Boy's special occasion suit

Contributed by: Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society

Keith E Miller, age 4 1/2 years with his family, circa 1900 Velvet two piecc suit Collar Velver trousers Label Label and lining Button detail Sleeve lining, striped ticking
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Object information

Significance statement

Keith Miller's special ocasion suit is of interest because it represents a style of clothing worn by middle class boys for important events at the turn of the twentieth century. It also provides insight into the shopping practices of rural Australian residents during this time.

The blue and cream velvet suit with breeches and sailor style collar was manufacturred by "Victoria House Clothing Company", representing the relatively new trend for stores to merchandise ready-made clothing. Department stores such Farmers in Sydney burgeoned throughout the western world from the mid 1850s as consumer culture grew with the rise of the middle class. By 1874, Farmers was trading in its "Victoria House" premises on Pitt St, later expanding to a second store on the corner of George and Market Streets, where Myer still trades.

Although it is possible that Keith Miller's suit was purchased by mail order catalogue, it is more likely that it was bought in Sydney, as the family photograph in which Keith is wearing the suit was taken at Talma Photographic Studios, located at 374 George St, Sydney. Talma Studios had branches in Melbourne and Sydney and took portraits of significant personalities of the era such as Nellie Melba and the Duke and Duchess of York.  

The sailor style suit is of historical and social significance as it represents one of the most popular forms of children's clothing of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. It was favoured by European royal families who dressed their children in this style and soon gained popularity amongst the middle classes of France, Germany and the United States, as well as Australia. The proliferation of this style is of interest because it provides insight into the aspirations and tastes of the middle classes and their desire to conform to the latest styles from overseas.

Boys in sailor suits would often wear intricately curled shoulder-length hair, like that of Keith Miller in the family photograph. This hairstyle was not restricted to boys with natural curls; mothers would often curl their sons' hair by placing it in ringlets overnight. The fact that there was time to indulge in such a labour-intensive task reflects a more leisurely pace of life at the turn of the twentieth century, as well as the value middle classes placed upon presenting themselves stylishly to the outside world.             



Author: Clarice Doreen Stretch, 29/9/2015.


This boy's special occasion suit is comprised of two pieces: a jacket and trousers. The jacket has a navy blue cotton velvet exterior and the front and back are lined in cotton sateen. It originally had a detachable white velvet collar, which is visible in the photgraph of Keith Miller wearing the suit, but has been lost.  The sleeves are lined with cream and blue striped ticking. The jacket features six dark mother-of-pearl buttons on the front and three smaller mother-of-pearl buttons on the sleeves. It has a sailor style collar and two flap pockets. The matching trousers are lined with cream cotton. The fly is secured by three metal buttons and six metal buttons are postioned so that braces can be attached. There are two side pockets which have triangular stitching at the top and bottom of the opening. Three dark mother-of-pearl buttons adorn each lower leg.       

History and Provenance

Keith lived in Hornsby where he was a solicitor. Olive's sister is Una Laird, a member of Campelltown and Airds Historical Society. Their parents were Clement Thomas Rose and Florence May Rose. 

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Keith Miller was born in 1898 in Moree. His parents were Thomas Edward Miller and Laura Australia Miller (nee Richards). They were married in 1894 in Glebe.

Keith married Olive May Miller in 1944. Olive had previously been married to Benjamin W. Miller from 1929 to 1943. When Benjamin died in 1943, she married Keith.

Keith died in 1981. 

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

At the time of Keith Miller's birth in 1898, Moree was a town of over 300 with connections to Sydney and the wider world via rail, motor car, postal services, telegraph and telephone.

Prior to white settlement, the Moree area had been populated by the Kamilanoi people, whose descendants remain in the region today. The Mehi River attracted white squatters to the area in the 1830s and 1840s. They established pastoral runs, one of which was called 'Moree'. A shop was built on the river bank in 1852 and a Post Office and hotel were established soon afterwards. Moree was gazetted as a town in 1862 and a court, police station, banks and a Wesleyan church soon followed. In 1880, Moree became a municipality, and in 1895 the Great Artesian Basin was tapped to provide water for the town.

With the opening of the railway to Sydney in 1897, facilities for sending telegraphs in 1898 and a telephone exchange in 1904, citizens of Moree were not isolated, but opportunities to purchase fashionable garments from local shops were limited. Such garments were usually purchased from department stores in large cities. By 1906, improvements in communication made it possible to travel to Farmer's Department Store in Sydney to purchase Keith Miller's special occasion suit or to order it from a catalogue.

Although Keith Miller was born in Moree, his Special Occasion Suit is now owned by the Campelltown and Airds Historical Society, donated by Keith's sister-in-law, Una Laird.             

At the time of Keith Miller's birth, the population of Campbelltown was approximately 2,381 most of whom were born in Australia. Migrants were mainly English or Irish with some German and French who came to work in the new wine industry. There was a severe depression in the 1890s due to drought and rust in the wheat crop.

In 1901 there were several schools in the Campbelltown area: a public school, three Catholic schools and a few small private academies. In 1905 the School of Arts opened which provided reference and lending libraries and reading and games rooms. Several amateur musical groups such as the Campbelltown Amateur Orchestral Society flourished at this time.

Social occasions were a Campbelltown Bachelor and Spinsters Ball and church social activities.

Sports were catered for with a cricket club, lawn tennis club, a bicycle club and horse racing.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The manufacturer’s label inside Keith Miller’s suit which reads “Victoria House Clothing Farmer and Company,” draws attention to the fact that the suit was made by a branch of Farmer’s Department Store.  

Department stores proliferated in the western world from the mid-1850s, with major stores opening in London, Paris and New York. The rise of the department store occurred in response to the development of a conspicuous consumer society during the nineteenth century, made possible by the growth of the middle class.

David Jones in Sydney claims to be the oldest department store in the world that has continuously operated under the one name, having traded since 1838. Farmer’s, which no longer trades under its original name, was established soon after David Jones. Initially a drapery company which opened in 1839, the business expanded into a full department store in 1874, trading in its “Victoria House” premises in Pitt St. The Pitt Street store remained in operation even after the new store on the corner of Market and George Streets opened.

It is possible that Keith Miller’s suit was purchased by mail order catalogue (known as “parcel post” in Australia), as such catalogues were widely distributed to rural areas from the 1880s onwards. On the other hand, residents of rural New South Wales would travel to the city several times a year to purchase clothing and enjoy the experience provided by the department stores that offered a wider range of quality goods than country stores.

Sailor suits such as the one worn by Keith Miller were one of the most popular styles of boys' clothing of all time. The style gained popularity when Queen Victoria began dressing the young princes in this manner, although such suits were even more popular in Germany, France and the USA than in England. The fact that many European royals dressed their children in the sailor style would have held great appeal for the middle classes and explains the proliferation of these garments. 

Ringlet curls like the ones seen on Keith Miller were often worn by young boys wearing sailor suits or the Little Lord Fountelroy suit, a similar garment to the sailor suit. Boys' mothers often hand-curled their sons' hair, a testiment to the time and energy families were prepared to invest in their appearance for special occasions.         

Where did this information come from?

New South Wales Births Deaths and Marriages Register

David Jones Website, David-Jones

Ellen McCarthur, "The Role of the department stores in the evolution of marketing: Primary Source records from Australia",;jsessionid=6CF6C591481E74C4E652724667C42FD8?sequence=1

Moree Historical Society, "Moree Town History",


  1. Place of origin:

    Campelltown, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Keith Miller, son of Thomas Edward Miller and Laura Australia Miller.

  3. Worn by:

    Keith Miller

  4. Occasion(s):

    Special occasions, possibly to church.

  5. Made by:

    Victoria House Clothing, Farmer and Company, Sydney.

Trimmings / Decoration

Side pockets have triangular stitching at top and bottom of opening. There are three dark mother-of-pearl buttons on each lower leg. 

Fibre / Weave

The main fabric is navy blue velvet. The sailor collar is cream velvet and the sleeves are lined with cream and blue striped cotton ticking.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye






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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Metal buttons on fly of trousers and for braces. Dark mother-of-pearl on jacket for decoration, not fastening.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Quilted stiffening on top front of jacket near sleeve opening.


jacket trousers
Neck 540 mm
Chest 660 mm
Waist 660 mm 580 mm
Hip 720 mm 700 mm
Cuff 220 mm
Hem circumference 720 mm
Front neck to hem 450 mm
Front waist to hem 430 mm
Back neck to hem 450 mm
Back waist to hem 485 mm
Sleeve length 380 mm
Inside leg 200 mm
Outside leg 435 mm
Neck to sleeve head 110 mm
Cross back 250 mm
Underarm to underarm 320 mm
Convert to inches


Stained around waist of trousers


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


  1. Stained
  2. Worn
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