Introducing High Street Histories

Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260743 Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260743

Fashion retail and manufacture represents an important segment of our state’s economy, culture, and society—it tells the big stories of Queensland’s past. Sadly this history has largely gone unrecorded. Most major department store buildings have been demolished or transformed, and contemporary shopping districts offer few clues about how fashion was produced and consumed in decades past.

Wallace Bishop Arcade Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, 1939
Wallace Bishop Arcade Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, 1939. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 71755

What has fashion retail and manufacture in Queensland looked like over time? How has our high street changed? What makes a successful fashion business?

High Street Histories is a new online series that uncovers the history of Queensland fashion business. Original research revisits lost and forgotten people and places: the designers, dressmakers, tailors, factory workers, shop assistants, managers, window dressers, and the boutiques, department stores, warehouses, arcades, and emporiums.

Women queuing outside a shop in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1953
Women queuing outside a shop in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1953. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 201999

High Street Histories comprises sixteen new profiles: the who, what, where, when and why of Queensland fashion. Written by co-directors of The Fashion Archives, Nadia Buick and Madeleine King, the project follows a six month Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship undertaken at the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

McWhirters catalogue, Autumn 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Record: 730793
McWhirters catalogue, Autumn 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Record: 730793

The John Oxley Library is one of our richest local resources for researching Queensland fashion history. It’s like a shopping list of clues to our sartorial past: catalogues, advertising, photographs, design sketches and scrapbooks, receipts, press materials, stationary, business records, sample books, and letters.

Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, viewing opals at the Queensland gem display in the Australia Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908
Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, viewing opals at the Queensland gem display in the Australia Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 190846

The Queensland fashion industry has been overlooked as a subject of rigorous research, but that’s not to say that this topic lacks interest. While some important work has been done, there are countless other stories that remain untold.

Bayards delivery van in view at intersection of Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane, 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 82490 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/76646
Bayards delivery van in view at intersection of Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane, 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 82490

High Street Histories reveals incredible stories of change, transformation, survival, and collapse as wars, economic depressions, modernity, interstate and global competition have taken their toll. The Queensland fashion businesses explored offer insights into how fashion makers and sellers have, or have not, weathered the storm. Some made the bold move of expanding when the going got tough, while others were dramatically downsized. Some diversified and explored other industries to supplement their fashion enterprises. Some succeeded in developing fashion brands so strong that major interstate competitors entered bidding wars to purchase them. Some held their ground, and maintained loyal local customers for over a century with old-fashioned service and values. Others disappeared without a trace.

Three women in evening gowns at a fashion parade at the Carlton Hotel in 1931
Three women in evening gowns at a fashion parade at the Carlton Hotel in 1931. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 102522

In a moment when names like Topshop and Zara dominate, and our former fashion empires remain only as faded names on old façades, these stories reveal a high street that once looked very different to the one we know today. High Street Histories is a timely reminder that Queensland once had a distinctive, thriving, and diverse fashion scene.

View all 16 High Street Histories profiles here:

Paula Stafford
McDonnell & East

Cribb & Foote
Pike Brothers

Bayards
Ponds

Marsh & Webster

Nissens

McWhirters
Ivy Hassard
Stewarts
Allan & Stark
T. C. Beirne
Pigott & Co.
Players Sportswear
Finney Isles & Co.
Researching Queensland’s fashion business history
Paula Stafford, Henry Talbot, & Spike Milligan