Lucy Secor

I’ve wanted to write about Lucy Secor for ages because every garment I’ve seen from this Melbourne label has been exceptionally well made. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one who thinks they’re special – items can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

This lovely gown has just arrived in the shop – providing the perfect excuse for a little investigating.

1940s evening gown with beaded bodice and draped skirt. Now available online and in the Melbourne salon.

Lucy Secor was a fashion label that opened in Melbourne in 1922. The original shop was located at Centreway arcade on Collins Street: a premium location, then and now so you can see that they were always a good label.

A Sydney Mail advert from 1927: posted in a different state for mail orders.

From “Out of Line: Australian Women and Style” by Margaret Maynard:
“Her forte was strong, svelte design and later shimmering evening gowns, still remembered today as having an almost miraculous finish”.

During the ’30s, the flagship Melbourne shop relocated across Collins St to the Block arcade, in prime position facing the street – even better real estate! A 1937 newspaper ad announces that they were still there and that it was “business as usual” after a “portion of stock was damaged by water” suggesting a flood or bad roof leak.

By 1940 they were advertising in the Age for young ladies to be taught at a dressmaking school at their South Melbourne factory – based at 35 and 43 Sturt St “Just over Princes Bridge” in what is now the Arts Precinct. Once again, you can’t fault the excellent location. Teachers were requested to be over forty five years old (!)

 

 

So you were trained for a career, paid a good wage and offered attractive career prospects all at the same time: pretty much like an apprenticeship.

Kevin has kindly sent in a wonderful photo of the Lucy Secor staff in the early ’40s – including his mum and her best friend. It had to be wide to fit everyone in, so was taken in two parts with a panorama camera.

 

Photos courtesy Kevin and Beryl Poulter.

The State Library have several photos of the Collins St shop windows in 1941 – here’s one.

 

Receipt from 1948 – note the ration coupons. Restrictions were in place for years after WW2 in Australia.

Lucy Secor also had an Adelaide shop at the “Beehive Buildings”, on the corner of King William St and Rundle St in 1929 as per this advert in the Adelaide Advertiser:

 

In 1933 Lucy Secor opened an “Out Sized Department” in their Adelaide shop:
“It is no longer difficult for the not so slim woman to be smartly dressed now that Lucy Secor has opened her out-sized department. Her frocks are all designed and cut to give that air of slimness that makes just all the difference”.

Hmm. “Out-sized”. It’s not the nicest term is it? Preferable to our modern “plus-sized” though. It probably explains the “OS” size of the time (which I had imagined was over-sized. We learn something new every day). In case you’re wondering, an OS in 1933 was equivalent to a modern 16, showing that not that much has changed in womens’ sizes over the years.

A truly national retailer, a Lucy Secor frock shop could be found in Aherns arcade, Hay Street, Perth in 1933 too. Here’s a photo from 1950s where you can a chunk of neon sign pointing you in the right direction. I miss shopping arcades like these, they’re a dying breed.

Image source here.

The company ceased trading in WA in February 1951, but flourished elsewhere.

Also in 1933, I found an article in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding a new shop front and shop fittings for a shop in King St, suggesting that could be the date it opened, or more likely a second shop (the first was probably in the ’20s as they’re unlikely to open in Adelaide before Australia’s largest city, but you never know).

In any case by 1955, Lucy Secor could be found at the Strand arcade, 120 King Street. This may be the shop that was set up in 1933 too.

In 1952 the Melbourne shop advertised in the Age for a sales woman to take charge of agencies in a large country area, and I also found mention of selling their stock on consignment at an Alice Springs boutique (in 1968 I think?), so as a fashion company they covered a lot of the country.

 

Here’s another Lucy Secor design we had recently – this one is also from the ’40s. It’s hard to see due to the black fabrics, but it has big velvet bows over the hips, to emphasise your curves.

You could launch rockets from those shoulder pads.

Here’s a gorgeous ’40s from the Darnell Collection – I photographed it when it was on display at the “Fashion Meets Fiction” exhibition a while ago. 

It comes with a matching stole and I bid on it at auction when it had previously been available, but was outbid. I can’t mind too much because the Darnell Collection is a wonderful home for it.  The fabric is a rich gold and black brocade, silk I think. Love that big square buckle.

From what I’ve seen, Lucy Secor designs are sophisticated and well bred, and a little restrained, I’m sure they were expensive originally. The attention to detail and quality of the fabrics speak for themselves and they’ve stood the test of time.

All of the pieces I’ve seen have born the same label (see above) – it’s large and richly woven in silk. The logo also adorns the bra keepers when found.

Lucy Secor was deregistered as recently as 1989, although most of the frocks I’ve seen were ’30s or ’40s. They seemed very active in the ’50s, judging by all the “help wanted” adverts so hopefully there are a lot more frocks out there. Their flavour of grown up glamour particularly suits the ’40s though.

Note: since writing this article, I’ve received a lot of material from people and so an update will be coming when I have time. If you’d like to be alerted when that happens, you can subscribe to the post by selecting the button below.

Share!

20 comments

  1. Hi Nicole,
    It’s the same Joanne here that you helped with the mystery red and white jacket on the VFG forum.
    Where do you go to buy frocks at auction in Melbourne? Or is that classified information?
    Jo

  2. Hi Jo, I don’t buy frocks at auction in Melbourne but you could try the Collector auctions in Murrumbeena or Leonard Joel’s Pre-owned luxury for higher end fashions. Other auction houses do occasional auctions too, like Steve Graham in Woodend.

    There are lots of places to buy vintage though: there’s also the National Trust’s annual vintage fashion sale, assorted markets and fairs plus of course, vintage and second hand shops.

    Most of my stock comes from private collectors: I’ve been collecting since 1980 so probably have enough that I don’t need to buy for another five years.

  3. Hi Jo,
    My mother in law worked at Lucy Secor and she still has some catalogs from the day.She is 86 and still sews clothes for local ladies and always to a very high standard. That is what she is known for.

  4. Hi Susan – I’m not surprised she’s a skilled seamstress, all the Secor gowns I’ve seen have been incredible. Lovely to hear she still has some catalogs, I’d love to see them if you can scan? I could add pics to this post. Thank you for your comment – Nicole.

  5. My grandma was married in a Lucy Secor so i have been trying to collect as many as i can. I have four so far!! So beautifully made with such attention to detail! Thankyou for this article. I coveted the one you had for sale!!

  6. How wonderful Kerryn! Great to meet a fellow collector – Lucy Secor is an excellent label to collect and I’d love to see yours one day.

  7. Hi Nicole, thanks for the info about Lucy Secor. I was lucky enough to find a Lucy Secor wedding dress (probably1940’s) that I wore for my wedding last year. It incredibly fit like a glove! It’s such amazing tailoring and such an elegant style. It would be great to know the history of the dress, but I will have to be satisfied with the history of Lucy Secor!

  8. Hi here is my mother Neen Wills nee Maguire from Dubbo. Mum saved all her wages to buy her first Secor dress. This all occurred whilst being courted by my father. He went to war as Empire Air trainee in 460 Squadron Lancaster bombers. (The Wild Colonial Boys) and I guess he was one of the lucky ones. I have photo of my mother in her dress from the 1940’s, if you would like a copy I can send you one, she was a real stunner!
    John

  9. Hi John, yes please, that would be wonderful! I recently received some lovely Lucy Secor pieces so this will add nicely to the story. Thank you, can you please email to nicole at circavintage dot com dot au

  10. Hi – my mother worked for Lucy Secor in Christchurch, New Zealand, from 1945-1955, when she left to get married. She began with sewing, & ended up in charge of the workroom. Two of her sisters also worked there. At the time she left, she had been asked to model wedding frocks for the firm – in Australia. Surely the firms must be connected? Lucy Secor (NZ) had a very high reputation, & the girls were certainly very well-trained. The frocks were sold as designer garments. The owners at the time were a Mr & Mrs Wagner. (A different lady owned it when my mother started work there.)

  11. Thanks for your comment, DR. I hope to research LS a lot more and expect you’re right, about the NZ connection. How wonderful that they expanded across the Tasman!

  12. Thanks John, sounds like a great book! Very similar to the work that I do with interpretting people and society through their fashions.

  13. I lived in Sturt sreet South Melbourne in the late forties and fifties not far from Lucy’s factory. I was the paperboy that delivered her papers in the morning. Lovely years and lovely people at Lucy’s.
    Jim Elkins

  14. My mother was a dressmaker and pattern maker for Lucy Secors where she trained as an apprentice. Her sister worked there as well and both are in their nineties. Both were beautiful seamstresses and dressed smartly. My mother made her sisters wedding dress that was featured in the Melbourne Sun. She started work there at the age of 15 in 1941. My mother had fond memories of her time at Lucy Secors.

  15. You have solved a mystery for me! My mother told me that when she left school she went to work for Lucy Seekers in Melbourne. I just realised it would have been Lucy Secors. I suppose she just never wrote it down. It would have been about 1932. She worked there for about three years, graduating from seams to buttonholes and collars over time. I don’t know why she left, travelling back to Queensland where her mother lived and meeting my father at the age of 18.

    I am writing a memoir of sorts based on my mother’s life so this is another puzzle piece I can add to my collection.

  16. My mother Helen Harris née Tomkins worked at Lucy Secor in the early 1950s she had her photo taken on the Princess bridge in Melbourne in the garments she had made I wonder if any of these photos still around

  17. Am writing a piece for Southbank News about the Secor building and business in Sturt Street. Does anyone know if Secor was an actual person or just a corporate name. Nicole?

  18. Hi Robin, that’s a very good question. My research (of which I need to do much more on this label) hasn’t turned up anything and I suspect it’s a corporate name, not person. I’ll see if I can find out for you, Robin. Also, I’m accumulating unpublished material on this company so please let me know if you have further questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *