National Gallery of Victoria: 200 Years of Fashion

After Degas, I walked across the Yarra River to Federation Square and the NGV Australia. This was the first time I had visited the second location of the NGV! Although I didn’t have time to walk around and see the permanent collection, I did see 200 Years of Australian Fashion.

Unlike Degas, I had been looking forward to seeing this exhibition for weeks. I was especially intrigued as to how it would be displayed and what kind of stories it would tell. Of course, I was also looking forward to seeing the fashion!

The first room of the exhibition contains a curtain with pictures projected onto it. At the end of the room is a small thematic panel basically outlining the exhibition rationale and what to expect. The rest of the exhibition is displayed chronologically, outlining important developments in Australian fashion. My favourite object was right at the beginning – one of the first dresses ever made in Australia. Considering how difficult textile conservation is, I was very excited to see it is estimated to be from 1805!


The greatest achievement of the exhibition, in my opinion, was its layout. For example, after viewing the colonial dresses you move through a room with parasols covering the ceiling. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful, but, it also marks the beginning of the display on department store and mass produced fashion. Essentially, the parasol room provided a smooth segway between the two separate spaces.


In department store fashion was a wonderful hat display! I’ll put a picture below, but, to me, it looked like a contemporary take on an old department store setup.


Similar to Degas, the labels were, at times, quite difficult to read. White writing on a light grey background was particularly challenging to follow. At one point in the exhibition, the thematic panel was printed on a mirror. Whilst this looked amazing, it was almost impossible to read.


Also similar to Degas, there were no interactive elements in the exhibition. I would have loved to have seen more information on the showcased fashion! I purchased the catalogue (couldn’t help myself) so I am looking forward to reading that on the flight home. At least it will provide a bit more context.

Parts of the exhibition did have oral history recordings that could be listened to through headphones. I didn’t listen to any but lots of people were stopping for a minute or two. I am glad they went with headphones. It would have been very noisy otherwise!

To finish on a positive, the exhibition went above and beyond just displaying fashion. It made important links to economic, political, social, and cultural changes in Australian history. My favourite example was in the department store section. On one of the object labels was some information on the origins of having clothing labels attached to fashion pieces. In short, the labels added artistic and commercial value.

If you’re thinking of seeing this exhibition it is definitely worth your time!

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