Dressed to impress history

THE 1910s and 1920s were a time of great upheaval — and there was no better reflection than in the wardrobe.

About 60 people gathered at the Wangaratta Library on Saturday to discover the ins and outs of what was “one of the most interesting times” of fashion in the past century.

That’s according to fashion historian Nicole Jenkins, who shared with the crowd her expertise, as well as racks of delicate, well-loved clothing that aren’t just vintage — they’re practically antique.

Ms Jenkins said the huge cultural changes of the era — women’s suffrage, the union movement, and World War I — were also reflected in the fashion of the day.

“Prior to then, clothes were quite complicated — women needed maids to dress, there was a lot of corsetry, they changed several times a day,” she said.

“But WWI was quite a shock and women’s roles started changing quite enormously. People required clothes that were more practical and less fussy.”

Take, for example an exquisite corset from the 1920s, unique for its front lacing — meaning women could actually dress themselves.

Ms Jenkins has been collecting clothes for 30 years and has found Australian garments from the 1910s and 1920s among the most difficult to source, partly because they were so often re-purposed.

The ongoing fascination for people, she says, is simple: clothes maketh the (wo)man.

“Everyone has to get up in the morning and put something on — you need clothes that not only suit your work but also make you feel good,” she said.

“It’s one of the easiest ways to express yourself, or change yourself.”

Ms Jenkins’ presentation was part of the Wangaratta and District Heritage Network’s heritage festival, which this year commemorates the Anzac Centenery.

Committee member Sue Phillips said they chose to focus on fashion as part of the festival as a way of linking people to the forebears — not to mention the interest thanks to TV shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and films like The Great Gatsby.

“People have a real interest in discovering what life was like back then,” she said.