Victorian Collections and Seagull

Hello vintage fashion lovers,

As a result of my cultural heritage/museum studies, I’m currently studying collections and curatorship, a subject that has inspired me to formalise my rather large collection of Australian fashion. You may recall that I’ve been collecting since 1980 and have a lot of things – these are items that I’ve been using for years in talks and fashion parades but I wanted to make them more accessible.

There’s a great site called ‘Victorian Collections’ which displays lots of collections around the state, and now you can see my private collection here too. Rather unimaginatively, I’ve called it the Jenkins Collection and you can see it here.

I’m adding to it when I have time, so that it will grow to be representative of Australian fashion. These items are available for exhibitions, talks and study etc.

Today I added one of my ’30s swimsuits and curious, did a little googling. Here she is, as modelled by St Clare.

seagull-8

I’ve had this for a while, and used it a few times in an exhibition and a vintage fashion parade. It’s quite striking – and hard to imagine going swimming in it. During the ’30s they moved away from knitted wools after the invention of ‘Lastex’, a fibre that mixed rubber with cotton, silk or wool to create a more comfortable and quicker drying swimsuit.

This swimsuit combines the sleek lines of ’30s fashion with the merino wool that was worn earlier, so it’s a transitional style. That may explain why it’s in such good shape. These wool swimsuits are hard to find in Australia because (like other swimwear) they weren’t always stored well, washed after use and dried properly. Moths just love nibbling the soft wool fibres too.

The brand is ‘Seagull’ and it has a wonderful motif on the hip, and label inside. It was made by the Botany Knitting Mills Pty Ltd at 200 Nicholson Street, Carlton. Not a very exciting building but a great location, long since demolished.

botany-knitting-mills
Botany Knitting Mills 1948 – Photo owned by the Fitzroy library.

Here’s a pic of the “Executives and skilled operatives” at the mills, “manufacturers of Seagull swimwear, underwear and outerwear”.
botany-knitting-mills-2The Age, April 23 1940

Most excitingly of all, I think found my swimsuit!

seagull-1930s
On the left is an advert from The Register News of Adelaide, 28/11/30 “Seagull Bathers keep their beauty until the day they are discarded…these all-Australian swimming suits are the only ones in which a color motif is knitted into the costume“.

The second article is from the Williamstown Chronicle of 10/1/31 where there will be “competitions for girls” on the beach (presumably bathing beauty contests) where you can win your own custom-sized Seagull Flex-o-knit swimsuit.

The third one is an advert from the Brisbane Courier, 17/3/32 for a clear out sale of the “Surf Suits” – a wonderful Easter Bargain! “Being salt water shrunk, these bathers can not lose their colour or shapeliness”. The ad displays the sizes: from 32 to 42 inch bust – in modern sizes, size 6 to 16. Not a bad range! More variety than most modern labels.

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