About 15 years ago when Chris Wright was invited to a birthday party, the guest of honour suggested everyone dress up. Knowing a thing or two about fancy frocks, from onstage appearances as a singing and dancing preschooler, Chris took up the challenge and searched for something unique. In a second-hand shop, for less than $10, she found a divine outfit — a pale-blue ball gown that she teamed with baby-blue satin shoes and long blue satin gloves. “When the door was opened, I wanted to be able to say ‘Is that dressed up enough?’” she says. “I felt fabulous, I couldn’t stop smiling and I felt like I was the most authentic me.” Clearly she triumphed, as that moment marked the beginning of her collection.
At least three times a week, Chris goes hunting in all directions from her home in Goolwa, South Australia, to supplement her more than 500 outfits, shoes, bags, wigs, nightwear and bathers. “For one of my birthdays, my friend gave me a portfolio of all the Salvos and goodwill shops and their addresses, so it’s always in my car,” she admits.
Her focus is on ‘60s fashion with its looser, more youthful style, shorter hemlines and bright geometric patterns. More affordable than the elegant haute couture of Parisienne designers, names such as Mary Quant were influential and on everyone’s lips. Experimentation punctuated the decade and fashion was an ideal vehicle for expression. Weird and whacky designs and the use of alternative fabrics, such as PVC and Perspex, were all the rage.
Although aged one in 1960, Chris has always preferred living in her ‘60s bubble. She loves the panache, the music, the colour and has fond memories of watching period movies with her Dad. One of her aunts hightailed it for Hollywood, another aunt was a trick cyclist and her forebears were vaudeville performers, so there’s an inherited sense of theatrical about her. She name-drops Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner as if they’re her girlfriends from next door. She laughs infectiously and there’s a sense she’s always been a popular girl.
Her home is the ultimate tribute to the era, with one room, in particular, the source of much fun and gaiety. It’s the hub of her collection, stuffed with treasures that Chris believes have healing powers. “One of my friends had just been diagnosed with cancer and we were all going away for the weekend,” she says. “Without telling anyone, I threw a bunch of dresses in the car and when we got there, we dressed up and frolicked on the beach. Everyone was grinning. It could have been a really depressing weekend but the gowns took over and we had so much fun.”
This story was originally published in the March/ April 2014 issue of Australian Country. Order the back issue here.
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Words Meryl Hancock
Photography Ross Williams
Styling Bronte Camilleri