Summer evening gown

Contributed by: The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles

Front of gown Detail of seam to add extra panels for fullness in skirt Back of gown Detail of fullness of skirt Detail of back bodice and opening Detail of front bodice
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Object information

Significance statement

 This dress is an excellent example of the re- use of materials in a time of scarcity and hardship. It is believed that the fabric was donated by a textile manufacturing firm, possibly from the Hunter Valley, to the Red Cross. They then decide where best to send their donations and parceled it off to Papua New Guinea, to the Australian Army Nurses working there. Unfortunately am unable to find out the name and position of their station. It was said that the fabric had been intended to be made up as curtains for their mess area. Perhapes as it is so light weight? No, it was decided that new dresses were higher up the list of items needed, not new curtains! One can only guess that a formal gown was needed to be deemed dressed appropriately to attend formal occasions even in PNG!

The design of the dress is iconic of the time, featuring an over full, long formal length skirt and the bodice style called an Opera top with the gathered centre front seam for fitting. An experienced home sewer/ dress maker would have been quite capable of cutting out this design without a pattern. The construction is basic enough, although the pin tucks could be quite tedious. There may have been a bolero made to match as would suit the time and garment. I have no doubt that the Australian Army Nurses were a highly resourceful and creative group of women.

Have a closer look, it is not the most pretty of dresses or the best constructed, but what is important is that is was made and cherished by its owner and survives to this day to tell its story. The fact that this gown made it back home to Australia and was then put back into service as a gown to attend Balls and dances at Maitland Town Hall, and that it has survived to this day, shows that it was a much lived item of clothing and contains many memorys.

Author: Justine Malinowski, 8.8.2013.


Long formal length light weight cotton gown. Features numerous pintucks around the waist. Over full skirt. Left side opening with hook and eye placket. Front has a waist panel with opera top and central horizontal pin tucks and bust darts, bias cut back bodice panel with hand bound edges and fine shoe string rouleau straps.

History and Provenance

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

Frances Gregory was an Australian Army Nursing Sister during World War II in Papua New Guinea. The fabric for the dress was sent over possibly by The Australian Red Cross and was intended for use a curtain fabrics for the Nurses Mess area. The nurses felt that they didn't need the curtains, but new dresses would be nice. The dress was brought home from the war and went into use as a formal gown for many Balls and dances at Maitland Town Hall into the late 1940's.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

*Make do and mend was the order of the day due to rationing and great lack of materials to women to make 'new' clothes from.

*The Australian Red Cross and its humanitarian efforts in war time.

* Australian Army Nurses and their service overseas.

* Civilian clothing design and 1940's fashions during war time and post war time

Where did this information come from?

Nell Pyle

  1. Place of origin:

    Papua New Guinea

  2. Cost:

    None, fabric was a donation to the nurses

  3. Owned by:

    Frances Gregory

    Made in Papua New Guinea, fabric from Australia

  4. Worn by:

    Frances Gregory

  5. Occasion(s):

    Formal occasions, Balls

  6. Place:

    Made- Nurses medical station- Papua New Guinea

    Worn- balls and formal occassions around Maitland

  7. Made by:

    Frances Gregory

  8. Made for:


Trimmings / Decoration

Rouleau shoe string shoulder straps


Pin tucking on bodice top and around waist of skirt

Fibre / Weave

White cotton voile with damask woven spot flower design in a half drop repeat. Waist panel on front is lined in self but flowers have been unpicked as holes for thread still remain. Bust panel and back are lined in a very light weight cotton voile. Cotton could have been bleached.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Majority of garment is machine constructed. Hand finishing is found on the  placket, bodice edge and the hook and eyes.


No alterations or repairs

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


Skirt and back of bodice is bias cut, front panels are straight cut.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


7 large chrome hook and eyes on left side placket

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


dress skirt
Chest 740 mm
Waist 650 mm
Hem circumference 7410 mm
Front neck to hem 1140 mm
Front waist to hem 940 mm
Back neck to hem 1080 mm
Back waist to hem 940 mm
Cross back 240 mm
Underarm to underarm 290 mm
Fabric width 860 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

We know it is intended for a special occasion or Ball as indicated by the length. The style of the gown is a typical evening gown of the early 1940's.


The garment itself is in fair condition, however the fragile nature of rouleaus it is advised not to hang this garment and treat as poor.

Evidence of repairs



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


  1. Distorted/warped
  2. Frayed
  3. Stained
  4. Worn
  5. Iron stains
  6. Blood stains
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