Black silk evening dress

Contributed by: Private collectors

Front view of black silk evening sheath dress Proper front left view of sheath dress Proper back left view of sheath dress Back view of sheath dress Proper back right view of sheath dress Proper front right view of sheath dress Medium close-up of beaded floral motif Close up of beaded floral motif Close up of beading Close up of missing beadwork around the neckline Close up of missing beadwork around the back of the neckline, and loose threads Close up of loose threads Medium close up of mild discolouration and creasing Close up of 'Made in France' label Hylda Marea Sophia Australia Adelskold and her husband Charles Joseph O’Donnell Hylda's children, on horseback (note Hylda standing behind the horse); Wendy is not pictured as this photograph was taken before she was born Hylda O'Donnell's daughter Wendy Hucker Photograph of the Swan Hill Centenary Ball, which Hylda O'Donnell may have attended Milk jug and  knives with the monogram "HO'D" from Hylda's the Busy Bee Cafe
  • Australian dress register ID:

    510
  • Owner:

    Private collectors
  • Date range:

    1920 - 1929
  • Place of origin:

    France?
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This sleeveless, black silk sheath evening gown, with asymmetrical beading, flared skirt and scalloped hem belonged to Wendy Hucker (nee O’Donnell)’s mother Hylda Maria Sophia Australia Adelskold, and was presumably worn in the 1920s or early 30s.

Hylda, born Melbourne, Victoria, 1887, one of seven children. She married Charles Joseph O’Donnell, a farmer, and bore nine children- Gustaf, Joan, Claes, John, Charles, Esther, Peter, Paul and Wendy. “Hylda and Charlie [as he was affectionately known] were real people, of whom we think with great respect and much affection” writes their eldest son Gus, in a preface to collectanea such as diary entries he compiled in memory of his mother.

Charles and Hylda had three family farms- Birdsgrove, Leksand and finally Danbury Park. Being a farmer’s wife, Hylda did not possess great monetary wealth. It is worth reflecting, given this is the case, that it is unusual that Hylda’s black silk evening gown appears to be ‘Made in France’; perhaps it was a gift, a special purchase made on a visit to Sweden, or from Chapel St, Melbourne.

This sheath dress is representative of dresses of the 1920s, of which sheaths, shifts and slips were most popular. Sheath dresses provide generous coverage of the hips, stomach and legs, and are often worn as a simple wedding dress or cocktail party dress, as is the case with this dress; this reflects social conventions and values of the time.  

Entries from Hylda’s diary, ranging from January 8 1911 to December 3 1912, reveal that she attended many dances- tea and dinner dances, balls and the like. It is alleged that this dress was first worn at Swan Hill to a dance (perhaps the Swan Hill Centenary Ball of 1936?), however the occasion is unknown. The style of dress suggests that Hylda took her personal appearance very seriously, and had much respect for her social standing and social occasions.

Though Wendy was adopted out subsequent to her father’s death, it is most lovely to know that she inherited such a special evening dress of her birth mother’s - this would surely have provided a meaningful link to her very early life in Victoria, as well as providing a sense of heritage. 

Author: Eloise Maree Crossman and Wendy Hucker, 03.02.2014.

Description

Sleeveless sheath dress with a scalloped hem. 

Extensive beading both front and back in an assymetrical design. Design of beading incorporates flowers, palm leaves and other assorted flora on bodice and geometric design on skirt. Fabric gathered at hips to form a slighty flared skirt.

Small tear on neckline, and some beading missing but otherwise in good condition.

History and Provenance

Hylda and her husband Charles Joseph had nine children in total, and raised their family at Danbury Park, Victoria.

Wendy Hucker, nee O’Donnell was born on the 18th of February 1928. She was the last of Hylda and Charles’ children.

Most unfortunately, however, Charles died in Birchip, Victoria, on the 20th of September, 1929, when Wendy was just 19 months old. He died suddenly and unexpectedly of pneumonia, leaving Hylda to care for all nine children on her own; it is presumably as a result of this that that Wendy was adopted out.

Wendy’s adoptive family, Eric and Nan Roberts, ran Wagga Wagga radio station 2WG (the first radio station to have a radio receiver built in regional New South Wales). 

In spite of the fact that Wendy was raised by the Roberts, it is with bittersweet pleasure that she inherited such a special dress of her birth mother’s. 

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Hilda (more commonly known as Hylda) Marea Sophia Australia Adelskold, daughter of Claes Anders Adelskold and Anna Maria Svenson-Linde, was born Melbourne, Victoria 1887.

She was one of six children.

She married Charles Joseph O’Donnell and bore nine children- Gustaf (Gus), Joan, Claes (Cam), John, Charles (Baby Charles), Esther (Esta), Peter, Paul and Wendy. (Her marriage to Charles took place on the 17th of February 1913, at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, South Yarra, Victoria.)

Hylda died 7th May, 1955. 

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

It is possible that Hylda wore this black silk evening dress to the Swan Hill Centenary Ball- which over 1,000 dancers attended- and which took place Wednesday the 17th of June, 1936. The Ball was organised by the Swan Hill branch of the Apex Club, as part of the centenary celebrations. 

Or perhaps she might have worn the dress to the Swan Hill Ball in aid of the district hospital on Wednesday the 18th of September, 1935. 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Wendy asserts that Hylda was a highly intelligent woman, a wonderful cook and house keeper (she ran a small cafe in Swan Hill called the Busy Bee Cafe), as well as a beloved mother.

Hylda also taught at the local school, was community-minded and kind to the Indigenous population.

Hylda died in 1955, and it is speculated that upon her death a personal diary was passed, along with various other papers, to Gus her eldest son. Hylda’s diary ranges from January 8 1911 to December 3 1912, and details, with great exactness, her daily undertakings.

Hylda’s January 18 entry reveals that she liked to go to town (Melbourne) and go shopping, whenever she could (“My last day in town for some time to come… I went down to Chapel St… made a few purchases waiting for the tram”). Perhaps, if this evening dress was not gifted to Hylda or purchased on a visit to Sweden, it was purchased in Melbourne.

Hylda also talks of going to the circus as well as innumerable dances. (February 1st: “The dance was a great success- it was very hot but that was not minded. There were such a number of guests one would wonder where they all came from. I did not dance very much as I knew very few of the gentlemen. Supper was at almost 1am, after which W.B. and I went for a spell. We sat in his buggy and talked politics…

July 13: “I did not arrive at school until 10am. I was at the Golf Ball last night and enjoyed myself very much. Wore my new frock which I think looked alright though a little on the short side, but then dresses now are worn short. There were many very nice frocks worn. The one I liked best being Miss M. Selland’s(?)- she looked sweet…

August 18: “On Sunday last I was in at the Catholic Ball. Went in my Swedish dress and all said I looked alright so I suppose I did. The dance was too crowded for enjoyable dancing, also the company was rather mixed…

September 28- Watchem Tennis Ball…"

Hylda’s diary precedes the date of manufacture of this evening dress, however it certainly gives a feel for the type of spirited social life she had. 

Where did this information come from?

Phone conversations with Wendy Hucker; genealogy websites; Trove (digitised newspapers) 

  1. Place of origin:

    France?

  2. Cost:

    Wendy is adamant that Hylda would not have had great fortunes to spend on this dress, being a farmer’s wife. Perhaps it was gifted, then, if the label is genuine, by someone who had travelled abroad, to Hylda. Or perhaps Hylda purchased it whilst on a visit to Sweden, around the time of her son Gustaf's birth. 

  3. Owned by:

    This black silk evening dress was owned by Hylda O’Donnell (nee Adelskold), Wendy Hucker’s (nee O’Donnell’s) birth mother.

    It is now owned by Wendy (after a time in the possession of Hylda’s daughter-in-law, Geraldine O'Donnell); Wendy currently lives in Goulburn.

  4. Worn by:

    Hylda O’Donnell 

  5. Occasion(s):

    Uncertain, though it is presumed to have been worn to a special occasion, perhaps a ball. 

  6. Place:

    It is alleged, by Wendy, that the dress was first worn at Swan Hill.

  7. Made by:

    While it is not known who designed or made Hylda’s sheath dress, there is a fabric woven label at the centre back of the inside of the dress, reading ‘MADE IN FRANCE’.

Trimmings / Decoration

Dress comprises extensive beading both front and back. Beading arranged in an assymetric design, consisting of flora (on bodice) and geometic patterns (on skirt). Beads are made from hard clear material; it is unknown if they are glass or plastic.

Fibre / Weave

Fabric is black silk/satin.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Combination of hand and machine sewing. Shoulder seams are machine sewn, though neck and skirt hems are hand sewn. Unknown if beading is hand or machine sewn.

Label

Label inside back of dress, hand embroidered. Reads: 'Made in France'.

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

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

Dress has no fastenings.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Dress has no stiffening, lining or padding.

Measurements

dress
Girth
Chest 880 mm
Hip 960 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 805 mm
Back neck to hem 865 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 70 mm
Cross back 420 mm
Underarm to underarm 445 mm
Convert to inches

Shape of the dress does not conform to the body shape of the wearer.

Condition

Dress is in fairly good condition: some beading is missing; there is a small hole near the neckline and the elastic around the hips is very stiff and brittle. Otherwise though the dress is intact.

State

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

Damage

  1. Crease
  2. Discolouration
  3. Holes
  4. Parts missing
  5. Torn
  6. Worn

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