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Fancy Dress: from tutus to cosplay
Image: Cecil Percy Ray (photographer), carnival held at North Hobart Oval;
clowns riding people in horse costume, NS392/1/881, c1920
“For me, a costume is a complex thing. It can be playful: a holiday from reality. It can be mischievous: a disguise. It can even be a uniform: an
outfit that says ‘right now, I’m all about this particular kind of work’.
Perhaps most importantly, a costume changes how other people relate to you; it makes you a little strange to them and gives them a chance to relate to you slightly differently. We can be ourselves any day of the week; now and then it’s fun to be someone else.”
– Danielle Wood, 2022
Fancy Dress from tutus to cosplay
Allport Library and
Museum of Fine Arts
10 March – 29 July 2023
Libraries Tasmania recognises the deep histories and cultures of the Aboriginal people of Lutruwita/Tasmania. We acknowledge Tasmanian Aboriginal people as the traditional and continuing custodians of the land, waters, and sky. We pay respect to the Elders, past and present who hold the memories, traditions, culture,
and knowledge of Country. We extend our respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, whose Countries were never ceded.
Copyright Libraries Tasmania 2023
For further enquiries
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Libraries Tasmania
State Library and Archives building
91 Murray St, Hobart, TAS 7000
Phone 03 6165 5584
Front cover image:
Tasmanian Archives: Photographic studio portraits of dancers in costumes
and poses, Lilla Clive, NS648-1-5, c1930s
Back cover image:
Tasmanian Archives: Photograph album (black) – Photographic studio
portraits of dancers in costumes and poses, Nancy Wilson, NS648-1-5,
Curated by Penny Carey-Wells and Caitlin Sutton
Catalogue design by Miu Lee
Image: Miscellaneous collection of photographs, frontal view an unidentified child of the Mond family in dress ups with a top hat, cane, large shoes and bewildered expression, PIA 30/1/4444, c1900
We are rummaging through the chest of costume culture in Tasmania and looking at the creative ways we transform ourselves.
Tights and top hats. Bows and bonnets. Masks and manga. Tutus to cosplay gives centre stage to over 130 years of dress ups, from the downright bizarre to the
truly magnificent. Quirky, whimsical, and exquisite archival and contemporary photographs illustrate the ways Tasmanians have been dressing up for decades.
Fancy dress became a regular part of people’s social lives and entertainment from the mid-1800s. The craze for it spread across the globe. Spectacular and
witty costumes appeared at suburban street carnivals, victory celebrations, fire festivals, charity events, and the extravagant balls of the wealthy.
A tutu was first worn in 1832 sparking the rise of the iconic costume in ballet. Originally made of muslin, gauze and tulle and stiffened with starch,
these light fabrics gave the illusion that the dancer was floating. Highly decorated tutus have adorned prima ballerinas ever since and remain a staple of
children’s fancy dress repertoire. A Victorian-era surge in themed parties saw characters from literature and history emerge. From Bo Peep to Pierrot,
pirates, peddlers and paupers, costumes were ingeniously handmade.
The choice of characters mirrored contemporary politics, issues and stereotypes and included racial parodying and caricatures, with blackface becoming common in the nineteenth century both overseas and in Australia. Now widely condemned, its prevalence declined following the civil rights movements of the 1950s — 1960s, though at times it continues to reappear.
In Tasmania the arts scene, ballet culture and our visual archival history were shaped by the inimitable figure of Beatrice ‘Beattie’ Jordan (1897—1988). As a
dancer, choreographer, teacher, and owner of the Beattie Jordan Dance School, she inspired and recorded a series of luscious and creative costumes for her students over the course of her long career.
The twentieth century saw the emergence of new of fancy dress in superhero and sci-fi costumes. The term cosplay – a Japanese portmanteau of costume and play – was coined in 1984 and is an increasingly popular pastime.
Like histories, dressing up has a complex and continues to evolve in new ways. From performances to fundraisers, street carnivals to parades, it has a
hallmark of self-expression in our society.
Tasmanian dancer, teacher and doyen of the performing arts community Beattie Jordan started her career performing a bottle balancing trick as part of the Jordenes acrobatic, singing and dancing troupe. The Jordan family siblings used ‘Jordene’ as a stage name.
A newspaper recounted in 1913, “Miss Beatrice Jordan displayed considerable skill and cleverness in her bottle walking act, which was deservedly recognised by the audience. Dick Jordan, Beattie’s brother, worked behind the scenes, ensuring everything was secure, and the act ran smoothly. He was also responsible for crafting Beattie’s beer bottles, which were actually made of wood, not glass. Beattie continued to perform her stunt into adulthood, with her joyful, zany zest for life present in images throughout her long career.
“The Jordenes,” The North West Post, 20 October 1913, p. 2.
“Intrepid Aunt Beatie,” The Mercury, 23 February 1993, p. 32.
Image: Beattie Jordan, photograph album (black), family snapshots and local
ballet portraits, NS648/1/7, 1913
Left-hand image: Beattie Jordan, photograph album (green cover), family and holiday snapshots, NS648/l/2, 1933
Right-hand image: Miscellaneous collection of photographs, photographic portrait of the ‘Flying Jordenes’ (Fred and Arthur, Beattie Jordan’s brothers),
The ‘Our Day’ Parade World War I fundraiser was held on 24 September 1917 and featured an array of costume. In contrast, the many dour, resolute
expressions in the image reflect the trying conditions: “The old saying that it is an ill wind that blows nobody good’ received yet another illustration yesterday, when several of the functions which should have taken place on Saturday in connection with the Our Day appeal on behalf of the funds of the British Red Cross Society…were postponed in consequence of the wretchedly inclement weather…”
Footnote: “Our Day appeal,” The Daily Post, 25 September 1917, p.7.
Image: James Chandler (Photographer), Hobart, children in fancy dress, Our
Day Parade, NS1231/1/58, 1917
A popular fancy dress genre for much of the twentieth century was the Peddler’s Parade. Children would dress up and parade around carrying items for sale, such as flowers and fruits, as a fundraising activity. The Kingston Beach Regatta Association organised a particularly successful event in February 1924:
“The most spectacular feature of the day was the Peddler’s Parade, organised by Mrs F. T. Baxter in which 42 children took part. The response in the various sections was most encouraging and the judge… had a most difficult task in awarding the prizes, particularly was the case in the best decorated umbrella section and the best advertisement peddler.”
Footnote: “Social News by Marguerite,” The Critic. (Hobart). 29 February 1924, p.1.
Image: Cecil Percy Ray (Photographer), children in peddler’s parades and fancy dress, Kingston Beach Regatta, NS392/1/516, 1924
Image: Cecil Percy Ray (Photographer), children in peddler’s parades and fancy dress, Kingston Beach Regatta, NS392/1/513, 1924
Bo Peep is complemented by a delightful weathervane in this image. Around the 1920s, Bo Peep became a popular costume for women of all ages. In part because the look could be achieved from recycling ‘already seen’ gowns. A 1928 newspaper declared: “Instead of evening frocks, fancy costumes! That is really what fashion is giving for the coming dancing season. As it is, mid-Victorian gowns already seen, except for those with the deep transparent hems, could be utilised for a fancy dress ball with the aid of a powdered wig by those wishing to be ladies of the court, and mittens by those favouring a character from Dickens or just an ordinary crotchety dame. The real step has been taken however, in the appearance of the ‘Bo Peep’ gown. Reaching to the ankles, the skirt which IS VERY FU LL may be either all the one material or else with the transparent hem beginning at the knees. The little maiden of the nursery rhyme will be well represented in the future. The bodice of this latest creation is tightly laced with black velvet on both sides to the waist, where the ribbons end in big-looped bows. But before attending a dance in this attractive frock, remember if your friends are inclined towards making flippant jokes, that this is Leap Year — and Bo Peep’s business was to hunt for sheep!”
Footnote: “Bo-Peep Gowns,” Call News-Pictorial, 24 February 1928, p. 21.
Image: Cecil Percy Ray (Photographer), children in peddler’s parades and fancy dress, NS392/1/515, 1920s
Beattie Jordan opened her own dance school in 1917 when she was just twenty years old. She became known for the quality of her annual recitals. In 1930 it was reported that “the large crowd that gathered at the City Hall last evening to witness the annual exhibition of dancing by pupils of Miss Beattie Jordan was in no way disappointed…Then came a very striking butterfly ballet by the somewhat older pupils in very realistic butterfly costumes in black and gold, green and brown.”
Footnote: “Dancing: Miss Beattie Jordan’s Pupils Annual Exhibition,” The Mercury, 27 November 1930, p. 12.
Image: Beattie Jordan, photographic studio portraits of dancers in costumes and poses, Nancy Wilson (Beattie Jordan’s niece), NS648/1/5, 1930
Fifteen years later in 1945, just after the end of World War 11, Beattie Jordan’s renowned costumes were severely impacted by shortages. The review of the same event stated: “Parents and friends of the pupils of Miss Beattie Jordan in the City Hall, Hobart, on Saturday witnessed their annual demonstration of dancing. Because of clothing rationing, it was impossible to dress the ballets in character, but the mass of children in their soft white ballet frocks demonstration the steps and movement of the traditional ballet in the opening item ‘Centre Practice’ was most effective.”
Footnote: “Beattie Jordan’s Pupils Give Dancing Display,” The Mercury, 20 November 1945, p. 7.
Image: Beattie Jordan, photographic studio portraits of dancers in costumes and poses, Lilla Clive, NS648/1/5, 1930s
Another fundraiser, this time for the Evandale War Memorial in 1946, saw record numbers gather in the small town. “One of the largest crowds seen at Evandale attended the Back-to-Evandale carnival on the show ground on Saturday when over $l500 was raised for the Evandale War Memorial fund…Highlight of the day was a procession through the town to the ground of gaily decorated vehicles, bicycles, horse-drawn floats and girls on horseback.
Footnote: “Carnival atmosphere at Evandale reunion,” The Examiner, 20 May 1926, p. 5.
Image: Evandale carnival, man on horseback in ballet dress, LPIC147/3/23, 1946
In Australia, Book Week has become a pinnacle event in the costume calendar for children. Established in Australia in 1945, the long running celebration of literature has evolved over time and did not always involve dressing up. In its first year, its aims were to “encourage in children and youth a love of books; to develop home companionship through books; to increase public appreciation of reading for young people, and to regain juvenile support for public book facilities.” (Libraries!)
Held just two months after the end of World War 11, the 1945 theme was ‘United through Books’, poignantly “offering an opportunity to develop in children the knowledge of other countries and other peoples essential to international understanding and world peace.
Footnote: “Children’s Book Week,” The Advocate, 10 October 1945, p. 7.
Image: Photographs taken by Southern Metropolitan Master Planning Authority, Hobart – A boy and a girl playing dress up, AA116/1/139, c1960s-70s
‘The Firebird’s costume is like two large plumes which are draped around her. It’s a tutu that’s been chewed into.” Firebird re-tells a mythical story of a bird, an ogre who casts a spell over women and that traditional ballet figure, a prince lost on a hunt. In conjuring up the magic garden, internationally renowned Tasmanian choreographer Graeme Murphy found inspiration in biblical art, images of moths, flowers and foliage. “l didn’t want to go to the heavily painted cloth syndrome,” said Murphy. ‘The sculptural set is offset by texture and the richness in the costumes. When the battle is over, spring is returned to the garden, and it just blooms into these amazing costumes.”
Footnote: “Murphy’s modern tribute to a classic ballet” The Age, 13 February 2009.
Photo courtesy of The Australian Ballet. Lana Jones in Graeme Murphy’s firebird, 2009. Photo Alex Makeyev
Choreography: Graeme Murphy
Creative Associate: Janet Vernon
Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Costume and set design: Leon Krasenstein
Original lighting design: Damien Cooper
“My approach to fashion is almost exclusively historical or historical inspired. Ever since I was little, I’ve always loved history. Anything from medieval to 1950s. The textiles can be so beautiful, and I really like the natural fibres, the wools and silks feel so good to wear.” Tasmanian lawyer and period fashion enthusiast Claire Wong scours second-hand stores searching for old curtains, doona covers and even 80s taffeta dresses to transform into clothing. “As soon as I was able to choose my own clothes, I would go to op shops and find things and I would always be looking at the historical inspiration or the historic potential in an item. And then I would alter it to fit me or deconstruct it to make it more historical in some way.”
– Claire Wong
Footnote: Selina Ross, “Tasmanian period fashion enthusiasts are bringing back styles and making new friendships,” Claire Wong interview
ABC,18 August 2021.
“Cosplay enthusiasts are known for their passion, whimsy and dedication to the craft. I’ve been cosplaying since 2017, I initially got into it through friends who were in the 501st Legion, which is a worldwide Star Wars costuming organisation, I had always admired the charity work that they do. For me it’s a way that I can combine the love of making things and an early obsession With Star Wars and comics with volunteer work.” – Anthony Black
Photo Credit: Anthony Black as Darth Maul, member of the 501st Thylacine Outpost costuming group. Photograph by Stephen Burnett (2022)
A huge thank you to my co-curator Penny Grey-Wells, without whose expertise, enthusiasm, experience, and pizazz this exhibition would not have been possible.
We are grateful to all who have kindly assisted with this exhibition:
The Australian Ballet, Scott Carlin, Annie Greenhill, Peter Hughes, Robert Jarman, Greg Lehman, Bernard Lloyd, MADE (Mature Artist Dance Experience), Graeme
Murphy AO, Simon Olding, Grace Pundyk, Sally Richardson, Angela Stark, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Ten Days on the Island, Adam Thompson, Cobus van Brede, Donna Cusack-Muller, Lucinda Sharp, Ann Squires and the family of Beattie Jordan, Danielle Wood, Claire Wong, Janet Vernon and our wonderful colleagues at Libraries Tasmania and the Tasmanian Archives.
Image: Beattie Jordan, photographs of theatrical performers, girl dressed as doll, NS2490/1/1, c1930s
Tasmanian Archives images
Inside front cover: Cecil Percy Ray (photographer), carnival held at North Hobart Oval; clowns riding people in horse costume, NS392/1/881, c1920
3: Miscellaneous collection of photographs, frontal view an unidentified child of the Mond family in dress ups with a top hat, cane, large shoes and bewildered expression, PIA 30/1/4444, c1900
6-7: Beattie Jordan, photograph album (black), family snapshots and local ballet portraits, NS648/1/7, 1913
8: Beattie Jordan, photograph album (green cover), family and holiday snapshots, NS648/1/2, 1933
9: Miscellaneous collection of photographs, photographic portrait of the ‘Flying Jordenes’ (Fred and Arthur, Beattie Jordan’s brothers), PH30/1/3065, c1913
10-11: James Chandler (Photographer), Hobart, children in fancy dress, Our Day Parade, NS1231/1/58, 1917
13: Cecil Percy Ray (Photographer), children in peddler’s parades and fancy dress, Kingston Beach Regatta, NS392/1/516, 1924
14-15: Cecil Percy Ray (Photographer), children in peddler’s parades and fancy dress, Kingston Beach Regatta, NS392/1/513, 1924
16: Cecil percy Ray (Photographer), children in peddler’s parades and fancy dress, NS392/1/515, 1920s
18: Beattie Jordan, photographic studio portraits of dancers in costumes and poses, Nancy Wilson (Beattie Jordan’s niece), NS648/1/5, 1930
21: Beattie Jordan, photographic studio portraits of dancers in costumes and poses, Lilla Clive, NS648/1/5, 1930s
22-23: Evandale carnival, man on horseback in ballet dress, LPIC147/3/23, 1946
Tasmanian Archive images continued
24: Photographs Taken by Southern Metropolitan Master Planning Authority, Hobart – A boy and a girl playing dress up, AA116/1/139, c1960s-70s
32: Beattie Jordan, photographs of theatrical performers, girl dressed as doll, NS2490/1/1, c1930s
37: Cecil Percy Ray (photographer), adults in fancy dress costume, Kingston Beach Regatta,
Inside back cover: Scrapbooks, Photograph Albums and Attendance Register for Dance Classes, NS648-1-16, c1930s
Image: Scrapbooks, Photograph Albums and Attendance Register for Dance Classes, NS648-1-16, c1930s
Image: Beattie Jordan, Photograph album (black) – Photographic studio portraits of dancers in costumes and poses, Nancy Wilson, NS648-1-5,