The focus of this on-line exhibition is women’s clothing of the mid-twentieth century, from the 1920s to the 1960s. During the twentieth century, there were many innovations in style and design and a number of significant fabric inventions, leading to dramatic changes in fashion and styles over a period of 50 years. The vinyl and PVC accessories that were readily available in the 1960s would have been unimaginable to a fashionable person wearing the natural fibres of the 1920s or the simple, restricted clothing of the 1940s.
This exhibition seeks to explore a part of Tairawhiti Museum’s clothing collection not yet shown publicly, and to showcase the range of quality garments from the mid-twentieth century. It also aims to show the way fashion reflects contemporary attitudes and circumstances. Lastly, details about each garment and its wearer have been included, where possible, to provide some insight into where and why the garments were worn.
Tairawhiti Museum has over 400 garments in its hanging textiles collection. The many quality hand-made and machine-made garments in the collection from the Gisborne region are a testament to the dressmaking skills of local individuals and designers. Many of these articles, which were donated by individuals and families from the local community, arrived at the museum accompanied by information about their owners and stories about their use. Unfortunately, the history of some of the other garments in the collection was not recorded when they were donated.
The clothing collection mainly covers the Victorian period and the twentieth century, with few garments donated after the 1960s and 1970s. The collection is largely composed of women’s clothing. This may be because men’s everyday clothing was often used for manual work and thus did not retain its quality, and also because women’s clothing, especially those pieces intended for special occasions, tended to be more ornate and unique in design and was therefore carefully stored and maintained. The collection is weighted towards evening and special occasion garments, as these are the clothing items people are more likely to treasure and keep. The wedding gowns in the collection are of particular note.
The collection houses a significant number of early period gowns belonging to children, particularly christening gowns and dresses for young children of both genders. There are a small number of uniforms, mainly blazers from schools and nurses’ uniforms from hospitals. The oldest garment in the hanging collection that has been definitively dated is a christening gown dating from 1789, which was worn by four generations of boys from the same family.
The museum is now actively seeking to fill the gaps in its clothing collection. Children’s and men’s garments are a priority, as is women’s clothing from the 1970s onwards. There is also an emphasis on collecting clothing designed for everyday wear, rather than garments that were worn only on special occasions.
Click on the images or icons below and browse through fifty years of fashion