"When the Moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars"
James Rado and Gerome Ragni, ’Age of Aquarius’, from the musical Hair
Flares, platforms, hand-painted muslin tunics, crushed velvet, embroidered jeans and shirts, long hair, op-shop frocks, Liberty prints, empire line dresses, skinny rib tank tops, aviator sunglasses, peasant skirts, unisex t-shirts: this is what the 1970s looked like in New Zealand. Whether this summation causes cringe or happy nostalgia will depend upon your age and where you were in the 1970s. If you were young, optimistic and embraced the era as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius you will remember the decade as a dynamic time, a time when the social status quo was being challenged. The 1970s brought social upheaval, with many questioning the validity of the prevailing post-war culture: comfortable, suburban, consumerist.
Young women were asking why their lives should be limited to child rearing and homemaking and why when they did participate in the work force they were being paid less than their male counterparts. Young men were asking why we were fighting an American led war in Vietnam, and why they should be conscripted for military training in the first place. Everyone questioned how “safe” the testing of French nuclear weapons was if they were doing it our Pacific neighbourhood rather than their own backyard. And closer to home we had decided that we were not prepared to sacrifice our natural environmental assets, the pristine shores of Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau, in order to provide cheap electricity that would generate profits for a foreign owned aluminium company.
We were coming to the realisation that we needed to formulate our own views and to look our own capabilities and resources for our future well-being both at home and in the world. The social climate was ripe for creative local solutions and that was reflected in the fashion of the day, both in what we wore and in the way our clothes were being made and sold.
The Age of Aquarius exhibition provides a platform to see and experience New Zealand in the 1970s through the wardrobes and stories of six individuals, and through examples of six different modes of fashion making. They represent the diversity that existed and the trends that were prevalent. The consciousness-raising espoused by the women's liberation movement had clearly found purchase with our group, where regardless of marital status all were working. The experience of the one man profiled in this exhibition shows that there were also benefits for men that arose from social equity for women, because it removed some of the pressure on them to be the sole providers for a household, and allowed them to indulge their own interests.
Geoffrey Bailey was 36 at the beginning of the decade and worked for the civil service, but outside of work he expressed his passion for clothes.
Eloise Watts was 54 in 1970 and together with her husband Vic was the proprietor of the London Bar on Wellesley St, a working life that required a glamorous, yet practical, wardrobe.
Kathie Figgins was 25 and working as medical laboratory technician in 1970. Although she had married in 1968 she continued to work and earn her own income, which she put partly towards clothes.
Rachel Stace was 20 when she left home and moved to Auckland. Parties, weddings, music gigs and the like were motivation and inspiration for purchasing something new and for dressing up. Rachel (1973) is our cover girl.
Anita Arlov was a 13 year old student in 1970 in Christchurch and shares her wardrobe over a decade of growing up.
Also living in that city, Zora Price was a 39 year old and spent the 1970s working as a teacher, a dressmaker, a housewife and a mother of three girls.
While each expression of identity is different and personal, each of these people shared a time and place, and illuminate the sociological influences that impacted the entire culture at the time. These signs of the times reached into all forms of cultural expression including what we wear, and also, importantly, how our clothes were being made and sold.
Established manufacturers like El Jay, Society, Southwell and House of Raymonde, which had developed a loyal client base, continued to flourish by following the fashion of the day and delivering it to their customers. There also emerged a new breed of manufacturers, keen to take a different approach and to cater to an increasingly educated, informed, well-travelled and youthful clientele. Labels like Peppertree, Miss Deb, Attic 80, Fotheringay and Hullabaloo targeted this younger set, while labels like Bendon were agile enough to change their product to suit the changing market.
High-end couturiers like Colin Cole continued to successfully occupy the glamorous end of the spectrum while responding to changing demand by adding ready to wear. But the avant garde of couture was led by a new generation epitomised by Annie Bonza who combined the skills of couture cutting and making with the application of contemporary artistic embellishments using colour blocking, appliqué and cornelli techniques.
Customisation was a strategy that many of the aspiring designers of the day followed, bypassing the limitations of available fabrics to create their own original garments using materials that were hand-woven, appliquéd, printed, painted or embroidered. These designers made and sold their work through various models such as textile dyer and printer Susan Holmes who sold through artisan market Brown's Mill. Others like Linda Evans and Mary Jane and Phil O'Reilly sold through emporia, either small local shops or larger venues like Cook St Market. Still others chose the model of independent boutiques. Wendy Ganley of Elle boutique is a notable example, as is Laraine Flowers of Petrouska. There were others who joined forces such as the group who sold through Tigermoth or Virginia King who was sold her designs through Nova.
By the end of the era it was widely accepted that different styles of clothing and of making and retailing could co-exist and that it was possible for everyone to choose clothes that expressed your individuality.
The Age of Aquarius reader is available to purchase in our shop.
The New Zealand Fashion Museum is for anyone with a love of fashion, heritage, innovation and creativity. With no fixed abode other than this online address, it is a museum dedicated to the curation of New Zealand’s rich fashion past, making it relevant for the present and future.
Established in 2010 as a Charitable Trust, it records and shares the stories of the people, objects and photographs that have contributed to the development of New Zealand's unique fashion identity. It makes them visible and accessible to a broad audience through pop-up exhibitions, publications and our online museum. Read more
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