Unpicking the gendered body: new research in the history and material culture of clothes

In March we observe Women’s History Month, adding historical context to annual celebrations of International Women’s Day on 8 March. In this Making Public Histories seminar three historians of dress present recent work exploring history and material culture. Their topics range in time from the Elizabethan era to the 1920s and consider how dress functioned to shape gendered bodies in the past.


Dr Sarah Bendall

Shaping the Body in Early Modern England: Foundation Garments and Women’

The structured feminine silhouette of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was achieved using garments called bodies and farthingales, predecessors of later corsets and crinolines. In this talk Sarah Bendall discusses how these garments began to shape and define changing notions of the feminine bodily ideal, social status, sexuality and modesty in early modern England, influencing enduring Western notions of femininity.

Dr Lorinda Cramer

‘“Always to appear respectable” and the “butterflies about town”: Dress in gold-rush Victoria’ 

Gold-rush commentators deplored extravagant dress. Considering it a vulgar display of wealth, they encouraged modest good taste instead. While this began with sensible purchases, it extended to care and maintenance – for gowns were worn over many years and mended, adjusted, bequeathed and handed down.

Assoc. Prof. Melissa Bellanta

‘The Shoddy Dropper: Working-Class Men and Fashion in 1920s Australia’

This talk uses the interwar career of the Melbourne con-man, Louis Stirling, to offer insights into Australian working-class men’s relationship to fashion in the roaring twenties. For a brief period, Stirling was a ‘shoddy dropper’: a salesman who sold supposedly-quality suit lengths door-to-door. Considering the rise of shoddy dropping, the talk sheds light on the dress practices and longings of urban working-class men in 1920s Australia, counteracting the tendency only to think about women when considering fashion in the day.  


Margaret Anderson, Director of Old Treasury Building will host the evening, and HCV Board Member Associate Professor Susie Protschky will facilitate the Q&A.


March 24, 2022 at 5:00pm - 6:30pm
Melbourne, VIC
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Alicia Cerreto - HCV ·

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