Dressing gown worn by Mrs Hazel McRae

Contributed by: Newcastle Museum

Front Front detail Front Back Sleeve detail Staining on lining Staining inside neckline The lining is stained. Original knitting pattern, Sunday Sun and Guardian, 1938 (NRM collection)
  • Australian dress register ID:

    372
  • Owner:

    Newcastle Museum
  • Owner registration number:

    2004/43
  • Date range:

    1938
  • Place of origin:

    Carrington, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This garment is a charming example of a homemade knitted dressing gown, which, in its colour and fabric is evocative of the interwar period. Although a woollen knitted garment does not immediately call to mind the romance associated with a honeymoon, the flowing lines and vibrancy of the blue Jacquard silk lining perfectly balances practicality (being created between the Great Depression and World War II) and femininity. Hazel was 32 years of age when she married, and her husband 48, so a frivolous garment with voluminous fabric, ruffles and lace probably wouldn't have been appropriate for the period.

Yet this odd combination of fragile silk and lace attached to robust wool does reflect an important compromise necessary in Newcastle in 1938. The more extravagant nature of traditional trousseau garments of the past is retained in the more delicate fabrics which have been used in the gown. Yet longevity was also of crucial importance during the uncertain times of the Depression, and so the bulk of the gown was made from much more durable wool. It is this amalgamation of past and present which makes Mrs. Hazel McRae's dressing gown so significant. It highlights how the traditional trousseau needed to be reinterpreted and adapted to remain relevant in 1930s Australia.

Author: Michelle A. Maddison, Anna Lebovic, 2 February 2012.

Description

Long sleeved, full length hand knit women's dressing gown. 'V' neck with scalloped yoke collar. Scalloped edges on sleeves, hem and button band. Six blue cabochon style buttons in sets of two at collar, waist and hip. Lined with blue floral 'jacquard' silk. Knitting is a variety of fancy stitch with vertical ridges, diamond pattern at waist and on shoulders and scalloped ridges from knee to hem and elbow to wrist. When the gown is buttoned up, the front is asymmetrical in design. There is a single interior button which has a knitted cover.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Hazel McRae was the daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth Muirhead, born in 1906, Wickham (NSW). She had an older brother (b. 1905), named Alexander.

In 1938 she married Duncan Edward McRae in Newcastle, NSW.

Duncan died in 1950 (aged 60 years) in Sydney.

Hazel died in 2003.

Hazel and Duncan lived in Carrington from their marriage in 1938, in a house purchased through the Starr-Bowkett Scheme.

They had no children.

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

This dressing gown was made by Hazel as part of her wedding trousseau.

Note:

By the time Hazel created her dressing gown in 1938, Carrington had been badly affected by the Great Depression. In 1933, 58% of wage workers in the suburb were either unemployed, or had only managed to find part-time work.

Hazel's family were publicans, not unemployed, nor lower working class. She persevered through the Depression like all Australians, but came out with a house through the Newcastle Permanent Starr-Bowkett Scheme. The Depression touched her but her major heartache was her private inability to bear children in an age that deemed motherhood compulsory.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The dressing gown hand knitted by Hazel McRae prior to her wedding in 1938 is an example of the types of garments that were placed inside a trousseau (stored inside a hope chest or glory box) by brides from the Victorian era through to the mid-20th century. Women's magazines and knitting catalogues from the 1930s are testament to the popularity of hand-knitted sleepwear including dressing gowns, pyjamas, bed socks and bed jackets. The bridal trousseau contained (in addition to household items) brand new outfits to see the new bride through her wedding, honeymoon and early newlywed days. Most commonly, these garments would be handsewn by a mother, aunt, grandmother or the bride-to-be herself, if skilled with a needle. Wealthier families procured the skills of a professional seamstress to outfit the bride-to-be.

This dressing gown originates from Carrington, a light industrial portside suburb in the city of Newcastle which is 162 kilometres to the north-east of Sydney. As a city, Newcastle was irrevocably shaped by heavy industry, mining and shipping but particularly in the 20th century by the BHP Steelworks that opened in 1915. It came to dominate the city both physically and economically. The steelworks were placed on reclaimed Mayfield swamp land along the Hunter River. Carrington has always been heavily influenced by its proximity to the harbour and has always been a merchant mariner centre. While BHP workers lived all over Newcastle, the main population centres were Mayfield, Waratah and Tighes Hill.

Where did this information come from?

Donor.

  1. Place of origin:

    Carrington, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Hazel McRae

  3. Worn by:

    Mrs Hazel McRae

  4. Occasion(s):

    Honeymoon (wedding trousseau)

  5. Place:

    Carrington (Newcastle)

  6. Made by:

    Mrs Hazel McRae

  7. Made for:

    Mrs Hazel McRae

Fibre / Weave

Mid blue wool.

Jacquard silk lining, blue.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

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

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Entire gown is lined with blue 'Jacquard' silk with an embroidered floral design

Additional material

Other related objects

The original pattern used by Hazel to make her dressing gown is also in the Newcastle Museum collection - 2004/44.

There are two pairs of shoes worn by Hazel in the NRM collection -

Pair of Selby shoes, c. 1931 - two tone leather royal blue and white

Pair of Selby shoes, c. 1930 - chocolate brown canvas and calf lace-ups

Condition

Gown is in excellent condition, intact and sound.

The lining is discoloured, with spot staining.

State

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

Damage

  1. Parts missing

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