Gillett Sisters' Charleston dress

Contributed by: Albury Library Museum

1920s black dress Embroidery and shoulder detail Skirt detail Dress label
  • Australian dress register ID:

    360
  • Owner:

    Albury Library Museum
  • Owner registration number:

    ARM10.501
  • Date range:

    1925 - 1928
  • Place of origin:

    London, England
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This 1920s dress was donated by Daintry Heywood and she was possibly the owner. It was worn by one of the three Gillett sisters and is an important part of a significant collection donated to Albury City.

This black silk taffeta dress, described by the donor as a Charleston dress, was donated in 1968. The style is characteristic of the 1920s with its dropped waist and loose fitting design. But, it is the aesthetic quality of the embroidery and beading on the dress that makes it so special. The simplicity of the style is enhanced by its unique embellishment. Visual interest is created by the embroidery and beading, particularly the padded cherries on the shoulder and skirt. The cherries are attached by lengths of embroidery thread allowing them to swing freely accentuating the movements of the Charleston and other dances. This dress would have been worn to an evening function and the decoration highlighted by electric lighting.

This style of dress was a popular alternative to the tubular silhouette of other styles in the 1920s and was considered a safe choice for women of all ages, compared to the shorter flapper dress.

Over several years Daintry Heywood, Beatrice Webb donated many objects to the Albury Regional Museum (later the Albury Library Museum) and these objects have become the Hawksview Collection. The collection consists of about 90 objects with costume from the late 19th and early 20th centuries being the main focus. It includes baby clothes, nightwear and underwear, evening clothes, feather fans, lace collars and daywear, as well as agricultural equipment.

The property, Hawksview, is synonymous with the history of Albury.

Less than 30 years after exploration by Hume and Hovell, the Mitchell family was living at the present site of Hawksview. Elizabeth Mitchell, known as "the mother of Albury", owned large amounts of land in the area. Hawksview then had 18 miles of river frontage. One of original buildings, built in 1852, is still standing.

The Heywood family purchased Hawksview almost 100 years ago. Daintry Gillett married Phil Heywood and her sister Beatrice married his nephew, Phil Webb, in the 1940s. The property is now 3000 acres and the current owners are the fifth generation of Heywood/Webbs at Hawksview.

Author: Christine Edgar, 10 January 2012.

Description

Sleeveless black silk taffeta dress. The dress has a round neck and slightly dropped waist. Layers of gathered stiffened organza are attached on the inside of the garment at the hip to give some shape to the drop waist. A smaller version of the panniers that were often used in the 'robe de style' or picture dresses of the 1920s. The bodice is slim and relatively close fitting. The bodice is divided into three sections. This design of dress did not require careful fitting.

Embroidered and beaded pink flower and leaf motifs decorate the skirt and shoulder. Padded 'cherries', along with flowers and leaves, are attached to the left shoulder at the front and back with lengths of olive green embroidery thread. More padded 'cherries' are at intervals around the skirt. The cherries are designed to swing freely from their 'stems'.

Black lace highlighted with gold is attached to the scalloped hem of the skirt.

The dress was described by the donor as a Charleston dress.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

The Gillett sisters, Daintry (b.1905) and Eveline (b.1907) were born at the family property near Shepparton to Harry Gillett and his wife Eveline. The family later moved to Mt. Moriac where Beatrice was born in 1911. The sisters had a governess and later attended school at The Hermitage, Geelong.

While on holiday at Point Lonsdale Beatrice first met Phil Webb when, as a small boy he threw a handful of beach sand in her face. Several years later Beatrice and Daintry visited the Webb family at Culcairn. It was 'love at first sight' for Beatrice and Phil. During this visit Daintry met her future husband, Phil Heywood of Hawksview.

After leaving school Daintry returned home to the farm and started a local girl guides unit, Eveline trained as a nurse and Beatrice as a kindergarten teacher.

In 1942 Beatrice married Phil Webb and moved to Hawksview and in 1943 Daintry married his uncle, Phil Heywood and joined her sister.

Their mother, Eveline, died in 1949 and in the 1950s their father Harry moved in with Daintry and Phil Heywood. He died in Albury in 1964.

Daintry continued her association with the Girl Guides and served as Divisional and District Commissioner. After a long and varied life Daintry died in 2001.

Due to Eveline's ill health her sisters moved her to Albury where she died in 1981.

Beatrice had 4 children, several grandchildren and great grandchildren. She died in 2008.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

When one of Beatrice Webb's granddaughters came to view some items in the Hawksview Collection she related that as a child when visiting her grandmother a cane trunk would be brought out and the children were allowed to dress up. These objects were later donated to the Albury Library Museum.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The Charleston became a popular dance during the 1920s. The dance is most frequently associated with flappers and the Charleston was then considered quite immoral and provocative. The dance was named after the town in South Carolina, where it began as a fast fox trot. Dancers wore short, simple dresses which became known as Charlestons.

After World War 1 people wanted to have fun and the entertainment industry grew. This had an effect on fashion. The clothing industry discovered the potential buying power of a broad spectrum of people and began to direct production towards them. People of all walks of life dressed more fashionably than had been the case before the war and they also spent more time and money in music halls, movie theatres and cabarets.

People felt they were beginning a new life, free of pre-war constraints and released from the corset.

Where did this information come from?

Information about Hawksview and the Gillett family was provided by the Michael and Ros Webb of Hawksview and the Albury and District Historical Society.

This garment has been exhibited

This dress was displayed at the Albury Art Gallery as part of the 'Albury Delightfully Deco' exhibition held at the Albury Library Museum and the Albury Art Gallery from 8 July 2011 - 9 October 2011. It was also displayed at the Museum of the Riverina in Wagga Wagga from 17 February - 25 March 2012 for their 'Deco' exhibition.

  1. Place of origin:

    London, England

  2. Cost:

    Unknown

  3. Owned by:

    As this dress was donated to the Albury City collection in 1968 by the Daintry Heywood (nee Gillett), it is possible that she was the owner.

  4. Worn by:

    It is not known which sister wore this dress. Either Daintry, Beatrice or Eveline Gillett.

  5. Place:

    The sisters spent their early lives in the Geelong area and shopped for clothes at Stainer & Co., Melbourne.

  6. Made by:

    Dorita, 71 Bishops Rd, Bayswater W2. London. England

Trimmings / Decoration

The embellishments on this very simple dress makes it unique. The skirt is embroidered with flowers and leaves highlighted with beading. The padded cherries at the shoulder and on the skirt are attached with olive green embroidery thread allowing the fruit to swing freely.

Piping

Black piping in the same fabic as the dress at the dropped waist and front bodice panels.

Lace

Black machine made lace with gold highlighting.

Embroidery

Stem stitch pink flowers with gold and silver beads at the centre and green leaves leaves on shoulder and skirt.

Fibre / Weave

Black silk taffeta

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

The dress is both machine and hand sewn.

The inside seams are hand finished. The skirt is hand gathered but machine sewn to the bodice.

The lace at the hem is hand stitched to the dress.

Label

Dorita 71 Bishops Rd Bayswater W2

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

There aren't any fastenings on the dress.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Layers of gathered stiffened organza are attached on the inside of the garment at the hip to give some shape to the drop waist. A smaller version of the panniers that were often used in the 'robe de style' or picture dresses of the 1920s.

Measurements

dress
Girth
Neck 660 mm
Chest 850 mm
Waist 850 mm
Hip 950 mm
Hem circumference 1770 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 1010 mm
Front waist to hem 630 mm
Back neck to hem 1010 mm
Back waist to hem 630 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 90 mm
Cross back 410 mm
Underarm to underarm 470 mm
Convert to inches

Additional material

Other related objects

The Hawksview Collection is a vital part of Albury City's costume collection. Donations were made to the collection by sisters Daintry Heywood, Eveline Gillett and Beatrice Webb from the 1960s until 2000. The Hawksview Collection, of about 90 objects, consists mainly of clothes and accessories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with some items belonging to their mother and grandmother.

The collection consists of dresses up to 1920s, night dresses and underwear from the late 19th and early 20th century, accessories such as fans, stockings and shoes, a wedding dress and several items of baby clothes.

Condition

This dress is in very good condition considering its age. As it is an evening dress it has had limited wear evidenced by its condition.

Insect damage

There are some very small holes in the fabric of the skirt. Possibly insect damage.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Holes

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