1970s

Fashion in the Sixties and Seventies

Fashion is influenced by many factors but often reflects what is happening in society at the time. The textile collection at the Museum includes garments that reflect these changes.  An exciting time of change was the 1960s and 1970s when the way people dressed was an obvious sign of shifting attitudes.

1. Merle Higgie dress

 Mrs Merle Higgie wore this evening dress of orange chiffon with stitched orange flowers on the sleeves in the 1970s. It was created by Camette, a New Zealand design company based in Auckland.
Ref: 1995.60.2

In the early 1960s, Western economies and populations were booming. Young peoples’ income was the highest it had been since the end of World War II. This increased economic independence for youth, fuelled a new sense of identity and the need to express it. The dramatic changes started largely in the USA and Europe with styles influenced by the youth sub-cultures of the Beatniks (who rejected the mainstream in favour of artistic self-expression) and the Mods (because they listened to modern jazz music). The Mods in particular helped focus the tastes of young people everywhere, and inspired the look of bands like The Who and The Beatles. The fashion industry quickly responded by replicating their styles, creating designs for the young fans to imitate their heroes. This decade was the first era when young peoples’ clothes were different from those worn by their parents.

New Zealand was usually several years behind the world in terms of fashion, but with the advent of television, young Kiwis were immediately able to copy what was happening overseas. In 1962 there were only 23,000 television licence holders nationwide, but this increased to more than half a million by 1968. Television shrank the world, and by the mid-1960s, New Zealand young folk were wearing the same styles as their contemporaries overseas.

This decade saw traditional dress codes broken with women wearing trousers and showing more and more leg. The mini-skirt, popularised by English designer, Mary Quant, quickly earned its place as the decade’s most iconic look. Others chose to bare very little by choosing the maxi skirt. By the 1970s skirt length had become the midi; mid length, around the knee.

It was not just the hem line that changed. Colour in clothing also went to extremes. What had been a muted or pastel colour pallet until the late 1950s became bright and bold, and many people were wearing combinations of colours and patterns that intensified their startling effects.

The late 1960s saw the beginnings of the hippie movement when bellbottom pants first came into fashion, becoming even more popular during the 1970s. The styles from the later 1960s tended to be more androgynous and quite free flowing. They mimicked the social mind-sets of the era and were inspired by eastern cultures and political activities, such as the Vietnam War.

The 1960s also saw a move to incorporate the new man-made materials developed during World War II and for the space programme. Perspex, PVC, polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, Spandex, vinyl and others were fabrics of choice for new young designers wanting to create easy-care outfits that were eye-catching and fun.

Whanganui produced some of its own designers who became influential, on the world stage, as well as nationally. Whanganui-born Philip Shortt entered the Benson and Hedges Fashion Design Awards, New Zealand’s major competitive fashion event that ran for 34 years between 1964-1998, three times, from 1969 to 1971, all with success; he received merit awards in 1969 and 1970 and won the Supreme Award in 1971. Shortt studied at the Fashion School, Royal College of Arts in London. As he established his career he went on to dress Margaret Thatcher and designed the women’s uniform for the British Constabulary.

Rosalie Gwilliam, also from Whanganui, entered the Benson and Hedges Award competitions throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with considerable success. She is well represented, with 26 examples of her work, in the Eden Hoar collection of New Zealand fashion; this was developed by a farmer from Nasby and was the largest private collection of New Zealand fashion in existence.

2. Annette Main dress

 This black crepe and gold thread cocktail gown was created by Michael Mattar of Taumarunui, and was purchased and worn by former Mayor of Whanganui, Annette Main, in the 1960s.
Ref: 2013.9.2

The fashion industry of the 1960s not only changed what was worn, but how clothing was purchased. Old-style department stores were abandoned for boutique experiences. At the same time, there was more mass production, which made keeping fashionable more affordable. Whanganui businesses catered specifically for the new youth market with two new shops called Teen Scene and La Boutique, both in Victoria Avenue. Taumarunui could also boast a top-class fashion store, that of Michael Mattar’s Haut Couture boutique. At the height of his fame in the 1960s, women would travel from Auckland and Wellington to purchase his exquisite cocktail gowns.

 

By Trish Nugent-Lyne, Collection Manager at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Whanganui in the Seventies

1. Wanganui City BridgeThe decade got off to a good start with the new Wanganui City Bridge nearing completion. For years the old Town Bridge had served the city well but by the end of the sixties increasing traffic flows made it hazardous. During the opening ceremony on 14 December 1970, an RNZAF fly-over enthralled the crowd of 5,000, all standing on the bridge for the first time. Messages of congratulations came from around the world, and 19 traffic officers, aided by police and Legion of Frontiersmen, kept everything under control.

2. Jerusalem CommuneIt is March 1971 and in a commune at Hiruhārama, or Jerusalem, by the Whanganui River, are followers of the famous poet and guru James K Baxter, on the porch of one of the settlement’s old houses.

3. BaxterThe iconic image of Baxter could well have been one of the last ever taken. He died in Auckland less than a year later on 25 October 1972. His body was returned to the place he loved and his grave can be found today on a hill above the church at Jerusalem.

4. Rob Muldoon1972 was election year and the Deputy Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, came to Wanganui to campaign. He was met with strong local support and a thin line of protesters. A bomb hoax caused some alarm but was largely ignored. Later a youth was arrested and charged with misuse of a telephone. Here Mr Muldoon and the local national candidate, W G Tolhurst, are surrounded by police and well-wishers on the stairs of the Concert Chamber in the War Memorial Hall. In spite of Wanganui’s enthusiasm, success was not to go National’s way in 1972. After the election the Kirk Labour Government took the reins of power.

5. Gillian WeirIn September 1973 world-famous organist Gillian Weir was back in Wanganui to give a concert as part of a New Zealand tour. The Wanganui Chronicle wrote, “Miss Weir took up organ playing in 1957 when Christ Church needed an organist. She won a scholarship to study piano and organ at the Royal College of Music in London, and since then her rise has been meteoric …  Miss Weir said that it was nice to be back in town.”

6. Durie Hill TowerLater that year, the Durie Hill Memorial Tower was fitted with a $3,000 aluminium safety cage as a deterrent to dare-devil youngsters who got their kicks from walking around the parapet. It was also deemed an anti-suicide measure.

7. Castlecliff MoleStormy weather! In this image of 28 January 1976 a local contractor unloads hundred of tonnes of rock to hold back the sea at the mouth of the Whanganui River. The sand spit was under threat and a breach would have meant disaster for the Castlecliff port.

8. Flood in StreetsThe same storm caused flooding throughout the region. For some, though, it was business as usual. Here an Anzac Parade resident waves goodbye to his wife and children as he sets off for just another day at the office.

9. Holly LodgeAlthough unemployment was on the rise in 1976, Norman Garrett and his wife Alza were optimistic. They spent about $250,000 on expanding Holly Lodge and winery. “Imagine this as a wedding reception room”, Mr Garrett told one Chronicle reporter, pointing to the glass house. “Sparkling glass, varnished wooden crates and purple grapes and green leaves overhead.” Here Mr Garrett tests the acidity of a Holly Lodge red wine.

10. Woollen MillsIn November 1977 the Wanganui Woollen Mills installed a compact new gas boiler, seen here on the right. It replaced the old coal-fed units that dated back to the 1920s. The boiler provided steam for the dye house and the piece washing plant.  It was also used for heating and drying. By the following year national unemployment was at a peak of 23,000. But the Woollen Mills managed to keep producing.

11. Peter SnellIn August 1978 Peter Snell returned to Wanganui and the scene of his triumphal race sixteen years earlier. That historic race had attracted a crowd of 15,000, and Peter Snell did not disappoint. He broke the world record for the four minute mile, and beat the other six competitors by 5.6 seconds. This event gave Cooks Gardens and Wanganui a special place in sporting history.

12. Wanganui Stadium MuralThis magnificent mural was hoisted into place in the Wanganui Sports Stadium In August 1979. It was designed by James Kirkwood and six art students from Wanganui High helped him paint it. It provided a colourful backdrop for Wanganui’s athletes and was a reminder of the diversity of the city, with its excellence in sport, the arts and culture and heritage. 12