Beaded dress made by Miss Una Simpson

Contributed by: Museum of the Riverina

Dress handmade by Miss Una Simpson Detail of beadwork Detail - right shoulder Detail - skirt Dress detail Dress detail Dress detail Dress detail - flowers Advertisement for Wagga's Dixieland Palais, c. 1929 The Dixieland dancefloor, Wagga Missing beads Black sequinned flapper dress made by Miss Una Simpson Detail of skirt, black sequinned dress Children's dress handmade by Miss Una Simpson Dressed for the Occasion - dress on display, 2010 DFTO - drawer close-up
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Museum of the Riverina
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

    1925 - 1926
  • Place of origin:

    Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

[Collapse all]

Object information

Significance statement

This dress is of historic and aesthetic significance, and is one of only a handful of 1920s dresses in the Museum's collection. Even though we know little of the dressmaker Miss Una Simpson, the bead-work and design is exceptional. It is a visible reminder of the fashion trends of the 1920s, a period in fashion history when the formality of the Edwardian period relaxed and the excitement of 'modernity' clashed head-on to create a legacy of truly unique garments.

This exquisitely hand-beaded flapper style dress 1920s is a testament to both the skill of the dressmaker and the taste of the wearer. Following the more severe styles of the 1910s, beads and sequins once again dominated evening dresses of the 1920s, with heavy beading appearing also on bags, hats and other accessories well into the 1930s. Many of the ready-to-wear beaded dresses bought in Australia during this period came from France, and their decorations were decadent and exotic, often mirroring the art movements of the era.

Miss Simpson's beaded design which covers the dress combines stylised flowers with the Art Deco lines of which the fashionable flapper was so fond. Unfortunately the majority of flapper dresses were beaded on a fine net backing, which has resulted in few original dresses surviving in good condition, due to the weight of the beads tearing the backing net.

Historically, this dress is evidence to the quality of dressmakers in Wagga Wagga during the early 20th century. It shows that local women did not have to rely on mail orders or trips to either Sydney or Melbourne to acquire that perfect dress.

Author: Michelle A. Maddison, 19th August 2010.


Beaded 'flapper' dress handmade by local Wagga dressmaker Miss Una Simpson. The dress is exquisitely hand-beaded with a mix of Art Deco patterns and stylised flowers. The coloured beads are a combination of frosted and metallic glass.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Miss Una Victoria Simpson (c. 1898 - 1981) is buried in the Anglican Portion of Wagga Wagga Monumental Cemetery. [Sherry Morris, Biographical Index].

Nothing else is known of her at present.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

In the period between World War I and the Great Depression, Wagga Wagga is known to have offered a vibrant night life for those wanting to don their glad rags and go out dancing. Venues included the Coconut Grove, the Wonderland Theatre and probably the most famous of them all, Dixieland - the floating dance floor tethered to the banks of the Murrumbidgee River.

People came from all over the district to dance here, under the willow trees, with coloured fairy lights illuminating the scene. Here, men and women wearing their finest danced to the tunes of the Wagga Brass Band, the Dixieland Melodie Masters or the Riverina Revellers.

Where did this information come from?

Three dresses made by local dressmaker Miss Una Simpson were part of the Wagga Wagga Antique Society Inc. collection. In the early 21st century the Society decided to donate objects of local significance from their collection to the Museum of the Riverina. Varying amounts of information were recorded about each object. Very little was recorded about the garments sewn by Miss Simpson.

This garment has been exhibited

This dress has been exhibited by the Museum of the Riverina on two occasions.

1. Made in Wagga exhibition (2005)

Museum of the Riverina, Historic Council Chambers and

Museum of the Riverina, Botanic Gardens Site

This incredibly popular exhibition explored all things 'Made in Wagga'. Artefacts were exhibited across six themes: History Made in Wagga, Memories Made in Wagga, Hand Made in Wagga, Man Made in Wagga, Fortunes Made in Wagga and Reputations Made in Wagga. The three dresses made by Miss Una Simpson were displayed in the theme 'Hand Made in Wagga'.

2. Dressed for the Occasion: a History of Textiles (2010)

Museum of the Riverina, Botanic Gardens Site

This exhibition showcased a range of the garments from the Museum's permanent collection, many for the first time. Exhibited garments included:

* Taffeta cape brought to Australia in 1855 by English migrant Mrs Jane Mulholland

* 1874 wedding dress worn by Martha Elizabeth Devlin, Wagga Wagga

* 1970 Mother of the Bride outfit complete with hat, shoes, bag and gloves, worn by Mrs Nadine Carlin, Wagga Wagga

* Early 20th century Swallowtail suit

* Fox fur stole worn by Mrs Sylvia Williams, Wagga Wagga

* 1979 Polyester dress worn by Mrs Pauline Harvey, Wagga Wagga

* Late 1870s Princess gown, coffee coloured silk taffeta, with elaborate bustle

DFTO ran for a year - from August 2009 - August 2010 and the garments were displayed in drawer units and in upright glass cases (on mannequins). 28 garments in total were displayed, and they were rotated throughout the year. All display cases were custom-made for our costume collection, and the area of the Museum where this display was exhibited has become the 'Dressed for the Occasion' gallery, a permanent fixture of the site, a dedicated area where garments from the collection can be displayed on a rotational basis.

  1. Place of origin:

    Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:


  3. Worn by:


  4. Occasion(s):

    Most likely worn dancing in Wagga Wagga

  5. Place:

    Wagga Wagga, New South Wales

  6. Designed by:

    Miss Una Simpson

  7. Made by:

    Local dressmaker Miss Una Simpson

  8. Made for:


Trimmings / Decoration

The decoration covering almost the entire surface of this dress are made up of metallic and frosted glass beads, gold metallic thread, and cotton thread. The beads are opaque (frosted) red, green, white and clear gold. There are also spherical and tube beads which resemble polished haematite (silver-blue/grey in colour). Designs behind the appliqued bead details are sewn in contrasting threads, including gold, copper and white.

Fibre / Weave

Dress backing is a fine black silk net.

The dress itself is created using the black silk backing, with decorative details added using contrasting cotton thread and glass beads. The beads weigh heavily on the fine backing.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The entire garment appears to have been hand-sewn.

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


None - the dress was made to slip over the head.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

None. This beaded 'slip' dress was fashioned to wear over the top of a slip or undergarment.


Front neck to hem 740 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

Taking into consideration the fine silk net backing, and the exquisite hand-beading on this garment, it can be surmised that it may have been made to wear to a special event. Alternately, perhaps Una made it for a wealthy lady who loved fine, elaborately detailed and colourful clothes.

Additional material

Other related objects

This dress is part of the Wagga Antiques Society collection, which comprises 24 items in total. Amongst the other items, there are three dresses reported to have been made by Miss Una Simpson, a local dressmaker of the early 20th century. Unfortunately, upon donation, little information appears to have been recorded, other than the donor's name.

Link to collection online


The dress is in overall very good condition, with no apparent holes in the net, mould or insect damage. There are sections of the pattern where there are beads missing, which is obvious on closer inspection. One of the main parts of the dress where there is most bead loss are the two shoulder straps, which were heavily beaded.

Evidence of repairs


Insect damage


Mould damage



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


  1. Parts missing
[Collapse all]