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What the Frock!

Special occasions are often ritualised by dressing up, sending cards, giving presents, holding parties, eating special foods and beverages, making resolutions and ordeals. But no occasion is really special without THAT really remarkable frock!

At the opening of this exhibition, which ran from December 2022 until November 2023, Guest Speaker Kate Bird, of Colour Me Kate in Darlington, enthralled everyone with her knowledge of colour and style. 

The exhibition featured dresses, garments and accessories worn at weddings, funerals, burials, balls, christenings, and other celebrations, as well as a display of tattoo instruments and inks.


The oldest wedding garment on display in the exhibition was a silk and lace blouse worn by Pollie in 1834, and the most recent one worn by Kate of Darlington in November 2022.

Some of these items are in the MHHS collection, others have been kindly loaned for the exhibition.

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Rites of Passage

Four Main Types of Social Movement

According to Arnold van Gennep there are four main types of social movement:

  1. The passage of people from one status to another: marriage or initiation to a new social or religious group.

  2. The passage from one place to another: country, territory or home.

  3. The passage of one situation to another: a new job, new school, finishing school, college or university.

  4. The passage of time, often when whole social groups celebrate: New Year, new reign of King or Queen.

These occasions are often ritualised by dressing up, sending cards, giving presents, holding parties, eating special foods and beverages, making resolutions and ordeals. 


Why White?

The Essential White Wedding Gown

Did you know that wedding gowns in the Western world were not traditionally white until the mid nineteenth century? If a bride was not rich or royal, she wore whatever colour their best dress just happened to be. For very wealthy brides it was blue or gold. It wasn't until 1840 when Queen Victoria wore a white dress when she married Prince Albert that it became fashionable for brides to wear white. At the time a white gown was not to denote purity, but rather to denote status and wealth to the wearer and her family, as a white dress was harder to keep clean and maintain and was also far more expensive once worn by a Queen!


In some Asian countries, wedding gown colours were traditionally based on the seasons - green in spring, red in summer, yellow in autumn, and black in winter. It is customary for Chinese brides to wear red, to symbolise health, wealth and longtime happiness.    

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The Passing of Time

From Gowns to Mini Dresses

Fashions change, but many fashions find themselves resurrected and restyled decades later. Step into the museum and explore the gowns and dresses that have shaped not only the fashions of yesteryear, but that inform the fashion of the present day. 


There is also a display of tiny dresses from Angel Gowns, a not-for-profit charity who create and gift baby burial garments to bereaved Australian families. The team of talented dressmakers use re-cycled wedding dresses and customised patterns to make signature angelic and elegant styles.



Evening and Daywear

What did your Mum wear to the dance?

Chances are that when your mother or grandmother went out dancing, she got dressed up for the occasion, as did their male partners. The dance was not just about gliding around on the dance floor - it was also a parade of clothes! 

Up until the late 1960s, when a woman went shopping in the city she likely wore a day-suit, or a pretty dress, accessorised with a hat and a handbag, and always with stockings and well looked after shoes - even if it was 40 degrees in the shade!

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The Evolution of Lingerie

Hard or soft, your smalls evolved with the fashion of the day

From hard structured bras and corsets to soft filmy slips, nightgowns, and other undergarments, lingerie styles reflect the relationship between your body and your clothes, changing shape and form along with the style of your clothes. 


Using the Body as a Permanent Display

Identity, kinship, initiation, love, respect

A fantastic display of tattoo instruments and inks is on loan from the Celtic Circle Tattoo in Kalamunda.


Traditionally people used their body to make a permanent display of their role and place in society, their tribal indentity and kinship, often following an initiation ritual. Now we often see body art to display one's love of someone who has passed away. 

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Past Exhibitions

Click on exhibition image for more information

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