Australian dress register ID:318
Owner:Port Macquarie Historical Society
Owner registration number:PMHM 54/86
Place of origin:Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
This very simple looking dress reflects the bias cut, draped design and cowl neckline made popular in the 1930s by French designer Madeleine Vionnet. The dress was worn by Christina Winifred Nourse, known as Win [1905-1996] for her marriage to Ronald Howell [1910-2005] on 5 September 1935 at Christchurch Cathedral, Newcastle, NSW.
During the 1930s and particularly following the Great Depression 1930-1934, women's clothing began to be mass-produced. Large department stores such as Grace Brothers, Myer and Georges rapidly expanded their ready-to-wear departments producing what they claimed to be skilled copies of Paris originals.
This dress appears to have been purchased as a ready-made garment evidenced by its makers label and its machine stitching throughout. Win Howell resided in the City of Newcastle at the time and would have had access to large department stores with their new ready-to-wear garments.
The dress is made of an unusual synthetic crushed patterned crepe fabric with a gold thread woven throughout. The use of metallic threads and fabrics is also associated with 1930s fashions with metallic lame popular for evening wear. It has been made to slip over the head and needs to be displayed on a human form to fully appreciate its cut and design.
Wedding gowns like this one were also influenced by the glamorous evening dresses worn by Hollywood film stars such as Carol Lombard, Jean Harlow and Ginger Rogers. Perhaps the designer was also influenced by the dress worn by Princess Marina of Greece at her wedding in 1934 to the Duke of Kent, fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary. The Princess's dress was designed by French couturier, Edward Molyneuz, and took the form of a sheath, cut on the cross and made from specially woven white and silver brocade fabric.
The dress is a very different wedding dress to others held by the Port Macquarie Historical Society not only for its design which appears quite contemporary when contrasted to other wedding dresses in the collection but also because it has been commercially made and purchased as a ready-to-wear garment rather than made to measure by a dressmaker.
This dress also evidences the changes in the production of women's fashion garments that occurred during the 1930s with a move to mass-produced garments and a move away from made to measure wear. Author: Debbie Sommers, 26 August 2012.
Full length wedding dress made from cream synthetic crushed crepe with a cowl neckline, full gathered long sleeves and train. The cowl neckline is formed by the back bodice coming over the shoulder to join the front bodice. The long sleeves are gathered at the shoulder and at the forearm and then joined to a long cuff. The front and back bodices are slightly gathered into the waist seam which joins to a shaped skirt with front flap and forming a long train at back.
The dress is fully machined stitched throughout including the hem.
The dress has a small opening on the left side which is fastened by 7 metal hooks and hand stitched loops. The sleeve cuffs are fastened by metal press studs. There are also hand stitched belt loops on each side of the waist suggesting the dress was worn with a belt. A review of the wedding photograph suggests the belt was fabric or possibly ribbon. This is no longer with the dress.
History and Provenance
Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information
Christina Winifred Nourse [1905-1996] known as Win was born at Broken Hill and educated at Broken Hill High School and Sydney Teachers's College before becoming a primary school teacher. She taught at Broken Hill and then Newcastle where she met and married Ron Howell [1910-2005].
After Win married she retired from teaching and became a fulltime wife and mother as was the custom at that time. The family moved to Port Macquarie in March 1954. The move was to fulfil Ron Howell's dream of becoming a full time farmer. They purchased a property at Lake Innes and intended to grow peas and beans for the Sydney market, however Ron was offered and accepted a casual teaching job at Kendall and in 1959 transferred to Wauchope High School where he remained until his retirement in 1975.
Win and Ron were foundation members of the Port Macquarie Historical Society and Win worked for many years as a museum volunteer until she retired due to ill health, spending her final years in a nursing home. Win was in charge of the Society's Records and Research area for some years and also wrote an Occasional Paper for the society in 1978, which was later published as a book.
Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?
The donor's daughter Margaret Marshall can recall the dress being stored in a pillow slip and put away at the family home. Margaret does not recall her mother ever talking about the dress.
The dress was borrowed by Win Howell's grand-daughter, Alise Crossick (nee Howell) after its donation to the Port Macquarie Historical Society in 1995. According to Alise it was borrowed to wear at her own wedding but the wedding did not go ahead. Alise recalls: It was quite tiny as I remember so I didn't fit into it for long. I remember the fabric was amazing and I felt it was quite a contemporary design for the time.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
The 1930s was an innovative period in fashion with much clothing being mass-produced. Most women no longer took fabric to dressmakers to make their dresses and large department stores such as Grace Brothers, Myer and Georges were rapidly expanding their ready-to-wear departments, which claimed to produce skilled copies of Paris originals.
New fashion styles also appeared in the 1930s with American films and film stars leading the fashion trends. New fabrics such as metallic lame were very popular at night and were made to shimmer even more richly by adding plastic sequins and glass beads.
One of the most famous designers of the 1930s was French designer Madeleine Vionnet, who devised methods of bias and cross cutting during the 1920s using a miniature model. Vionnet made bias cutting and the halter and cowl neck popular. The bias method was used to add a flirtatious and elegant quality to clothes. By cutting at an angle of 45 degrees to the fabric grain, a piece of fabric could hang and drape in sinuous folds and stretch over round contours of the body. Using Vionnet's techniques of cross cutting fabric, designers were able to produce gowns which created a flare and fluidity that no other methods could achieve. Many of the gowns could be slipped over the head and really came alive when put on the human body. Some gowns from the 1930s still look quite contemporary.
Where did this information come from?
Telephone and email conversations with the donor's daughter Margaret Marshall and email conversations with the donor's granddaughter Alise Crossick.
Other references include:
Hatches, Matches and Dispatches
National Gallery of Victoria, 1987
Marriage a la Mode
The National Trust
National Trust Enterprises Ltd, 2003
Vineyards & Vignerons of Port Macquarie
Port Macquarie Historical Society, 1995
Australia in the 1930s
Echidna Books, 2000
Her Story- A Collection of Women's Stories, Places & Objects in the Hastings
Port Macquarie - Hastings Council, 2008
Riches to Ruins
Hastings District Historical Society Inc. 1993
This garment has been exhibited
The dress was last displayed at the Port Macquarie Historical Museum in the temporary exhibition For Better or Worse - Women and Weddings of the Hastings in August 2005, held as part of the Her Story thematic study project.
A photograph of the dress on exhibition features in the Her Story Catalogue published in 2008.
Place of origin:
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Christina Winifred Howell and donated to the Port Macquarie Historical Society in 1986 by Win's husband Ron Howell.
Christina Winifred Nourse, known as Win
At her marriage to Ronald Howell
The dress appears to be a ready-to-wear garment
Trimmings / Decoration
Smal tucks are used at the top of the bodice to help form the cowl neck
Fibre / Weave
Cream synthetic patterned crushed crepe with gold metallic thread woven throughout has been used for the dress.
The sleeve cuff is lined with cream silk and the sleeves have an inner sleeve made from silk netting from the shoulder to the top of the cuff.
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
This garment is entirely machine sewn.
Fair Isle Regd
- Hand sewn
- Machine sewn
The bodice and skirt have been cut on the cross which allows the dress to drape the body, while the sleeves have been cut on the straight.
7 metal hooks and hand stitched loops at left side
2 metal press studs on each lower sleeve cuff
- Hook and eye
Stiffening / Lining / Padding
Sleeves have an inner net sleeve lining, there is a small facing made from the dress fabric at the back neck.
|Hem circumference||6370 mm|
|Front neck to hem||1460 mm|
|Front waist to hem||1150 mm|
|Back neck to hem||2950 mm|
|Back waist to hem||2570 mm|
|Sleeve length||620 mm|
|Neck to sleeve head||730 mm|
|Cross back||305 mm|
|Underarm to underarm||397 mm|
|Convert to inches|
Back neck to hem measurement includes full length of train
There is a small tear at the front skirt overlap seam and some loose stitching in places.
Small stains are near the front neck and on skirt.