Wearing it well

Dapper desires

We relish any excuse to dress up and show off for a party occasion. This season presents itself, with Fashion Week just past, and the WOW Art Awards imminent, as the ideal opportunity for fashion festivity and frivolity. The parade that follows reflects the preoccupation with announcing one’s presence and making a statement, fashionable or otherwise, in times of austerity or prosperity.

You can see early evidence of the trade in made-to-measure suits from the Kaiapoi Woollen Company around 1886, and the wide range of smart imported hats offered by Charles Hill & Sons, in the days before Hills Hats began making their own. And no matter that New Zealand was half a world away from London, it was important that we kept up to date with the very best of European fashion. Kirkcaldie’s made sure of this by employing a London West End cutter. By that time, Savile Row in London’s West End was emerging as one of the names synonymous with the best in men’s tailoring. Even today, Savile Row keeps this reputation, with designers such as Ozwald Boateng and Richard Anderson.

The perennial preoccupation with appearance resulted in the shape-changing corset, with Weingarten’s erect form corsets being widely advertised in the early twentieth century. Weingarten Brothers’ American catalogue from that time shows an impressive array of styles, even including erect form nursing corsets.

By the 1920s, a rather rakish air had crept in, as can be seen in the Hallenstein’s advertisement for Overcoat Week. Newspapers note the holding of Overcoat Week from as early as 1917. The “Week” seems not to have been at a regular date annually, but as common sense would predict, it was always in mid-late autumn. By 1926 other firms advertised their own overcoat week with rather more reputable gents as models. In contrast, the man in the Hallenstein Bros promotion has a slightly shifty and voyeuristic air as he peers sideways through the “O”.

Hallenstein Brothers Ltd Overcoat Week, 1920s? Hallenstein Brothers Ltd Overcoat Week, 1920s? Ref. Eph-E-RETAIL-1905-01-01

Much fun was to be had in dressing up for Capping parades, as this participant in the 1928 parade shows.

'Queen of Sheba', participant in the Victoria University capping day parade, 1928 'Queen of Sheba', participant in the Victoria University capping day parade, 1928. Part of the Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper collection. Ref. EP-0164-1/2-G

Changing times and changing lines

The war brought a change in attitudes to clothing. Women’s work clothing had to adapt to the new tasks now to be performed, as can be seen in the Berlei advertisement of 1942 (scroll down the page). Compare the sturdy figure of this woman, despite having only “feminine muscles” with the more curved lines of women of 1905 in Weingarten corsets.

After the war, women were encouraged to return to a feminine and less practical image. Some hats worn by fashion models showed no sign of restraint, and would have given Philip Treacy a good run for his money. Modernist creations worn with panache would have appealed to the woman shopper at a time when a hat was part of smart streetwear. In contrast, Trace Hodgson’s later exuberant caricature of Alison Holst is right in the WOW spirit of over-the-top self-expression, imagining foods as the materials of costume. It is also strongly reminiscent of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s fruit and vegetable portraits.

Costume design

In the theatre, the costume designer can escape the humdrum and exercise the imagination, with judgement and style. The Drawings Paintings & Prints Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library contains scores of theatrical costume designs, many by Raymond Boyce, for operatic and dramatic productions. The one in our slideshow is a detail showing costumes designed for Kiri Te Kanawa and the Australian tenor Donald Smith, in Bizet’s “Carmen”.

Kristin Goodacre’s entry in the 1994 Benson and Hedges TV3 Young Designer Award takes big hair, the nipped in waist and the hour-glass figure to illogical extremes, using the emphasis and exaggeration of religious and mystical ritual, or the impracticality of clothing worn by the idle rich and prestigious. It also appears to reference the pattern of buttock tattooing illustrated by an unknown artist on Marion Dufresne's voyage, 1772.

Shaun Pettigrew, outfit designed by Kristin Goodacre, 1994 Shaun Pettigrew, outfit designed by Kristin Goodacre, 1994, highly commended in the 1994 Benson and Hedges TV3 Young Designer Award. From Maysie Bestall-Cohen Promotions, photographs of the Benson and Hedges and Smokefree fashion awards, donated 2001. Ref. PAColl-6428-17-01

National Library's own WOW awards

Not to be outdone, the National Library staged a Wearable Arts Award as part of its Christmas celebrations on 5 December 2003.The Supreme Award was won by the Conservation Lab with its “Species”, modelled by Andre Page, fashioned ingeniously from cast-off conservation supplies. The Christmas category was won by one of the teams from the Alexander Turnbull Library, with a design worn by Helen Smith. It had a bodice and gored skirt knitted from plastic shopping bags, and a circular wing / halo constructed from an air conditioning duct pipe. Now, years later the knitted plastic panels have indeed proved to be biodegradable, and the dress is slowly disappearing.

Andre Page and Helen Smith wearing Turnbull Library creations, 2003 Andre Page and Helen Smith wearing Turnbull Library creations, 2003, private collections. Photos by Barbara Lyon and Jonathan Medlin.

Some especially special fashion from the collections

Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company Ltd. Order for Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Co Ltd, ca 1886. Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company Ltd. Order for Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Co Ltd, ca 1886. Ref. Eph-B-COSTUME-1886-01

Charles Hill & Sons Ltd, 1897 Charles Hill & Sons Ltd, 1897. Ref. Eph-C-COSTUME-1897-01-04

Kirkcaldie & Stains Ltd. A London West End cutter, 1903-1906 Kirkcaldie & Stains Ltd. A London West End cutter, 1903-1906. Ref. Eph-D-COSTUME-1905-01

Weingarten's WB erect form corsets, 1905. Weingarten's WB erect form corsets, 1905. Ref. Eph-E-RETAIL-1905-01-01

Alex S McBean, Tailoring, cleaning and pressing, 1925-1939 Alex S McBean, Tailoring, cleaning and pressing, 1925-1939. Ref. Eph-A-BLOTTERS-Costume-01

New Zealand Railways. Publicity Branch: Home Guard notes - If you can't get 'Petone', wait for it! It's worth waiting for!, 1940. New Zealand Railways. Publicity Branch: Home Guard notes - If you can't get 'Petone', wait for it! It's worth waiting for!, 1940. Ref. Eph-E-COSTUME-1940-01

A man's job... and only a woman's strength,1942 A man's job... and only a woman's strength,1942. Ref. Bay of Plenty Beacon, 16 September 1942, Page 3

Model wearing hat, 1950s? Model wearing hat, 1950s?. Photographer on the staff of K E Niven & Co, whose collection was donated February 1980. Ref. 1/2-209988-F

Raymond Stanley Boyce, costume designs for Carmen, New Zealand Opera Company, 1962 Raymond Stanley Boyce, costume designs for "Carmen", New Zealand Opera Company, 1962. Reproduced by kind permission of Raymond Boyce. Ref. C-134-041

Trace Hodgson, Alison Holst caricature, 1987 Trace Hodgson, Alison Holst caricature, 1987. Reproduced by kind permission of Trace Hodgson. Ref. C-128-025

By Barbara Lyon

Barbara is the Turnbull's Ephemera Curator.

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