Australian dress register ID:436
Owner:Port Macquarie Historical Society
Place of origin:Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
This outfit is the oldest in Maureen Cooke's extensive private collection, most of which records in detail her career as a fashion designer and seamstress during the 1950s to 1970s. This beach outfit made in 1944 by Maureen at the age of fourteen is all that remains of her earlier work. It shows that even then Maureen was destined to bigger and better things in the fashion world. It is bold and makes a statement. Wearing a two-piece swimsuit on Shelly Beach at Port Macquarie in the 1940s would not have been for the faint-hearted and especially not a fourteen year old girl who had just finished her schooling.
Maureen Cooke, nee Denning was already a good sewer when she took up her apprenticeship with local tailor E A Adams in 1944. Her teachers had helped her secure the job as technically Maureen was too young to leave school. Maureen refined her sewing skills during her apprenticeship and once completed was keen to try her luck in Sydney. Maureen was quickly employed by Albert Turner who valued her fast, efficient and skilled work by paying her men's wages but Maureen began to tire of sewing heavy worsted suit fabrics. It was while working for Robert White that she met her husband Eric Cooke, a haberdashery salesman who recognised Maureen's talent and encouraged her to set up her own business.
Maureen's fashion label Maureen Model operated from a showroom and workroom in the exclusive Sydney suburb of Edgecliffe and attracted a clientele of well- known and celebrity women including Dawn Limb. Maureen Model designs featured in all the major department stores and parades, culminating in her winning the ACT gown of the year in 1970. Many of her designs and showroom samples remain in her private collection today.
For over forty years Maureen Cooke's life as a fashion designer was unknown to most people in her home town of Port Macquarie. A fashion parade of some of Maureen's private collection, including this outfit, in September 2012 as a fund raiser for a local charity changed all that.
This bikini and beach jacket are reminders of Maureen Cooke's humble beginnings as an apprentice tailor in a NSW country town and mark the start of her career as a fashion designer of some renown. Author: Debbie Sommers, 28 December 2012.
Beach outfit comprising bikini top and bottom and short sleeved jacket made from green, blue, orange and white floral cotton terry towelling.
Bikini top has a halter neck with self fabric ties at neck and centre back. Top has been fashioned from and lined using a cut down commercial bra with a seam across bust and dart shaping.
Bikini bottom has encased elastic at top and legs with seams at each side and crotch with a fine cotton lining.
Beach jacket has a stand up collar, step in centre front opening with concealed long zip fastening and cape short sleeves. A patch pocket on the front right hip is decorated with rhinestone glass cabochon beads.
History and Provenance
Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information
Maureen Ellen Cooke, nee Denning, was born at Port Macquarie Cottage Hospital in 1930 the only daughter and second child of John, known as Jack [1896-1976] and Alma Denning, nee Wunderlich [1902-1969].
Maureen met Eric Cooke whilst working in Sydney and the couple married in 1956 at Wesley Chapel, Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Eric Cooke died at Port Macquarie in 1987. The couple had no children.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
The bikini is a two-piece women's swimsuit with a top part covering the breasts and the bottom part covering the groin and buttocks or part thereof. The bikini was named by Louis Reard a French engineer in 1946 after the Bikini Atoll, one of a series of islands in the South Pacific where testing on the new atomic bomb was taking place at the time.
While two piece bathing suits had been worn for some years earlier it was not until 1946 that the two piece swimsuit became a fashion item. Changes to women's conservative swimwear began in 1907 when Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman was arrested on an American beach for wearing a form-fitting one-piece swimsuit and by 1910 similar swimsuits became accepted beach wear.
In 1913 with women allowed into Olympic swimming competition, designer Carl Jantzen made the first functional two-piece swimwear comprising close fitting shorts on the bottom and short sleeves on the top. By the 1930s necklines were lowered at the back, sleeves removed and the sides cut away and by 1934 the swimsuit was hugging the body with the assistance of materials such as latex and nylon. Straps held the suit over the shoulders and could be lowered for tanning.
By the early 1940s two-piece swimsuits were frequently worn on American beaches and were popular with Hollywood stars such as Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner.
From 1946 to present day the bikini remains a popular swimsuit style for women.
Where did this information come from?
Interviews with the owner Maureen Cooke, conducted 2012.
This garment has been exhibited
The outfit was modelled in a fashion parade held at Panthers Port Macquarie on Saturday 15 September 2012 featuring over 100 garments made by Maureen Cooke under her fashion label Maureen's Models and from her private collection as a fund raiser for Endeavour Clubhouse.
Place of origin:
Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
The fabric was purchased at Port Macquarie at either Hallets Store or Haningtons Store.
Maureen Cooke, nee Denning [1930 - ]
Used as everyday beach wear by the owner and maker. Modelled in fashion parade in 2012.
Shelly Beach, Port Maquarie, New South Wales
Maureen Cooke, nee Denning [1930 - ]
Made by Maureen Cooke, nee Denning [1930 - ] aged 14 years. Maureen Denning was born at Port Macquarie and educated at Port Macquarie Public School where she was taught sewing by Miss Morgan.
At the age of 14, Maureen commenced a tailoring apprenticeship with Port Macquarie tailor E Adams and completed her apprenticeship under Mick Latham. Maureen describes her early designs and garments such as this one as being inspired by need.
Maureen later moved to Sydney and worked for George Street tailor Albert Turner making men's suits before gaining a position with Robert White female attire. It was here that she was able to hone her female fashion skills and was provided with unlimited scope for creative design and pattern making. It was also where she met her late husband Eric Cooke, a lace salesman who encouraged Maureen to start up her own fashion design business and label, Maureen Models.
After 18 months in her own business, things were going well and Eric gave up his job to look after the office administration and sales and marketing leaving Maureen to concentrate on design, pattern making, cutting, ordering and overseeing the workroom at her Edgecliffe showroom where she employed 12 staff for machining, finishing, pressing and packing.
Maureen travelled extensively overseas to purchase fabrics and trims and these became the inspiration for many of her exclusive designs. Maureen had many well known and celebrity clients including Dawn Limb and won the ACT Gown of the Year in 1970.
In 1971 at the height of her success she closed the business to return to Port Macquarie to care for her ill father.
In 2012, Maureen hosted a fashion parade at Port Macquarie to raise funds for Endeavour Clubhouse, a mental health rehabilitation and recovery facility. Over 400 people attended the parade. This was the first time that Maureen's garments had been viewed publicly in her home town.
Maureen Cooke, nee Denning [1930 - ]
Trimmings / Decoration
A patch pocket on the front right hip of jacket is decorated with rhinestone glass cabochon beads.
Fibre / Weave
Floral cotton terry towelling in green, blue, orange and white colours has been used for the bikini top, bikini bottom and beach jacket.
A commercial bra made of nylon with foam padding has been used to line the bikini top.
A fine white cotton has been used to line the bikini bottom and the patch pocket on the beach jacket.
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
All the garments in this outfit have been machine sewn. Seams are all straight stitched and finished with overlock stitch except for the jacket centre back seam which utilises the fabric selvedges.
Rhinestone glass cabochon beads have been hand sewn on the patch pocket.
The maker owned a Singer treadle sewing machine and may have sewn parts of these garments using it, however the overlocking on the facings and seams would have been sewn using an overlocking machine at her then workplace E A Adams, Tailor, Port Macquarie.
- Hand sewn
- Machine sewn
A long zip and one metal press stud fasten the beach jacket. The bikini top has fabric self ties at the neck and back. Bikini bottoms have elasticised top and legs.
- Hook and eye
Stiffening / Lining / Padding
The bikini top has been lined with a cut down commerical bra made of nylon with a thin foam padding.
The bikini bottom and jacket patch pocket are lined with a cotton fabric.
|Chest||1080 mm||800 mm|
|Hem circumference||1640 mm|
|Front neck to hem||780 mm|
|Back neck to hem||830 mm|
|Outside leg||120 mm|
|Underarm to underarm||540 mm|
|Convert to inches|
Collar is 40mm high.
Other related objects
Maureen Cooke's private collecton comprises over 300 garments and outfits including hats and shoes. This outfit is the oldest in her collection. The collection includes garments made under her fashion label Maureen Models, including showroom samples and personal garments.
Maureen's private collection also includes much of her workroom fittings and equipment including sewing machines, cutting tables, storage cupboards, patterns, dressmaking models, scissors, measures, needles, and pins as well as fabrics, trims, buttons, threads, etc. and business records.
There is a small amount of wear under each arm on the jacket and the fabric has some slight fading but overall condition is very good.