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Book opens the wardrobe on New Zealand clothing

New book opens the wardrobe on New Zealand clothing

A fresh look at the role of clothes in New Zealand history proves that clothing reveals as much as it conceals, says a cultural researcher.

Studying clothes and how they are worn provides a pathway into our history and culture, says co-editor Dr Bronwyn Labrum, a senior lecturer at the School of Visual and Material Culture.

“Despite a reputation for being wary of “looking flash”, New Zealanders have not always been dowdy dressers,” says Dr Labrum.

Looking Flash, Clothing In Aotearoa New Zealand examines what we wear and what we have worn – from shrinking swimming togs to the black singlet – over the past three centuries.

It is the first edited collection on clothing in New Zealand history and brings together a range of writers, both academics and those in museums and other institutions, to talk about a broad and surprising range of topics.

Dr Labrum says the book is full of unexpected stories.

“The shearer’s wool singlet was originally a simple work garment, but was later adopted by cartoonists as shorthand for the good Kiwi bloke. Fred Dagg made it an icon in the 1970s; then women in the 1980s turned it into a fashion item. It now appears in gay nightclubs as dancewear.”

The richly-illustrated essays span the clothing of pre-colonial Maori society, marching girls and castaways, and include 18th-century heirloom dresses, hand-me-downs, and wartime garb. There are also extraordinary stories about the fate of a Maori cloak and an Otago farmer's remarkable collection of 1970s high-fashion garments.

The book, published by Auckland University Press, will be launched at 5.30pm on Thursday (15 November) in Massey’s Museum Building foyer, Buckle St, Wellington.

The School of Visual and Material Culture, part of the College of Creative Arts, is a centre of teaching and research excellence that seeks to develop new perspectives between people and things in the images and objects that shape everyday life.


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