Madeleine King, Nadia Buick

The Fashion Archives: a brief introduction

The Fashion Archives is a new online publication that reveals the untold story of Queensland fashion from the late 19th century onwards. It features curated and commissioned content from some of the state’s most illustrious collections, designers, artists, historians, and industry leaders.

The Fashion Archives is a collaboration between curators and researchers Madeleine King and Nadia Buick. We are deeply curious about fashion and dress, which we regard as windows into both the exceptional and the everyday moments of society, and culture, over time. Through The Fashion Archives we aim to illustrate the complex relationship between fashion and history, however, this is not a strictly historical project. As curators from interdisciplinary backgrounds, we seek to present a variety of information through the multi-faceted lens (equal parts sociology, anthropology, media & cultural studies, and art history) that is fashion. The content is disseminated through features that create new juxtapositions between historical artefacts and contemporary design.

The Fashion Archives draws on a variety of sources for its material, from small historical associations and private collections, through to large public institutions. One of the main aims of the project is to highlight the breadth of material that exists in Queensland, but to date has been known only to experts and scholars, such as curators, librarians, and historians. Through the creation of an online publication, The Fashion Archives seeks to make these objects, images, garments, and histories accessible and interesting to a diverse audience, wherever they happen to be located.

The Fashion Archives is a selective⎯rather than exhaustive⎯picture of Queensland fashion and dress. The information uncovered is presented each fortnight in unique permanent features that will, with each new issue, add greater depth to the project’s exploration of Queensland’s style.

Queensland Style?

Queensland has a complicated identity. An expansive region, (the second largest state in Australia at 1.7 million square kilometres), the key feature of Queensland might be its geographic, climatic, and social diversity. Within its borders are harsh rural outposts, lush tropical rainforests and increasingly population-dense regional and urban centres. However, culturally speaking, many Australians view Queensland in more homogenous⎯and often pejorative⎯terms. If Australia has been historically viewed as receiving European and American culture second-hand, then Queensland is perhaps twice removed. Over-sunned and too remote, this northern state is typically dismissed by its savvier southern counterparts as betraying a gauche, derivative, superficial or provincial approach to culture and taste. Where its natural beauty, tropical climate, and relaxed attitude are seen as major assets for tourism and lifestyle, these qualities are often considered somehow anathema to the high-minded pursuits of aesthetics, philosophy, or literature, for example.

The Fashion Archives is not necessarily an attempt to redress these stereotyped perceptions of Queensland culture. In fact, it may in part serve to reinforce them. The project asks whether Queensland exhibits a distinctive style and explores many facets of the state’s approach to culture: those that are sophisticated and unique; those that may be viewed as embarrassing missteps; and those that might be seen as more or less indistinct from broader national or international trends.

The Trouble with Fashion

Frequently maligned and overlooked (much like Queensland!), the material artefacts of fashion and dress have often been neglected within broader social, cultural and political histories. This neglect occurs despite⎯or perhaps because of⎯the insights they offer into the lives and concerns of women. The close relationship between women and their clothing has been perceived in terms of frivolity and indulgence (Hanson, 1990). Increasingly⎯and mostly in an academic context⎯fashion and dress have begun to be valued as distinctive elements of visual and material culture. In recent decades, the field of fashion curation has expanded, with more and more high-profile fashion exhibitions appearing in museums. The Fashion Archives acknowledges this growth, while attending to gaps that still exist in the areas of fashion and dress research.

Conventional histories generally position fashion within a high-end design context that emanates from the so-called centres of Paris, London, Milan and New York. Such fashion histories exclude a range of other contexts for the development and dissemination of Western fashion design, such as other geographic locations, cultural complexities, and domestic practices such as dress-making. The Fashion Archives, therefore, takes Queensland as its starting point⎯a large state encompassing metropolitan areas, small and large rural and regional towns, climatic extremes, and indigenous and ethnically diverse populations⎯in order to deliberately explore an under-examined context for fashion and dress. We are not alone in our desire to cover this ground, and openly acknowledge the valuable work of key figures such as dress historians Margaret Maynard, Michael Marendy, Bonnie English, Jennifer Craik (among others), and exciting projects such as The Australian Dress Register in paving the way for this project .

To create a project like The Fashion Archives takes the work of many contributors and supporters. We have been proud to work with Patrick King, our designer, web developer and technical advisor to realise the site and the overall look and feel of The Fashion Archives. Many individuals, from well-known and emerging designers through to respected historians, will be contributing to The Fashion Archives (check out their Q&As), and we are grateful for their insight and generosity. In future we also hope to include user-generated content and stories. Featuring everyday perspectives alongside official histories and designer contributions is imperative to the mission statement of the project: to paint a diverse picture of Queensland dress and fashion, past and present.

Fashion Parade, Brisbane City Hall, 1988
Fashion Parade, Brisbane City Hall, 1988Brisbane City Council
Althea Fewings canoeing on Toowong Creek, Brisbane ca. 1900
Althea Fewings canoeing on Toowong Creek, Brisbane ca. 1900John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 150112.
Beside the sea at Redcliffe Beach, 1917
Beside the sea at Redcliffe Beach, 1917John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 240930
Six Miss Australia finalists at the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary, 1967
Six Miss Australia finalists at the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary, 1967Gold Coast City Council Local Studies Library. Photographer: Bob Avery
Madeleine and Nadia's Reading List:
  • Hanson, Karen. 1990. "Dressing Down Dressing Up - the Philosophic Fear of Fashion".  Hypatia 5(2): 107-121.
  • Maynard, Margaret. 2001. Out of Line: Australian Women and Style. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
  • Smith, Terry. 1974. "The Provincialism Problem". Artforum XIII (1): 54-9.
  • Wilson, Elizabeth. 1985. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. London: Virago.
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Published in , on August 27, 2013.