This evening dress with matching jacket is labelled "Misses Mooney, 189 Collins Street Melbourne" and was made in the mid 1930s. It is typical of the type of elegant evening dresses worn by women in the 1930s and is a good example of quality Australian fashion from that period. It is also an excellent example of an early use of the man-made fibre rayon.
The fashionable look for women in the interwar period changed around 1930 from the linear, gamine look of the twenties in favour of softer, more fluid streamlined clothes that accentuated the female body. The look was popularised by the glamorous stars of Hollywood. Full length, backless evening dresses were a thirties fashion innovation. Softer fabrics were used to mould the body and fall into drapes. This new fluidity was achieved by cutting the dress material on the bias or across the grain of the fabric to give it more elasticity and draping quality. The bias cut technique was not new but taken up and perfected in the 1930s. The bias-cut dominated dress design during the 1930s and was encouraged by a general revival of interest in classical art; evening dresses were especially suitable for recreating the soft drapery of Antique statues.
Another significant feature of the dress is the fabric. Rayon is a generic term for mad-made fibre composed of regenerated cellulose derived from trees, cotton and woody plants. This man made fibre was developed in the 1800s but technical improvements between the wars made it a more popular fabric for dresses although it was never as popular as silk. It was first used in 1910 to manufacture hosiery and known as artificial silk before the word rayon was coined in 1925. The bold stylised floral pattern against a black background is typical of textiles fashionable in the early 1930s. It is likely the fabric was imported from Europe or America.
Little is known about the maker Misses Mooney of 189 Collins Street. Melbourne at that time had a thriving clothing industry with many small dressmaking establishments. It is likely the original owner of this dress had it made especially for her as off-the-rack quality fashion developed after WW2.
Nothing is known of the original wearer as the donor of the dress purchased it in an antique shop in Sydney.
The Powerhouse Museum has an extensive costume collection with a focus on Australian fashion. This dress complements a small group of Australian made fashions worn during the interwar period.
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