Suits and belonging in modern Australian history

In June 2023, I gave an interview about the Australian history of the three-piece suit on Radio National’s LifeMatters program.

The interview was sparked by a journal article that Lorinda Cramer and I published last year on the significance of suits for masculine belonging and social acceptability in early twentieth-century Australia.

Ichizo Sato (tailor), Brown Tweed Suit, c.1901–09. Museums Victoria, HT 24658. Photographer: Taryn Ellis,

The article explored a number of bespoke suits worn by the Japanese-Australian laundryman, Setsutaro Hasegawa (initially based in Melbourne before moving to Ballarat and then Geelong) across the early decades of the 1900s.

Hasegawa commissioned a number of suits and harmonious separates from a tailor in the first decade of the twentieth century. Since they were custom-made from quality fabrics such as the wool tweed seen below – its brown yarn incorporating subtle hints of yellow, red and blue – these garments would have been difficult for him to afford.

Ichizo Sato (tailor), Brown Tweed Trousers [detail], c.1901–09. Museums Victoria, HT 24658.3,

Though he had been a school teacher in Japan, Hasegawa had worked as a domestic servant for a Melbourne family after migrating in 1897. He had stuck with this poorly-paid job until he venturing out with his own laundry business in Melbourne’s bustling Toorak Road in the early 1900s.

While custom-made suits would likely otherwise been out of his reach financially, Hasegawa’s were made for him by the tailor Ichizo Sato, another Japanese-Melburnian based in Toorak Road. It is possible that Hasegawa offered services in kind to Sato in exchange for items such as his tweed suit and this beautiful double-breasted shawl-collared waistcoat of pale forest-green wool:

Ichizo Sato (tailor), Green Wool Waistcoat, c.1901–09. Museums Victoria, HT 24607,
Here is a family portrait of Hasegawa wearing his green waistcoat as part of a dress suit composed of harmonious separates. Willetts Art Studio Geelong (photographer), Setsutaro Hasegawa and Family, c.1908–09. Photograph courtesy of Andrew Hasegawa

Hasegawa kept all of the garments that Sato made for him in impeccable order over the decades until his death in 1952. He left them to a favoured daughter-in-law who later passed them on to his great-grandson, Andrew Hasegawa.

When Lorinda and I encountered Hasegawa’s treasured garments in a MuseumsVictoria storeroom, we saw them as an example of how significant suits became to men from across classes and ethnicities in early twentieth-century Australia.

The three-piece suit came to act as a passport to masculine dignity, commercial participation and social acceptance in Australia at this time.

This was just one of the many reasons that First Nations men were so marginalised: a decent three-piece suit was beyond the reach of the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, yet was necessary for anyone wanting to be considered deserving of basic social regard.

A related point may be made of other non-white men such as Hasegawa. An Asian man running a small business during the White Australia era had extra reason to want to wear a quietly stylish version of a three-piece suit. To dress in this way was to bid to be respected and accepted in a “white man’s country” – and to reflect on this now is to gain a new angle on the social significance of the suit in Australia and other Global Northern societies in the day.


Melissa Bellanta and Lorinda Cramer, “The Comfort of Things in White Australia: Male Immigrants, Race and the Three-Piece Suit, c.1901-39.” Australian Historical Studies 54, no. 3 (2023): 483–510.

See Andrew Hasegawa’s profile and tribute to his great-grandfather Setsutaro on the Discover Nikkei: Japanse Migrants and Their Descendants blog.

Eyes on the ties

Recently, the new Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather – neatly attired in a suit and shirt – rose to speak in question time. But as he began to pose to his question to the Prime Minister about Australia’s social housing, he was stopped. Chandler-Mather wore no tie. For Nationals MP, Pat Conaghan, this was a clear affront to professional standards of dress. ‘This is not a barbeque’, Conaghan later argued of federal parliament.

That the lack of a tie could halt question time – even if only momentarily as the Speaker, Milton Dick, dismissed Conaghan’s objection – points to the different attitudes that still exist around dress codes. I wrote a short piece for The Conversation, ‘This is not a barbeque’: a short history of neckties in the Australian parliament and at work, sparked by this episode – that generated its own robust discussion of appropriate attire.

Federation Celebrations, Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth, Exhibition Building, Melbourne, 9 May 1901. Museums Victoria, MM 134900,

It’s something that has made me pause many times as we trace these transforming standards in professional contexts against the fascinating changes in men’s fashions across the twentieth century.

Members of Parliament are guided on what to wear by the House of Representatives Practice (now in its seventh edition). The ‘Dress and conduct in the Chamber’ section outlines how clothing ‘is a matter for the individual judgment of each Member’. That is, Parliament has no fashion police, though the Speaker makes the ultimate call when challenges arise.

Broothorn Studios, Portrait of the Right Honourable Andrew Fisher, Prime Minister of Australia 1914-15. Australian War Memorial, H16067.

The House of Representatives Practice provides its own neat history of shifting standards: from the 1977 ruling that Members could wear tailored safari suits (no tie was necessary in keeping with the style), a return to ‘good trousers, a jacket, collar and tie for men and a similar standard of formality for women’ in a statement made by Speaker John Andrew in 1999, to the 2005 reminder by Speaker David Hawker that ‘it was not in the dignity of the House for Members to arrive in casual or sports wear’.

But where exactly do ties now fall in professional dress? One hundred years ago, men were just as likely to wear ties to the beach, the park, or out hiking through the bush as they were to the office. In the second half of the twentieth century, workplaces began to loosen standards, a trend that’s grown even more following the enormous disruptions caused by COVID-19 and working from home practices.

Group of young men relaxing in a park, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, negative number 141888.

Politicians overseas have driven new directions. This includes Māori MP Rawiri Waititi, who was ejected from the debating chamber of the New Zealand Parliament last year for refusing to wear a tie. Evocatively describing the tie as a ‘colonial noose’, Waititi argued that he should be able to wear a hei tiki greenstone pendant at his neck instead.

More recently, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez very publicly removed his tie when he fronted the media. Motivated by the country’s devastating heatwave, he encouraged others to do so, too, to help reduce the spike in energy use.

While ties matter to some, it’s clear they matter not at all to others.

A high-maintenance masculine fashion

Tropical whites in early twentieth-century Darwin and Broome

Among many striking early twentieth-century photographs of men wearing white suits in far north-western Australia, the one below seizes attention. Four men of European descent soon to leave for a First World War battlefront appear in this photograph taken in the pearling port-town of Broome in c.1914, each dressed in impeccable white cotton drill suits.

Four Soldiers, c.1914. Broome Historical Museum Collection, 066204PD, State Library of Western Australia.

The photograph is compelling because of how little its subjects reflect the knockabout-soldier stereotype associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Instead of dishevelled khakis, each of the men wears a radiantly white patrol jacket buttoned all the way to the neck. Both the man standing on the left and other seated on the left exude an air of self-satisfied hauteur. One of the men has a starched stand-up collar. The other three wear detachable band collars fixed with pearl or pearlshell studs in a nod to the industry on which the Broome economy then relied.

Lorinda Cramer and I have written an article soon to appear in the journal Gender & History about white menswear worn in northwestern Australia early in the 1900s. The article explores the labour that went into making and laundering the masculine fashion for white suits in northwestern Australia – a fashion also found in tropical European colonies such as the Netherlands Indies, the British Straits Settlements and British India.

The article also explores who did this labour. In Broome and Darwin, most of the work was by men of Chinese (although some of Japanese) descent working extraordinarily long hours for tiny pay. There were also men from northwestern Australia’s First Nations who carted water and chopped the wood for the laundry coppers. They were paid only with rations and an allowance for lollies, cigarettes and perhaps a weekly trip to the local segregated cinema.

Back in the days before the new Australian government’s racist Immigration Restriction Act (1901) prevented wealthy families from importing Asian men to work for them as ‘houseboys’ in tropical Australia, the pearl buyer Ted Hunter (depicted seated in the middle of another striking photograph below) was said to have brought a Malay servant with him to Broome. One of the responsibilities of this servant was to blanco multiple pairs of white shoes for Hunter night so that he could change his footwear whenever it became smeared with red dirt over the course of the day.

Ted Hunter (seated) and other pearl buyers, c.1905, Broome Historical Museum.

The high-maintenance mode of fashion represented by tropical white suits scarcely fits into understandings of historical Australian masculinities or menswear. The latter are more often represented by wiry or burly figures in slapdash attire. The fashion for tropical whites thus points to the distinctive nature of northern Australia in the period: to its particular set of unequal labour, social, racial and colonial relations, and to the masculinity most encouraged and elevated there, invested in a certain kind of radiantly conspicuous consumption and air of easy hauteur.

Since the historical fashion for tropical whites seems exotic today, it also helps to reveal the way that dominant modes of dress also speak volumes about a society – not to mention how clothes help to make the man.


Melissa Bellanta and Lorinda Cramer, “Tropical Whites: Hegemonic Masculinity and Menswear at the Crossroads of Australia and Asia, 1900–1939”, Gender & History (forthcoming online 2022).

Suits that ‘Mark the Man’

Our latest article, ‘Clothes Shall Mark the Man’: Wearing Suits in Wartime Australia, 1939–1945, has recently been published by Cultural and Social History.

I’ve written a couple of other posts for our website in researching this article. ‘Finding’ John Dedman’s Victory Suit is one; the other is ‘Streamlined For Victory’: The Victory Suit. To coincide with the article’s publication, I’ve also written a blog post for the UK’s Social History Society.

Ray Olson (photographer), ‘Men’s Fashion at David Jones, New Fashion, 24 January 1939’, Pix Magazine Photographs, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd, ON 388/Box 026/Item 154.

The article takes another step along our path to uncover men’s engagement with clothing and fashion across the twentieth century. In this case, we consider four men’s suits that date from 1939 to 1944.

We begin with a fashionable double-breasted suit photographed just months before the outbreak of war for the popular department store David Jones. We end with a ‘civvy suit’, so named to mark men’s return from war and their transition back to civilian life. In between we look at the ‘victory suit’ – the focus of my earlier posts – and the zoot suit, through the astonishingly flamboyant example worn by a young jitterbug to Sydney’s Trocadero dance hall.

‘De-Kit Store, Civilian Suit Issue, Men in De-Kit store Trying on Hats, c. 1944’, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library Victoria, H99.201/1592.

Our close examination of these four suits places men’s attentiveness to their dress in the context of Australia’s Second World War home front. This was a location of cloth and workforce shortages, government intervention and patriotic consumption.

The suits, and the discussions around them, reveal both men’s anxieties and desires. Anxieties emerged around shortages, rationing and austerity measures – including the clothes styling regulations the guided the look and shape of men’s suits (but also other men’s, women’s and children’s garments). The ‘victory suit’ set the template for these styling restrictions: only single-breasted fronts were permitted, for example, in an attempt to save cloth.

‘De-Kit Store, Civilian Suit Issue,  Men inside De-Kit store viewing selection of suits and hats, c. 1944’, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library Victoria, H99.201/1593.

The flagrant waste of cloth in the exaggerated styling of the zoot suit made two years later, with its baggy legged trousers and jacket so long it almost reached the knees, contravened wartime regulations. It revealed a desire for fashion, just as it underscored a moral contract for patriotic consumption – leading to widespread community outrage.

These are just four of the many suits we’ve looked at that were worn across the twentieth century, with so many more rich stories to be told.

The rise and rise of denim jeans: Part 2

Yesterday I had a chat to Libbi Gore on her program, This Weekend Life on ABC Radio Melbourne (from 38:20), about the history of denim jeans. I wrote a short post for this blog on jeans earlier this year, but Libbi, I and a number of lovely callers centred our discussion firstly in the 1850s and then a century later in the 1950s.

The 1850s has captured my attention as it’s where I’ve been able to find some of the first references to denim cloth being imported into Australia. In 1853, an auction of the cargo of the American Ship Sooloo was advertised in Melbourne’s Argus and Tasmania’s Colonial Times newspapers. Its cargo included 25 cases of ‘cotton denims’.

‘Cotton denims’ were among ‘the largest assortment of [most] useful merchandise ever landed’. Advertising, Argus, 29 July 1853, 8.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the Sooloo’s American cargo including denim cloth as, although its earlier origins are found in Europe, it was in nineteenth century America that denim became widely used for sturdy, hard-wearing clothing.

The cotton denim in the 1850s was made into trousers when jeans, as we know them, weren’t patented until 1873 by Levi Strauss and Co (Levi Strauss and his partner, tailor Jacob Davis) in San Francisco. Readymade denim trousers, jackets and overalls were advertised in Australia across the following decades. The focus was on these garments as practical and durable. The heavy-weight cloth was strongly sewn. It was also cheap – denim was, in fact, cheaper than other cloths used for workwear such as drill, ‘mole’ or courduroy.

Around 1950, however, denim shifted from a fabric for workwear to something more fashionable, particularly for Australia’s youths. In this post-war period influenced by American culture, music and style, young men and women alike embraced denim jeans.

This included the bodgies and widgies, an Australian youth subculture that incorporated jeans into its styling. John O’Shea’s article for Melbourne’s Herald newspaper in 1951, titled ‘And they call it music!’, reported in slightly-shocked tones of dance halls and night clubs packed with young people who were ‘mostly in their teens or just out of it’. They jived or jitterbugged to bands playing swing and jazz. They were ‘eccentric in hair style and dress’, some wearing jeans and windcheaters with their hair in the popular Cornel Wilde style (Melissa has written more on this hairstyle for our blog in The Cornel Wilde Boys of North Bondi).

‘And they call it music!’, Herald, 5 May 1951, 9.

In 1956, the Argus newspaper was more scandalized as it reported a police chase of a stolen new Holden through the now-leafy Melbourne suburb of Brighton. Inside the car, the police found a ‘jeans-and-sweater clad, 16-year-old “widgie”’. The stolen car was driven by her 17-year-old bodgie boy. They were the new face of Melbourne’s crime, the article suggested, with 65% of crime in the city reportedly ‘committed by folk under 21 years’.

While jeans were a ready symbol of youth and rebellion that decade, in those that followed broad swathes of Australians adopted denim whether for comfort, to express their individuality or to be part of a group.


Advertising, Argus, 29 July 1853, 8.

Advertising, Colonial Times, 14 July 1853, 3.

Geoff Clancy, ‘Police Beat’, Argus, 20 October 1956, 17.

John O’Shea, ‘And they call it music!’, Herald, 5 May 1951, 9.

‘Commonsense comfort’: Dressing for Australia’s climate

In November 1922, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published a letter written by Emily Bennett, Honorary Secretary for the Women’s Reform League. Why, she asked, were men so hesitant to adopt ‘rational attire’ that was better suited to Australia’s climate and the conditions in which they lived and worked? Bennett mused: ‘Is it because they are self-conscious, and fear being “one of the conspicuous few” to drop formalities and convention for commonsense comfort?’

A month earlier, Fred Wright had written to the paper’s editor explaining the challenges that young men faced when they were expected to ‘look respectable’ by their employers. He felt they could not go without collars and coats, as dress reformers advocated in hot weather, when this was generally considered sloppy and unbusinesslike. In other words, Wright explained, ‘A young man cannot come to work dressed as if he were going to a picnic’.

Ideas of men’s dress reform were not new in the 1920s. Nor were they confined to Australia. Various dress reform movements had existed from the mid to late nineteenth century: those in Britain, for example, where supporters emphasised health and hygiene concerns over constrictive, tight collars and conservative, heavy suits. The aesthetics of men’s dress also came under scrutiny – men’s clothing was considered by reformers to be drab, austere, colourless.   

By the late 1920s, reformers both in Britain (where the Men’s Dress Reform Party [MDRP] was established in 1929) and Australia advocated for different cuts to men’s clothing or swapping certain items with others, cloth weights better suited to the season and introducing more colour. Australian newspapers reported on dress reform with interest, including Secretary of the MDRP, Dr A. C. Jordan’s scathing description of men’s clothing as ‘heavy, thick, ugly, gloomy, uncomfortable and inartistic’.

A range of alternatives were suggested: jackets could be replaced with knitted jumpers; shirts for blouses; stiff collars and ties for looser versions that allowed the neck to move; trousers for shorts; and shoes for sandals. Hats could be dispensed with altogether – unless they served the practical function of protecting their wearer from the sun or rain.

Ray Olson (photographer), ‘Men’s fashion at David Jones. New fashion, 24 January 1939’, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, FL9613651. Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd.

A wonderful example of the possibilities for this new mode of dressing was captured by photographer Ray Olson, in his shoot for new men’s fashion at David Jones in January 1939. Two men walk side-by-side in outfits that in many ways contrast each other: one in a snappy double-breasted suit, a shirt with tightly knotted tie, hat on a jaunty angle and leather shoes; the other in an open-necked short-sleeved shirt, tailored shorts, long socks and sandals.

It is precisely the look that dress reformers encouraged men to embrace. But does this man look like he’s heading to the office, or as Fred Wright worried, to a picnic?


Barbara Burman, ‘Better and Brighter Clothes: The Men’s Dress Reform Party, 1929-1940’, Journal of Design History 8:4 (1995): 275-290.

‘Dress Reform’, Glen Innes Examiner, 26 October 1929, 7.

Emily Bennett, ‘Dress Reform’, Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 27 November 1922, 4. 

Fred Wright, ‘Dress Reform’, Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 27 October 1922, 4.

Joanna Bourke, ‘The Great Male Renunciation: Men’s Dress Reform in Inter-War Britain’, Journal of Design History 9:1 (1996): 23-33.

Sharon Peoples, ‘Dress, moral reform and masculinity in Australia’, Grainger Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1 (2011), 115–135.

The Australian scent of tweed

We all know that we feel our clothes – when they’re too tight around the waist, when they itch our skin or when they ride up, demanding constant readjustment. But have you thought about how you smell your clothes? This might be the fresh scent of laundry powder or the reek of sweat, though cloth has also been infused with aroma as part of its manufacture.

In February 1950, Melbourne’s Argus newspaper reported on an astonishing range of new tweed fabrics that smelt of bushland aromas. One was called ‘Mallee’, presumably either after the north-western Victorian region of that name or the distinctive shrubland habitat.

Headline from the Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 19 February 1950, 7.

Mallee tweed was coloured a ‘rich, earthy brown’. It had an ‘elusive polished saddle leather aroma’ that was not intended to be noticed by people on the street. Rather, the manufacturer Godfrey Hirst Mills in Geelong explained, a man would open his wardrobe and find it richly scented. He would be transported ‘to that mist-laden fern gully of [his] memories’, the mill suggested somewhat romantically (especially for men who lived in the dry Mallee region).

Illustration accompanying the ‘Elusive Mallee perfume for gents’ suitings’ article, with the tweed suit’s scent wafting out behind it.

Inspiration for the cloth had been taken from the ‘now-forgotten peaty tang’ of the genuine Harris Tweed – woollen cloth that had been made in the cottages of weavers in the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland and that was so popular that it was protected from imitation by the name ‘Harris Tweed’ and its Orb trade mark. As another Australian newspaper, Mackay’s Daily Mercury, reminded its readers, Harris Tweeds ‘characteristic odour’ was a result of being dried in lofts heated with peat fires.

The cloth, that would apparently retain its bushland aroma for as long as it was worn, had been two and a half years in development. In 1948, the Argus first published a story altering its readers to Hirst Mills intention to produce the tweed. The mill wanted to hear from people about what they considered the typical Australian aroma – something, the company suggested, that might evoke the bush’s scent of eucalyptus.

Headline from the Argus, 18 December 1948, 7.

The new scented tweeds were displayed at the Australian Fashion Fair at Melbourne’s iconic Exhibition Building for the curious in 1950. Though many newspapers around the country enthusiastically reported on the scented tweed, its public reception received far less fanfare. Was the Australian-scented tweed incorporated into the wardrobes of Australians, or did it remain a novelty?


‘Aroma sought for Aust. Tweed’, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 20 December 1948, 7.

‘Elusive Mallee perfume for gents’ suitings’, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 19 February 1950, 7.

‘Bushland aroma for our tweeds’, Tailor and Men’s Wear, March 1950, 23.

‘Harris Tweed’, Daily Mercury (Mackay), 29 October 1952, 10.

‘Harris Tweed in vogue: Crafty imitations, reproducing the peaty odour’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1939, 8.

The Handwoven History of Harris Tweed: Google Arts & Culture:

‘You can have aroma of Mallee’, Argus (Melbourne), 18 February 1950, 3.

‘Who can suggest a smell!, Argus (Melbourne), 18 December 1948, 7.

Smart Suits in White Australia

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Andrew Hasegawa, great grandson of Setsutaro Hasegawa. Japanese-born Setsutaro arrived in Victoria in 1897, four years before the passing of the exclusionary White Australia policy. Initially employed as a domestic worker – or houseboy – in Melbourne, he went on to become the proprietor of Japanese laundries first in Melbourne’s South Yarra then later in Geelong.

Having a coffee with Andrew Hasegawa

Of great interest to us is a rich and rare collection of clothing, photographs, documents and objects owned, worn and used by Setsutaro Hasegawa that Andrew donated to Museums Victoria. Among the items are a number of finely tailored suits and boldly patterned waistcoats. At least some of these were made by South Yarra-based tailor Ichizo Sato.

Trousers, Mottled Brown Wool, worn by Setsutaro Hasegawa, 1930s-1940s
Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY:

Sato landed in Melbourne just months before the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 came into force. With six years’ experience as a tailor in Yokohama and Tokyo prior to emigrating, he had formed part of the growing ranks of tailors charged with outfitting increasing numbers of professions in Japan as the nineteenth century drew to a close. His career as a tailor and dressmaker flourished in South Yarra, where he had a decades-long presence on Toorak Road.

Rose Stereograph Co. (photographer), Toorak Road, South Yarra, Victoria, c. 1920-30 [with Sato’s sign at left]
State Library Victoria, H32492/4985

The suits – in grey wool and tweed – are elegant and styled with clean, sharp lines. There are single-breasted jackets, trousers made to be worn with braces (commonplace in the decades before ‘self-supporting’ trousers) and waistcoats with pockets useful for carrying keys, coins or pencils.

These suits were carefully made to fit Setsutaro Hasegawa. We know this through paying close attention to detail. The trousers feature adjustable straps at the centre back to create a snug fit to the waist. The leg hems were cut shorter at the front while curving down gently at the back to accommodate the fall of the trousers against leather shoes. The result was a perfectly controlled ‘break’ – the crease in the trouser leg just above the shoe – that indicated a painstaking fitting process and the ideal length.

Suit made by I. Sato, Black and White Wool, c. 1930s
Photographer: Taryn Ellis, Source: Museums Victoria
Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY:

But we also know this by looking at the photographs of Setsutaro Hasegawa wearing his suits. One portrait taken around 1908 captures his meticulous presentation, from his beautifully groomed hair and moustache to his clothes: a single-breasted jacket and matching double-breasted waistcoat buttoned high on his chest. His tie is carefully knotted. His watch chain hangs neatly across his chest. His perfectly-starched white collar, worn high to his jaw, reminds us of his skill as a Japanese laundryman.

 Setsutaro Hasegawa, South Yarra, c. 1908
Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY:

I’m so grateful to Andrew for generously sharing details about his great grandfather. Having looked at Setsutaro’s clothing in detail, it’s a privilege to know more about the man who wore it.  


‘A Japanese Dressmaker’, Age, 14 June 1906, 7.

‘City of Prahran Rate Book 1900’, City of Prahran [1856-1901], Microfilm Copy of Rate Books, 2344/P, Public Records Office of Victoria.

‘Concentrates’, Prahran Telegraph, 16 July 1910, 5.

‘Dossier of Ichyo [sic] Sato’, National Archives Australia: A367 C69262.

‘I. Sato’ Ladies’ Tailor’, Herald, 24 August 1918, 10.

‘Just arrived!’, Prahran Telegraph, 14 October 1911, 7.

Moya McFadzean, ‘Setsutaro Hasegawa, Japanese Migrant, 1897-circa 1952’, 2009, in Museums Victoria Collections.

‘Public Notice’, Prahran Telegraph, 28 April 1900, 2.

Sands and McDougall Street Directories.

Michelle Stevenson, ‘Ichigo Sato, Japanese Migrant & Tailor, circa 1890s’, 2010, in Museums Victoria Collections.

‘Transcript of evidence of objection by S T Hasegawa, Japanese internee, Tatura 10/2/1942’, National Archives Australia: MP529/3, TRIBUNAL 4/114.

‘Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists (Foreign Ports) 1852-1923’, VPRS 7667, Fiche 347, Public Records Office of Victoria.

The tangled history of the necktie

Māori MP Rawiri Waititi’s refusal to wear a necktie in the debating chamber of New Zealand Parliament a couple of weeks ago made global headlines. Powerfully describing the tie as a “colonial noose”, Mr Waititi argued that he should be permitted to wear a hei tiki – a greenstone pendant – instead as part of “Māori business attire”. Intense debate followed.

American and Australasian Photographic Company, Bank of New South Wales, Gulgong, 1870-1875. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away 39876.

This strip of fabric worn around the neck and tied at the throat draws diverse – and often passionately conflicting – responses. Some people love them, but many loathe them. Some consider them a symbol of power, a signal of group allegiance or a central part of a uniform (and uniformity), but these might each be viewed in a positive or negative light.

I wrote about the history of neckties in Australia for The Conversation: The politics of the necktie — ‘colonial noose’, masculine marker or silk status symbol? I also enjoyed chatting about neckties with Sarah Macdonald on ABC Sydney Evenings and Sirine Demachkie on ABC Sydney Weekend Evenings.

Office Staff, 1911. State Library Victoria, H92.401/198.

There’s certainly much more to say about neckties than meets the eye.

Will you return to work in more casual clothes post lockdown?

I find the current predictions for more casual dress as we return to the office post lockdown fascinating, especially as we can trace historical parallels.  After WWI and WWII, periods of global crisis and turmoil with massive disruptions to “normal life”, there were calls for more casual clothing – just as there are now.

Sales of athleisure and activewear have boomed during the pandemic as we’ve embraced hoodies, tracksuits, leggings and slippers for working at home. Commentators and experts have suggested that both men and women might continue this styling by wearing more relaxed clothing including looser fit tailoring and lighter or stretch fabrics when lockdowns lift.

Laurie Shea, ‘Dress Reform’, 1947. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy ACP Magazine Limited, ON 388/Box 009/Item 111.

I trace the similarities between now and the calls for men’s “dress reform” in the first half of the twentieth century in The Conversation. I’ve also enjoyed speaking about them on the radio, which you can listen to here:  

ABC Sydney, Breakfast with Robbie Buck and Wendy Harmer (28 January 2021 from 1:26:00 to 1:33:20)

ABC Darwin, Breakfast with Joelene Laverty (28 January 2021 from 46:00 to 53:17)    

ABC Perth, Breakfast with Russell Woolf (29 January 2021 from 1:17:00 to 1:22:50)

ABC Brisbane, Mornings with Cathie Schnitzerling (29 January 2021 from 1:24:00 to 1:29:05)

2GB, Nights with John Stanley and Paul B Kidd