Girl's "Fairy" Fancy Dress Costume

Contributed by: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Fairy Costume Front of Dress Dress trim detail Skirt detail Mesh and Wire Wings Marjorie Wane Marjorie and Doreen with mother Louisa Wane (nee Killeen) Marjorie (left) and her sister Doreen Wane, ca. 1910 Family photo of St Mary's Church, East Balmain Louisa Killeen and George Wane on their wedding day St Mary's Church East Balmain Reproduction Star
  • Australian dress register ID:

    470
  • Owner:

    Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
  • Owner registration number:

    A10343-1 (dress) / A10343-2 (wings)
  • Date range:

    1913
  • Place of origin:

    East Balmain, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female, Child
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Object information

Significance statement

This garment is a fine example of a homemade child's fancy dress costume from the early 20th century. The costume was designed and handmade by Louisa Honora Wane (nee Killeen) for her daughter, Marjorie Lydia Wane. It was worn to a St Mary's Sunday School concert in the suburb of East Balmain, Sydney c. 1913 when Marjorie was 7 years old. This dress is an excellent example of pre-war fancy dress. Due to the temporary nature of children's fancy dress very few costumes have survived due to fragility, lack of storage or the underestimation of their historical interest. 

During this period 'fancy dress' was popular for both adults and children in Australia.Fancy dress had a long tradition in seventeenth-century Italian carnivals and eighteenth-century masquerade balls. However, it was in the 1840s when the modern form of fancy dress was revived by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were enthusiastic promoters and planners of themed balls at BuckinghamPalace. However, it was not until the 1850s that fancy dress became popular for children. During this period the Queen dressed her own children in elaborate costumes for special events and subsequently this activity became popular among the wealthy.

Throughout the nineteenth century it was fashionable for costumes to represent historic royal figures from England's past. However by the beginning of the twentieth century it became more popular to dress children in costumes from their favourite fairytale books.  Many fairy stories and books emerged at the beginning of the 1900s, including those by Australian authors, such as The Fairies of Fern Gully (1903) by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite which showed fairies with native Australian flora and fauna. The elusive magical fairy became a favourite costume for young girls, as it was feminine and relatively easy to construct. Although many children's costumes during this period were made from cheap and easily sourced materials such old clothing or crepe paper, this dress appears to be made of fine materials and costly trims that were put together just for this costume. The costly materials used to construct this fairy costume indicate that it must have been very important to little Marjorie Wane and her mother, highlighting the consideration that was given to fancy dress events during this period, and in particular those that were hosted by institutions such as the local church.

Author: Sarah Bendall, 19.02.14.

Description

This girl's fancy dress 'fairy' costume was designed and made by Louisa Honora Wane (nee Killeen) in Sydney New South Wales in 1913. The costume was made for Louisa's daughter, Marjorie Lydia Wane, and worn to a St Mary's sunday school concert in the suburb of Balmain in 1913, when Marjorie was about 7 years old.

The dress is made from a cream muslin fabric. It features a high round neckline, elbow length puffed sleeves, the high waist that was typical of 1910s fashion, a pleated bodice and gathered skirt. Gold sequins cover the dress, and the neck, sleeves, hem and waist of the dress are embellished with gold wire braid. Detail has also been added with gold coloured vertical stitching on bodice and horizontal sitiching on waistband and above the skirt hem. On the centre of the bodice is a gold sequined star.

A pair of gold mesh and wire framed wings also designed and made by Louisa Wane accompany the dress, as did a gold wire star (here a reproduction). The costume was also originally worn with a star tipped wand.

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

The first ancestors of Marjorie Wane's to take up residency in the Balmain area were Irish immigrants Patrick and Honora (nee Scully) Killeen around 1845 in Johnston's Bay, East Balmain. There is still a street in Balmain which connected their property to the main road that was named after the family called Killeen Street.

Their granddaughter, and Marjorie's mother, Louisa Honora Killeen, was born 27th February 1876 to parents Francis and Lydia John Killeen (nee Swannell), and was baptised at St Mary's Church in Balmain.

On the 27 August 1902 Louisa Killeen married George Wane at St Mary's Church East Balmain.

George was the seventh child of English immigrants, Richard and Ann Wane. Richard had come to Australia to the goldfields in Ballarat in 1852 where he met Ann. George was subsequently born at Emerald Hill Victoria on the 1 February 1876.

George Wane was an accomplished flautist and leader of the Philharmonic Orchestra for a number of years. In later years the family moved from Balmain and took up residence in Kenilworth Road, Lindfield in north Sydney.

George died on 23 May 1928 aged 52, and Louisa died on 25 August 1936 aged 60.

They had three children, Doreen, born 21 November 1903 (died 8 August 1982), Marjorie, born 1907 (died 8 July 1998) and Alan, born 6 October 1912 (died 19 January 1915).

Marjorie never married and resided at the family home in Lindfield. In late years she resided at the Milton Nursing home in Roseville until her death in 1998.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This garment is a fine example of a homemade child's fancy dress costume from the early twentieth century. The costume also draws attention to the strong connection that Marjorie Wane and her family had to St Mary's Church Darling St East Balmain.

The Killeen family had strong ties to the Balmain area - Marjorie's mother Louisa was both baptised and married in St Mary's Church in East Balmain, and her parents Francis and Lydia Killeen, were married there as well. Among the family collection of photographs are many which depict members of the Killeen family outside of or pictured with the Rector of St Mary's Church. Her children must have also been closely involved with the church and the area, as this costume was designed to be worn at a Sunday school concert which was hosted by the church.

The daughters, Marjorie and Doreen, were well known figures in the north Sydney area. Marjorie was a Librarian and Committee member of the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society. Whilst Doreen had a career in Education and was principal of Fairfield and Sydney Girls’ High Schools. The Doreen Wane Building still stands on Cleveland St in Moore Park Sydney.

Where did this information come from?

Marjorie Wane, 'Ancestry of Doreen and Marjorie Wane' in The Historian, Volume 13 No 2 (June 1984) - courtesy of the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society.

'Births, Deaths and Marriages', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Thursday 24 May 1928, page 10

'Births, Deaths and Marriages', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Wednesday 26 August 1936, page 12

Wane Family Collection of Photographs, 1866-1983, The State Library of New South Wales

Many thanks to Ann Barry and members of the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society.

This garment has been exhibited

'Glorious Days: Australia 1913', National Museum of Australia in Canberra, 2013

  1. Place of origin:

    East Balmain, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Marjorie Lydia Wane

  3. Worn by:

    Marjorie Lydia Wane

  4. Occasion(s):

    Sunday School concert

  5. Place:

    St Mary's Church, East Balmain

  6. Designed by:

    Louisa Honora Wane (nee Killeen)

  7. Made by:

    Louisa Honora Wane (nee Killeen)

  8. Made for:

    Marjorie Lydia Wane

Trimmings / Decoration

The whole dress is dotted in gold sequins that are thin metal strip of copper covered with silver and gold shelac.

Gold coloured vertical stitching on bodice and horizontal sitiching on waistband and above the skirt hem also decorates the dress.

Attached to the centre of the bodice is a cardboard star covered with gold sequins and trim. The trim consists of a narrow gold coloured wire strip that has been wrapped around a single white coloured cotton yarn, which was then stitched in place.

The wire frame of the wings is covered by a cotton yarn wound around it, the mesh was then stitched into place on the frame with white cotton thread. In some places, extra mesh has been used between the two layers to give a more intense gold coloured appearance.

Braiding

The neckline and hems of sleeves and skirt are decorated with gold braiding.

Fibre / Weave

Cream muslin for outer dress. Bodice is lined with white cotton. Cotton thread has been used to stitch the dress together.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

This costume was made by Marjorie Wane's mother, Louisa Honora Wane (nee Killeen), around 1913.

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

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

The dress has a centre back opening that extends to just below the waist and fastens with two press studs and two hooks and eye.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The bodice is lined with white cotton.

Measurements

dress
Vertical
Back neck to hem 960 mm
Horizontal
Underarm to underarm 500 mm
Convert to inches

Additional material

Other related objects

Originally the costume and wings were worn with a star worn on the head. A reproduction star was made by the Powerhouse Museum in 1991 from gold wire and sequins.

Condition

Overall the dress is in sound condition, however the trims have suffered some deterioration. 

Some of the sequins have tarnished black or brown in places, some dangle loosely and some have been lost completely.

On the fairy wings that accompany the dress, in some places the mesh has discoloured from gold to black. Small areas of exposed metal frame show small signs of corrosion.

State

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

Damage

  1. Discolouration
  2. Stained

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