Grand French couturier Madeleine Vionnet once said, “when a woman smiles her dress must smile with her”, and I could not agree more. I am currently on the museum buzz, having been asked by the gorgeous ladies at the Albertland Museum to help with the curation of the exhibition “The Way We Wore” on May 29 – with items from my private collection taking a starring role.
I have beautiful items from many eras, however my true obsession floats between the 1930s and the post World War II era. This period saw the dawning of the “bias” cut, with the fabric cut across the grain, which draped down the curvature of the female silhouette like liquid gold – awakening all the curves, which were often accentuated by a train elongating the body. Silks, satins and lace created glamour, romance, and sensuality beyond your wildest dreams. Conversely, this same era saw desperate poverty through the Depression and war. Ingenuity borne out of poverty saw food sacks repurposed as dresses during this period. These humble cotton “feed sack” dresses, far more conservative in nature, epitomised the deprivation of the era, but are no less beautiful. In many ways I love these dresses more. That desire they had to still look pretty in horrendous life conditions will forever be the basis on which a simple little floral dress will never be unfashionable. I adore them.
My two rare Edwardian dressmakers’ mannequins are my version of grown-up dollies, and when I dress them my clothes burst into life. Running my hands down them, I can feel a tingling hum, a thousand pins, hopes and dreams. Perhaps they held a wedding dress with aspirations for the future or just something lovely to greet her lover returning from the war?
The journey of fashion throughout our history is one of great expression and creativity, but as we all know, can be fickle and fraught with social danger, especially in your formative years. Trying to pull the hippy vibe off in the late 80s saw me catapulted from cool to seriously uncool. My husband wearing 80s stonewash double denim in the 90s for our first date nearly banished him to the friendship-only zone! The current trend that is seeing all guests wearing white to a wedding is something I never thought I would see. Try that stunt back in history and you may have had your eyeballs clawed out by the bride’s perfectly manicured talons!
To help justify the cost of my addiction, I wear my dresses and can often be found down the beach wearing a ’30s gown over togs, which may seem ridiculous, but I do not want them to die on hangers. The fragile nature of these clothes means trying to pull off a rap dance after a few wines serves only to compromise the integrity of the fabric and expose your undies. Sadly, my four daughters seem uninterested in my “old clothes”, so it is a privilege to be able to share them with the museum and others.
Clothes aside, our little rural museums are the most wonderful picture books of our local history. Visiting them allows us to softly turn the pages of our past, inhaling lessons learnt, knowledge imparted and wrongs that need fixing. The quietly aging volunteers that donate their time to these museums deserve a round of applause. Opening day of the exhibition will also fittingly see the Wellsford Warkworth Vintage Car Club display their cars, knowing full well that these styles of frocks once sat proudly on their duco. For a cheap and cheerful day out, you could follow along to the Port Albert Hall for a cuppa and home bake. Maybe cruise out to the Tapora Peninsula afterwards and take a walk along Birds Beach? And finish your day with some famous fish ’n’ chips from the Port Albert General store, eaten down the wharf? It all sounds so lovely. I hope to see you there xx.
The Way We Wore – 50 years of Fashion opens at the Albertland Heritage Museum on May 29 at 11am. At 1.15pm, a vintage car procession will head from the museum to Port Albert Hall. The hall will host displays, quizzes and raffles. Refreshments will be available at the hall from 1.30pm for a gold coin donation.