I have been head down doing the work, not reporting on the work of late. Have not managed the promised steady stream of updates. But doing the work is after all the most important bit, right? Of course it is.
We now have 115 fabulous pieces available on Victorian Collections. It is sooooo hard to stop at 100! The more we spend time with the collection, the more we find of value. Great stories, great pieces, great characters of Brighton, Melbourne, Australia and beyond. But we must be strong and carry on with our mission as decreed!
I want to share with you some of my personal favourites. Favourites are always personal and variable. For me a favourite is chosen for how this item illustrates an aspect of social history that I connect with.
Here is a selection of some of my favourite pieces from the journey so far.
c1890 Evening Pelerine – A pelerine is a short cape commonly made of dress fabric, velvet, fur or lace and worn over a dress. It sits lightly on the shoulder, often with long points at the centre front and at this time frequently worn with a dress featuring a sleeve with an enlarged shoulder head. Black and red were common colour choices, with black being prevalent due to strict social conventions regarding appropriate dress during periods of mourning following the death of family members. The established conventions varied depending upon the relationship of the wearer to the relative, and passed through several stages each with its own decreed dress regulations.
Here is a simple table from Wikipedia taken from Manners and Rules of Good Society, or, Solecisms to be Avoided (London, Frederick Warne & Co., 1887)
c1917 – 1919 Afternoon dress – This dress typifies the simplicity and notion of “Less is more” popular at this time. A move away from heavily corseted restrictive clothing towards more athletic, free moving clothing and lighter underwear. The first modern style bra was patented in New York in 1913 by socialite Mary Phelps Jacob. In the years to come clothing would become more relaxed and boyish but considerably more flamboyant as illustrated by the iconic “flapper” dresses of the mid 1920’s prior to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression era.
Late 1800 – early1900s Riding Habit – For a start the idea of riding a horse side saddle seems absolutely crazy to my modern mind. The strain on a woman spine and hips completely impractical and downright cruel. Of course she would already be in a very restrictive corset and so the natural condition of her torso somewhat compromised but supported by the corset. I find it remarkable that they managed to stay in the saddle. Then there is the issue of covering her legs with a skirt so that she was “modest”, because to see that a woman has two legs and a groin would be “shocking”! This particular skirt features an elastic strap securing it to the riders leg to avoid it flapping and upsetting both horse and rider.
c1895 George and George Ltd, Federal Emporium, Melbourne Evening Gown. – Later Georges Department store, Collins Street Melbourne, a Melbournian icon that despite its sad closing in the 1990s remains in the heart of many Melbournian’s today. Store motto as published upon the re-opening of the store in 1888 “Quod facimus, Valde facimus” – “What we do, we do well”.
They went on to say:
"We wish it to be distinctly understood that while we shall endeavour to secure the patronage of the elite of Australia we shall aim to make our business attractive to all ranks of society. In the Federal Emporium will be found a stock of goods unprecedented in variety, unsurpassed in novelty. And a variety of accommodation to customers that has never yet been witnessed in the Southern Hemisphere." Advertisement 11 September 1883
First opened in 1880, Georges occupied a difficult retail site on the hill of Collins St perched between churches and away from the centre of the retail hub. A small department store or a large boutique, Georges was a destination of its own and those in the know dressed appropriately to enter its hallowed chambers.
When Georges finally closed in 1995, I was working just up the hill at the Princess Theatre. I made my way into the packed building for the final auction of fixtures and fittings. I remember marble statues and paintings being sold off, it was heart breaking. Georges didn’t manage to adapt to the times but I do wonder if an era might be coming when a store like Georges with a focus on only stocking the best of things, not necessarily the most expensive, and a no rush, high customer service approach might just be re dawning. Where the experience of the purchase is well thought through with long lasting results.
c.1970 JOT coat – Youth culture makes its way to upper end boutiques such as JOT Toorak, of Toorak Road, Melbourne. This coat’s styling reflects the mid to late 1960’s influences of space exploration in metallic, synthetic fabrics and bold, optical art textile design. Bright, bold and optimistic, in this coat you could not help but be noticed.
c.1909 Acidic yellow and lime green evening gown – This stunning dress belonged to Clara Miller, first wife of Septimus Miller and daughter in law of Henry ‘Money” Miller, financier, politician and reputedly one of Australia’s wealthiest people in his time.
In 1889 Clara and Septimus moved to their new home Cantala, Dandenong Road, Caulfield. Images of Cantala can be found on the Glen Eira Historical Societies page of Victorian Collections website. Throughout his life Septimus Miller was a key figure in Victorian horse racing circles and the Victorian Racing Commission’s Cantala Stakes is named in his honour. Prominent, wealthy members of Melbourne society I love this dress as it speaks to me of another of my interests, Melbourne’s lost east end theatre precinct. This time was the height of activity with The Theatre Royal, The Mechanics Institute (now the Athenaeum theatre), The Queen’s Theatre Royal, The Princess Theatre, The New Opera House, The Melbourne Town Hall, The Bijou and The Gaiety, and The Alexandra Theatre all in operation, only The Princess, Town Hall and Athenaeum remain. Whilst I do not know if Clara and Septimus ever attended any theatrical performances, this dress would have been appropriate to wear on such occasions. Clara died young, in 1910 aged 43 and Septimus remarried. Septimus lies in Brighton Cemetery’s grandest and most impressive grave, a Gothic style vault.
Another aspect of this dress which fascinates me is its colour. In more recent times yellow and lime green clothing is quite uncommon but it was extremely fashionable and prevalent at that time. In the mid 1800’s Picric acid was combined with Indigo to create a new synthetic dye, creating this colour. Whilst many dyes at the time were highly toxic to the wearer, I do not know if this dress or picric dye in clothing is harmful. However in the early 1800s many textile and millinery workers and some fashionable ladies suffered horrific death and disease from the prevalence of arsenic to produce vivid greens. Even into the 1920’s a distaste for green at the fashion House of Coco Chanel was a hangover from the colour’s association with poison. Hence I am wondering if the lack of prevalence of this colour in more recent decades has any similar historical roots.
1911 “Dolly Varden” Fancy Dress Costume – Fancy Dress parties and balls were a popular past time in the 19th century (and remain today). Party goers entertained themselves with elaborate costumes referencing historical figures, literary and theatrical characters and exotic cultures. The ‘Dolly Varden” character from Charles Dicken’s literary work “Barnaby Rudge” was a particularly popular figure at this time. The book was published in 1841 but set in 1780 hence the character’s “shepherdess” style of looped up polonaise skirt over a quilted underskirt. This particular costume’s history is perfectly typical, worn by Ida Burn, aged 21 at a costume party aboard ship en-route to China. Sea voyages were long and finding entertaining ways to pass time a necessity.
1930s Bridge Jacket – Various forms of Bridge or Whist were hugely popular games at this time. As I cannot find any information to suggest why the owner of this jacket reputedly wore this jacket “for Bridge” I suspect it is more to do with being considered her lucky jacket as opposed to any specific function or ritual of the jacket. Many of us have tendencies towards regarding certain objects or concepts as lucky or unlucky and it would seem Mrs Elsie Law was no different. Regardless it is also a lovely example of Art Deco, Asian inspired fashion of the 1930s.
1950s Circle Skirt – The invention of the teenager is typified in this playful full circle skirt with patch pockets and modernistic textile design. Worn with a crisp, fitted collared shirt or form fitting knit and petticoats this playful, youthful design shows the legs and swings with the body. The textile design speaks strongly of the period with similar aesthetics featured in popular modern materials such as Laminex and Linoleum.
c1960 – 70s Armadillo Handbag – There is nothing new about the use of animal skins for our clothing and accessories, but somehow the act seems so much more brutal when we see the whole animal. The trade in exotic animals such as armadillos became illegal internationally in the mid 1970s. Being in Australia, and Armadillos being native to North and South America, they are not a common sight. This little thing all curled up and clutching onto itself seems so sweet and charming until I think about what I’m actually looking at. Fashion can be a little grotesque.
c1860 Child’s Shoes – Wooden soled, horse shoe clad and made of very thick upper leather, WWIII would likely erupt if a modern parent attempted to adorn her child in such shoes. Judging by the size of the shoes the child would be of approximately 3 – 4 years of age. Can you imagine the sound the poor thing would have made if indeed it was able to run and play?
c1880 – 1900 Victorian (Australia) Gold Rush Shoes -J.T. Morris was a shoe store located at 306 Sturt Street, Ballarat. Ballarat is a town, north west of Melbourne in country Victoria, Australia at the centre of the Victorian goldfields. Ballarat was largely built on gold in the 1850s – 1860s and has remained an important centre of commerce and society since this time.
Francis Jago in the 1866 Burgess Roll as a bootmaker in Skipton St, Ballarat. In 1887 he was listed in The Australasian Federal Directory as a boot and shoemaker at 46 Sturt St. Advertising material is available until 1905. It is likely these shoes date from the later part of the 19th century to the early part of the 20th. As a Victorian, the discovery of gold has had a direct impact on my home city of Melbourne and State of Victoria. Gold either directly or indirectly funded our buildings, built our political system, fostered educational institutions and the arts. Footwear to me is the most fundamental item of clothing. It is the ultimate article of protection from our environment, and its degree of strength and comfort has a direct impact on our health and well being. I would like to know more about the owner of these shoes. As the old idiom goes “Before you judge a (wo)man, walk a mile in (her)his shoes”. The times these shoes hail from were exciting but tough.
1920s Assuit shawl – The discovery of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter sparked great interest in all things Egyptian. Assuit is an Egyptian textile style constructed by passing thread through metal and flattening the metal creating patterns such as plants, people, camels and pyramids. The effect of this textile is shimmering and reptilian, weighted yet floaty. Whilst the fabric production dates back to ancient times its prevalence in the 19th century is due to its popularity as a tourist art for European and American travellers, reaching great heights during the Egyptomania of the 1920s. In this section of shawl you can identify plant forms and people typical of these designs.
As we move to our next section of work, it is sad to leave the process of photographing and cataloguing these wonderful pieces. However I hope that our work will allow greater access to the collection and perhaps in future further support for work to be done.
Please go to Brighton Historical Society on Victorian Collections to view more.
In the latter part of 2017 Brighton Historical Society was thrilled to receive a Local History Grant from the Public Records Office Victoria. The project is to catalogue a substantial selection of the most important pieces of its costume collection onto Museums Victoria’s Victorian Collections data base. Laura Jocic and I are honoured and excited to get stuck in, research, record and share these valuable snippets of our history. Passionate about the social history of clothing, I hope you enjoy our work.
After each session I thought I’d offer a little taster of our activities in the way of a reoccurring theme or interesting discovery. Click on the image to be taken to the item on Victoria Collections website.
This weeks theme is Frippery.
The lustre on this oyster coloured silk is so beautiful, and the delicate ruching, pleats and lace create a sweet parfait of elegance. It’s owner was an early member of well known Melbourne Jewish family who also lived in a notable historic house, now a prominent art gallery.
This beautiful hand made lace somehow evocative of spiders webs or timber wheels, both which would have been prevalent at the time of its making. Queen Victoria popularised the wearing of white for bridal gowns upon her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 but the wearing of the lightest of colours was a definite statement of wealth. Laundering of clothing was labour intensive and difficult and so a pure white garment had limited re use.This colour is infinitely more sensible for the dirt and grime it would encounter in it’s lifetime, beyond the wedding day as was common for bridal gowns to be reused for ‘good’.
A lovely woollen four piece wedding gown comprising of bodice, belt, skirt and train. Despite numerous decorative details with fringed ribbons, beading, ruching, lace and bows it remains a very elegant and understated ensemble thanks to its use of a beautiful quality matte wool, matte silks and quartz like beads. A lovely example of texture, and layering of delicate detailing.
A definite favourite of mine for the sheer charm of it. Fancy dress parties were a popular pastime and the “Dolly Varden” style was very popular amongst young women. This ensemble was worn on several occasions including to a Lord Mayor’s ball, possibly on board a ship bound for China…
Dolly Varden was a popular character from Charles Dickens novel “Barnaby Rudge” published in 1841 and inspired a craze of Dolly Varden inspired culture.
As yet we don’t know if there is any significance to the use of lace featuring a Maltese Cross in the design. It might have been a treasure from the travels of the owner’s family. It inspires romantic notions of exotic travel to China, and Europe with fancy dress ball’s enroute in the relative innocence of pre World War One.
Till next time…
Ripponlea and Barwon Park have hosted some stunning frocks in their time. This new exhibition by The National Trust, Night Life – A fashion exhibition of the 1920’s and 1930’s is no exception. A recent bequest of gowns inspired this curation exploring the decadent, ground breaking, jubilant styles of the 1920s and the more sober, practical conservatism of the 1930’s. The post war and interwar periods saw an enormous amount of change in social customs and economic conditions, and clothing is always an incredible barometer of the whole picture of society at a certain place and time.
Many early 1920’s evening dress features amazing, intricate beadwork with new and exotic materials such as celluloid and gelatine. Celluloid sequins offered the clothed experience a luminosity, sparkle and sound that reflected well the excitement, excess and prosperity of the time. Some dresses featured approximately 2 kg of embellishment carefully stitched to feather light silks and cotton tulle. With the thrashing of exuberant jazz dance moves such as the Charleston in hot sweaty smoky nightclubs it is no wonder that many dresses have not withstood the test of time. It is a joy and a pleasure to be able to see such well preserved precious examples as these.
As we moved into the 1930’s with the occurrence of The Great Depression and Wall street crash of 1929 as well as ominous political events in Europe, sequins, and beads were abandoned in favour of printed, painted and more restrained styles, more practical in design, less boyish, re-embracing the female form.
Designs also reflect the influence of world events such as the discoveries by Howard Carter in Egypt and the ensuing popularity of Egyptian inspired motifs. Keep an eye out for them. My favourites are the camels. Can you spot them?
If you are an avid student of fashion you will appreciate curator Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna’s informative presentation both in the exhibition and the catalogue. I personally enjoy the notes taken from media of the day and insights into the lives of the owners of these clothes.
It makes me smile to think of what Barbara Wilson Milne’s father thought of her dress and dancing antics.
I am always struck by the wearability of these periods despite their difference. There are always elements that seem very contemporary. I was struck by the the simple, graphic beauty of this black, white and blue printed silk lining a simple black evening coat and the familiarity of the cloud shaped beading on a simple black dress.
As I walk around the exhibition I can’t help but think of the many young women who would have spent hours stitching these intricate items with tiny tiny beads and sequins, and that is not even thinking about the tiny bits of tin so carefully wrapped onto mesh to create the Egyptian wrap! I have recently finished reading Fashion Victims and I can’t help but feel for their hunched shoulders, and strained eyes. I only hope that some of them had such slender hands and elongated fingers as those on the wearer of these gloves!
Art Deco influences are everywhere in beading and embroidery. This beaded shoulder detail struck me as quite unusual.
The richness of well lit black in velvet, lace, silhouette and some inspired lighting effects.
Shimmer and sparkle in celluloid, tin and gelatine. Just keep away from a naked flame as celluloid is highly flammable! It always make me smile when I think of all these women resplendent in celluloid and the connection with the importance and influence of the film era at this time. Women were watching and wearing the same material.
Floral motifs are ever popular but it interesting to observe the differences in the representation. Here you see them beaded in the 1920’s, painted and printed in the 30’s.
Embroidery and Asian influences in the 1920’s. These Chinese shawls were a popular choice to the warm exposed shoulders with flapper girls against chill.
A visual feast, informative and a lovely day out in the gardens of Ripponlea.
But did you find the camels? Here they are, plus some Egyptian figures! Thanks to Erica Louise of recycled-fashion for her sharp eyes in spotting them and most of all for taking me as her “plus one”. Thanks also to the National Trust for another most enjoyable event.
Fashion Revolution Week 2017 April 24th – 30th #whomademyclothes campaign in memory of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse on April 24th 2013. An estimated 1138 people died and many more were injured. Fashion Revolution asks for people to participate in many ways. One of which is by telling a love story to an item of clothing in your wardrobe. I told three. This is my love story….
For further information go to www.fashionrevolution.org and get involved in changing our fashion future..
Did you ever do these doodles in secondary school? I did. I’d fill a whole page with line upon line upon line. As soon as I saw these shoes, I thought oooooooooooo they need some line doodling!
So I did, and I am glad.
I love clothing that has personal meaning. I find it rewarding and long lasting. Slow fashion. The way of the future.
This lovely simple brooch was inherited from my late grand mother a few years ago. She was a woman of modest means but she loved to dress up when an occasion presented itself. Whilst this is a modest 1950’s piece I find it rather charming. When I received it was missing one diamanté with several more following in rapid succession. Hence it has been sitting in my mending box for many years. I recently have been working through my collection restoring and repairing pieces. The hardest thing about this job was sourcing the correct size Swarovski crystal is appropriate numbers. I am pleased with it, and am now looking for the right time to wear it. I do love vintage jewellery!
Here we are again! The next in line of my shoe renovation projects. If you didn’t read the last post, here is a brief recap… I recently set myself the challenge of renovating some modern, locally sourced shoes into looks that are reminiscent of the 1920’s. With costume projects getting the right shoes to match an outfit, in the right time frame and at the right price can be challenging. So of course, being me, instead of just creating one pair of shoes, I have been excited and wanted to try a few different looks. For this pair I chose some Milana label, all leather sandals. I found them at an opportunity shop so it is hard to be sure of their age, particularly as the brand is still current, vintage styles have been fashionable and I am not an expert in knowing what every brand is stocking at any given time! However the elastics on the buckles are a little bit perished so I suspect these are c1990’s. For this project I have not replaced these elastics but that could easily be done.
I confess with this project I have been very focussed on making and have neglected my photo taking. I am using these projects to experiment with different ways of doing things and in fact pulled them apart and remade them more than once to try different things to see what worked best. In addition I chose to use materials only readily available, being dressmakers supplies as the equivalent shoe makers materials are hard to come by and require specialist equipment to work with.
The fabric I chose was horrible to work with, I knew it would be before I bought it but I really liked the finish for the period look I was after. I would continue shopping a little longer next time!
I’m pretty happy with the result. I’d like to thank my ever patient, cooperative and attentive shoe model Ms Devon McKenzie for her excellent work. I did ask her to model more than once as I wanted to record the different results of different treatments. I have only included the images of my preferred finish.
I had intended to add extra embellishment to the vamps with some hand beaded mesh to emphasise the geometric Art Deco look. However I am planning another pair which will have lots of embellishment and I think this pair work well as is. Knowing when to stop can be a challenge….
Here is another link to the post of my last pair, embedded in this post is also a Pinterest Gallery of 1920’s looks for your enjoyment!
I hope you liked them!
The Inner Truth Project is a complicated passion project that I am dabbling with. To save repeating myself I have provided a description of the project over here. After completing this first portrait I have had a number of people put their hand up to be involved in the project. As I go along, I will include small posts here to share snippets of the portraits but not the finished product. We will see how this develops and what becomes of it. At some point I will share the collated works.
For my first portrait I asked my good friend Juliet to be my subject. She was the perfect choice as I already knew her well and we had already completed a number of personal styling sessions together. Juliet is an intelligent, sensitive, passionate and artistic person with a huge well of complexity, just perfect for investigation and development. As an artist she is possibly more self aware of these elements than some others might be, however I strongly believe that we all have a great deal of complexity and it is just a matter of finding the ways to delve the depths to find treasure.
Juliet cares passionately about the role of women in our society, most particularly about what she feels is the under valued role of caregiver, a role most often filled by women. Juliet on a personal level strives to provide nourishment, both physical and emotional to those in her care whether they be family, friends, students or the foster kids she welcomes into her home. In her professional endeavours, as an artist and teacher she advocates for women and their many guises. Her inspirations in life and art show evidence of both her fine art and science education.
Born in Scotland, Juliet came to Australia via time in the U.S.A but her Scottish blood and traditions remain integral to her sense of identity.
Look closely and see what you can find, what is your interpretation of these elements?
Every aspect you see in these photos has meaning and been selected deliberately from the smallest item in the setting to Juliet’s custom body armour. We decided to portray Juliet as a modern day Boudicea, nurturer and protector of her people. A fearless woman of keen intellect, with a wild strength of spirit. She is surrounded by her tools of trade, her inspirations and symbols of her values. At the next stage of this project I will share the symbols and their meaning, the finished portrait, plus more.
But for now…. here is Juliet.
To learn more about Juliet, including a gallery of her insightful work please visit her website.
I’m looking forward to my next portrait.
What do you do if you need 1920’s shoes to be worn and withstand the rigour of an event? Well real 1920’s shoes are not that easy to come by any way, particularly not in any state to be worn. So I accepted a challenge to create a pair of 1920’s shoes from shoes that I could source today.
In the 1920’s skirt hemlines had risen giving new emphasis to now visible legs, shoes and hosiery. Flesh and soft pastel coloured hosiery slowly replaced the dark hosiery of previous times. The female silhouette had morphed from the mature bosomed, hipped figure into a more androgynous, small busted, small hipped, youthful, athletic figure. It was party time, the jazz era, the roaring twenties, oriental influence and metallic decorations abounded. T bar or instep strap sandals and pumps with rich embroidery fabrics, tooled or painted leathers and even heavily ornamented diamante heels. Heels were shapely but sturdy and vamps relatively high on the foot, often with cut out details.
Check out my Pinterest board to see lots of examples of gorgeous 1920’s shoes.
I chose these shoes primarily for their toe shape, forefoot strap, heel height and shape. In creating these shoes I had to make decisions around which compromises I would make in order to achieve the closest result I could, on a budget and in a timely fashion. An authentic 1920’s era shoe would be higher on the vamp (forefoot) and the heel may have a slight outward turn. I was very fortunate to find these little babies waiting for me to discover them and give them a chance to shine!
I wanted to cut proper patterns for these shoes rather than doing the quickie You Tube methods available. By cutting a proper pattern I could be sure that I would have the placement of the fabric design exactly where I wanted it, matching on both feet, no gathers in the fabric and with nice neat seams at the back. By cutting a proper pattern I could also work out the design and placement of the extra detail to give the shoes a more complete look.
I am quite taken with the burnished metal look I managed to achieve for the heels, strap and decoration.
In this photo I have had a bit of fun playing around with filters for a more moody look. Many thanks to my gracious foot model.
This is a project I actually completed a little while ago. I was putting together a gallery of my work and whoops (!), discovered that when I had transferred my blog across from “The Art of Costume” this post had not come with it. So this is a reiteration, please forgive if you have read it already.
Have you ever seen an item of clothing and it sticks in your mind forever? When I was working at the Victoria State Opera many years ago there was a woman who owned a vintage leather jacket that had a belt just like this one. For some odd reason, I loved that belt and coveted a vintage leather jacket with that belt. So when I saw this one in an opportunity shop, I bought it. However it was in pretty sad condition and so I decided to give it a facelift.
Here is an abbreviated representation of the work.
The lining had previously been replaced and was inappropriate fabric for the purpose, soiled and worn out and actually didn’t fit the jacket properly. So I needed to remove it and cut a new pattern for the lining. I was very lucky to find some great, vintage lining from a film costume designer selling off some of her collection, which was just perfect.
The leather needed to be well stripped to remove old paint, dirt and any substance that would inhibit the adherence of new paint. I ordered special paint from my favourite supplier (you know who you are!) and got to work.
It took several coats of paint, and cans of paint, but we got there. This is not a project to undertake to save money! This is about wanting to achieve a specific look, practice skills, learn and have fun.
The jacket had lost a button and a very unusual choice made and some of the buttons had been stitched replaced without their supportive button at the back. All buttons needed to come off for repainting so I removed, and replaced properly with new buttons.
The jacket was a bit too long to be this boxy on me so a little extra shaping was required. Fortunately I have the skills and equipment to work with leather although this jacket is sheepskin so it is very forgiving. The bull dog clips may look silly but are helpful to get the exact placement and fit.
Check out this gorgeous lining! It’s perfect, I love it. Such a lucky find.
All of this for a belt?
Yep ‘fraid so. But I also had a lot of fun.
Hope you enjoyed.