Dame Edna is a woman who has been cultivating a signature style since her public debut in 1955 and has honed its edges for decades. She has become more or less synonymous with the purple rinse, ornate cats eye glasses, her signature greeting “Hello possums” and of course, the gladdies. Her style is so iconic that you can buy it in pieces on ebay and rent it from costume suppliers.
So leaving aside the fictional character and actor issues, I thought it would be interesting to use her as a sort of signature style case study. She has recently retired (or perhaps not) and may be facing some extreme life changes so let’s see if we can help her out.
In her earliest appearances the then Mrs Norman Everage, Moonee Ponds housewife was dressed in second-hand ready-to-wear. Through the decades, her style has evolved from new ready-to-wear to modest designer, and more recently extravagant one of a kind made to measure garments (often designed by her son Kenneth). She demonstrates the development of more sophisticated and expensive clothing construction over time as her fame and budget grew.
She is rumoured to have invested a great deal of her income and should be living comfortably on the proceeds, but recently she took legal action against her manager Barry Humphries for embezzlement so may be forced to economise. Were she to ask me for advice on how to reduce her costs, I would suggest some discreet remodelling of her existing wardrobe.
Despite what you might think, Dame Edna is quite a private person and you never see her snapped by the paparazzi en déshabillé. She is always fully made-up and impeccably dressed according to her signature style. We don’t know much about what she wears in private, in fact, you could easily believe that she lives in a cupboard when she is not on the stage…
However, I like to think she takes her wig off and potters around her local neighbourhood unrecognised for the most part; perhaps in a large hat and sunglasses à la Audrey Hepburn. And maybe a tweed suit. As she’s quite meticulous, it’s not hard to imagine she is very particular about her clothing care but I suspect these days someone else takes care of that under her close supervision. I’m fairly confident she doesn’t let anyone tell her what to wear, but may have made one or two small concessions to her advancing age such as lower heels and perhaps larger buttons that she can more easily manage with arthritic fingers.
Early Edna dressed on the conservative side of fashionable with her own twist in the form of a jauntily knotted scarf and tilted hat (gloves too of course). As time passed, she added her glasses and her dress became more distinctive; she is fond of shifts and fit-and-flare but hasn’t committed to any particular silhouettes. Except perhaps whatever is the opposite of fashion. She has been very fortunate to have remained more or less the same size and shape and has made the “strangely interesting” proportion her own.
She doesn’t fit any of the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences 1925 types. However, she does match a more recent interpretation of the Type 4 category as a striking and head-turning High Fashion Dramatic – no way you could mistake her for a (youthful) sporty natural, (feminine) romantic or (dignified) tailored classic. She loves a bold, saturated colour but hasn’t adopted a core palette, and she certainly isn’t dressing more subtly in her old age – “go Edna” is all I can say. You can see more here at Virtually Edna and Dame Edna’s fashionable life in pictures.
As a public figure, I think she will still need a collection of formal wear, and given that her fans have come to expect constant novelty she can’t be seen too often in the same gown. I really love the idea that Princess Anne can wear the same outfit thirty years later, but this won’t work for Edna. In any case, she has donated some her costumes and memorabilia to the Performing Arts Collection so this may not be possible.
Edna does take her outfits very seriously, matching her frocks to her shoes, gems and sometimes hair accessories. It’s not hard to imagine her in monochromatic turquoise, and while she could economise with neutral accessories, I think it’s more likely she’ll need one of everything in her bold colours.
Edna might seem like an odd choice for a fashion mentor but she does dress like who she is – a bold and confident woman. She has places to go and people to see, and you can tell by looking at her that she doesn’t have time to waste. If you aren’t going her way, then you need to get out of her way. Maybe when she goes home, she puts on fluffy slippers and a chenille robe to relax in, but that’s hard to imagine.
If you share her confident personality (or want to draw yours out), you can bring her into your signature style quite easily through bold colours and flamboyant silhouettes. You could also choose a distinctive signature piece for frequent wear like her glasses, a large necklace or a big watch. You might not be ready for her breakfast dress, but you could work your way there from something like this via the gladioli dress. I think I might start with the cockatoo dress.
I put this outfit together using the techniques I discuss in my book Build Your Signature Wardrobe. It describes how to set a reasonable budget, decide what clothes are appropriate for your current life, how to present your authentic self confidently and consistently, and which clothes and accessories (and how many) you need.
If it is not quite what you are looking for, check out these outfits. If you’d like to challenge me to develop a particular outfit for an upcoming event, tell me in the comments below.