Friday, February 26, 2010

Crooks Like Us

Today I'd like to share with you the book I've been reading: Crooks like Us, by Peter Doyle. It has a strong Australian focus, so it would surprise me if any of my overseas readers have heard of it before – a shame, because it's a really fascinating insight into the seedy underbelly of life in the 20s and 30s.

The book consists of informal mug shots of some of the criminals who came to the attention of inner-city police stations in Sydney, Australia. Not all suspects were photographed once arrested - from about 1910 to 1935, “special photographs” were taken as a way to keep track of those people who “in the opinion of the arresting officer, were liable to lapse into a life of vice and crime”. In particular, this meant confidence men, thieves and underworld figures – in an age where identity was fluid, names could be changed at will, and personal histories could be invented off the cuff (without fear of having their story ruined by a quick google or a glance at their ID cards), “special photographs” became the police's only way of keeping tabs on these crooks. They were expected to know these career criminals by sight, and thus the photographs mostly consist of repeat offenders rather than, say, participants of a drunken brawl.

The mug shots differ wildly from the ones we see today – they have a soft, naturalistic quality about them, and capture these 'crooks' with all their individual quirks and human complexity for us to see. Many of the men look relaxed, confident – a cocky grin spreading across their faces, ready to pick up another big score the minute they're released. Others stare downwards, the shame almost palpable as their eyes brim with tears. A few have the marks of desperate men, their pinned pupils an indication of the addiction driving their criminal behaviour. Sometimes, we have only the name of the suspect etched into the negative to give us a clue as to the person's identity – in other cases, Doyle has found files and newspaper articles to give us a detailed insight into their life and crimes. (The other unusual aspect of these photos is that there are typically two of each suspect – one with hat, and one without!)

In Australia, the crime scene was a little different to the popular american gangster image of the time. Guns were not as readily available, so most violent criminals stuck with razors, garottes, or the basics – their fists. Interestingly, the Sydney underworld was run by women! Two archrivals – Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh – were some of the most powerful figures in the criminal world up until the 1950s. This was due to a legal loophole that made it illegal for a man to run a brothel, yet perfectly legal for a woman to do the same! Both women were able to use their brothels as a location to sell sly grog, drugs, and host illegal gambling, and were known as the “Queens of the Underworld”. Their loyal gang members featured heavily in Doyle's book, often being arrested after murders and brawls to do with Kate and Tilly's violent feud.

I picked up a huge amount of slang describing many of the tricks and crimes of the day, including:

  • “ringing the change” - this trick is hard to describe – essentially, it's confusing a shop assistant by constantly chattering and swapping the amount of money they're given (ie giving a note, then saying you'll 'offload some of your change instead', then changing the items you want to buy) to the point where the crook is able to walk away with not only the items 'purchased', but more money than he started out with! (Can you believe people still try to pull this one on me nowadays?)
  • “Sneak Thieves” were men who frequented cinemas in order to steal from distracted patrons
  • “Rock Spiders” was a category of criminals including peeping toms, along with those known as “park touts” - people who stole items from “amorously preoccupied” couples in public parks!
  • Apparently “wife desertion”was a crime too!
  • The “old friend” routine - A technique used by female pickpockets, where they would approach a wealthy looking gentleman on the street, throw their arms around him and shower him with kisses! While the man recovered from his embarrassment, the woman would relieve him of any valuable he was carrying, and then leave, pretending as if it was a case of mistaken identity.
  • "Magsman" - a confidence artis; the "buttoner" the man who encouraged the mark to participate in the game. Typical tricks of the day included "the brass" (where a mark was encouraged to participate in a group bet on a fixed race), "railway sharping" (a magsman would board the train at one station, the buttoner several later, in order to appear like strangers meeting on a train and so as not to arouse suspicion in the mark. Some highly elaborate scams would have several buttoners who would swap 'shifts' at various stations) and "the madman act" (a man would behave erratically, money stuffed into every pocket, asking passersby to play cards with him. The mark would believe it would be easy to rid this clearly insane man of his money - of course, it would not be so).
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the lives of 'everyday people' in the past - after all, one cannot get a well rounded understanding of the people of the day without acknowledging those from the underbelly of life.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Miss Emmi the...Rocker?

Before I begin this post, I would like to quickly thank everybody who commented on my last entry - it really helps to hear such words of encouragement. I attended the class, and it was great fun! We're learning the Charleston this semester, I think. I'm still fairly anxious about returning to uni next month, but I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sadly, I had to skip yesterday's dance class - I had tickets to see one of my FAVOURITE BANDS OF ALL TIME and was not going to miss that for the world! If you're interested, it was Placebo, and yes, THEY ROCKED like words cannot even describe akjhsakhlkjad

Just to prove I still dress like a (kindof) normal person:

(You don't even want to see photos of me at the end of the night - let's just say that after several hours of moshing, that hair was no longer so pretty. My eyemakeup stayed perfectly intact though, so props to MAC!)

The skirt was made out of an old Laura Ashley dress that was way too big on me, so I salvaged the bits that I liked and what I knew I could take in to fit me. The resulting style turned out great - so many people have assumed it was from Allanah Hill, which pleases me to no end as there's no way I'd ever be able to afford her designs!

In a way this look goes back to my 'rock chick' roots - before I fell in love with vintage clothing, I was aactually a regular little Debbie Harry! Corsets, boots, a helluvah lot of eyeliner - it was fun, but in a way it felt like 'dressing up'. It wasn't really me. Now, when I play around with that look, it's a lot more refined, more polished (and less black)! I guess that is me bringing my vintage sensibilities back to the style. It's less 'attitude problem' and more 'I'm smokin', and confident, and don't care what you think!' I still dress like this from time to time - after all, I have to take my band t-shirts out on the town somehow - so I thought I'd show you all a glimpse of another side to my personal style.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Daily Outfit: Summer Flowers

Ahh, breezy cotton dresses. My lifesavers in this summer heat! I found this one at a vintage store that typically only stocks horrible polyester stuff from the 70s/80s, so it was a lucky find. Does anyone know the name of the flower used in the design? I bought these frangipani hairclips specifically to tie in with the dress, though I know they are not the same kind of flower. Still, close enough!

Outfit Details

Dress: Retrostar
Hairclips: Diva
Wedges: Easysteps

In other news, I've found a local swing dancing group - I'm going for my first lesson on Monday! I'm really quite nervous about it, as I've been struggling with social anxiety for the past few years and the classes involve rotating partners, so I'll be without my support for long periods. I used to be a fairly outgoing person, but about 3 years ago meeting new people became extremely difficult. I felt like I was being judged negatively, and that causes me to retreat into myself and clam up in social situations, while constantly looking for a way to escape the conversation and the attention. I'm hoping to work on that this year, as last semester it reached a point where it was negatively affecting my job and studies because I became afraid to even leave the house. I don't really want to bring up my personal problems on this blog, but I feel like I need to indicate why joining a class like this is a seriously big step for me. I'm crossing my fingers for it to go well - there's no obligation to sign up for a long period, so I'm viewing this coming Monday as a chance to dip my feet in the waters a little. Wish me luck - I'm hoping for the best.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Daily Outfit: Souvenirs from Tokyo

I've been having some pretty swell luck at the op-shops recently! This is one of my favourite finds ever - look at that gorgeous print! You may have noticed, I am a sucker for anything with a Japanese theme. My dream is to find one of the souvenirs that American soldiers brought home from the pacific - this dress isn't one, but it's close enough for now! Chinese New Year happens to fall on Valentine's Day, I'm hoping The Boy and I can drop in on the festivities - I want to stock up on lacquered parasols and fans!

It's 100% cotton, which is just perfect for the disgustingly hot weather we've been having recently. I'm hoping for cooler weather by sunday; the dress I had planned on wearing is satin (and lord knows that will not mix well with 35 degree heat...)

The label of this dress is marked "SSW" - is anyone familiar with that acronym's meaning?

I hope you are all having a good week! I have to think of some good picnic foods to cook before Sunday; any suggestions? Please keep in mind that I'm domestically challenged - anything from books with titles like "Kid's Kitchen" probably makes for a good start!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Daily Outfit: 40's Flair

I found this magnificent little dress in the opshop the other day -doesn't it has a very 40s feel to it? (Pardon the unmade bed; how embarrassing!)

I especially love the shoulder detailing. The pattern has everybody confused - I thought it was cotton, my boyfriend thinks wattle flowers, my sister sees cherries, and my dad said tiny insects! It's practically a wearable Rorschach test!

Outfit Details

Dress: Thrifted
Belt: Valleygirl
Shoes: Rivers
Stockings: Ebay
Gloves: Ebay
Lipstick: MAC Diva

(I also managed one of the nicest pincurl sets I've done in a while, but... as soon as I left the house it rained on me! Boo!)

I was headed out to Lincraft (they currently are having a 50% off fabric sale) but surprisingly, didn't buy much in the way of supplies. I have very specific ideas in my head about the clothes I want to make next, but there wasn't anything I felt I could use to create them. For all you crafty ladies (especially the Australian based ones), where do you buy your fabric? Any stores I should hit up in Melbourne, or ones that deliver here for a reasonable price? Any suggestions would be much appreciated; I am in desperate need of some mustard coloured wool!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Daily Outfit: Sunrise Over Osaka

An unusual 'outfit' today - I didn't go out or have work (and can finally swallow again), so took a rare chance to laze about and do absolutely nothing~ bliss! This kimono was a present from a friend who spend several months studying in Osaka, Japan. He found it and the matching obi in a vintage store there - I didn't want them to languish unloved in the back of my closet, so I wear the kimono as a dressing gown on crisp mornings. It works perfectly as loungewear when one has nothing better to do, as it is so heavy that it becomes impossible to rush anywhere!

This is the best shot I could get of the pattern - as it isn't painted on, but rather woven, it's very subtle. Reminds me of leaves floating down a river, in a way!

Here we have the gorgeous obi - it's difficult to photograph as there are gold threads woven through it that reflect the flash all over the place. I don't wear this with the kimono as it is far too long for a sash - any suggestions for displaying it, dear readers?

Speaking of all things Japanese - today, as the boy and I were watching Mad Men Season 1 (it's the second time round for me, so I was paying more attention to the backdrops and outfits than the story) what should I spy in Bert Cooper's office? Why, none other than the infamous erotic woodcut print, The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife! Warning - VERY NSFW, which makes one wonder how Bert gets away with putting it up on his walls! My goodness! It was only a passing shot, which makes me wonder whether the set designer is just messing with me D: I am struggling to believe that Sterling-Cooper could have been that liberal. (Or that an abstract orange block could attract more attention from the staff than this... this thing!)