Australian dress register ID:408
Owner:Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
Owner registration number:A8211-8
Place of origin:Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
This bikini is part of the much larger Berlei Collection, which contains underwear and corsetry from 1869 to 1980s. Most of the underwear in the collection was designed and made by Berlei in either Australia or England, while pieces that predate the company were part of Berlei's own collection of historical undergarments.
The Berlei Collection reflects the changing nature of women's fashion in Australia, and represents the history of a highly successful Australian company and all its achievements; from surviving two World Wars and the Great Depression, to successful expansion overseas.
The company also contributed to the development of standardised clothing sizes with the comprehensive National Census of Women's Measurements, and the promotion of Australian industry during the Depression through their involvement with the Great White Train.
Clever promotion maximised Berlei's sales. Popular afternoon events for women presented the latest styles on models against the most glamorous sets. Berlei also used pseudo 'medical' expertise to convince women that their backaches and sways could be resolved by wearing special, individually tailored, braced corsets. We now know physio and exercise is much more beneficial to correct a woman's posture.
Berlei also manufactured a number of different goods for the Australian Armed Forces during WWII.
Berlei's success can also be attributed to their liberal approach to hiring and promoting women, as well as adapting their products to meet the needs of women in their ever-changing roles during the twentieth century. Author: Melissa Tito, Lindie Ward, 08/06/2012.
Matching bra and underwear set, made from flesh coloured nylon, and then covered with white fabric daisies with yellow velour centers.
The bra has a plunging v-neck, non-adjustable straps and double hook and eye closure at the back.
The panties are bikini style, with elasticised waist and legs.
Link to further information about this object
History and Provenance
Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?
In 1910 Frederick Richard Burley purchased E. Glover & Co., a small underwear firm in Market Street, Sydney. With his brother, Arthur, he set up Unique Corset Ltd. in 1912, operating out of premises in Wilmot Street, Sydney, with a staff of 12 people. Despite wartime, staff numbers grew to 60 and they moved to bigger premises in the Commerce Building, Liverpool Street.
On 9 October 1919 Unique Corsets Ltd., became Berlei Ltd a frenchified version of their surname. In 1922 the company moved to 'Berlei House', a new seven-storey office and factory, at 39-47 Regent Street (now part of Curtin University). The 500 staff produced 2500 garments a day. Dr. Grace Boelke was appointed Medical Superintendent ensuring that Berlei garments were 'anatomically correct' and monitoring the workplace.
By 1923 Berlei acquired one of its main competitors, Australian Corsets Ltd., established Berlei New Zealand Ltd. and started specialised training courses for retail corsetieres.
In 1926 Fred Burley initiated a £10,000 national survey of women's statistics collaborating with Professor Henry Chapman and Dr. S. A. Smith from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Medicine. 23 measurements from 6000 women were tabulated and analysed, resulting in the 'five figure type classification scheme': Type H. (Hip); Type S.B. (Sway Back); Type Ab. (Abdomen); Type A. (Average); Type S.B.W (Short Below Waist): and an accompanying 'Figure Type Indicator' device for retailers. Simple measurements of bust, waist and hips would determine which garments were the most appropriate for a woman's shape. This 1926 anthropometric survey ensured Berlei's success in achieving the perfect fit.
Berlei UK Ltd. was founded in 1930, with the head office in Regent Street, London, facilitating exports to Europe, South Africa, the Middle East, the East Indies & South America.
In 1939 war rationing slashed Berlei's fabric allocation but an outcry by women arguing they needed supportive underwear to work heavy machinery, affected a raise in allocation to 60%. Berlei won contracts to supply the Australian and American forces with undergarments, khaki shorts, anti-flash masks, tape for gas masks, and pillow slips.
Fred and Arthur returned to Australia in 1947, retiring in 1949 and 1948 respectively. They maintained positions on the Board of Directors until their deaths in 1954 & 1957.
Dunlop Olympic Ltd., acquired Berlei in 1969 and was renamed Pacific Dunlop Ltd. in 1986. Berlei is now part of Pacific Brands.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
Berlei used women intelligently, and in key roles; even in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when women were generally excluded from senior positions, Berlei had many women designers and women on its management team.
Some designers of note were Lady Desolie Hurley (nee Richardson) who developed the Sarong Girdle and handled many licensing agreements, and Mary Craven, who was famous for the extravagant fashion shows she directed and compered all around Australia.
Also of note is Clare Stevenson, who was a senior executive of Berlei when WWII broke out, and became the first Director of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (W.A.A.A.F.) in 1940. Her success in building up the W.A.A.A.F. has been attributed to her background in retail management and training at Berlei.
In 1923, Fred Burley founded the 'Australian Made Preference League' with the aim of encouraging Australians to support Australian industry. The League went on to organise the Great White Train travelling campaign. The train hosted numerous Australian companies (including Berlei), in fifteen carriages, that travelled across New South Wales twice; once in 1925 and again in 1926.
The Berlei Collection (epitomised in these 3 garments) is indicative of the changing nature of women's foundation garments, which in themselves reflect changes in fashion and wider social attitudes towards female roles and appearance. The clever use of 'medical' advice on women's posture gave credibility and prestige to the range of remedial garments with braces such as corset (2) when in later years exercise was to become the key to women's health and posture.
Where did this information come from?
Interviews were conducted by Lindie Ward with Michael Hurley and Desolie Richardson at the Powerhouse Museum in 1990.
This garment has been exhibited
Powerhouse Museum 'Success and Innovation: achieving for Australia' 1992 - 2011 (bra only)
Underpants have never been exhibited.
Place of origin:
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Berlei Ltd. and gifted to the Powerhouse Museum in 1982.
Bra and pants worn by models for Berlei promotional purposes
Designed by Berlei Ltd.
Made by Berlei as reference samples and for promotions.
Trimmings / Decoration
Bra and underpants have white daisies hand stitched on with yellow velour centres .
Appliqued daisies are attached by hand
Fibre / Weave
Flesh coloured nylon, with white, possibly cotton/polyester, daisies, with yellow velour centres.
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
This set was used as a maniufacturing and promotional sample.
Machine stitched, with daisies attached by hand.
Bra tag has two tags
Handwritten in black ink on top side of first tag
'Slip 16K Qual 5686
34. GRADING TEST'
Handwritten in black ink on bottom of second tag
15. 12. 70'
Underpants have two tags
Handwritten in black ink on top side of first tag is
'Slip 71H Qual 5686 S/ST
643. 0/316 (H'H'coat)
MED Qual 97. 3/8 Elgs.'
Handwritten in black in on the underside of the first tag is
Handwritten in faded blue ink on the underside of the second tag is
25. 1. 70'
See manufacture notes
- Hand sewn
- Machine sewn
|Front waist to hem||195 mm|
|Back waist to hem||220 mm|
|Underarm to underarm||250 mm|
|Convert to inches|
Bra measurement, shoulder strap seam to chest hem, is 300mm.
Chest measurement is taken to the end of the hook and eye strap.
Underpants waist-to-hem measurements are waist seam to crotch seam.
Bra and underpants set is a promotional sample, probably used in a display or a fashion show.
Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions
'Berlei Advertisements' 1920s - 1960s AustralianScreen
'Berlei extravaganza' 7/11/1930 The Register News-Pictorial
'Corset revue on living models' 6/11/1930 The Advertiser, South Australia
Other related objects
Berlei Type Indicator chart
Navy issue khaki shorts, made by Berlei, for the Australian Navy.
Also view the large collection of Berlei garments and archive in the Powerhouse collection.
Link to collection online
Some of the hand stitching attaching daisies to bra and underpants is coming undone.
The yellow velour centers of the daisies on the bra have faded significantly more than those on the underpants due to light damage sustained while on display in "Success & Innovation"
The elastic in the bra and underpants has lost some of its stretchiness.