A piece of clothing that haunts you?
The coat was olive green, knee length, and made of hairy wool that gave it a somewhat shaggy appearance. To my current-day eye, stylish and unique, yet back then, the source of humiliation and an object of passionate loathing. 1965. I was eleven and in my first year at boarding school. How, I raged, could she (my mother) have sent me off with such a horror when a camelhair coat was de rigueur – an essential part of every boarder’s weekend winter outfit, including that of my older sister. Those serried ranks identically clad in their camelhair coats – and me – a misfit in hairy green wool! But darling, who wants to look like everyone else? She had mistaken me for a bold individualist, someone walking to the beat of a different drum when, in truth, I was a craven little conformist.
On the first winter weekend, out of school uniform and forced to don the hated object, I shed furious tears, thus attracting the notice of an older girl – one of the adored and distant creatures who rarely deigned to acknowledge our existence. Under questioning I blurted out my woes, receiving, in return, some sage advice. In the holidays, I was to wear the coat on every possible occasion: milking cows, sheep-dipping, feeding the chooks, and chopping wood. Pretty soon it would be a filthy rag and my mother would be forced to concede defeat. Mind you, the goddess said, if I thought it would fit, I’d steal it in a heartbeat.
I never implemented the plan but on that dark weekend it cheered me up, and the idea (whether true or not) that my heroine thought the coat worthy of stealing made the wearing of it bearable. Time passed, I outgrew it and eventually it disappeared – I can’t remember quite how or when. Gone but not forgotten, for I see it still, hanging in the dormitory wardrobe beside a row of identical camelhair coats. Those objects of desire, one of which, as it turned out, I was never to acquire.
Your favourite piece of clothing?
This Le Louvre black wool jacket with white mink collar (part of an outfit that included a black shift dress), belonged to my mother – she who was responsible for the hairy green coat. Strictly speaking, it’s not my favourite piece of clothing, but it is special and unique.
Of course, white mink is now verboten and rightly so. However, the feel of it is quite sensational, and the overall design of the jacket is gorgeously simple and elegant.
There was a time in my mother’s life when she bought very expensive, extravagant clothes. Living on an isolated farm, a five-hour drive from Melbourne, the opportunities for dressing up were rare but, when they came, she was determined to make the most of them.
In later life she decided to purge her extensive wardrobe of all those things she no longer wore. By chance, I happened to be visiting and managed to rescue a few outfits, including the aforementioned jacket (along with the shift dress). It was difficult, if not impossible, to imagine where I might wear a black jacket with a white mink collar, given my then leftist lesbian lifestyle. Nevertheless, I harboured a secret vision of myself looking fabulous and sexy, swanning about at a suitably glamorous event. Strange to say, such an event presented itself not long afterwards: a queer dinner party for fifty where we were instructed to dress up. A photograph taken at the party reveals a woman with extremely short hair, wearing a black jacket with a plunging neckline edged in white mink. Elegant and sexy? Unfortunately not. Cartoonish and somewhat bizarre? Yes. Needless to say, vanity prevents me from reproducing that photograph here.
Mira Robertson is an award-winning screenwriter, short story writer, and novelist. Her feature film credits include ONLY THE BRAVE and HEAD ON, co-written with director Ana Kokkinos. Her first novel, The Unexpected Education of Emily Dean, was published by Black Inc in 2018. She lives in Melbourne and is currently writing her second novel.
All images Mira Robertson
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