Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Inside the Australian Dress Register: Max Humphress' "V's" Swimming Costume, 1911

Max Humfress V's swimming costume, c. 1911. Manly Museum and Art Gallery, Sydney

This very rare example of a young boy's homemade V's dates to around 1911. They were made for 3 year old Max Humfress who is pictured wearing them, adding tremendous interest and value to this garment. They are the only child's 'V's' and one of the earliest 'V's'- in the Manly Museum and Art Gallery collection in Sydney Australia.


The V's are machine stitched, probably by a home dressmaker. They consist of front and back panels, joined at the left side and the crotch. The right side fastens with a cotton drawstring, secured through a channel around the waist. The seam for the drawstring has been simply turned over twice and machine sewn with a straight stitch. At the centre front the initials 'MH' have been stitched on by machine with cotton tape, slightly wider than that used on the drawstring. The simplicity of design and lack of elasticized waist indicate this was almost certainly not created by a professional seamstress but most likely a family member, possibly Max's mother.

Max practicing his diving whilst wearing his V's

This is one of the oldest known examples of 'Vs' - the predecessor of the modern day Speedo. Popular from the beginning of the 20th century until the end of the 1930s, these cotton V-shaped costumes for men covered the lower part of the body and were usually worn by themselves or over a one piece costume for added modesty, the latter was made a by-law in some Sydney councils in 1906. 'Vs' were particularly popular in swimming baths such as Manly Cove in Sydney and often provoked outrage from moralists over the exhibitionist tendencies of those men who wore them without a traditional one piece (which covered from neck to knee) underneath.

One such opponent was the Mayor of Waverly who in 1907 wrote that "the most objectionable aspect of surf bathing was the pleasure that bathers derived from promenading their exposed bodies." The mayor went on to refer specifically to 'Vs' which seemed only to "accentuate rather than conceal the male anatomy as after contact with the water... show up the figure in a very much worse manner than if they were nude." Another commentator, this time a mother, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in February 1907 that she was forced to leave Balmoral beach with her daughters due to the "sprawling men and lads, naked, but for a nondescript rag around their middle."

This new type of swimwear not only shocked but also challenged ideas of what was and what was not acceptable swimwear, as well as how the body should be displayed, or in this case concealed, on Australian beaches.

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. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Modern 1920s Dress Patterns from BurdaStyle



So I have this gorgeous red velvet that I bought on whim last year and have been meaning to turn into a 1920s dress. However, as I'm now a full time PhD student with a casual job, and learning French on the side, I don''t have time to draft my own pattern.

There are some great reproduction 1920s patterns out there but the majority are in the US, and when shipping costs $15-20 for a pattern that already cost you $20, it's not that affordable. So in my quest to find an affordable alternative I stumbled across BurdaStyle and their downloadable patterns.

I hadn't really ever looked at Burdastyle before but they actually have some really good stuff, and last year they released some great patterns as part of their 'Roaring Twenties' inspired line. Whilst most of the patterns are much more modern with a hint of art deco, there are a couple that could be very easily adapted (mainly lengthening skirt hems) to make some plausible 20s dresses.

Cowl Neck Dress 07/2012 #102

This dress would make a fantastic late 1920s dress as biased cuts (that would become typical of the 1930s) were starting to appear in fashion during this time. 

Some period examples and fashion plates that show similar styles include:

Jean Patou, 1928-1929, The Goldstein Museum of Design
The MET - I think?

Chanel Dress, 1928-29,  MET



The other dress in the collection that I think would make a great 1920s outfit is this one. This style is also more of an 'all rounder', it was style of day dress that was common throughout the decade. For a plausible costume, the skirt of pattern would however need to be lengthened somewhat.

Godet Dress 07/2012 #112

It is similar to the dress on the left from 1923 in this fashion plate.



Or the one in the middle from this one later in the decade:
Three Butterick Patterns from Delineator, December 1928

With some easy modifications these patterns could be made into some awesome 1920s outfits, and the best thing? They only cost $5 to download!

For my next 1920s outfil I'll be using the first pattern mentioned in this blog post, so keep an eye on my blog for that pattern review and the finished product.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition | Exhibition Opening, Old Government House Parramatta



One of the perks of being a volunteer for the Powerhouse Museum on a project such as the Australian Dress Register is that I'm invited to attend events such as the opening of the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition, which was held last week in Sydney.


What is Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries some of my international readers may ask? This Australian TV show is based on the 'Phryne Fisher Historical Mysteries' by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. The main character, the Honourable Phryne Fisher, is a sassy aristocratic flapper and private detective in 1920s Melbourne. With the assistance of her maid Dot and Bert and Cec (who are wharfies, taxi drivers and red raggers), and much to the dismay of Inspector Detective Jack Robinson, she helps to solve all manner of crimes. It's a great twist on the age old 'who dunnit' murder mystery, and certainly gives some of its stuffy British cousins a run for their money.


Not your average detective

The exhibition is hosted by the National Trust in conjunction with Every Cloud Productions, and costumes from both the first and second series are on display in Old Government House in Parramatta, Sydney. I must say the National Trust has done a great job at setting up the exhibition - its layout giving you a chance to not only see the 40+ costumes but to explore Old Government House, which is one of the oldest buildings in Australia.



And for those of you who love millinery you are in for a treat - there's a whole room full of just hats from the series! And trust me, its the 1920s so there a lot of hats!

Photo courtesy of ladylaurabell @ Instagram

Photo courtesy of ladylaurabell @ Instagram

At the opening of the exhibition I was lucky enough to hear the costume designer from the series, Marion Boyce, chat about the costumes and her inspiration for them.

"It’s a period that I really love – I just adore the 20s and 30s. I do a lot of period pieces and really enjoy them, but not a lot are made anymore, especially in Australia. So, to be offered a show in my hometown, Melbourne, and for a period I adore was just fantastic. Also, the character is so fantastic! Phryne is a really sassy individual and the leeway she allows is fantastic. She wasn't conventional in any way – she’d served in the war, lived in Paris in bohemian style, and probably travelled further afield. This meant our parameters were wider and we could have an enormous amount of fun with her. Phryne’s influences would've been European. At the time, most of our dress was influenced by UK fashion, and because she's lived in Paris, her boundaries are broader. She was much more playful than the more conservative English."

You can read more about the process of the costume design from the series here.

Like Catherine Martin, Marion Boyle is an excellent Australian costume designer with a flair for the dramatic, and her love of textures and colours is on full display in this production and exhibition.

 

Another highlight from the night was that my friend and I also got to meet actor Nathan Page aka. Detective Inspector jack Robinson from the series! Swoon!



So even if you're not a fan of the series or have never seen it, anyone with a love for 1920s fashion should definitely check this exhibition out. I also bought the costume catalogue which is beautifully presented.



To find out more information about the exhibition go to the National Trust Website.





Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tips for Buying Tailor Made Clothes in Asia | My experience in Hoi An, Vietnam

As some of you may know, at the end of last year I backpacked around South East Asia for two months. Whilst I was in Vietnam I went to Hoi An, a little town near the city of Danang. Hoi An is BEAUTIFUL and I would highly recommend anyone who travels to Vietnam to go there. It's like the town that time forgot, with architecture reflecting the many different influences Vietnam has seen over time - such as Chinese, Japanese and French.

One of the main reasons that foreigners flock to Hoi An, besides the scenery, is for tailored clothing. Tailoring is big business in Hoi An, with most of the downtown area consisting of tailors and dressmakers. However, it can be a bit of a tourist trap. Type 'Hoi An Tailor Reviews' into google and you'll be bombarded by some outstanding and then some less than outstanding reviews for the tailors in Hoi An. It can all get rather confusing.

So I thought I would share my experience of getting something tailor made in Hoi An. Remember this is my experience with only one of the tailors in Hoi An, who I would now recommend, but it won't be same for everyone. However, if you plan to go to Hoi An to get clothes made I hope this is helpful.


1. Do your research. 

Before I got to Hoi An I took a little time to research some of the tailors using trip advisor. I was in Vietnam on a tour and our tour guide promised us that he'd take us to the best place in Hoi An where most people get their clothes made. This place was Yaly Couture. Yaly is probably the most reputable tailor in Hoi An and don't get me wrong they make great clothes, but they are expensive compared to the other tailors. So I was determined to see if I could find somewhere that had quality products at a smaller price.

On TripAdvisor I found glowing reviews for a smaller tailor called 'Hoang Kim' located at 57 Nguyen Thai hoc, Hoi An. The reviews said that the owner, Kim was lovely, had great English (usually this doesn't bother me, after all I'm in their country, but when you are explaining to someone what you want it's helpful), and was cheaper than Yaly but with quality that rivaled theirs.

So when Iarrived in Hoi An I already had Hoang Kim in mind, but I still went to Yaly Couture just to see what it was like, however I found that they didn't have the fabric that I wanted and it was going to cost $70.  So with this in mind I then I tried Hoang Kim. Right away I found the exact type of fabric that I was after, which leads me to my next point...



2. Know exactly what you want.

My advise to anyone going to get clothes made in Hoi An (or anywhere else in Asia) is to know what you want! So many other girls on my tour went into tailors just to see what it was all about, and were then talked into buying something that ultimately they didn't really want. You can't really blame the sales people, I mean its their job, but when you're spending $100-150 on a tailor made dress or suit you want to be happy with what you're buying.

By knowing what you want I don't mean have a vague idea, I mean be exact. Take in reference images and know exactly what type of fabric you want (light, heavy, stretch, blend, etc).  Luckily for me, as a sewer, I do have experience in textiles but even if you don't think about similar clothing you already own; How does the fabric feel? Does it stretch? This is all helpful when choosing fabric in the store as you do get to touch and feel samples of it.

Now onto the dress. I wanted a Wheels and Dollbaby designer dress copied. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE w&db, I love their retro inspired clothing and I own some of their dresses and knitwear but being designer they are expensive. I usually limit my purchases from them to a once-a-year occasion. So I figured, rather than spending AU$400 on one of their dresses that I'd been lusting after for a while, why not get it made for me at an eighth of the cost?

These are the reference images I provided to Hoang Kim who had an ipad and took them directly off the W&DB website. The great thing about online shopping these days is that most places have great images from multiple angles of their clothing, as well as close ups, so you can see a lot of detail.



 

After choosing the fabric I wanted and showing Kim the reference images I was quoted the price of US$55, $15 less than Yaly. All up I was happy with this and so decided to go ahead and put a deposit down on the dress. It is at this point I would recommend to anyone who is having doubts - back away. Don't rush into anything, after all its not like a store at home where you can take it back for a refund if you change your mind. This also leads me onto...


3. Don't be afraid to say "NO"

In my first fitting the tailor had put seams under the bust that wasn't in the original dress I was having copied and that I didn't want. After explaining this to Kim who translated it to the tailor, who then replied saying that she did that to enchance my bust region, etc. But being a bit stubborn and knowing what the original dress was like, I firmly stated that it was not what I wanted and Kim said that she would change it, which she did. 

I know many people in the same situation would probably have just let it slide BUT this is the whole point of tailoring. They tailor it to you. Now I can understand if someone is super picky and changes their mind constantly and in every fitting - that would be hell for a tailor. But this was one very large detail that I had outlined from the start yet it had still been done incorrectly. Basically the whole front section of the dress had to be redone, but this is what you are paying for. 

I was only able to have one fitting due to typhoon Nari which hit Hoi An whilst I was there. Kim's house, as well as the houses of the tailors that's she uses and her shop were damaged and left without power, and many other smaller tailors in Hoi An were also affected in the same way. As I was on a tour and hence a tight schedule, I had to leave before they could finish the dress. Kim was very apologetic and sent my completed dress, as well as my friend's, for free to our onward hotel in Hanoi. We received them 3 days later.


Overall I found the service very good and I LOVE the finished product. I mean there are subtle differences to the real thing: for one my dress is a silk/cotten blend whereas the original is only a nylon/spandex satin, so that's + 1 for me. But this one also does crease and bunch up a bit more than the original, due to it having less stretch. 

The only photos I have of the dress so far are of me wearing it to a rural NSW showgirl competition, hence the sash across my body. But you can still see enough of the dress to see how spot on they got it (note in these photos I had sewed up the split up the thigh a little bit because the judges were a bit old fashioned). But as you can see, they got it pretty spot on:

 





So if you're thinking of getting clothes tailored anywhere in SE Asia like Vietnam or Thailand remember:

  • Do your research - look for a tailor that has real, unbiased reviews online. Don't always believe what your tour operator or hotel tells you, as there is often a commission for them in there somewhere.
  • Know EXACTLY what you want - style, colour, fabric, cut, etc.
  • Don't jump straight into anything. Having doubts? Back away. Go to another tailor or take a time out to think about it.
  • Don't be afraid to say NO. Don't like what they've done when you try the clothes on in a fitting? Don't be afraid to speak up. This is the whole point of tailor made clothing - they TAILOR it to you. If they won't change it don't pay for it. It's that simple.