The Politics of Antipodean Dress: Consumer Interests in Nineteenth Century Victoria

By Elliott, Jane | Journal of Australian Studies, March 1997 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Antipodean Dress: Consumer Interests in Nineteenth Century Victoria


Elliott, Jane, Journal of Australian Studies


The historiography of dress has not received serious attention until recently. Although pioneering work has been done by historians such as Spufford, Weatherill, Lemire, Benson, Reekie and Maynard,(1) analysis of dress in a historic and social context has been impeded by assumptions concerning its trivial importance as a field of historical inquiry. Thus work in the field has had to establish the validity, the general significance and the particular consequences for historical interpretation of taking dress as a starting point for research.(2) With the advent of a number of authoritative studies on clothing and consumer interests,(3) it now becomes possible to turn attention to aspects of the history of dress in order to establish why it has been ignored as well as to provide more satisfying explanations of social and economic behaviour through attention to the parameters and mechanisms of the clothing trade.

The early history of the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria has been shown repeatedly -- albeit with anecdotal rather than empirical evidence -- to have been moulded by alcohol. It is difficult to understand why alcohol should be intrinsically more important than dress unless we take refuge in the truism that men like to boast about how much drink they can hold and women like to go shopping and buy clothes.(4) The high consumption of alcohol quickly became a source of bonding for many men and thus formed the basis of the myths of male mateship and the bush which have dominated Australian historiography.(5)

It is difficult to imagine how the bustling colony of Victoria, crowned by a sophisticated city which astonished contemporary English visitors by its magnificence and which has been re-created in the works of historians like Serle and Davison,(6) could have been conceived of and built by a mob of colonists whose only conception of how to spend their disposable income was to drink themselves into incoherent stupour. Undoubtedly people of all social backgrounds got drunk, some of them a great deal more often than others, but consumers also spent a lot of time and money on clothing themselves and their families. A plausible image of the colony is suggested by the powerful consumer thirst for the full range of luxury items available at the time.

Better quality clothing was as sought after but more easily obtainable by a wider cross section and a greater proportion of Victorians than was the case in England, stimulating very different concerns in the colonial retail drapery trade from those dominating the trade in England. There is also evidence in the newspapers, private papers and literary impressions that most people embraced wholeheartedly the opportunity to clothe themselves in as much finery as they could buy This impulse existed before the discovery of gold but the trend was to continue thereafter.

Almost three million pounds worth of cloth and its materials were imported into Melbourne in 1853, a figure clearly suggesting that consumer preference and business initiative had moved with astonishing speed to gratify the inclinations of a population of less than 100,000. With such a small total population in which the lower middle class and working class predominated, it is not plausible to argue that these vast amounts of clothing were consumed entirely by the upper classes. Although the figure does not include personal belongings, clothing brought in by private individuals entered the market in two ways: the sale of personal garments by new arrivals trying to make ends meet(7) and that brought out expressly as a form of small-scale speculation. As was the case in early New South Wales, those who had visited the colony of Victoria(8) gave advice indicative of the enormous perceived value of clothing in the colony: 'for those who wish to invest small sums in goods for Australia, boots, shoes, cutlery, flash jewellery, watches ... fancy articles, cheap laces and baby-linen offer immense profits. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Politics of Antipodean Dress: Consumer Interests in Nineteenth Century Victoria
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.