Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Inside the Australian Dress Register: Marjorie Wane's "Fairy" Costume, c. 1913

Girl's Fancy Dress "Fairy" Costume made by Louisa Wane (nee Killeen), 1913. Powerhouse Museum,  Sydney. A10343.
This garment is a fine example of a homemade child's fancy dress costume from the early twentieth century. The costume was designed and handmade by Louisa Honora Wane (nee Killeen) for her daughter, Marjorie Lydia Wane. It was worn to a St Mary's Sunday School concert in the suburb of East Balmain, Sydney c. 1913 when Marjorie was 7 years old. This dress is an excellent example of pre-war fancy dress. Due to the temporary nature of children's fancy dress very few costumes have survived due to fragility, lack of storage or the underestimation of their historical interest. 

During this period 'fancy dress' was popular for both adults and children in Australia.Fancy dress had a long tradition in seventeenth-century Italian carnivals and eighteenth-century masquerade balls. However, it was in the 1840s when the modern form of fancy dress was revived by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were enthusiastic promoters and planners of themed balls at Buckingham Palace. However, it was not until the 1850s that fancy dress became popular for children. During this period the Queen dressed her own children in elaborate costumes for special events and subsequently this activity became popular among the wealthy.

Marjorie (left) and her sister Doreen Wane, ca. 1910
Throughout the nineteenth century it was fashionable for costumes to represent historic royal figures from England's past. However by the beginning of the twentieth century it became more popular to dress children in costumes from their favourite fairytale books.  Many fairy stories and books emerged at the beginning of the 1900s, including those by Australian authors, such as The Fairies of Fern Gully (1903) by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite which showed fairies with native Australian flora and fauna. The elusive magical fairy became a favourite costume for young girls, as it was feminine and relatively easy to construct.

Marjorie and Doreen with mother Louisa Wane (nee Killeen)
The dress is made from a cream muslin fabric. It features a high round neckline, elbow length puffed sleeves, the high waist that was typical of 1910s fashion, a pleated bodice and gathered skirt. Gold sequins cover the dress, and the neck, sleeves, hem and waist of the dress are embellished with gold wire braid. Detail has also been added with gold coloured vertical stitching on bodice and horizontal sitiching on waistband and above the skirt hem. On the centre of the bodice is a gold sequined star. 

A pair of gold mesh and wire framed wings also designed and made by Louisa Wane accompany the dress, as did a gold wire star (here a reproduction). The costume was also originally worn with a star tipped wand.
Although many children's costumes during this period were made from cheap and easily sourced materials such old clothing or crepe paper, this dress appears to be made of fine materials and costly trims that were put together just for this costume. The costly materials used to construct this fairy costume indicate that it must have been very important to little Marjorie Wane and her mother, highlighting the consideration that was given to fancy dress events during this period, and in particular those that were hosted by institutions such as the local church.

For more detailed information about the manufacture of this garment and to explore others like it please visit the Australian Dress Register by clicking on the logo below.

*The Australian Dress Register is a collaborative, online project about dress with Australian provenance pre-1975. This includes men's, women's and children's clothing ranging from the special occasion to the everyday. Museums and private collectors are encouraged to research their garments and share the stories and photographs while the information is still available and within living memory. The project is facilitated by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. All contents are copyright of the Powerhouse Museum and Contributors. 

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