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Expert Q&A :: Exploring the Powerhouse Museum and Australian Dress Register

Q. From Patricia: How long would a family have been in mourning dress in the early 1900s if they were reasonably well off?
A. Lindie: It was mostly women who wore the deep mourning outfits in the 19th century. Men would wear a black armband for a funeral but since they were in greys and blacks their clothing did not alter much. Women had various stages of mourning from dull black crape to grey then lilac. Read about this on the Australian Dress Register website information pages.
A. IHM: The many uses of a black dress ::



Q. From Amanda: What a good idea, and great to know about the Australian Dress Registry! I have a family photo and like Wendy Stewart would like to know if the style of dress can tell me anything about the lady and when this was taken. The lady is my ancestor Mary Ann Howell.
A. Lindie: A lovely photo Amanda! The style of bodice is often known as a Zouave jacket, inspired by those worn by light infantry regiments in the French army from the 1830s. Its strongly contrasting embroidered stripes, tasselling and waisted shape with curved sleeves was very popular in Europe for women’s fashions in the 1860s. This lady is very well dressed, well read (book in hand) and probably from a wealthy family. Does this fit with Mary Howell? See link.
A. IHM: Here’s the link for The Quintessential Clothes Pen – an exploration of historic costume ::
A. Amanda: Thank you Lindie – that was very helpful and much appreciated.


Q. IHM: Thanks for joining us tonight! Before you go, can you tell us what’s in the pipeline for us at the Powerhouse Museum?
A. Lindie: Thanks for this opportunity. We have lots happening at the Powerhouse. The Student Fashion Awards display is opening any day now. An exhibition – the Strictly Ballroom Story opens on April 5th. We have a magnificent collection of the film costumes which we shall put on display. Later in September we shall bring our shoe collection out of storage for all to see and the same month we present ‘Fine Possessions’ a 750 piece jewellery exhibition from around the world, collected in Australia. Check out the website ::


Questions asked and/or answered after the session are below. Please refer to the gallery, below, to see the relevant photographs.

Q. From Patricia: Can you tell me what the common form of dress would have been for ex convicts (Irish rebels) who settled in Tasmania in the period 1804 – 1810? My ancestors settled in Port Dalrymple, firstly as convicts, but I know little about their possible lifestyle and what they might have worn.
Q (b): Patricia: My great grandmother – 1844 – 1921. When is this likely to have been taken?
A. Lindie: c1900
A. IHM: That’s a lovely old photo Patricia, would you like some help with the dress your great grandmother is wearing?
A. Patricia: Oh, yes please. Most of the family have her down as our grandmother but I am sure this is older.
A. Lindie: Looks a bit like she has a cape on as the folds are loose around the front and she has a bonnet tied with ribbons which make her look as though she is going out. The sleeve heads date to about 1900, slightly raised.
A. Patricia: Here is another photo of Frances Harrington (nee Brewer) Jones.
A. Lindie: This could be 1850s from the hairstyle and high collar.
A. Patricia: Here are two photos of Ellen Linda Lovell (nee Jones) in April 1909.
A. Patricia: I think this one was taken when they became engaged about 1907 as Ellen has a black armband and her father died in 1907.
A. Lindie: Sorry can’t see a black armband – unsure which image you are talking about.
A. Patricia: I am interested in the styles of hats for the pre World War One period.
A. Lindie: Hats at this time (1905-1914) were very large with massive silk bows and feathers. The visible crown was much wider than the head so inside it had a smaller crown that secured the hat (quite heavy) on the head with the help of hat pins. You can date the hat pins by their length also – this period needed very long ones.

Q. From Leane: I’d love to be able to get a date range on this photo of my great great grandfather who passed away in 1880.
Q (b): Leane: I’d love to date this photo, I’m pretty sure it’s my great great grandmother Margaret Brannan, but no one knows for sure, she arrived in Hobart on Christmas Day 1854 as a new bride.
A. Lindie: Late 1880s.
Q (c): Leane: Also a date range for this photo of my great great grandmother Susan Rush who was born in 1843, it would be lovely to work out time frame this was taken.
A. Leane: Thank you so much, I’m particularly interested in my great great grandparents, dating photos, and to confirm Margaret Brannan? In the correct time frame. Thank you.
A. Lindie: These sleeves are typical of c1895 – Susan is obviously very proud of this outfit, the way she is standing – corseted waist.

Q. From Karen: These photos were sent to me by a descendant of the Irish orphan girls who arrived 1848-1850. This young lady was born circa 1831 and was 16 old when she arrived. This photo looks like a very young girl. I’m not sure that the clothing would fit an 1850-1865 timeframe?
A. Lindie: No, this dress dates to about 1885 and as you say she is very young.
Q (b): Karen: This is the younger sister of the girl below. Can you tell me the approximate timeframe of this photo?
A. Lindie: This looks about 1882.
Q (c): Karen: This is my g-grandmother born 1869. She arrived in Australia a couple of years prior to her marriage in 1892. Was wondering if this might be her wedding dress?
Q (d): Karen: One other question (!), I would appreciate understanding what was a typical tyle of dress in colonial Australia around 1850-1860? As a researcher of the Irish orphan girls, I’m particularly interested in their likely dress. Many were in service for a few years (post 1850), many married convicts and pioneered inland, including the goldfields. Was wondering what their average attire would have been like? I assumed the large skirts were in around this time – but not sure if this was the style of the more wealthy?
A. Lindie: The fashionable silhouette was most often reflected in dress, despite a lack of resources. There were hand-me-downs from employers and there was also a thriving secondhand market so women could look quite smart. They would have worn full skirts, perhaps with less fabric than the very wealthy, and tight corseted bodices. Poorer Irish women could also have been seamstresses who were able to make attractive and serviceable garments for themselves and their friends.
A. Robyn: Karen, I suppose you have been to Hyde Park Barracks to see the exhibit on the Irish Orphans? My 2xgt grandmother Frances Patterson and her cousin came out on the Digby. I have a bit about their story if you are interested.
A. Karen: Hi Robyn, I actually manage the Facebook page for the Great Irish Famine Memorial at HPB. I do a lot of research on the girls and am always interested in hearing their stories. Especially if there are photos available. Hence why I was looking for some specific information on the types of clothing they may have worn here. Feel free to send me a message with any more details you have on Frances. Thanks, Karen

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