Cocktail dress made by Barbara Cottee

Contributed by: Private collectors

Front Proper left Proper right Petal skirt Front opening Inside waist opening Inside gore skirt Petals Repaired tear Small stain
  • Australian dress register ID:

    485
  • Owner:

    Private collectors
  • Date range:

    1951
  • Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This dress was made by Barbara Cottee (born 29 September 1931) in Sydney in 1951. It was made to complete the requirements of a 3-year dressmaking course at East Sydney Technical College.  Barbara Cottee wore the dress twice. Once to a friend’s wedding in Ashfield in Sydney in 1951 and a year later for a studio photograph in Orange, NSW.  The significance of the dress lies in its  Parisian post-war design and its interesting Australian provenance. Its documentation reveals aspects of mid century fashion, the history of dressmaking in Australia and technical education for women in NSW.

Barbara Cottee grew up in rural NSW and won a scholarship to study at East Sydney Technical College from 1949 to 1951 in the Women's Handicraft Department. The Handicraft Department strove to prepare women for vocations as wage earners in teaching and dressmaking as well as housewives. In the post war period, the department had record enrolments and a network of affiliations with technical courses throughout rural NSW. Its curriculum was geared towards custom dressmaking and meticulous technical skill. The dress is part of a collection of clothing Barbara Cottee made to complete the requirements for her course. It is a close copy of a couture model by the Parisian designer Jacques Fath that was photographed in L’Officiel, a leading French fashion magazine of the time that Barbara Cottee subscribed to. Unable to source the same fabric, Barbara purchased a plain white organdy and asked art students at the college to hand screen spots onto the fabric. With its eight –panel skirt of overlapping ‘petals’, fine pleating at the waist and fitted cross-over bodice, the dress was complicated and time consuming to make. 

The dress is characteristic of feminine fashions that were introduced by post-war Paris couturiers, the most influential being Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Jacques Fath. The new fashions featured rounded shoulder lines, a cinched waist and a fitted bodice, and an exceptionally full skirt or pencil-slim skirt made with an abundance of luxurious fabric. After the austere fashions worn during the war, the new Parisian fashions were considered very glamorous and alluring and were widely copied throughout the world. In Australia, Paris couture provided a standard to which local makers could aspire and emulate.

Author: Louise Mitchell, 6 April, 2014.

Description

Short sleeved, cocktail length dress with petal skirt in white organdy fabric with silk screened black polka dots. Cross over bodice with multiple fastenings to a skirt with 8 flouncing semi-circular petal panels. The panels are attached to an 8 gore skirt. The collar is double lined as are the very short sleeves and are cut on the bias. 

History and Provenance

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Barbara Cottee (nee Davis) grew up on a property called “Laanecoorie” in Cargo in central NSW where the family farmed sheep and wheat. Barbara attended the local school and boarded at MLC, Burwood in Sydney. In her final year at school Barbara studied dressmaking and after she returned to the family property she enrolled in a technical course to learn drafting and pattern making in nearby Canowindra. With encouragement from a teacher, Barbara applied and won a scholarship to study at East Sydney Technical College. Barbara’s father supported his daughter’s study and move to Sydney by paying her living expenses, the purchase of fabrics for dressmaking, a small electric Singer sewing machine, and a subscription to L’Officiel.

Barbara’s scholarship covered her 3 years of tuition from 1949 to 1951 in the Women’s Handicraft Department of East Sydney Technical College. Set up in 1909, first in Ultimo in the Sydney Technical College and then in the old Darlinghurst goal in 1922, later renamed East Sydney Technical College, the Handicraft Department strove to prepare women for vocations as wage earners in teaching and dressmaking as well as housewives. In the post war period, the department had record enrolments and a network of affiliations with technical courses throughout rural NSW. Its curriculum was geared towards custom dressmaking and meticulous technical skill. Barbara recalls an intensive 3 years of tuition under the directorship of Ms E L G Gough, the author of the text book Principles of Garment Cutting (Angus and Robertson 1947). The course covered millinery, tailoring, the drafting and making of dressmaking patterns, the history of costumes, and the making of children’s clothes and lingerie.

The dress is finely made and characteristic of feminine fashions that were introduced by post-war Paris couturiers, the most influential being Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Jacques Fath. The new fashions featured rounded shoulder lines, a cinched waist and a fitted bodice, and an exceptionally full skirt or pencil-slim skirt made with an abundance of luxurious fabric. After the austere fashions worn during the war, the new Parisian fashions were considered very glamorous and alluring and were widely copied throughout the world. In Australia, Paris couture provided a standard to which local makers could aspire and emulate.

Where did this information come from?

Emma Downey Country couture, The Land, Thursday, March 21, 2013, page 39

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/a-stitch-in-time/4058632

Telephone interview with Barbara Cottee, Monday 10 March 2014

http://www.thedarnellcollection.com

This garment has been exhibited

After Five Fashion from the Darnell Collection exhibition at Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery 23 March - 12 May 2013, Bathurst Regional Gallery mid 2013 and Newcastle Art Gallery 14 September - 10 November 2013.

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Made and worn by Barbara Cottee (nee Davis, born 29 September 1931) who donated the dress to the Darnell Collection in 2008. The Darnell Collection is a private collection of Australian and international fashion belonging to Charlotte Smith.

  3. Worn by:

    Barbara Cottee (nee Davis) in 1951 to a wedding and in 1952 for a photographic portrait.

  4. Occasion(s):

    Barbara Cottee (nee Davis) in 1951 to a friend's wedding in Sydney and in 1952 for a photographic portrait.

  5. Place:

    Worn to a friend's wedding in Sydney. Also worn for a studio portrait at La Dore Studio in Orange.

  6. Designed by:

    The dress is part of a collection of clothing made to complete the requirements for a Women's Handicraft course at East Sydney Tech. A photograph of a Jacques Fath couture dress in L’Officiel inspired the design. Barbara Cottee set out to copy the dress in the photograph as closely as possible.  With the help of a teacher, Barbara Cottee created a paper pattern in quarter scale to determine if her drafting achieved the desired design. The next step was to create the fabric. The Fath dress was made of polka dotted organza, a stiffened silk. Unable to source the same fabric, Barbara Cottee purchased a plain white organdy, stiffened cotton, and asked art students at the college to hand screen spots onto the fabric. When the fabric was cut, the full scale paper pattern was left pinned to the fabric, and then the pattern was outlined with long running stitches which formed the stitching line. With its eight –panel skirt of overlapping ‘petals’, fine pleating at the waist and fitted cross-over bodice, the dress was complicated to make and took Barbara Cottee a term to complete.

    The dress is finely made and characteristic of feminine fashions that were introduced by post-war Paris couturiers, the most influential being Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Jacques Fath. The new fashions featured rounded shoulder lines, a cinched waist and a fitted bodice, and an exceptionally full skirt or pencil-slim skirt made with an abundance of luxurious fabric. After the austere fashions worn during the war, the new Parisian fashions were considered very glamorous and alluring and were widely copied throughout the world. In Australia, Paris couture provided a standard to which local makers could aspire and emulate.

    Although the dress was worn to a friend’s wedding Barbara Cottee recalls that she felt very self-conscious in it as the dress was 'too extravagant and glamorous for a Sydney wedding' .  She also recalls the fabric crushing easily and that the dress was difficult to iron. The following year, the dress was worn for a studio portrait in Orange. On both occasions, the dress was worn with a black suede belt trimmed with a red silk rose purchased from a millinery shop and pair of black suede I. Miller shoes made in England.

  7. Made by:

    Barbara Cottee (nee Davis) grew up on a property called “Laanecoorie” in Cargo in central NSW where the family farmed sheep and wheat. Barbara attended the local school and boarded at MLC, Burwood in Sydney. In her final year at school Barbara studied dressmaking and after she returned to the family property she enrolled in a technical course to learn drafting and pattern making in nearby Canowindra. With encouragement from a teacher, Barbara applied and won a scholarship to study at East Sydney Technical College. Barbara’s father supported his daughter’s study and move to Sydney by paying her living expenses, the purchase of fabrics for dressmaking, a small electric Singer sewing machine, and a subscription to L’Officiel.

    Barbara’s scholarship covered her 3 years of tuition from 1949 to 1951 in the Women’s Handicraft Department of East Sydney Technical College. Set up in 1909, first in Ultimo in the Sydney Technical College and then in the old Darlinghurst goal in 1922, later renamed East Sydney Technical College, the Handicraft Department strove to prepare women for vocations as wage earners in teaching and dressmaking as well as housewives. In the post war period, the department had record enrolments and a network of affiliations with technical courses throughout rural NSW. Its curriculum was geared towards custom dressmaking and meticulous technical skill. Barbara recalls an intensive 3 years of tuition under the directorship of Ms E L G Gough, the author of the text book Principles of Garment Cutting (Angus and Robertson 1947). The course covered millinery, tailoring, the drafting and making of dressmaking patterns, the history of costumes, and the making of children’s clothes and lingerie.

    Barbara returned to the country after graduation, taught dressmaking and drafting in Orange and Cudal, before marrying Keith Cottee, a Royal Australian Air Force pilate and later Trans-Australia Airlines pilot in 1952. She taught in Newcastle and briefly at East Sydney Tech and continued to sew throughout her life. Barbara made all her 5 children’s clothes as well as her own.  She recalls, “ I never bought a dress until about 1985…”

  8. Made for:

    The dress was made to complete the requirements of a 3-year dressmaking course at East Sydney Technical College. 

Fibre / Weave

White, organdy, plain weave fabric with silk screened black polka dots.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Most seams are french seams though there are some zig zags seams in the gore skirt.

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

Cut

Gore skirt is straight cut but the border hems, sleeve cuffs and collar are bias cut.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

2 hooks and eyes at the inside waist opening.

3 press studs, 1 in the middle of the bodice and 2 at the inside waist opening.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Organdy is a self stiffening fabric made from highly twisted, cotton fibre. It goes limp when washed but stiffens after ironing.

Note- in an interview with The Land newspaper in 2013 and later with Louise Mitchell, Barbara Cottee said the dress was very "extravagant" with a full stiffened skirt. When she wore it to a wedding in 1951 Barbara Cottee felt it was too extravagant and glamorous for a girl like herself to wear. She recalled the fabric crushing easily and the dress was difficult to iron. When Cottee saw it on display in 2013 ('After five: fashion from the Darnell Collection', Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, 2013) Cottee said it looked limp in comparison.

Measurements

dress
Girth
Neck 180 mm
Chest 860 mm
Waist 640 mm
Cuff 450 mm
Hem circumference 2400 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 1200 mm
Front waist to hem 770 mm
Back neck to hem 1140 mm
Back waist to hem 740 mm
Sleeve length 30 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 120 mm
Cross back 460 mm
Underarm to underarm 460 mm
Convert to inches

Condition

Evidence of repairs

Tiny tear at the waistband, near the proper left, front dart.

Thread of an eye has been replaced.

Some light staining. 

State

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

Damage

  1. Stained
  2. Torn

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