Loel Thomson’s clothing collection

Hi everyone,

I’m coming to the end of my master’s degree of cultural heritage at Deakin university, and for my thesis, I wrote about the significance of Loel Thomson’s wonderful costume collection. You might recall that it was based out of a private museum in Bulleen.

The Costume Collection at Yarra Park, Bulleen

Loel’s museum closed last year, as the land it occupies has been claimed by the state government for a freeway expansion and the collection has been transferred to a new home at Shepparton, where it will be part of an exciting new museum, the Museum of Vehicle Evolution, where it joins collections of cars, trucks, bicycles, radios and other objects. MOVE can be found at 7723 Goulburn Valley Hwy, Kialla VIC 3631, part of the Emerald Bank leisure complex.

I’ve been helping MOVE set up the clothing collection, both from an exhibition and collections management point of view and train the staff and volunteers about how to look after it, as textile collections pose conservation, display and storage challenges. After 18 months studying the collection (and multiple visits over the years, you might recall that we photographed some parts of the collection for my first book ‘Love Vintage’), I know Loel’s collection better than my own. Here’s a little about it:

Loel spent the last forty plus years collecting ‘the history of Australian every day fashion’. Although it includes some high quality designer fashion, the bulk of it is what ordinary people wore since European colonisation. It’s mostly women’s wear but also mens and childrenswear. There’s approximately 8,000 objects: probably the largest and best organised private collection of Australian fashion in the world, and it includes some very rare and wonderful things.

The earliest garments are from the 1770s, and the most modern are 2000. While most collectors (like myself) tend to collect what we love, Loel sought to be representative and so the collection is a comprehensive library of different styles, materials and techniques from over 200 years of fashion. It’s particularly strong on accessories and jewellery but also includes a good selection of hand-made antique laces. There’s also a large reference library of costume books I’m quite envious of.

The new MOVE museum opens next month and this is the first time that Loel’s wonderful collection will be publicly accessible, so I hope you take up the opportunity to visit when you can.

If you’d like to see more about the collection, I’m posting items to social media:

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

And there’s also MOVE’s Facebook and probably more social media to come once they’re open.

The MOVE museum is recruiting volunteers and will also be open to accepting donations of relevant clothing, accessories and jewellery, to fill gaps in the collection. Please direct any enquiries about this to the collections manager (click here for emails). Thank you.

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