THE MOUNTAINS’ MOST BEGUILING AND MULTI-FACETED DENIZEN, TARA MOSS DEFIES LABELS TO CALL OUT INJUSTICE, EMPOWER THE MARGINALISED AND INDULGE HER PASSION FOR COSPLAY. HERE SHE DISCUSSES MOUNTAIN LIFE, MARRIAGE AND CORSETRY.
How long have you called the Blue Mountains home and what drew you here?
I began visiting the Blue Mountains in the late 1990s and wrote much of my first two crime novels, Fetish and Split, at guesthouses in Katoomba and Leura. I married my husband, writer and poet Berndt Sellheim, in 2009 and we moved to the mountains the same year. We love it here and it’s the perfect writing hideaway.
When and how did you become interested in Victoriana and mid-century fashion?
I’m interested in history, with a specific focus on the Victorian era of 1837 to 1901 and the 1940s and 1950s during WWII, and the immediate post-war period that followed. These were dynamic times for social and cultural change, inventions, sciences, textiles and design and the arts. These are the two periods that interest me most in terms of history, as well as objects, furniture, ephemera, costume and dress. It isn’t so easy to get about in Victorian garb these days, but I do enjoy steampunk cosplay as I can wear Victorian clothing but can also do things most Victorian women couldn’t do at the time. Part of the delight of playing with time periods is to subvert aspects of that history. In my usual, day-to-day dress I tend to wear mid-century vintage. It’s beautiful, sustainable, affordable and built to last.
When and why did you start sewing lessons?
I decided to learn to sew in early 2016, and started taking lessons with Lorna McKenzie from The Tailor’s Apprentice. I like her focus on historical garments and methods, and when my schedule allows it, I like to have one lesson with Lorna each week to stay on top of my learning. She has guided me through several sewing projects, including some of my cosplay. She is patient, positive and knowledgeable, and she shares my obsession with historical dress. I’m learning to sew in part to be able to mend and care for my vintage clothing, and I was recently announced as the Australian Sewing Guild’s Patron to promote sewing, mending and personalised ‘slow clothing’. There is a wonderful small-business aspect of the vintage and retro scene, with enthusiasts hunting down and salvaging beautiful things from the past, or sewing reproductions in their living rooms.
How have corsets become more than an extension of your interest in historical or fantasy fashion?
I have always been interested in corsets, but I didn’t wear them more than once or twice a year until recently. Just over a year ago I discovered by chance that wearing a corset for a few hours while writing relieved my back pain and headaches. I have scoliosis, so this kind of pain has been present throughout my life to one degree or another, and I have tried many types of treatments and physio. Now I wear a custom under-bust corset, fitted comfortably to my measurements, a few days a week, usually in the middle of the day or when commuting or carrying suitcases, and I do this in addition to my usual back exercises and stretches. I have been able to get rid of the painkillers almost completely. Corsets have really revolutionised my life in positive ways.
You’ve adopted a couple of pseudonyms or alter egos – Victory Lamour and The Tight-laced Time Traveller. Can you tell us about them?
The Tight-laced Time Traveller is my steamsona – a timetravelling writer and mum, Baroness Steele, about to fly in on her dirigible and save the world or report on despotic otherworldly regimes. She can handle herself and has been seen with a weapon or two, but ultimately believes the pen is mightier than the sword. Victory Lamour is my vintage pin-up persona, and my way of separating my journalism as Tara Moss from my vintage-focussed hobby, research and work. At victorylamour.com I write on vintage, beauty, body positivity, sustainable style and sewing. At taramoss.com I focus on human rights, women’s rights and representation, child safety, online abuse, my books and more.
What’s the appeal of cosplay for you?
When I was a kid we had a ‘tickle trunk’, as it was called, filled with makeshift costumes, so perhaps it’s in the genes. Dressing up is a wonderful form of play and one we enjoy as a family. Now that I have a daughter of my own I want her to enjoy that.
The Blue Mountains community loves a good dress-up – do you join in the fun at local historical or community festivals?
I judged the best-dressed competition at Lady Luck one year and we’ve attended Ironfest as a family three times. Community events of this quality are loads of fun. The whole town comes together with enthusiasts from around the country.
What do you think of the notion that getting married is a form of cosplay?
Cosplay can be widely interpreted, and all formal dressing and fashion can be a form of self-expression through clothing, a form of play, but of course the main and vital difference is that with cosplay you are role-playing, and with marriage it is real-life and legally binding.
Describe your wedding day.
I wore a red, custom-made Alex Perry dress and Berndt wore a tux and skull bowtie, and we were married in a rose garden. It was a beautiful day for us, surrounded by friends. My dress was like red roses.
What do you think are the most important aspects of a modern marriage?
Respect, communication and dedication.
What’s your take on the marriage-equality debate, and why is it so hard for politicians to reconcile public opinion with legislation?
I find it really frustrating that marriage equality is taking so long in Australia. Australians now overwhelmingly agree that marriage equality is overdue, with 70 per cent support for same-sex marriage in the general public. I don’t believe the personal opinions or religious beliefs of politicians should impact the rights for adult citizens to have equal access to marriage. They are meant to represent the people. Law-abiding, consenting adults should not be barred from marriage because of their sexual orientation. Those decisions should be up to the couple, not the state. It’s madness, and this is part of a long history of denying the LGBTIQ community the rights afforded to straight, cisgender people. BML
Photographs: Berndt Sellheim