In the 1960s it seemed baby boomers chose their wardrobes based purely on the clothes’ capacity to appal their parents.
But young people’s fashion didn’t always aim to shock, as shown in a 1940s photo of young women chatting and doing their make-up in a railway carriage’s powder bar on display as part of a new exhibition.
Wait, a powder bar?
“Railway travel used to be really luxurious — you had silver service, powder carriages, beautiful sleeper carriages,” said Natasha Cantwell, co-curator of Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) exhibition Catwalk to Sidewalk: Melbourne Street Fashion.
The young women in this powder bar are wearing clothing “typical of teenage fashion from the era”.
“It was about creating their own aesthetic, but they didn’t want to disrupt … They’re saying, ‘I’m a teenager but I’m also part of society’.”
Just a generation later though, young women were rejecting Melbourne society’s fashion traditions.
London model Jean Shrimpton famously wore a white minidress to Derby Day at Flemington in 1965; most media outrage however was saved for her lack of hat, stockings or gloves.
Four years on from this hatless hemline heightening, state government photographers captured this image of 1969 Moomba queen Janine Forbes which strikingly conveys the generational divide in fashion at the time.
“[Forbes] just completely stands out there in ’60s fashion,” Ms Cantwell said, noting the women either side of her came from the same generation as the girls in the powder bar.
State photos refashioned
The exhibition, now on show at PROV’s Victorian Archives Centre in North Melbourne, was timed to coincide with Melbourne Fashion Week.
Half the exhibition is current street photography, with the other half being historical government photos repurposed as fashion shoots.
“The strange thing about government photography is that a lot of it is incidentally interesting,” Ms Cantwell said.
“They might be recording a billboard, but they’ve actually created a really interesting cityscape.
“They’ve got a snapshot of the fashions of the time [from] people who just happened to be randomly walking past.”
A photo of women at Derby Day in 1936, possibly a promotional photo showing the places you could access via public transport, serves as a great contrast to today’s spring racing fashion.
“Fashion in 1936 was more aimed at older, wealthier women,” Ms Cantwell said.
“They’re dressed up in their finest winter clothes, which is surprising as it’s November.
“They’re dressed, some of them, completely head to toe in fur. That would be incredibly expensive, I imagine.”