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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Chin

Effortless chic or cheap? Give up shopping and find out

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Give up clothes-shopping for a year!!! That’s the challenge my fellow tribe-writers Kathleen Caron and Pamela Hodges are on. Following their progress, it seems to be turning out profitably. Giving up shopping isn’t only about saving money, but also time. It’s about regaining focus on what’s important in life. See Kathleen’s update about it here

Photo Credit

I haven’t shopped for anything but basics for years – black, brown and grey pants, skirts and shirts; home t-shirts and shorts; the necessary underneath things.  Everything else I wear has come out of Grandma’s cupboard.

Grandma was a Peranakan matriarch, a real clothes horse.

The photo on the left shows how women of her generation dressed.

Grandma was really into clothes, even when she was well past seventy. When she passed on, she left us a cupboard full of fifty or sixty co-ordinated sets of hand-cut and embroidered cotton voile tops and hand-painted batik sarongs.

Now a Peranakan costume is an exercise in flexibility.

The top can be worn pinned as a blouse or loosely over a tank-top or t-shirt.

As for the sarongs, you can wrap them around your hips, make them into a pareo, or simply drape them around a long black dress like an exotic stole.

In short – Grandma’s wardrobe, her at least half a century old tops and sarongs, have become my go-to resource whenever I need to dress up my basics.

Cut-out and embroidered tops

Cut-out and embroidered tops

Grandma's hand-painted batiks

Grandma’s hand-painted batiks

Here are her lace tops, which I wear over my work pants and skirts, or simply as part of a Peranakan sarongkebaya set.

And here are the beautiful batik panels which I can fold this way or that to make whatever evening ensemble I feel like.

Now, these beautiful vintage clothes don’t necessarily make me effortlessly chic. My nearly thirty year old fashionista daughter calls me auntie – in Singaporean parlance, a fuddy-duddy suburban mom. I guess I could do a lot more with my raw materials, as this project suggests.

But I’m happy. It’s effortless cheap I’m contented with.

My cheap Charlie souvenir hat pins

My cheap Charlie souvenir hat pins

Ok, ok, I admit I have a thing for small shiny objects. But even those didn’t cost. The good stuff came from Grandma’s cupboards too. As for the everyday things – they’re hat pins I pick up on my travels which I use to pin up Grandma’s tops.

So Kathleen, in answer to your question – What’ do I look for in clothes … Good basic stuff,low cost accents, and great no-cost antique workmanship. What is there from your heritage that you put on your body?  What’s hiding in your Grandma’s or Mother’s attic that you can take out and make your own? To remember them by?

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