200 Years Of Australian Fashion: A review

It’s timeless elegance meets classic chic and modern edge all under one stunning roof.

The 200 Years of Australian Fashion exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) perfectly executes the evolution of Australian fashion over a critical 200 year period, expressing specific times in cultural, social and even political history and an individuality that ultimately formed Australia’s fashion identity.


Arranged as a walk through time, the gallery opens with modest beginnings of colonial Australia, showcasing original day, evening and maternity wear, alongside a basic yet beautiful cream wedding dress. The masterpiece of the collection – a high-neckline day dress featuring a spacious pattern of flowers and complete with frills of blue trim, is the collections earliest known garment, dating back to 1805 and manufactured locally in Geelong.

Mirroring today’s designs of sophistication, an original David Jones tailored coat pulled from the archives of 1838 proved that classic trends never cease. The tailored garment is an obvious template for the that of today, with trademark buttons, square shoulders and fitted symmetrical lines.

A two-century display of fashions finest designs would not be complete without an tribute to the original establishments of the Collins Street ‘Paris end’, where Melbourne’s high-fashion culture began. Traditional dressmakers and establishments, such as Le Louvre featured couture gowns and sweeping dresses of elegance. In addition, designers from Brisbane’s salons and Sydney’s influencers were displayed, such as Miss Scott’s coloured silk and cotton gown, adorned by pleats, frayed ruffles and sleeves made with handmade lace trim.

Stemming from the ever-changing influences of Australian culture, the on-display pages of Weigel’s Journal of Fashion and Collection(s) magazines project a new era in women’s fashion – embracing female sexuality. The 1950’s established Australia as a fashion competitor across the globe, sparking interest and appreciation. A bed of flowers introduces the revolutionary and daring mini dress, inspired by Jean Shrimpton’s crowd-stopping dress at Flemington Racecourse in 1965. The sequence of five mannequins features baby-doll frocks, jumpsuits, peter-pan collars and raised hemlines. Stand-out items included a evening frock, with stunning embroidery of small lilac flowers and falling mid-thigh, and a sweet, black, baby-doll dress featuring small cascading white buttons along the bust, and a white lace peter-pan collar and sleeve trims.

The flower-power movement introduced new levels of pattern, texture and individuality as shown by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson’s aztec collaboration of deigns for their ‘frock salon’, Flamingo Park. Literally drawing on Australian ground-roots, Flamingo Park introduced local flora and fauna into patterns that celebrated Australia’s landscapes and trademarks. A Sydney Opera House inspired knit featured the roof peaks of the iconic building, with the words ‘BONDI’ and ‘KOALA’ spelt out on separate panels.

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And finally, there was a heartfelt ode to the designers of today – the modern fabric artists who expanded on 200 years of fashion in Australia and established a new reign on society with their  elegance and flare. Alannah Hill featured feminine beauty in shades of rich burgundy and body-hugging chic, while Carla Zampatti, Scanlan Theodore and Dion Lee were comprised of luxury and modern edge, leaving an open door for the coming 200 years of Australian fashion.


By Alanah Frost

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