This girls dress, made from the fabric of another dress, is an exceptional example of how children's clothing followed adult fashion during the early to mid-nineteenth century (1820-1860). Additionally, it illustrates the conservation of clothing in the colony and the common practice of recycling older garments to create something new and in style and at little monetary cost. Evidence of this practice is rare, making this costume a particularly interesting example of colonial dress.
By the mid-1840s girl's fashion had become more restrictive and oppressive than ever. In weight, suitability to climate, evenness in covering, consideration for activity and healthy development, Mrs Merrifield (author of ?Dress as a fine art,' 1854) found girl's clothing totally deficient: ?the dress of children, especially, appears to be exceedingly fantastic in its character and with regard to that of girls, is ill-adapted to ensure the enjoyment of health and the perfect development of the figure.' Clothing for children in this period restrained healthy growth of the child, a Victorian status symbol with scant regard to comfort.
This pattern of dress continued through into the 1860s, with variations in fabric rather than shape or construction. Long, fitted bodices were set off by long sleeves for day or by short, puffed or ?butterfly' sleeves for evening. The fabric of the dress is a check silk, which became almost universal in the 1840s and remained popular until the late 1860s. It was not the most practical material for children's clothing and was unsuited to active play. Well-off girls were expected to keep clean because their rich silk dresses would not have been regularly washed. Only undergarments received a weekly wash.
Well-to-do young girls were dressed in miniature versions of their mothers' clothes, only with shorter skHirts and visible broderie anglaise drawers or cambric trousers peeping out from underneath. This practice reflected prevailing attitudes to childhood. Children were in some ways still regarded as small adults. They ate adult food, played adult games and wore clothes that followed the ever-changing vagaries of adult fashion.
Jade Kanas, curatorial intern, December 2015.
Elizabeth Ewing, ?History of Children's Costume.'
Anne Buck, ?Clothes and the Child.'
Clare Rose, ?Children's Clothes.'
Marion Fletcher, ?Costume in Australia.'