Australian dress register ID:375
Owner registration number:2004/112
Place of origin:Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Historic and Social.
The social aspect of significance for this suit is twofold. Firstly, it was manufactured by Rundles, an iconic Newcastle business, now in its 180th year of operation. Furthermore, the suit was purchased to be worn to Eisteddfods, which were surely a highlight of a town or city's social calendar, especially during the dark years of the Great Depression. Due to very high levels of Welsh mining migration to Newcastle and the Hunter during the 19th and early 20th century, Eisteddfods were even more significant cultural events than in most communities. An Eisteddfod is a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance. Newcastle Eisteddfod retained a Welsh speaking competition well into the 20th century.
The fact that this suit is provenanced to a particular individual, is intact and in good condition, and even dated makes if of historical significance as a Depression-era item of menswear made and worn in Newcastle. It would be nice to uncover more about Lawrence Watkins, and maybe even source some photographs and paper based material from the Eisteddfods in which he competed.
Note: As a garment on its own, however, the three piece suit is still of great historical significance. The 1931 date of the garment importantly places the suit squarely within a context when the depths of the Depression were being keenly felt in Australia. Yet the garment was produced by a growing tailoring business, Rundles, and was purchased expressly for an individual to wear when participating in pleasurable eisteddfods. These two facts highlight that though many Australians suffered economic hardship during the Depression, some inhabitants in Australian cities like Newcastle remained relatively unscathed by surrounding events. Garments like this three piece suit are reminders, therefore, that although often far-reaching and devastating, the Depression was an uneven event. It affected different people and different groups in vastly different ways.
Even at the height of the Depression in 1931, some individuals like Lawrence Watkins continued to purchase three piece suits in large metropolitan areas like Newcastle. It was this sustained patronage that enabled some fortunate businesses, like Rundle Tailoring, to expand and grow despite the trying times.
Lawrence Watkin's three piece suit reminds us that not all businesses suffered irreversible losses during the Depression in Australia.
Anna Lebovic, 2012. Author: Michelle A. Maddison, 1 February 2012.
Black three part men's suit comprising suit coat (jacket) waistcoat (vest) and trousers worn by Lawrence Watkins.
Single breast jacket with interior breast pockets, single breast pocket at upper left and two exterior pockets each side of jacket. Single black button at lower front (around midriff) which has woven black cover, a spare button is attached on the inside of jacket. Cuffs each have two smaller versions of this button. The fabric of the collar and lapels are two different finishes, and the collar is embellished with a narrow black braid which extends the entire length. Sleeve interiors are lined with a lightweight pin striped fabric (cotton?)
Simple black waistcoat with four small covered buttons (matching cuff buttons). Low cut neckline to match suit. Lapel is edged with narrow black braid. Slanted pocket either side. Waistcoat fit can be altered with adjustable belt at back.
Small fit, high waisted trousers. Button fly, with 6 plastic (Bakelite) buttons. Six matching Bakelite buttons marked 'Rundle / Newcastle' around waistband. Trouser fit can be altered with fitted belt and buckle at back of pants. Narrow black braid runs vertically down the entire outer leg. Pocket at rear right, small coin pocket upper right waistband. Hidden pockets either side. Trouser bottoms aren't straight (curved slightly) and the inside front of each trouser hem has a small length of leather sewn in place.
Link to further information about this object
History and Provenance
Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information
Lawrence A. Watkins was born in Newcastle in 1910.
Parents - William H and Elizabeth J (nee Colligan) married in 1890 in Sydney.
Lawrence married Lorna E. Brown in Newcastle in 1935.
Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?
By 1908, Rundles had firmly established a business enterprise, tailoring clothes under the Rundle name. The company grew and in 1936 became known as Rundles Pty. Ltd. They continued to expand, keeping abreast of international trends, utilising rapidly changing technology and innovative design and manufacturing techniques. The company was strong in the 1980s, building a new factory premises in Kotara. However, they were faced with difficult challenges in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The 1989 earthquake caused damage to the new factory, and the recession also impacted the business. In the early 1990s Rundles had a large workforce of 458 people - 420 of these being female. In March 1997, the company was forced into receivership with debts in the order of $600,000. The receiver ran the factory and retail outlets but they were eventually closed down, ending a 90 year old Newcastle establishment. Members of the Rundle family, however, are determined to continue this tradition and continue to design, manufacture and retail men's clothing under the name 'Rundle Tailoring'.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
Note: Lawrence Watkin's three piece suit was produced in Newcastle, a large city 162 kilometres to the north-east of Sydney. When Lawrence Watkins purchased this suit in 1931, Newcastle was feeling the devastating effects of the Depression like much of Australia. Because of the severe contraction of the Australian economy, Australia suffered from some of the worst unemployment rates in the western world. Between 1930 and 1934, an average 23.4% Australians were unemployed. That rate soared to 30% in 1932, an unemployment percentage exceeded only by Germany.
This context of extreme hardship makes this rather dapper suit a fascinating garment. Importantly, it complicates the traditional history of how the Depression affected daily Australian life. For despite the high unemployment rates and the resulting lack of disposable income to purchase new clothes, during the 1930s Rundle Tailoring survived and actually thrived. During this decade, Rundle Tailoring went through a period of expansion and consolidation. This culminated in the formalisation of the business under the new name of Rundles Pty. Ltd in 1936. This was an optimistic and unusual move in the midst of what remained dreary times. Even two years after Rundles had corporatized as business, in 1938 around 23% of Australians still remained unemployed. On the eve of the World War II, the retail sector in Australia remained less than robust.
Where did this information come from?
Place of origin:
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Worn when singing at Eisteddfods in the Newcastle area
Rundles Tailors, Newcastle
Rundles (Rundle Tailors, Rundle Tailoring, Rundle Newcastle).
Rundle Tailoring is an iconic Newcastle business, established in 1830. Until the 1990s, Rundles operated out of a well established main store in the Hunter Street Mall, and was the place young men went to be fitted for suits and could also hire suits (for occasions like the school formal). Rundles also made to measure uniforms for schools like Newcastle Grammar. As of 2012, Rundles operates from a store front at 767 Hunter Street, in Newcastle West. Today, amongst Novocastrians, Rundles is a name synonymous with quality tailoring.
Lawrence Watkins, aged 21
Trimmings / Decoration
Narrow ric rac braid decorates the jacket collar, waistcoat and trouser sides
Fibre / Weave
Heavy-weight cotton(?) fabric
Weave similar to twill, but very fine
Lightweight cotton (fine calico?)
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
Black label with yellow embroidered name 'Rundles / NEWCASTLE' sewn into back of jacket. White label with blue embroidered details sewn into waistcoat 'Rundles / NEWCASTLE / NAME L. WATKINS / DATE 23/3/1931'.
- Hand sewn
- Machine sewn
|Back neck to hem||630 mm|
|Sleeve length||620 mm|
|Inside leg||800 mm|
|Outside leg||1080 mm|
|Neck to sleeve head||145 mm||100 mm|
|Cross back||390 mm||235 mm|
|Convert to inches|
Waist circumference of trousers = 770mm
This suit was made for twenty-one year old Novocastrian Lawrence Watkins to be worn when he competed at Eisteddfods in the Newcastle area.
Evidence of repairs
The jacket lining under the arms may have been repaired at some stage, there are some cross stitches in places which appear to be cruder than the original stitching (see details below).
Some small holes in trousers - on upper inside legs.