The project

Dress is a powerful bearer of memory. It shapes gender, helps determine social status and simultaneously expresses and sculpts identity, just as fashion marks and drives technological and social change. Coat Tales: A Social and Cultural History of Australian Menswear explores men’s dress in twentieth-century Australia with this in mind.

Focusing on men’s engagement with clothes allows us to jettison the assumption that fashion is a solely feminine concern. Investigating historical menswear also debunks the notion that no social and other distinctions register in Australian men’s clothes.

Coat Tales brings an historian and curator together to investigate twentieth-century men’s clothes and fashion and the stories behind them. We revel in striking garments and looks, but also in what humble items reveal about everyday experiences of gender, sexuality, relationships, Aboriginal culture, material culture, consumer practices, the menswear industry, immigration and other social change.

This project will lead to a book, articles, symposium and digital exhibition based on our research. We also have a blog and social media pages. To share your memories and knowledge, follow us on Facebook and Instagram or get in touch via email.

Aims of the Project

This project is funded by a Discovery grant from the Australian Research Council under the title Masculinity and Social Change: Men’s Dress in Twentieth-Century Australia DP190103341.

The project aims to:

offer the first dedicated history of men’s dress across twentieth-century Australia;
expand Australian social history and studies of masculinity through a focus on fashion, consumption and material culture;
provide new knowledge about consumer practices and the menswear and fashion industries in twentieth-century Australia; and
extend global scholarship on the history of male fashion with a distinctive focus that considers Aboriginal dress and spans remote, rural, suburban and metropolitan sites.

Project Team

Meet the historian and curator behind the project.

Dr Melissa Bellanta

Principal Investigator

Melissa Bellanta is a social, gender and dress historian based at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney. She publishes widely on the history of masculinities, emotion, street culture and popular entertainment. Her book Larrikins: A History explored street youth culture and dress in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Australia and won the major Ernest Scott Prize in 2013. Her next book Tender Feeling in a Hard Country: Masculinity and Sentimentality in Australian History appears in Palgrave Macmillan’s Gender and Sexualities in History series in 2020.

Dr Lorinda Cramer

Postdoctoral Researcher

Lorinda Cramer is a museum curator, collection manager and historian currently based at the Australian Catholic University. Her book Needlework and Women’s Identity in Colonial Australia (Bloomsbury Academic 2019) explores women’s needlework in gold-rush Victoria – including their making and mending of clothing – and its implications for genteel identity. Lorinda’s other publications appear in international and Australian journals – Fashion History, Costume, Textile: Cloth and Culture and Australian Historical Studies – and she holds a PhD in Museum Studies from Deakin University.