Australian Women’s Weekly: 50 years of fashion*

31 May

On a crisp (ha! Watch the adjectives as we move through the next five months of winter) Canberra night, women descend on the National Library of Australia. These aren’t ordinary women – they’re decked out in fashion from the 1950s to the 80s to celebrate the launch of the Australian Women’s Weekly book of 50 years of fashion.

There are a number of special guests, including the face of this year’s Fashfest, Belinda Riding, and of course, co-authors Deborah Thomas (Australian Women’s Weekly) and Kirstie Clements (Vogue).

Belinda Riding launches the evening

Belinda Riding launches the evening; Belinda bought her jacket back in the late 80s expecting it would last the test of time… guess what – it has!

While this is an event to launch the book (The Australian Women’s Weekly Fashion: The First 50 Years), what we’re really here for is the fashion – and the stories about the fashion.

Deborah Thomas and Kirstie Clements

Deborah Thomas and Kirstie Clements (and a hat)

There’s no one better equipped to do it than Charlotte Smith. Heard of her? About a decade ago, her godmother, Quaker Doris Darnell bequeathed her collection of clothes. This wasn’t an ordinary collection: Darnell had been collecting clothes from as far back as the 1930s, with many clothes gifted to her. She had documented many of them: from whom they’d come, where they’d been worn. It was 1200 kilograms of clothes (!) and took an age to get through Customs because it comprised a whole range of things that wouldn’t normally be let into Australia.

Charlotte speaking proudly and passionately about her grandmother's collection - while wearing a vintage piece

Charlotte speaking proudly and passionately about her grandmother’s collection – while wearing a vintage piece

Fellow blogger Megan from thegirlhassparke.com looking stunning in a vintage dress

Fellow blogger Megan from thegirlhassparke.com looking stunning in a vintage dress

Megan's full outfit!

Megan’s full outfit!

Since then, Charlotte has grown the collection – so much so that it’s now known as the Charlotte Smith Collection. From 3000 items bequeathed to her, the collection is now more than 8500 – most of which are given to her. There are 700 hats – the earliest is from the 1820s woven from Norfolk straw – as well as 400-500 handbags, and 400-500 pairs of shoes (not including Charlotte’s own personal shoe collection, hovering at around 150 pairs).

Fashion through the ages... lasted the test of time!

Fashion through the ages… lasted the test of time! Love the sunnies.

For Charlotte, ‘vintage’ isn’t the right word. Every piece you own can bring back memories (oh yes) – while we call it vintage, clothes tell the story of people, and the story of fashion.

On display are some rather stunning outfits; rather than being cringeworthy, they’ve survived the test of time – I think they could all be worn today. I especially love the coat dress (ahem Kate Middleton ahem) and the slim, stylish bags.

Deborah, Kirstie and Charlotte talk fashion

Deborah, Kirstie and Charlotte talk fashion

Could wear today (maybe sans the gloves...)

Could wear today (maybe sans the gloves…)

Definitely wear today - love the print!

Definitely wear today – love the print!

Gorgeous - again, still fashionable!

Gorgeous – again, still fashionable!

Lovely looking ladies

Lovely looking ladies

Apart from this small fashion show, Deborah’s admission that she turned down a couture dress (!), and some delicious canapes and drinks, the formalities end here. There’s music and opportunity to buy the book and have it signed by its authors, but I’d love to see a longer fashion show or an exhibition of Charlotte Smith’s collection (especially if it can be matched with shots from the AWW!).

* I attended as a guest of the National Library of Australia

Date: Friday, 30 May 2014

Where: National Library of Australia, Parkes

Cost: I attended as a guest of the National Library

Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile

Want more? If you’re after the book, try here. If you’re interested in the Darnell/Charlotte Smith collection, try here.

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2 Responses to “Australian Women’s Weekly: 50 years of fashion*”

  1. Charlotte Smith June 1, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Thank you for such a beautifully written story. This was one of the most exciting evenings showcasing women, beauty and fashion I have had in Australia. I enjoyed every minute and would LOVE to come back to install a major exhibition to include many fabulous pieces from the collection. Charlotte

  2. LadyxBec June 21, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    That sounds like it was amazing! I really wish I’d gone

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