculpted from life); lunchtime picnic at Chelsea Green – white dungarees, worn in the misguided belief that they would camouflage my heft, but also quite the thing at the time; ‘Sally’s Other Apron!’, a calico smock (we all wore them in the studio) encrusted with paint that built up over time as we wiped our brushes while we worked, until those smocks stood up by themselves. That job was what eventually brought me to Sydney – and for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Day 25 Aged four, 1960. I’ve always loved getting frocked up – especially when there was a wand involved.






Day 26 Sutherlandshire, Scotland, summer (yup) of 1974. The first time I saw the Scottish highlands, I burst into tears – such vast, gaunt beauty was just too much for a nice Jewish suburban girl. I was 18 and travelling with my first proper partner (you may remember him in the top hat from Day 4) and our two friends, Val and Phil, in Mum’s borrowed Renault 6. Crammed to the gills it was, not just with us, but all our luggage and our combined body weight in chocolate bars and crisps, plus an inflatable dinghy and outboard motor strapped to the roof. The crofter’s cottage we rented, near the Kyle of Tongue, was the creepiest place I’ve ever stayed – so much so, that one room became completely off limits, due to said partner convincing us that the person in the portrait on the wall kept shifting position. It’s still one of the most heart-catching, life-changing places I’ve visited. And the Renault was never the same, either. Sorry Mum.

Day 27 Jeez Louise, what was it with me and dungarees? It’s 1980-ish, and I’m at my friends’ house with their beautiful rescue dog, Paddy (short for Padworth, which is where the rescue home was). I spent a lot of my time with Val and Phil (whom I’d ‘stolen’ from my ex-boyfriend and adopted as my own personal rescue home), travelling the countryside in the back seat of their car with the dog – both of us sniffing the hedgerows out the windows. Happy times.


Day 28 So, enough about me… You’ve seen my wedding outfits; now here are my grandmother’s and mother’s. At far left, Esme Nordon, my maternal grandmother, who married Bernard (Barney) Parker in 1925 – that’s him with her in the top photo. Below, my mother, Rosalind, who married my father, David, in 1954. She was 21, he was 32. How beautiful she looks here. My sister and I wore her wedding dress for dress-ups for years afterwards.


Day 29 Another example of a seeming penchant for channelling the late Queen Mother (although some commented on my original post that I looked more like Princess Di, perish the thought). It’s 1983, and beside me is Danny – seen here in his Beautiful Jenny persona (via Alexis from Dynasty). We were guests at another crackpot wedding in the city – the bride and groom serenaded by a woman in man-drag playing an accordion on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral. Danny was one of a handful of dear friends I lost to AIDS, and the world has never seemed quite as vivid without them.

Day 30 Following on from the above post – and bringing us almost back to where we started on Day 1 of this frocking marathon. It’s February 1983 and my friend, fellow traveller, soul brother and old soul, Jed, and I are heading down William Street into the city, armed with our mannequin portfolio, probably to an appointment at David Jones or Grace Bros to wrangle for work. Danny took this photo. I think the shirt-dress came from Sportsgirl, and I loved it. So did Danny – I have a photo of him somewhere with him wearing it. As for Jed, 10 years later, he went the way of Danny, another victim of the era, and of being the beautiful new boy in town. This photo just brims with all that potential of being strangers in a strange land, with everything ahead of us, and I’m so glad to have found it after all these years.

Day 31 Sarong, and thanks for all the dosh (with apologies to Douglas Adams). This is the last day’s worth of me regaling you with frockulicity, so I thought we should celebrate by not wearing a frock at all (so to speak). Style notes, clockwise from top left: 1996, on our Bali honeymoon; 1998, a weekend in Noosa to celebrate the Silver Fox’s 40th; 1998, a South Coast summer holiday (naturally – it’s raining), with my old cattle dog, Annie, in the background. And that’s all folks – for those of you who feel inspired to donate to OCRF, to fund the fight against ovarian cancer, just click on this link and it will take you to my page. Thanks again to everyone who’s supported me with kind words, laughter and, most importantly, donations to this cause. Until next year…



Frocks for the memory II

Grandma Esme’s kid gloves and evening bag

So – we’ve come to the end of my first Frocktober, and the unbearable triteness of being fashionable (with apologies to Milan Kundera and Lee Tran Lam).

Over the past month, I’ve tussled with all manner of cloving quandaries, as Bill Shorten might say. Not least of which was what to wear to see Cody ChesnuTT at The Metro a couple of weeks ago.

WhYY, Cody, whYY?

Who cares. Cody can have three capital Ts if he wants, because he’s that damn good. What’s not to love about a bloke on stage wearing a soldier’s helmet and a watermelon-coloured cardigan (or any coloured cardigan, in fact) who sounds like Marvin Gaye and then some.

And whose dad hasn’t shot him yet.

And what’s not to love about a couple of hours singing along and shaking your cake like the backing singer you’ve always wanted to be when you grow up. There’s not enough room at the Metro to make a complete tool of yourself by actually dancing.



As we paused in a middle-aged huddle on a curb among the purposeful throng in Chinatown, my friend, Nerida, wailed, “So many people with lives…”

The cloving decision for me that warm Frocktober night was kitten heels and bronze lurex – far less foxy than they sound. In fact, it was my husband who got his bottom pinched later on Oxford Street (by a girl, oddly – my, how times have changed).

The silver fox has always loved a cardigan.

He wore one to a Mardi Gras party back in the late 1980s. “Mmmm… cardie… ” miaowed one drag queen, as she swished past him into the Hordern Pavilion.

It was one of many Pringle knits we’ve received as gifts over the years (and one of the many Mardi Gras parties we’ve been to, come to think of it). His parents were originally from Hawick (pronounced ‘hoick’) on the Scottish Borders, and their families worked at the Pringle factory in that “gree awld toon”. His mother was a seamstress there before she escaped south with his father – a shift as far from their home and life as their son’s and mine was to Australia decades later.

Which brings me to the second instalment in this vaguely fashioned-inspired memoir. As promised in my last post – I wanted to touch on shop window mannequins, and the painting thereof.

The reason I’m here at all (in Australia, that is; not existentially per se – that’s too deep for me) is due in part to a small, very weird South African woman called Adel Rootstein. Her eponymous company had its global HQ in Shawfield Street, off the Kings Road, when I started there in 1976 (my first proper job after dropping out of university).

I’d answered an ad in the Evening Standard for a trainee make-up artist: ‘must have experience in oil paints’. I didn’t really, but, like every job I’ve ever had since, managed to bluff my way in. For my interview I had to paint a mask, copying a mannequin in front of me (perhaps Cher or Joanna Lumley – both of whose likenesses were used in collections at the time).

Joan Collins and her alter egos

Adel Rootstein mannequins were the first of their kind. In-house sculptor John Taylor moulded full-sized sculptures of each live model from clay. From Twiggy through to Lumley and Joan Collins (just prior to her renaissance in Dynasty), and beyond, Rootstein had an uncanny knack for predicting the look that no one had come up with yet.

They were dizzy times for a nice(ish) Jewish girl from the sheltered end of the Jubilee Line – working and playing around the Kings Road, Chelsea, as Punk, New Wave and the New Romantics spat, strummed, tore, warbled and pirate-sleeved their way through our consciousness. I’d ride my bike from Bushey Heath, where I lived in a loudly (and swiftly relinquished – praise be) dysfunctional relationship, through the dappled lanes of Stanmore Heath to the station and emerge, 45 minutes later, in the edgy, upmarket cacophony of Sloane Square.

Our glass-walled studio was built around a whitewashed courtyard, all the better to receive maximum natural light. There, we make-up artists would sit in a row with our backs to the windows, clasping the cold fibreglass torsos of blank-eyed beauties in a tango-like dip, as we painted them to haughty life – teeth, gums, eyes, eyebrows and all. We wore calico smocks, which would stiffen over time with thick layers of dried oil paint along one shoulder and arm (depending on whether we were left- or right-handed) as we slicked off the excess from our brushes.

We smoked furiously and left mugs of tea to go cold as we daubed and feathered to the music of The Stranglers, Roxy Music, Elvis Costello, Adam and the Ants, Ian Dury. And we cleaned our brushes with turps in the bathroom sink; we hadn’t heard of pollution then.

Upstairs, the wig girls (and they were all girls – all qualified hairdressers), wearing masks against the fumes, fashioned incredible, gravity-defying constructs from some sort of nylon fibre, spraying and teasing, and spraying again, then baking the wigs in ovens until they set like stone.

The showroom – where the glam and giddy sales team held sway, using mysteriously obtuse phrases such as “Simple, but there” to describe a make-up style to clients – was refurbished every six months or so, frequently with a new collection of mannequins added, but always with fresh costumes, make-up and wigs. Walk, Talk, Leisure, Pleasure is one early catalogue that springs to mind… Or ‘Plump and pretty – nine large ladies who exude confidence, poise and plenty of glamour for all their excess inches…’

Something for me to aspire to at the time – what with my eating disorder and all. But I’ll save that post for when you’re stronger.

The Rootstein collection launches were the stuff of London fashion legend, as were its Christmas parties, where the Chelsea set, models, hangers on and other glamerati would gather – along with all of us in our outré second-hand get-ups, supping on a seemingly endless flow of champagne. I’m sure there was plenty of cocaine too, although I didn’t ever get offered any.

My painting colleagues were all art school graduates – talented and eccentric to a man and woman. We’d fossick (though I’d not come across that word yet) Chelsea Antiques Market; flick through the clothes at Sex or Seditionaries or World’s End (I never could keep up with what McLaren and Westwood were up to, nor did I have the hair to try; curls never cut it in those days, and were one of my many long-held sources of low self-esteem). We’d lunch on sausage and mash and cups of tea at the Chelsea Kitchen, and pick up a morning coffee at the Picasso. It’s still there, though it’s probably far less louche than I remember it.

We wept through Ian McKellen’s performance in the original London production of Bent at the Royal Court Theatre, and one night we all piled into the Curzon cinema across the road and fell in love with Sigourney Weaver in Alien, gripping each other’s arms and jumping out of our skin.

Jed at work

And then there was Jed – ghoul-thin and pale, with a thatch of shiny Hugh Grant hair, sitting on his own in the middle of the room. Contrary from the start.

We bonded in the Rootstein bathroom as we cleaned our brushes – me, a galleon in full sail in my vast, paint-crusted smock; him swamped by his, despite the multiple layers of T-shirts and jumpers he always wore underneath. He was critical, fierce, opinionated, bursting with outlandish ideas – always challenging me to overstep the mark. I still have no idea why we became such great friends – but for nearly all the time we were, we were inseparable – a daunting and inviolable unit to our other friends and family.

I was flown to Sydney in 1980 for two weeks, to repaint all the mannequins’ faces at Grace Bros (as it was still called then) in Chatswood. Me and my oil paints were stuck in a changing room behind a curtain, a queue of chipped torsos with crooked wigs lined up outside. There I’d sit and paint all day, watched and fussed over by Danny, self-anointed display queen and consummate shoplifter of high-end homewares. Danny was my first Australian friend, whose drag persona was Beautiful Jenny – a tiny, wasp-waisted chick with a collection of “fehbulous” wigs and clothes she frequently ran up herself at home in Bondi Junction, where she lived with Ronald/Fanny, another display/drag queen of some repute. Danny took me shopping at Paddington Markets and dancing at the Midnight Shift in Oxford Street, and explained what the smell of rotten eggs was on the dance floor.

A return was on the cards, really.

First summer at Palm Beach

So that’s what we did, Jed and I. Packed our paints, our brushes, our portfolio of mannequin photos and our hair products, and arrived in Australia for a year’s working holiday. A sudden waft of frangipani still takes me back to our first week in Sydney, in November 1982.

And my first Golden Gaytime, melting down my arm as I walked through Kings Cross.

We painted our way round Australia – from Sydney to Darwin to Perth via Broome. In 1983, all there was on Cable Beach were a handful of camels and a campsite at one end. You could sunbake naked next to a bleached-out piece of driftwood and watch stingrays hovering motionless in the shallows of the Indian Ocean. We’d hitch rides on people’s bicycles to get into town for a beer at the Roebuck Hotel and stare at the glass-bottle mountain by the side of the road.

I’ve never had any desire to go back there – I know I’d hate it now.

Mannequins in the Perth ‘studio’

When we finally both got our permanent Australian residencies, we settled for a while in Perth, where we set up our own mannequin restoration company in a dusty, fetid, pigeon-infested warehouse out the back of what was then Jack Sue’s diving shop in Murray Street. While he was at work as a journo at The Australian, I’d drive our friend and housemate Andrew’s maroon Morris 1100 Van den Plas, packed to the gills with legless dummies, between godforsaken scrubby suburbs on the edge of the desert and our plastic-shrouded spray booth. “We could have been in Rio,” snarled Jed, one day, as we stood outside a shopping centre in the desiccating Perth sunshine.

Jed died 20 years ago, in a hospital bed back in London, a victim of his astonishing, old-soul beauty, insatiable curiosity and his doctors’ then ill-conceived (albeit well-meaning) misuse of drugs such as AZT.

One of the thousands of attitudes and idiosyncrasies he still haunts me with is his standard dismissal of a poor choice of attire: “Proportions, dahling, proportions.”

And just as I’ll never be able to wear navy and black together without summoning (and ignoring) that brief flicker of disapproval in my mother’s eyes, so, too, I’ll always consider (and follow) Jed’s unassailable rule of thumb when I’m dressing: do you really want to look as though you work in the glove department at David Jones?

Frocks for the memory

Frocktober Day 1. Still-life on a queen-size bed.

I’ve been a little more preoccupied than usual with fashion recently. Unusual, as anyone who knows me would attest. I’m not terribly fond of it as a rule.

I don’t mind it on other people (particularly my friend Kate, whom I dedicate this post to because, even after 25 years of friendship, her rabid enthusiasm for matters sartorial still brings on a jittery self-consciousness whenever we meet).

On the whole, I find clothes shopping tedious beyond belief, and trying to navigate an entire floor of clothes at Myer or DJs a matter of eye-glazing horror.

My preoccupation has been brought about by the commencement last week of Frocktober, a noble venture I’m taking part in to raise funds for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. The basic tenet is a commitment to wear a dress for the whole of October (not the same dress, preferably, unless it’s drip-dry, I suppose) or for as many days as humanly possible, so that people dear of heart and deep of pocket will sponsor my endeavours. And of course, in this golden age of communication, this also means regular posts of each day’s attire, accompanied by (under Kate’s stern instructions) styling details for each outfit. As a sub-editor, this is my idea of publishing hell: fashion captioning, which I regard as only slightly less odious than homewares captioning (or ‘homewears’, if you subscribe to the Country Road world view).

Thinking about what to wear. Every. Single. Day.

True, my horror pales into insignificance when compared to the horrors that a few squillion dollars’ worth of research into this heinous disease could prevent or cure, so it seemed like the only reasonable thing to do under the circumstances.

Frocktober Day 4. Just take the picture, already.

But for others whose frocky folderols I’ve been enjoying on Instagram – #frocktober – it has patently (literally so, judging by the footwear, mine included) been an opportunity to embrace the act of frocking up and posting photos of themselves. So much gay abandon – with such fab and quirky results – you should go and have a look. I’m there, too, lurking uncomfortably (in shadow, mostly) amid all this ebullient posing.

I blame it on my father. I’ve been thinking about him a lot, too, recently. Since last Father’s Day, in fact, when I started writing this post and got distracted, and then it was too late.

Sorry Dad.

“Father’s Day, Schmather’s Day,” he would have said, though, had he been around.

He had little patience for sentimental twaddle. When my then-de facto of eight years and I went over to Dad’s flat to respectfully ask him if he minded if we got married, he told us he couldn’t give a f—k what we did: “What are you asking me for? You’ve been living together for years – do what you bloody well like.”

Ten days later (wedding outfit bought in Hampstead in a single afternoon – heaven), on a beautifully British, blinking-blue June day, the families of both sides of this even-now-still-slightly-puzzling union stood in ragged lines, having our photos taken in front of the immoderately picturesque Bedford Arms pub in Chenies, Buckinghamshire. “Hurry up and take the bloody pictures – they’ve opened the champagne,” growled David Feldman, patting his jacket pockets to find his cigarettes and lighter.

As my oldest friend’s father, Martin – himself an irascible sod – rightly said after Dad’s dismal and hastily prepared funeral, a little more than a month after that sun-drenched, champagne-soaked wedding, “He was a miserable bastard, but we loved him anyway.”

I’m not sure I ever really knew my father – typically peripheral in a 1950s and 60s childhood. Mum did – she knew him well enough to know she didn’t like him enough to live with him, but enough for them to remain friends of sorts. The sort that gets together at Christmas and family Sundays, or for an occasional holiday; the sort that meant neither of them really settled with other partners; the sort to be sitting with him when he died.

He was the very archetype of a grumpy old man, although I suspect he was a fairly grumpy young man, too. One of a generation of men who’d been to war (although he didn’t actually fight anyone; he was in some sort of radio communications unit). Went to Burma and sat on a mule – that much I know – there’s a picture somewhere.

He learnt to drive then, too. Never took a driving test. A diabolical driver.

David Feldman taking the original selfie, circa 1980s

An artist of some talent, a lover of opera, ballet, jazz – Sarah, Ella, Lena; and devotee of films – Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Billy Wilder, Robert Altman. He’d disappear after dinner into a large room at the back of our childhood home, dubbed, unsurprisingly, ‘the big room’, chuck on something loud on the Bang & Olufsen and get stuck into charcoal drawing and oil painting (horses and ballet dancers copied from coffee table books) or glass engraving. Or sculpting, among other things, a chess set of clay circus animals and clowns. I still have a couple of elephant Queens and a lion King, complete with tooth-pick crowns, and the wine glass he etched for my 21st birthday, on my shelf at home.

Lumbered in a business, as the eldest, responsible, son, by his long-widowed mother, Grandma Ruby (a tiny, red-haired misery, who all her life had crammed her feet into shoes so tiny they looked like a geisha’s).

Stuck in the rag trade for his entire working life, reluctantly running women’s clothes shops (with the aid of a handy, and regularly utilised, bottle of Scotch tucked on a shelf in his cluttery, schmuttery Bayswater back office). In Queensway, there was young and trendy Belle Boutique (this was the Sixties, remember, young people – we hadn’t heard of lower-case brand names back then – or irony), a few doors down from the ice rink; and the more matronly Lucille, at the Westbourne Grove end, opposite the once-grand Whiteleys, London’s first department store. Before Bayswater, Muswell Hill had been where it all started, at Ruby Feldman’s original emporium, the doughty Becky Field Fashions (I kid you not).

Still life with ballet dancer and David Feldman, a man of many talents and interesting socks.

He would have rather have been living the dream of owning a stereo (pronounced ‘steereo’) shop called The Recorderie in Stanmore, Middlesex, the then semi-rural suburb where we lived. Or living in Paris with his imaginary girlfriend, Sally Smith.

Dad’s Thursday afternoons were spent buying stock. Schlapping around the West End’s schmutter district (the North-London-Jewish patois for the Yiddish word schmatte – rag) around Great Portland Street, sifting through the latest ‘cabbage’ at wholesalers. Cabbage was (still is?) the term for the excess stock that manufacturers made by squeezing a few more garments out of a designer’s fabric order and then selling on cheap. One wag of a gown merchant even traded under the brand name Kay Barge, as I recall.

Occasionally, Dad would ease into a Thursday afternoon by meeting his younger brother, Gerry, for a dozen oysters or a Dover sole and a glass of champagne at Wheelers. Gerry was a disgracefully rude, generous, cigar-toking, fat-bellied, pencil-moustachioed, mascara-tinted-sideboarded spiv of an uncle – the very best kind, in fact.

I would drive with Dad ‘up to town’ in one of his string of auto lemons – a Citroën DS, a Bond Equipe, a Mark II Jag – to work during the school holidays or as a Saturday girl, where we’d spend the morning listening to Kenny Everett on newly minted Capital Radio 194. We’d wear pincushions sewn onto elastic straps around our wrists, all the better to pin up a hem, or replace an outfit on the mannequins in the windows. Dad did a lot of his own window-dressing and I loved helping him, both of us in our socks to keep the felt lining on the window floor clean. Unclicking those metal keyhole arm locks – lift, twist, pull – to free the sleeves first.

Mrs Hildebrand was one of the sales women (Dad did a bit of selling too, and could lay it on with a trowel if he felt like it, which was virtually never). Mrs Hildebrand schmoozed the ladies, telling them how “sweetly pretty” they looked; she seemed about 100 years old (which was probably only 50 in Jewish years back then). Zoë Papadopoulos was another retail elder – tiny and crazy-haired, with smudgy black eyeliner – whose fail-safe sales technique seemed to involve making customers feel sorry for her.

Frocktober Day 2. ‘Dressing Sydney’, Sydney Jewish Museum. Never mind the quality, feel the width…

Mrs H and Mrs P came teetering along the catwalk of my memory after a visit last week to Sydney Jewish Museum. My mother and I were idling away some time there before an appointment with her oncologist nearby. There’s an exhibition on at the moment, Dressing Sydney, tracing the legacy of Jewish immigrants in the city’s fashion industry. It’s a modest little testament, curated rather irritatingly in alphabetical, rather than chronological, order, but there’s a commonality in those stories and my childhood that added fortuitous grist to my writing mill.

That, and my father’s abiding influence on my aversion to clothes and the shopping thereof. Gay Saturday morning expeditions to Miss Selfridge, Kensington Market and (the most treasured) Biba in Kensington Church Street – whose sales girls, thrillingly skinny, wore black lipstick and nail varnish – were invariably overshadowed by the anticipation of Dad’s response when I returned home. There can be nothing more crushing to the spirit of a budding fashionista than the words: “I could have got it for you wholesale.”

Frocktober runs for three more weeks. Follow me – at your peril – @salfeldman on Instagram, and should you (if you haven’t already) care to sponsor my mildly modish journey for an important cause, head to my link here and give like you’ve never given before.

Or you can just read about it here. Next instalment: my life as a mannequin painter.