Rowena Grant-Frost

Rowena Grant-Frost is a Brisbane-based writer and editor. Since completing her Honours degree in 2008, she has worked for Frankie magazine and The Courier-Mail and has been published in Penguin Women of Letters books twice. She is a reluctant participant on social media ever since David Hasselhoff started following her on Twitter.

We’ve invited your perspective as a Brisbane writer who generally reflects on topics aside from fashion, however, we wonder if you see clothing and dress as opportunities to convey particular kinds of stories, especially about women?

I think there are stories on every human body, whether it’s clothed or not. A naked person’s body still might have scars (appendicitis when I was 11) and black toenails (running) and a lopsided haircut (newly acquired this week, thank you). Clothing just adds to the complexity of stories told by our appearances by providing another layer of meaning to be read, decoded and categorised. So, yes, clothing, or dress, and how they are worn can be enormously important in telling a particular kind of story. They provide the layer of meaning we want the world to see. Very few people get to discover the meaning of stories underneath our clothes.

As far as the ladies are concerned, I think the history of women, especially in the twentieth century, can be documented through clothing and dress. One of the necessary consequences of feminism was that it liberated women from their clothes. If I had to wear a bra made in the ‘60s I’d burn it too, thanks.

What is your personal relationship to fashion – self-loathing, or self-expression?

A little bit of both, really. I see fashion and what I wear as an opportunity to express myself, but sometimes I don’t express myself very well. My jeans are too saggy, my shoes are too holey, something weird happened to my jumper when I forgot to use wool wash. But all these say a lot about who I am – my attempts at self-expression are a little bit hopeless, which is the story of my life, really.

Tell us how you came to be interested in fashion…

Hmm. I think it was when someone introduced me to the term “rickrack” when I was in my early twenties and I discovered there was a whole vocabulary of words I had never heard that related to things that I saw nearly every day. I have a strange interest in knowing the proper names for particular types of fabric – the difference between a gingham, a tattersal and a tartan, for example – so I think my interest just developed from there.

Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?

I have great admiration for and am extremely jealous of people who have mastered a sort of effortless style. The kind of style that looks like they didn’t even TRY. It’s so unfair and completely infuriating. Who do these people think they are? Everyone else has to try hard. Most people try really hard and still fail. So, yes, I always look at these people – some of them are my friends, others are public figures or just strangers I see once – and try to figure out how they do it. If I ever find out I’ll be happy. And rich. Because I will sell it for millions.

What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?

A few years ago I bought two suitcases from an op-shop to store various knick-knacks and doodads in. When I opened them up I found a tangle of wooden coat hangers that all had the name “Lorna Hambleton” written on them in a rather unsteady hand. They reminded me of when I first moved to Queensland. The school I went to didn’t allow students to use wire coat hangers (yes, it was the Joan Crawford School for Girls, did you know?), so my mother bought my sister and me a set of wooden hangers to hang our shirts on while we played in our sports clothes. I remember feeling vaguely embarrassed about the wooden coat hangers. I’m not really sure why. They were just different, I suppose, and when I moved to Queensland I so desperately wanted to blend in. Years later when I found Lorna’s coat hangers in my op-shop suitcases, I remembered this feeling of wooden coat hanger shame, so I put them all in my wardrobe and decided to use them every day. I still do. Thanks, Lorna.

Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…

I think I’ll go with the three big Brisbane department stores:

TC Beirne
McDonnell and East

Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?

Yes! Definitely! Clothing is as much a reflection of place as it is a reflection of time. There are also distinctive Queensland words to talk about clothing: I remember being totally bamboozled by the word “togs” when I first moved here (for the record: I still call them “swimmers” or sometimes “cossie”). I think Queenslanders have a special relationship to humidity and sweating like very few people, so our style has evolved in response to our environment and our weather and their associated lifestyles. What is this distinct Queensland style? I’m not completely sure. I don’t think it’s about a particular cut of dress, or print of shirt. In many ways, I think Queensland style is more about the attitude we bring to clothing: we either let the weather and humidity dictate the terms of our appearance, or we steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the heat, the humidity, or the relentless wet weather and wear whatever the heck we like. Sweating be damned.

Rowena Grant-Frost, ca. 1986
Rowena Grant-Frost, ca. 1986
Rowena Grant-Frost, ca. 1986
Rowena Grant-Frost, ca. 1986
Rowena Grant-Frost, early 1990s
Rowena Grant-Frost, early 1990s
Rowena Grant-Frost and her sister, Dimity Grant-Frost, visit Movie World, 1992
Rowena Grant-Frost and her sister, Dimity Grant-Frost, visit Movie World, 1992

Published in , on October 8, 2013.