One thing that has changed vastly during the last seventy years, is clothing. Our fashion and way of dressing came originally from England with the early settlers, but it is strange that it took so long for men and women to adjust to the different climate.
Men, for instance, were not properly dressed unless in a three-piece suit, with shirt buttoned up to the neck and a stiff collar with tie. My father wore white shirts to work with long sleeves and always a stiff collar. These collars, cold-starched, were ironed and polished with a polishing iron, a flat-iron with a rounded bottom. We sent our mens collars to the Chinese laundry, cost 2d. each. We did learn to do them up when we went to the cooking school, but one still seemed to manage to get a black smudge on them from the ironand we were glad to let “John” have them. Long white trousers with open-necked shirts were worn for sport, but it was many years before shorts were permitted. In the ‘twenties, soft collars were introduced, but these fitted around the neck and must have been hot.
Women’s clothing was as bad, although they changed quicker. I remember my mother always wore boned collars when she went out. In fact, Auntie Myrtle, always more practical, wore a slightly open collar to her mother’s funeral, and people were shocked. “She insulted her mother’s memory”.
Blouses were heavily trimmed with lace and embroidery with pintucks and fancy stitching, and skirts were ankle length and full and heavy, worn over petticoats, flounced and lace-trimmed. These were starched stiff and you can imagine the ironing!
At about 16, girls let down their skirts and put up their hair. The first short hair was introduced during the War, and spread fairly quickly. Women wore stays, a heavily-boned corset tightly laced, to give the appearance of a tiny waist. I was thankful that this was no longer the done thing when I reached adolescence. I hated restrictive clothing the, and still do. I do remember when I was 15, remarking to one of the Church girls, that I had never worn a corset. She was horrified and told me my figure would be ruined! Stockings were mainly black – cashmere or lisle, very hot and uncomfortable during summer.
Little girls pants were buttoned on to a bodice with a flap-trap at the back. Quite a lot of work went into the making of these, which were worn down to the knees and lace-edged. It took quite a while for my mother to come to terms with elastic waisted bloomers. She was sure that the elastic around our waists could not be healthy for us. Our petticoats, also lace-trimmed, had short sleeves. As children we were made to wear boots, good solid ones. My father had an idea that wearing boots would strengthen our ankles, so we wore boots and hated them. I remember a pair of patent leather shoes that Auntie Myrtle bought for me with white socks to go with them. How I loved those “shiny shoes”, and of course, as money was always scarce, I was permitted to wear them.
Boys all wore short trousers until adolescence, when they went into “long-uns”.This was quite an occasion, and was usually accompanied by a lot of teasing from the family.Now little boys wear jeans and shorts are for casual wear.
Women shed their shackles sooner than men, appearing in light frocks with short sleeves during the hot weather, their male counterparts still sweltering in navy blue serge. I think it was pretty well into the ‘twenties that there were rumblings and even talk of a Men’s Dress Reform League, and gradually common-sense prevailed and cooler clothing was worn. I remember even after I married, the Bank Manager’s wife saying that she would not permit a man in her drawing room dressed in shorts. Bathers were “neck to knee” with short sleeves. Boys were permitted to wear “vees” in their own baths, but on carnival days, had to appear in one-piece suits. We felt very daring when we had our bathing suits finishing half-way between the knee and thigh. Myrtle (b 1906)
When I turned 12 in the mid 50’s, I was presented with a pair of “long-uns”. Long trousers were still a sign of becoming a man. High School uniform included long serge trousers and a shirt and school tie. Shorts were only worn at PT sessions and during sport afternoons. Bathers still had short legs and high waists for swimming carnivals. In the latter half of the 1950s, concerns that Australia’s teenagers, and especially working-class teenagers, were becoming delinquent reached a crescendo. Law-abiding citizens observed with concern bodgies and widgies congregating in milk bars and on street corners. Violence and sexual license were their hallmarks, they believed, with alarmist and sensationalist media reports having established and fuelled these understandings. The Bodgies and Widgies gathered, in Western Australia, at the “Snakepit” on Scarborough Beach for Friday and Saturday night dances. This a part of the new evil, Rock and Roll Music. While the young men wore trousers and collar and ties, they also wore “Desert Boots”, crepe rubber soled shoes. The young women wore tight black pants and smoked in public! Denim jeans became the uniform of the next generation of both male and female teenagers in the late 60’s. T-Shirts became popular at the same time. John (1944)
Mourning clothes were black. Where men could not afford to buy a black suit, they wore a black armband to denote a death in the family. Widows wore deep black for nine months, and then came out of mourning gradually, wearing perhaps a white blouse with a black skirt. Some even had black-edged handkerchiefs. It was King George Vth during the 1st World War who asked that people did not wear mourning for their soldiers, as most of the community would be in black, which would be most depressing. From this the custom gradually disappeared, for which we give thanks. Some used black-edged stationery for months after a death and sympathy cards were all black-bordered. Myrtle (b 1906)