Bygone beauty

As our Snapshot Gallery exhibition, Bygone beauty, draws to a close, we thought we’d share the images that formed part of this show.

Bygone beauty was on exhibition from 22 November 2020 – 14 March 2021 at Hurstville Museum & Gallery.

While often used synonymously, the terms ‘fashion’ and ‘style’ hold quite different meanings. According to its definition, ‘fashion’ is defined as “the prevailing style during a particular time” while ‘style’ is “a distinctive manner of expression”. ‘Fashion’ generally refers to trends, which change rapidly from season to season; ‘style’ on the other hand is enduring and long-lasting.


Image: Eliza Reynolds, believed to be taken in Queensland, 1880s. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

A popular but controversial garment of the 19th century was the corset. The corset was considered an essential undergarment for women to achieve an hourglass figure. While the popularity of the corset reached its peak in the late 19th century, wearers were also raising concerns about its effects on the body. It’s since been proven an ill-fitting corset can cause a multitude of issues such as restricted breathing.

Eliza Reynold’s life is well documented in the Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection. There are photographs which date from the late 1870s, when she was a child living in Queensland, up until the 1930s. For several decades Eliza and her family lived and worked at the Regent Park dairy farm in Bexley.

Image: Eliza Reynolds and relative, c. 1898. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

Men and women of the colonies were often introduced to the latest fashion trends from new immigrants as they arrived in Sydney by ship. During this time, clothing was predominantly handmade in the household, with a seamstress or tailor employed only for special occasions or hard to make items. As fashions and trends were not contained within their respective decades, the 1890s began to see a slow shift from the hourglass shape to what has been described as an ‘S’ shape, which would go on to define the 1900s. An element of the 1880s that continued in the 1890s was a penchant for decoration.

Womenswear was often embellished with trims such as “ruffles, flounces, and lace”. This trend can be seen in this portrait of Eliza (above), with another woman believed to be her sister-in-law.


Image: Dr James and Margaret Lamrock at their family home, ‘Deuaran’, Belgrave Street, Kogarah NSW, 1897. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

The characteristic silhouette of the 1890s was “a small vertical puff at the shoulder”, a bell-shaped skirt and a nipped in waist which created an hourglass shape.

Dr James Lamrock, and his wife Margaret who can be seen sporting this silhouette, are standing at the front door of their home known as ‘Deuaran’ in 1897. Lamrock and his wife were involved in the establishment of the St George Cottage Hospital, now known as St George Hospital.


Image: Believed to be Croft’s Shop, Forest Road, Hurstville NSW, 1900s. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

The 1900s were a decade of change, transitioning away from the conservative ideals of the Victorian era. As technology advanced and influenced daily life, the manner in which clothing was made began to change. This led to a boom in the ready-to-wear fashion industry. Despite this, it was still common for women, particularly for working class families, to sew their own clothing at home.

While the ‘S’ shape look formed by wearing corsets was highly sought after, women working outside the home required their clothing to be more practical. This led to an increase in popularity for ‘tailor-made’ suits which were introduced in the late 1800s and worn during the early 1900s. These suits were favoured over dresses as they allowed women to simply change their blouse and continue wearing the skirt. This photograph (above) is believed to have been taken outside Croft’s Shop, owned by Arthur Croft. This shop, located between Carrington Avenue and MacMahon Street, Hurstville sold fruit and other groceries from approximately 1898 to 1907.


Image: Settle and Diment Produce and Grocery Store, believed to be Forest Road, Penshurst NSW, 1912. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

Despite subtle changes in details and accessories, men’s fashion changed relatively little for the first half of the 20th century. A three-piece suit was the mainstay of menswear throughout this period and the formality of the garment could be adjusted depending on the occasion.

During this decade, the First World War greatly affected all aspects of daily life, and fashion was no exception. According to fashion historian James Laver, womenswear after the war could be described as “completely tubular”. Skirts were still long, but an attempt was made to confine the body in a cylinder. This style would eventually evolve into the signature look of the 1920s – the flapper.


Image: Fancy dress ball, Mortdale NSW, October 1922. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

During the 1920s, society was still reeling from the effects of World War One, when at the end of the decade the Great Depression occurred. Working class families had to live modestly and ‘make do’ with what they had. For more affluent families, they could afford the latest fashions. Retail shopping reached new heights in the 1920s with the large department stores in the city becoming landmarks.

This photograph captures attendees at the Mortdale Chamber of Commerce fancy dress ball taken in 1922 to celebrate the opening of the new Mortdale Railway Station. This association was established by local business people to advance the district and assist local bodies in the advancement of Mortdale.


Image: Hurstville Public School Teacher Miss Humm, Hurstville NSW, 1936. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection

The tubular shape of womenswear in the 1920s returned to a softer and more feminine silhouette in the 1930s, influenced by Hollywood feature films and its leading stars. Noted fashion icons during this era were Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow. Fashion historian, Cally Blackman, describes this decade’s style as “evolving into a slender, elongated torso with widening shoulders and a neat head with softly waved short hair”. This style is captured in this photograph of Eva Doris Humm, Hurstville Public School teacher of class 1D in 1936. The following year Humm was transferred to Hamilton Girls School, which was an academically selective school.


Image: Barter’s window display, Hurstville NSW, c. 1940s. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

By the 1940s, Hurstville was an established retail hub as people travelled to the area specifically to purchase the latest fashions. This was due to the high density of department stores and arcades located in close proximity to Hurstville Railway Station such as Diment’s, Jolley’s Arcade, Krinks, and Barter’s [pictured].


Image: Forest Road, Hurstville NSW, 1952. Georges River Libraries
Local Studies collection.

After the end of the Second World War, society in Australia resumed a sense of normalcy as restrictions and rationing began to ease. As men returned to the workforce, traditional gender roles became distinguished once again. This strict ideology greatly influenced the fashion of the time, which saw a clear gender divide. For women, the defining look for this era accentuated femininity with a nipped-in waist and full skirt to give a glamourous but conservative look.

Through media such as film and advertisements, women were encouraged to emulate a flawless and formal look both in and outside of the home. There was a freedom to spend more money on formal and glamorous styles, rather than ‘making do’, which both men and women did during the wartime efforts.

Image: St George Festival of Flowers, Hurstville Oval, Hurstville NSW, believed to be 1955. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

This photograph was captured at the St George Festival of Flowers at Hurstville Oval. This festival, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Hurstville, included a procession which was comprised of 12 decorated floats, motor vehicles and several municipal bands.


Image: Group at tennis court, Letitia Street, Oatley NSW, 1960s. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

There were a number of conflicting fashions which emerged during the 1960s. The beginning of the era saw a continuation of the 1950s; one of the biggest influencers during this time was Jacqueline Kennedy whose polished skirt suits were considered the epitome of femininity. The mid-1960s saw the emergence of the mod style which introduced the mini-skirt. By the end of the decade, hemlines fell below the knee once again, as a free-flowing and free-spirited style emerged. This saw a progression towards more casual fashions.

The photograph above captures a group at a tennis court in Letitia Street, Oatley; demonstrating that fashions and trends were not confined to their respective fads but were overarching.

English model Jean Shrimpton attends Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, October 30, 1965.

Fashion during the 1960s was rebellious and ground-breaking as it turned away from the conservative hemlines of previous decades, particularly with the introduction of the mini skirt. The mini skirt and mini dress is credited as having been designed by Mary Quant who opened her first shop, Bazaar, in Chelsea, London in 1955. Quant’s use of block colouring and geometric shapes helped mold the fashion of the swinging Sixties. The mini skirt proved to be both popular and shocking as it was banned in a number of countries around the world.

In 1965, English model Jean Shrimpton caused what has been described as “Australia’s biggest fashion scandal” when she appeared at the Melbourne Cup wearing a mini dress. Despite the scandal, this event exposed Australian women to the progressive styles of the 1960s.


Image: Hurstville Railway Station entrance, Hurstville NSW, 1970s. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

The 1970s saw a continuation of a free-flowing style with a penchant for homemade features such as crochet and patchwork. During this decade, clothing became more accessible as there was an increase in the use of synthetic materials. From these materials, the seventies became known as the ‘Polyester Decade’. Due to the women’s rights movement, women were afforded more opportunities to work outside the home. It became accepted for women to wear more practical clothing, such as pantsuits, which were considered inappropriate in previous decades. For men, this decade encouraged them to wear brighter and bolder suits, and in some instances, fashion became gender neutral in casualwear.


Image: Forest Road and MacMahon Street Intersection, Hurstville NSW, c. 1980. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

The 1980s became an era of experimentation in fashion. Trends of punk and new wave from the 1970s evolved to become known as ‘New Romantic’, adopted by bands and club-goers. This look was ever-evolving and hard to define but incorporated elements of period costume, flamboyance and androgyny. This look was pioneered by musicians such as David Bowie and Boy George. Throughout the decade, the idea of ‘power-dressing’ began to dominate. As women entered the workplace and gained managerial positions, there was an encouragement to dress for the role, which was largely influenced by menswear. These suits incorporated shoulder pads and bold accessories.

What’s been your favourite fashion fad? Let us know in the comments below!


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Hurstville Museum & Gallery, St George Stories: people – places – community exhibition.

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‘Mini skirt ban eased’, The Canberra Times, 18 May 1968, p. 6, viewed 13 September 2020.

‘Mortdale Chamber of Commerce’, The St George Call, 22 September 1922, p. 5, viewed 9 August 2020,

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Reddy, Karina. ‘1970 – 1979: Womenswear’, Fashion History Timeline, last updated 18 August 2019, viewed 15 September 2020,

Reddy, Karina. ‘1980 – 1989: Womenswear’, Fashion History Timeline, last updated 18 August 2020, viewed 15 September 2020,

Safe, Georgina. ‘Sixties model Jean Shrimpton shocks world with first mini skirt’,, 10 October 2015, viewed 13 September 2020

‘Scope and contents – Fancy dress ball’, Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection, viewed 9 August 2020,,4

‘The ultimate guide to the 1980s New Romantic trend’, Beyond Retro Vintage clothing, viewed 15 September 2020,

‘Transfer of teachers’, The Propeller, 18 March 1937, p. 3, viewed 9 August 2020,

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‘Womenswear’, Fashion History Timeline, viewed 8 May 2020,

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