Bodice and bolero jacket over-bodice

Contributed by: Stanton Library

Front view of bodice and bolero jacket over-bodice Front view of bodice showing unfinished seams and lace additions on the outside Inside front of bodice showing turning and alteration to neckline Inside back of bodice showing turning and alteration to neckline Inside jacket showing lining alterations, boning and maker's stamp on waistband Back of jacket with lace raised showing alteration to neckline Back of jacket with lace lowered to cover neckline alterations
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Stanton Library
  • Owner registration number:

    000050, 000051 (formerly 96.34, 96.35)
  • Date range:

    1880 - 1900
  • Place of origin:

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Gender:

[Collapse all]

Object information

Significance statement

The bodice and bolero jacket over-bodice are of rare, interpretative historic and social significance. These well-tailored garments made in Australia hold historic significance as evidence of the dressmaking skills accessible in the colony during the second half of the nineteenth century and the importance placed on clothing in a society where the social position of women was judged by their dress, personal behaviour and language. As bespoke mourning apparel made from silk, they are examples of the importance of appearance, respectability and costume to colonial middle-class which retained strong links to the styles and social conventions of Britain and Europe.

They also hold social significance as rare surviving examples of garments which have been extensively altered for re-use as daywear. The alterations appear to date from the depression years of the 1890s and demonstrate the need for women to 'make-do and mend' during times of financial austerity to maintain a particular standard of appearance. The dress has clearly been altered to fit a smaller person. Therefore it is quite possible that the garments changed ownership in this period; that they were discarded by the original owner and adapted by another, probably less affluent, woman.

Author: Nicola Pullan, University of Sydney MA Museum Studies intern, September 2012.


The bodice is made from black cotton sateen. It is sleeveless, waist-length, closely-fitted, with darts at the front and a pieced back with a centre back fastening. Black lace inserted above the bust-line on the front and back rises to a separately-applied, boned, lace standing-collar which is finished with an added gathered lace edging. Eight wire hooks, with hand-sewn loops, extend from the base of the lace inserts to the top of the collar. The armholes are finished with a small rolled hem. The bodice has been extensively altered; the garment has been turned inside-out, the neckline of the fabric lowered, and additional lace inserted.

The bolero jacket over-bodice is made from floral-patterned black silk damask with a cotton sateen lining. It is waist-length, fits closely in a princess-line, and fastens at the front. The front is pieced and darted while the back is pieced. Both front and back are stiffened with whalebone. Long, tightly-fitting sleeves are slightly eased at the shoulders and finish at the wrist with cream lace ruffles. The bodice front, back and sleeves have applied lace motifs. Across the back of the neckline is a black lace flounce as a small bertha which extends a short distance down each side of the front neckline. There is a webbing inner-waistband attached at the centre back, and six wire hooks with evidence of hand-sewn loops down the front opening. The garment has been altered and reduced in size; darts, pleats and fabric pieces have been added and inserted, the original high round neckline has been lowered at the front, the sleeves lengthened to the wrist, and the visible alterations covered with applied laces.

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

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

The bodice and jacket were probably donated to the North Shore Historical Society between 1970 and 1996. The Historical Society, founded in 1959, collected a wide variety of items associated with the North Shore, including clothing, footwear and fashion accessories.

Don Bank cottage (6 Napier Street, North Sydney) was purchased by North Sydney Council in 1977, with the support of the Society, for use as a museum. Don Bank Museum opened in 1981, with many of the objects owned by the Society on display.

The Society's collection was subsequently donated to North Sydney Council. In 1996-97, most of the items on display at the museum were transferred to Stanton Library's archives to ensure their long-term preservation. The Society's donation forms the core of Stanton Library's Don Bank Museum collection.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The style and alterations to the jacket and bodice reflect the importance placed on clothing in a society in which the majority chose to spend a large proportion of their income on personal adornment. Australia was a country of immigrants divided by relative wealth rather than rank, and the social position of women was judged by their dress, personal behaviour and language. Regardless of occupation or social status, women's clothing of the nineteenth century reflected these criteria, with much effort and money being expended on following fashionable standards of dress in the current European style.

Such standards proved difficult to maintain during times of economic depression or geographic isolation when women had to make or alter their own clothes. In the late-nineteenth century, the world economy suffered from an economic depression which affected the Australian economy primarily between 1890 and 1899. It is possible that straitened financial circumstances meant the bodice and the jacket were not discarded but instead were altered quickly and unskilfully to suit changed social requirements, the different size of the wearer and the latest fashion.

Where did this information come from?

Information about the original design and alterations has been gathered from close examination of the garment. Provenance to Robertson and Moffat, Melbourne is provided by the retailer's stamp printed on the webbing inner-waistband of the jacket.

This garment has been exhibited

'Threads', exhibition of historic costume from the Don Bank Museum collection, October 2012 to March 2013, North Sydney Heritage Centre, Stanton Library, North Sydney.

  1. Place of origin:

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

  2. Made by:

    The bolero-style jacket over-bodice is an example of made-to-measure clothing from the workrooms of Robertson and Moffat, drapers, of Bourke St, Melbourne. This successful and long-standing commercial enterprise commenced trading in 1852 or 1853. In common with many nineteenth century drapers, the retailer provided dressmaking and tailoring services to their customers and held fashion shows to promote new styles of dress and millinery imported from London and Paris. By the early 1880s they bore the royal warrant and had become an 'exclusive purveyor of ladies requirements'. Throughout the 1880s their advertisements for machinists, dressmakers, tailoresses, coat- and skirt-hands, and millinery saleswomen attest to the growth of retailing in bespoke and ready-made clothing during the second half of the century.

    The bodice carries no maker's mark but appears to have been the work of a skilled dressmaker.

Trimmings / Decoration


Cotton embroidered-net borders with floral motif, 2 x 100 mm-wide, machine-made, on centre front.

Cotton embroidered-net borders with floral motif, 90mm wide, machine-made, on front and back sides.

Cotton embroidered-net collar and standing neck with raised-embroidery floral motif and medallions, 160mm wide, machine-made, on shoulders and up neck.

Cotton embroidered-net edging with floral motif, 25mm wide, machine-made, on top edge of collar.


Cotton Brussels needle-lace with metal gimp and braid floral motif, 90mm wide, hand-made, appliqued to bodice front, back and sleeves.

Cotton guipure with floral and leaf motif, 70mm wide, machine-made, possibly chemical lace, appliqued to sleeve cuffs.

Cotton embroidered-net flounce, 240mm wide, machine-made, at back and side neckline.

Cotton picot edging, 7mm wide, machine made, below back neckline.

Cotton embroidered-net border, 25mm wide, machine-made, at wrist edge.


Cream silk satin ribbon, small piece remaining, at left collar edge


See notes below

Fibre / Weave

Bodice: black cotton sateen on bodice front and back with matte side to the outside, black cotton lace inserts on front, black cotton lace inserts on back, black cotton lace standing collar on shoulders and continuing up the neck, black cotton lace edging on collar edge, black silk twill lining behind lace inserts on front and back.

Jacket over-bodice: black silk damask on body and sleeves, black cotton sateen lining inside back, sides and sleeves, black cotton lace on jacket front, back and sleeve forearms, black cotton lace on cuffs, black cotton lace below back neckline, black cotton lace on back and side neckline, cream cotton lace at wrists, remnants of brown fibre within lower front bodice/sleeve seams.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The bodice has been 'turned' and altered. The shiny side is on the inside and the unfinished side-seams and darts are showing on the outside. The neckline has been lowered and sheer lace panel and borders have been machine-stitched to the outer front and back. The lace collar has been hand-stitched outside. The armhole rolled hems have been unstitched, re-rolled inside and hemmed by hand. Cut black threads are still in the fabric around the armholes. A 10mm hole has been cut in the left back placket. The sheer lace on the front and back bodice was later lined with silk twill pieces between the fabric of the bodice and the applied lace collar. The hooks are on the right side of the back closure. They are in their original positions on the lace collar while those below the collar have been removed and re-attached by hand. Replacement loop eyes have been hand-stitched on the left side of the closure. Dark brown thread has been used for the hand and machine-stitched alterations except for the silk twill lining pieces where black thread was used.


Robertson & Moffat




The jacket over-bodice has been altered to fit a smaller figure. The back lining was removed, the front lining cut away from the seams, and the front and back side seams unstitched. Extra darts and pleats were then taken in the front and back panels and in the back of the lining. The lining and the damask were re-assembled being treated as a single layer of fabric. The front neckline has been lowered from a high round style to a deep V-shape and the width of the neck opening was reduced by hand-stitching an additional piece of damask fabric across the back of the neck opening. The sleeves have been made narrower by taking a seam down the full length, lengthened to the wrist with identical damask fabric, and the lace edging re-applied by hand. The main seams were stitched by machine and the pleats hand-stitched. The original machine-stitching is in black thread; all replacement machine-stitching is dark brown. The altered seam-lines have been covered with applied lace motifs, and a wide lace flounce applied as a bertha to the neck edge. The trimmings were applied using hand-stitching in dark brown thread, except for the darts taken in the back neckline and the applied guipure lace on the cuffs which were hand-stitched in black

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


All hooks steel wire.

Bodice: eight 10mm hooks and hand-stitched cotton loops at back.

Jacket: three 10mm hooks on left inside front and wire loops at waist level. Two 10mm hooks at waist level on inside right front. 30mm inner waistband, with two 10mm wire loops at left end.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding


All stiffening consists of baleen hand-stitched into webbing tape covers and then hand or machine-stitched in place.

Bodice: Three 80mm lengths of boning are hand-stitched inside the standing neck, one on each side and one at the left side of the centre back closure.

Jacket over-bodice: The left front side dart has a 40mm bone with the similar right side bone missing. The five central back seams and darts are boned with two 120mm lengths hand-stitched to the outer darts, two 210mm lengths hand-stitched into tape pockets machine-sewn to the back lining, and a 210mm length hand-stitched to the centre seam.


Bodice: Silk twill lining pieces were added after the bodice was altered. They extend upwards from the fabric at the lowered neckline, behind the embroidered-net inserts, to the line where the net lace collar begins.

Jacket over-bodice: The back and sides are lined with cotton sateen. The sleeves are lined with cotton sateen from the shoulder seam to the wrist.


bodice jacket
Neck 380 mm 320 mm
Chest 840 mm 900 mm
Waist 740 mm 680 mm
Cuff 250 mm
Front neck to hem 300 mm 240 mm
Back neck to hem 300 mm 370 mm
Sleeve length 520 mm
Neck to sleeve head 90 mm 85 mm
Cross back 290 mm 300 mm
Underarm to underarm 410 mm 470 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

The bodice and jacket, as originally designed, were made of plain or subtly-decorated black fabric at a time when black was principally reserved for mourning dress, and both were originally of an austere styling incorporating a high neckline with little or no trimming. The garments possibly reflect the nineteenth-century custom of dressing in full-mourning of untrimmed, matte, black clothing for at least one year after a death, followed by half-mourning for another six to twelve months when the mourner could progress to black, grey or mauve fabrics with subtle patterning and trim. Mourning etiquette was not as strictly observed in Australia, where silk and unobtrusive patterns were accepted during the full-mourning period. Dress custom was changing by the early twentieth century and black clothing was no longer reserved for mourning dress. The garments appear to have been altered to fit a smaller woman, who was not in mourning, at a time when women's dress had become more elaborate and dress styles more revealing.

Additional material


Bodice: The armhole edges are worn and frayed in places.

Jacket: The silk damask is cracking and shattering around the applied heavy Brussels-lace motifs on the unlined jacket front and on the upper-arm sections of both sleeves. There are signs of wear on the outer areas of both sleeves.

Evidence of repairs

Bodice: Both bodice armholes have a 10mm tear towards the front at breast height, mended by hand in black and dark brown thread. The back placket has been rehemmed with brown thread.


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


  1. Fading
  2. Brittle
  3. Frayed
  4. Holes
  5. Parts missing
  6. Torn
  7. Worn
[Collapse all]