1930s Gertrude Mary Vile 'make-do-and-mend' dress

Contributed by: The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles

Front view of dress Close view of buttons Back view of dress Close view of pocket
[Collapse all]

Object information

Significance statement

The Gertrude Mary Vile Depression-era dress is a cream Fuji silk dress, with an Eton collar, a patch pocket and buttons down front, from the 1920s though patched into the 30s. Gertrude, who lived at Gosforth, a rural community about fourteen kilometres from Maitland, patched and darned what was initially a best dress into a house dress, and it survives Gertrude as a statement on the hardship the people of Maitland and Australia at large experienced during the Great Depression, and as an opposing, oft overlooked facet of the Hunter story.

It is the dress’ 1920s and 30s alterations and condition that increase its value. As the depression deepened it became necessary to mend and make do; this dress’ life was prolonged through patching and darning. It became a housedress, and was eventually rescued from the ragbag. It is both representative and also rare, in that make do and mend items of clothing do not often survive the ravages of time and are seldom found in museum collections. 

Author: Eloise Maree Crossman, 01.06.2015.


Cream Fuji silk dress, with an Eton collar (with two rows of hemstitching), short sleeves (with turn back cuffs edged with two rows of hemstitching), a patch pocket (with a turn down flap edged with two rows of hemstitching), a plain bodice with five buttons down front and a gored skirt. 

While the dress is from the 1920s it was patched into the 30s.

History and Provenance

Gertrude ‘Gert’ Mary Vile was born in March 1878 at Gosforth, a rural community about fourteen kilometers from Maitland.

Gert’s grandfather, William Vile, initially acquired land at Gosforth, where he grew wheat and tobacco, then grapes. Robert Vile, Gert’s father, on his land inheritance, gave up grapes altogether and took up dairying and beef cattle and grew orchards of citrus and stone fruits.

Robert married Margaret Mahoney from across the Hunter River and he and his children, George, Gertrude and Ann all worked the property, each doing a share of milking, fruit picking and packing, rounding up the cattle and so on. 

After Robert’s death the land was divided between the three children (the girls never married, and George married his cousin Vera Vile and built an adjoining house).

During the Depression years of the late 20s and early 30s life on the farm was very tough. New Clothes were a luxury and ‘mend and make do’ was the order of the day, hence the condition of the dress in the AMCAT’s keeping.

Gert died in March 1967 aged eighty-nine. 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The Great Depression of 1929-32 was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. For many people this period began before the market crash in prices and lasted until the Second World War (1939-1945).

After the stock market crash on Wall Street (the centre of stock market trading in New York, United States of America), unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930 and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two percent of Australians were out of work.

Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.

Whilst Gert kept her home, she did make do and mend garments. 

Where did this information come from?

Object record and significance statement 

  1. Place of origin:

    Gosforth, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Gertrude Mary Vile 

    (Now owned by The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles, by way of Nell Pyle, founder of AMCAT) 

  3. Worn by:

    Gertrude Mary Vile 

  4. Occasion(s):

    Originally special occasions, then at home 

  5. Place:

    Gosforth and Maitland

Trimmings / Decoration

Hemstitching on collar, cuffs and pocket

Fibre / Weave

Fuji silk 

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye



Dress from the 1920s though patched into the 30s (see Condition) 

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


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

Dress Themes

Originally special occasions, then at home 


Poor; patched, frayed etc

Buttons were replaced in varying shades of fawn and cream and some of the replacements are broken.

The garment is heavily patched in the underarm areas and beside and beneath the underarms both back and front with self-material. 

Evidence of repairs

Dress from the 1920s though patched into the 30s.


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


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