A Realist’s Guide To Popular Australian Fashion

The sartorial smear that Australia has left on the world is actually pretty terrible. To clarify, we’re huge supporters of local talent, and think that the work of designers like Romance Was Born, Dion Lee, Elliot Ward-Fear, Lover, Ellery and Karla Spetic, as well as a host of their contemporaries, is nothing short of amazing. These labels make us proud to be Australian. But while these designers are visionaries in their own right and are worthy of international acclaim and fandom, they aren’t what the world usually associates with Australian fashion. And by fashion we mean clothes. Below, we’ve collated five Australian creations that have in some way influenced the way the world dresses. These items may not have the best rep here in Australia, but due to branding, luck or contextual shifts that hurt your brain if you think about them too long, are wholly embraced overseas. Ladies and gentlemen, we present Australia’s greatest gifts to the world of fashion.

Australia and New Zealand argue over which nation invented the ugg boot first, but we say let the Kiwis have this one. Did you know that the sheepskin shoes have their origins in WW1, used by aviators and known as ‘fug boots’? Please note that ‘fug boots’ is meant as an abbreviation of ‘flying ugg boots’, not ‘fucking ugly boots’, which is obviously more applicable and terribly ironic.

Thanks to the power of celebrity endorsement, ugg boots have since gained crazy prominence in America. Arbiter of bad taste, Pamela Anderson, was one of the first to jump on board and they are also Britney Spears’ favourite footwear to step out of the house and go grocery shopping/chain cigarettes. Apparent style icon Nicole Ritchie has embraced them while Kirsten Dunst, usually the most tolerable of her ilk, has succumbed to the call of the ugg too. Jimmy Choo has even collaborated with UGG Australia, resulting in a collection of overpriced, embellished indicators of douche-dom. Most notably they’ve been embraced by the campus-dwelling college girls of America. With track pants tucked in, or coupled with a denim mini-skirt, they are the versatile go-to footwear for attending class and drinking beer out of red cups. And they came from Australia.

Coogi Australia was established in 1969 and has been relentlessly producing garish wool sweaters ever since. But though they may seem more gaudy than ghetto to our sensibilities (they mostly connote tourists and Kath & Kim) in the US, the sweaters have been a staple of hip hop street style for decades.

Billy Cosby as Cliff Huxtable bought the Coogi sweater to prominence in the 80s by incorporating it into his extensive wardrobe of bad knitwear on The Cosby Show. It really became notorious however, when Biggie Smalls repped it on-stage and on the cover of The Source, injecting kitsch colour to the streets. Legendary hip hop stylist Groovey Lew tells MTV, “If you weren’t Bill Cosby or a rich motherfucker from Australia playing golf, nobody new about [Coogi]. Big homie started running around with it, and that’s what opened the hood up to it.” And the affinity with hip hop continues today. Nike was inspired by Coogi to create the Cliff Huxtable Nike SB Dunk in their SS10 collection, featuring a white upper and Coogi-esque wool inserts. And Rick Ross furthered Coogi’s cultural cachet last year when he namechecked the brand in Kanye West’s ‘Devil In A New Dress’: “still a real nigga, red Coogi sweater, dice roller,”. Cosby swettttaahhhhsss, still relevant, even today.

Iconic Australian milliner Akubra make fur felt hats that by folklore have corks hanging off them and are worn by all citizens. They are so Aussie that they may as well be worn while we ride kangaroos to racism class (jokes) and throw shrimps on the barbie. For 130 years they have represented the spirit of the outback, and, in more recent times, have become the government’s official gift to world dignatories including American Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush.

Today, the famous fur felt hats are currently undergoing a revival as totally wearable, even covetable, fashion items. We partly have Australian-born, New York-based model Jessica Hart to thank (blame?) for this. She posted photos of herself on her blog around this time last year wearing an Akubra ‘Adventurer’. The brand could not have hoped for a better unofficial spokesperson, with a host of bloggers following suit and donning the Akubra in their DIY style snaps. Taking into account the power of fashion blogging in influencing trends, it’s safe to speculate that the Akubra may see a comeback sooner than you think. Designer Arabella Ramsay has even used the Akubra in the lookbook for her AW11 collection, The Alice. So, can we expect the fashion world to take a renewed interest in Australiana by this time next year? ‘Ken oath.

The board shorts we know today were invented in Torquay, Victoria. Since their creation in the late sixties by surfwear juggernaut Rip Curl, they have transcended their original purpose as an alternative to budgie smugglers and are embraced as a symbol of Australian life both locally and around the world. Much like the Akubra, boardies are such a sartorial stereotype of Australian life that it seems the only accompaniment to them besides a pair of rubber thongs and VB is a Southern Cross chest piece. Since their creation, pro-surfer fandom has catapulted the humble Aussie board short into millions of wardrobes around the world, making them a nylon/polyester alternative to regular shorts even when not within the vicinity of an ocean. Also, shrinkage. I mean, who hasn’t worn board shorts at least once in their life? If you’re a male human under the age of 60 chances are “not you”. Unless you’re European. In which case, cover up dude you’re weirding everyone out.

Blundstone is best known for their laceless elastic-sided ankle boot, “The Original”. Based out of Hobart and established in the late 1800’s, “Blunnies” became a workwear staple (not to mention key wardrobe item for Australian tap phenomenon Tap Dogs) before hipsters caught on and did what they do best – co-opt the shit out of blue collar workwear. These days Blundstone is bigged up by fashion bloggers, stocked in J. Crew, re-designed by Nelly Furtardo and riding the heritage wave alongside brands like Woolrich and Barbour. Our friends at The Thousands endorse them, as do London-based Aussies Antipodium who used Blundstones in their 2008 runway show at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week. Jason Schwartzman probably has a pair and The Bedroom Philosopher wears them when he goes camping. If someone says they’re an artist there’s a 50% chance you’ll look down and see paint splattered Blundstones. They’re basically the antipodean version of Doc Martens but more rugged and outback-y.

Words by Ingrid Kesa and Ashley Chang