clothing

Health and Beauty Movement

In the early decades of the 20th century, attitudes towards women’s health and beauty began to change. The growth of aestheticism in the 19th century had seen the advent of art appreciated for its beauty rather than its morality, and the belief that beautiful objects – including women – were there for the sole purpose of being admired.

But some women refused to accept such a passive role and the “new woman aesthete was born, a woman interested in experiencing art and beauty in a different and more active way. Mary Bagot Stack was one of these women.

In the early 1900s Stack spent time in India with her husband. She learned yoga and observed the differences in the way women moved when wearing the tight, restrictive European clothing, compared to the loose and free-flowing Indian garb.

She returned to England and attended Mrs Josef Conn’s Institute of Physical Training in London and learned about exercise as a way to stimulate health. Inspired by this and her experiences in India, Stack opened her own fitness centre in 1910, offering both private and public classes.

Post-war attitudes were changing and health professionals were beginning to acknowledge the benefits of exercise and changes in fashion on women’s health, which Stack had previously witnessed and understood. In the 1920s she developed her own system of exercise, set to music, a novelty for the time. This system was also meant to be a social event to help women recently bereaved by the Great War. The programme proved to be so popular that it grew from small classes to a mass movement, which in 1930, was named the Women’s League of Health and Beauty.

1. Poster

 Poster advertising a Demonstration of Health Exercises and Revived Greek Dancing, 1930s-1940s. Ref: 2017.18.8

The exercises were based on the understanding that movement was essential for a healthy life and generated beauty from within, without the need of extensive make-up and other common beauty trappings. The 12 sequences drew from dance, callisthenics, remedial and slimming motions, and rhythmic exercise, and often incorporated Greek dancing and poses. The poses required women to replicate the positions held in classic Greek statues, generating empathy for the work of art and embodying the balance and beauty of it within themselves.

The League’s popularity spread throughout the United Kingdom, then further out to the Commonwealth. Millicent Ward trained as a Health and Beauty Teacher under Stack before immigrating to New Zealand in 1937, settling in Auckland. Ward ran demonstrations and classes, which were very popular among young businesswomen, and was even called upon by some larger companies to offer classes specifically for their female employees.

Demand grew and there was a call for further classes to be opened elsewhere in the country. Ward trained new teachers and the programme spread throughout New Zealand, known here as the Health & Beauty Movement. When invited to the 70th Anniversary Celebrations, Ward recalled her time training new teachers, and in particular mentioned Wynn Newsome who taught classes in Whanganui.

2. Street parade photo

 Photograph of a street parade in Whanganui, with the float of the Health & Beauty Movement in the procession, 1940s. Ref: 2007.19

At the outbreak of World War II many classes around the country were forced to close, but the Whanganui branch remained open. A Whanganui Regional Museum volunteer recalls attending classes in the 1950s, held on Saturdays in the McGruer’s building on Guyton Street, wearing a uniform of white shirt and black sateen romper shorts.

Mary Stack died in 1935 from thyroid cancer, but her daughter, Prunella, took on her work and continued its popularity and growth. Mary Stack’s legacy lives on today with the movement now known as the Fitness League with the motto “Movement Is Life”.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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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.

Wanganui Woollen Mills

Aerial shot of Wanganui Woollen Mills circa 1990

Aerial shot of Wanganui Woollen Mills circa 1990

By Trish Nugent-Lyne, Collection Manager

The Wanganui Woollen Mills was a major feature in the Whanganui and New Zealand business landscape, being at one stage the second largest woollen mill in New Zealand.  Located in Kelvin Street, Aramoho it is now known as SaveMart, a clothing recycling company.

Spinning frame in operation circa 1960s -70s.

Spinning frame in operation circa 1960s -70s.

The Wanganui Woollen Mills started its life in the early 1920s when Whanganui was on the crest of an economic wave and many inhabitants had the drive to create new industries. Mr R D McDonald of Hawick, Scotland, was invited to Wanganui to advise on the feasibility of operating a mill here. Wanganui was thought to be an ideal location for a mill because it was central to a large wool growing area, was a growing distribution centre, and had a potential workforce.

 

A public company was formed at a meeting of business and commercial men, farmers, and investors in March 1920 with a nominal capital of £200,000 in shares raised.  Land was purchased in Aramoho in 1922 and Mr T. H. Battle was commissioned as architect. Eight tenders were received to build the woollen mill, and the award was given to Mr A.G. Bignell in June 1923 for his tender of £25,825. Bignell later became one of the directors of the company.

There was a delay between the forming of the company and the onset of construction which caused some anxiety among shareholders, and some called for the company to go into liquidation before it had even started.  However, by the time machinery was actually purchased from the United Kingdom the costs had subsided and a substantial saving was made. The directors naturally took the credit for delaying the purchase until the market showed such favourable signs.

Official opening of the Wanganui Woollen Mills 12 September 1924

Official opening of the Wanganui Woollen Mills 12 September 1924

The first manager to be appointed, Mr J B Porteous, was from Scotland, as was much of the machinery and several employees. Wanganui Woollen Mills was officially opened by the Governor-General Lord Jellico, Mayor Mr Hope Gibbons, and Chairman of Directors Mr W. J. Polson on 12 September 1924, with a large crowd of locals and other dignitaries gathered to mark the occasion.  It was the twelfth woollen mill to be built in New Zealand  but as it was the first to be driven by electricity it was certainly the most advanced.

Display of Wanganui Woollen Mills products in the D.I.C. windows for the Wanganui Industries Week, 25 February to 2 March 1946.

Display of Wanganui Woollen Mills products in the D.I.C. windows for the Wanganui Industries Week, 25 February to 2 March 1946.

Herbert Holroyd came to manage Wanganui Woollen Mills in the mid-1920s, from his previous position as manager of the Napier Woollen Mills. During the hardship of the early depression years the Mills almost went out of business but in 1931 it was purchased by National Woollen Mills, of which Holroyd was a major shareholder, and became a private company. The Holroyd family was to have a leading role in the Mills with three generations of the Holroyd family managing it.

As well as the familiar blankets, the Mills also produced fabrics for men’s and women’s fashion clothing, including Scottish tweeds with very distinct Whanganui names such as Aramoho, Putiki, and Virginia.  In the mid-1930s the Mills bought out Haydens, a Wellington based clothing company, and moved its operation to the Wanganui plant, adding sports coats, work trousers, skirts and school wear to the production range.

Advertising photographs of the Mills line of Sportswear, samples of which were taken to the U.S.A. in September 1979 by the Managing Director David Holroyd.

Advertising photographs of the Mills line of Sportswear, samples of which were taken to the U.S.A. in September 1979 by the Managing Director David Holroyd.

The Mills continued to expand their range and popularity.  During World War II the Mills went into 24 hour operation producing fabric for uniforms, blankets and other essentials for the war effort.  By the end of the 1950s the Mills started moving away from fashion wear and began to focus more on work garments and sportswear. In the 1980s upholstery fabrics were added to the repertoire and became its leading export product. By 1984 Wanganui Woollen Mills was producing 1,000,000 square metres of cloth making it the second largest woollen mill in New Zealand.

However that economic high was not to last and the effect of aged plant, skyrocketing wool prices, the opening up of the domestic market to cheap foreign goods, as well as the competition provided by the improvement of synthetic fabrics all led to its demise in 1995 when it went into liquidation and was sold with the loss of 110 jobs.

From rags to stitches

From rags to stitches I

Hugh Ramage has prepared a fascinating display entitled Back Stitch: Recollections of Wanganui’s Rag Trade. And he’s just the man to do it. He has also written a book, but we’ll get to that.
The museum display consisted of sewing machines from Hugh’s collection, technical manuals, accessories, photographs, advertising posters and clothing produced by some of Wanganui’s factories.
Hugh’s story follows closely the weft and warp of the rag trade itself, beginning with his stint at the Chilco factory. Hugh had left school and this was his first job back in 1957. His boss was Eric Healey and the factory occupied the building known as Druids’ Hall in Bell St. He was there for more than six years, learning his future trade, maintaining and repairing industrial sewing machines and equipment. Hugh says the biggest thing he had to learn was how to interact with huge numbers of women. Having no sisters and being shy, he says he had to put aside his embarrassment and learn to listen to the machinists when they had a sewing machine problem.
From Chilco he went to Manawatu Knitting Mills in Palmerston North as a sewing machine mechanic. He was there for two years. “I found I was running backwards and forwards between Wanganui and Palmerston North, doing work here [Wanganui] at the weekends, so I took the plunge and went out and worked for myself,” says Hugh. He started Ramage’s Sewing Machine Service, offering a freelance service to the clothing trade.
This brings us to Hugh’s book: In the midst of the boom! Wanganui Clothing Factories 1966 and beyond.
Hugh still has his first sundry debtors’ list from his first year of trading. In effect, it’s a list of Wanganui clothing manufacturers from 1966 and he has used this as the basis of his research. He has compiled stories and facts from each factory, found photographs and interviewed people to make this a fascinating study of Wanganui’s manufacturing history from a unique perspective. It took him six years to put together and it also ties in nicely with his display at the museum. “The book homes in on the period when I started work but it also indicates the boom that was happening in clothing factories,” says Hugh.
Before long, Hugh was offered the Bernina agency and later opened the Bernina Sewing Centre at 138 Victoria Ave. “There was also a boom time in domestic. Machines had been hard to get after the war and Swift, Bernina and other brands were making quite an impact and people were spending money on home sewing machines,” he says. Things went well and he moved into bigger premises next door.
In 1985, he sold up and concentrated in the industrial business once more, until 1993 when Hugh and his wife Elaine opened a store in the Bridge Block (where Jolt is now), selling various brands of domestic machines.
They traded until 2000 then did another five years at an upstairs premises in Drews Ave. By then Hugh had built up an impressive sewing machine collection and Elaine was teaching sewing classes. This place gave them room to move. The collection of some 50 domestic machines – all restored and most in working order – is destined to be shown someday, perhaps as part of Ed Boyd’s museum complex, which is where they’re stored.

Union Special Overlocker

Union Special Overlocker

In the exhibit on display, the museum has supplied a dressing gown, a dress and petticoat, as well as a Union Special overlocker. Hugh says those machines were still in service when he started work.  Hugh Ramage’s book is a good read and is available from The Wanganui Regional Museum, Maxilab, Nu-Way Dry Cleaners, Lindsay’s Lotto Post and More and Aramoho Mags and Lotto.

 

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in April 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.