Museum Notebook: 1970s glamour shines in Whanganui woman’s stunning outfit

Museum Notebook: 1970s glamour shines in Whanganui woman's stunning outfit

July’s Ko te Kākahu o Te Marama – Outfit of the Month at the Whanganui Regional Museum is a stunning, two-piece evening ensemble dating from the 1970s.

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The ensemble is handmade and unique. It features a floor-length, sleeveless gown and a matching fur-trimmed coat. Mrs Huia gibbs of Whanganui owned the outfit and possibly sewed it. It was donated by Beverley Gibbs, her daughter-in law, in 1998.

This ensemble is a standout among the museum’s collection and a testament to 1970s glamour and eclecticism in eveningwear. It is a unique outfit that draws on a variety of inspirations as shown by its many distinctive features.

The 1970s were a time of bold colours and bold fabrics. They grew from the Swinging Sixties’ fashion trends and were influenced by disco culture. Although this outfit was not intended to be worn on the dance floor, it is more appropriate for a dinner party. The use of bright red metallic fabric and contrast ornamentation are both a nod to those fashion trends.

The 1970s also saw the rise of the wrap-dress, popularised by Diane von Fürstenberg, which aligned with a growing push for comfort and functionality of women’s clothing styles as they were moving into the workforce en masse. Mrs Gibbs’ dress has a mock-wrap that nods to a style that has since become standard in women’s fashion.

The dress’s black, lace-trimmed neckline, bodice, as well as its asymmetrical button, bow, and detailing are also standout features.

Red brocade evening dress and coat, 1970s. Whanganui Regional Museum ref:1998.60.2.
1970s red brocade evening dress, and coat. Whanganui Regional Museum ref:1998.60.2.

The ensemble features Mrs Gibbs’ stunning, full-length coat. The high collar and hook & eye are a highlight of this ensemble. “frog-closures”You can take inspiration from traditional Chinese clothes, but its black rabbit fur accents were purely 1970s. Fur was the rage and the revival of faux fur and fleece-trimmed fur has been a huge success. “Penny Lane”The return of these fashion trends to the modern market is represented by coats (named after Kate Hudson in the 2000 film Almost Famous).

Brocade is a rich fabric with floral designs that is associated with wealth and opulence. Both pieces are made of brocade. Brocade was extremely popular in 1970s. “the age of synthetic fabrics”These ornate patterns and styles were made available on a mass scale during the period.

Mrs Gibbs chose bright red metallic brocade for this ensemble. It has an incredibly lustrous feel as the dress moves in the light. It stands out because of the contrast between the red fabric and the black fur and lace accents.

We don’t know much about Mrs Huia Gibbs but we can guess (based on the bold and unique nature of this evening outfit) that she was a confident woman who had exquisite taste.

Other items from her personal collection, such as a pearlescent sequined blouse, and a beaded, black shift dress, show that she was fond of glamorous fabrics and elegant designs. It is clear that Mrs Gibbs was a lady who loved luxury, perhaps even more than today’s minimalist loungewear-dominated standards.

Both the gown as well as the coat will be on display at the Whanganui Rural Museum throughout July. You should stop by to take a closer look at this stunning evening ensemble.

• Lily Polaczuk is completing a Master of Museum and Heritage Practice at Victoria University of Wellington. She recently completed an internship at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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