Friday, 14 April 2017

Ready-made dresses

I have already said that in New Zealand in the 1950s most clothes were home-made.  I can really only remember having three 'bought' dresses before I was about twelve, although I will say that our thick winter skirts, made of such things as Harris tweed, were made by a dressmaker.  What I remember about her was going to her house for fittings and she had pins in her mouth!  At a very early age we had been taught NEVER to do that, which I think is why I have not forgotten.  With these skirts we wore hand knitted pullovers (called jumpers in NZ) usually in oatmeal colours.  They were generally knitted by my maternal grandmother.  My sister and I generally had the same outfits which meant she, as the younger one, had to work her way not only through the one made for her but, when she was a bit bigger, the one in the larger size which had been made for me!  I think it put her off 'hand-me-downs' for life!

Anway, I can only remember having three dresses that were not made by my mother.  First there was a red and white checked number which was supposed to have been designed by Norman Hartnell.  A likely story but it was given to our family by an English family whose daughter did not want it or had grown out of it.  I do not have a photo of it.  Both the other dresses were bought when I was about eight.  We had just moved to Wellington which meant there were department stores and I am not sure why I was privileged to get these two dresses.  It was certainly considered a treat.

The first one was a party dress.  We did not have 'party dresses' in Hastings although I do remember going to birthday parties where perhaps other people had special dresses.  I am on the right in this photo.  I am not sure what the dress was made of but probably voile as party dresses were supposed to be filmy.  It was yellow and you can just make out that it has puff sleeves.

The second dress was completely different but I was very fond of it.

It was blue denim and came into the category of 'sun dress' although it was quite covered up.  It had a heart-shaped neckline and a gathered skirt, I seem to remember.  I remember that at this stage of our lives our casual summer wear was generally denim shorts and striped T-shirts or gingham shirts/blouses.  In this photo my younger sister who must have been about four, is wearing the standard dress.  Although we wore shorts in summer I distinctly remember that for most of my childhood I never wore trousers in winter.  Of course, jeans did not exist but I do not know whether the fact that my father hated women in trousers had anything to do with it.  I distinctly remember being invited by a cousin when I was about thirteen to stay at their beach house in the the winter school holidays and that my mother set to and made me a pair of trousers for this.  I seem to remember they were tartan wool.  From then on I had a pair of winter trousers but again, I do not have any photos of them.

Of course, we wore school uniform five days a week so we only had one 'posh' winter skirt for going to church and the trousers.  I cannot remember if we had more skirts in the years when I did not wear trousers at all.  What I do remember is that we had very few 'mufti' clothes - more for summer because of the long summer holidays but in winter there were only two breaks of two or three weeks from school: one in May and one in August.  As there was no Christmas or other festival during this period, what to wear was not important.


  1. I remember having a winter kirt attached to a calico bodice. I had to wear a woolen jumper to hide the bodice. No matter how hot I was, that jumper had to stay on!

    1. We had wincyette bodices (I think). Definitely had to have something because little girls do not have waistlines, or so we were told. And then the jumper that hid it.