As an occasional admirer of antique fashion, my interest was recently piqued by an advertisement for the Centenary of World War 1 Women of Empire Exhibition 1914 – 1919 in Canberra. This exhibition was in the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia. The pop-up exhibition has been traveling around Australia and New Zealand since 2015.
Now, I’m not usually that much of a purveyor of women’s vintage costumes but this exhibition was really interesting to me. It contained a number of original costumes from the era and the stories of around thirty Australian and New Zealand women affected by the great war. Many of the costumes were not original garments owned by the women but are authentic to what they probably wore at the time.
The Exhibition Curator, Fiona Baversock, has associated each costume with a beautiful summary of each woman’s experience of the war and their life afterwards. I have selected some examples from the exhibition with a short sentence about their significance.
Ella Tucker, who nursed wave after wave of casualties from Anzac Cove on a Hospital Ship off the coast.
Marion Elizabeth Leane Smith, the only Australian nurse with Aboriginal heritage to have served in World War I.
Elizabeth Anne Lassetter: a survivor from the sinking of the ship, Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine.
Street wear similar to that worn by the author, Miles Franklin, while door knocking publishers in London.
The entertainer to many troops, Florrie Forde. This exhibit contained her original, jeweled cane and ostrich feather fan too.
Founding President of Kennington Branch of Red Cross and organiser of wartime fund raisers, Eliza Jean Lansell.
Women’s Peace Army founder and suffragette, Vida Goldstein.
The philanthropist, Hilda Temple Williams, who helped establish soldier’s club in England for New Zealand soldiers.
In addition to these vintage costumes, there were also small display sections that contained letters and sewn mementos from the period.
Despite one or two areas that were not lit well, the exhibition was certainly interesting and revealed a lot about the women and their lives. The quality and condition of the garments were outstanding.
I believe the pop-up exhibition continues to travel to various destinations until 2019. If you get the chance to see it, go!