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Story: Clothes

In the late 19th century feminists argued that women should abandon corsets and long skirts in favour of more practical, comfortable clothing. In the 2000s informal dressing was common, with both sexes sporting jeans and T-shirts.

Story by Fiona McKergow
Main image: Evening dress, early 1900s

Story Summary

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Women

19th-century women wore long dresses, corsets and hats. Fashion was based on styles from London and Paris. From the 1850s home sewing machines and paper dressmaking patterns were available. In the late 19th century feminists promoted practical clothes such as knickerbockers (baggy knee-length trousers) for women.

Clothes were lacy and feminine in the 1900s, then simpler and looser in the 1920s. New clothing was rationed during the Second World War.

From the 1950s trousers for women were more common. Miniskirts were fashionable in the 1960s, and in the 1970s women began wearing jeans and T-shirts.

Men

Men’s clothes have mostly been made from strong fabrics in limited colours – black, blue, brown, white and grey. Men’s fashion has changed less over time than women’s fashion.

19th-century men wore shirts, waistcoats, trousers and coats. Suits were worn through the 20th century, although farmers or labourers often had just one suit for special occasions. Jeans, based on working men’s clothes, became popular with young men from the 1950s.

Children

In the 19th century both boy and girl babies wore robes. Later in the century boys wore knickerbocker suits, while girls wore dresses. Hand-knitted garments became popular, and from the later 20th century stretchy knit fabrics were widely used for most children’s clothes. New Zealand children have often gone barefoot.

Uniforms

New Zealand secondary schools generally had uniforms, while primary schools did not. From the early 20th century girls wore gym frocks. In the 1960s girls’ uniforms became more varied. Boys often wore grey shirts with short trousers, sometimes with a tie. In the 2000s uniforms were more unisex. Some primary schools had adopted uniforms while some secondary schools no longer had them.

Some adults, such as nurses and members of the armed forces, also wore uniforms.

Identity

As Europeans settled in New Zealand, Māori began wearing European clothing. Some outfits combined Māori and European styles. In the 2000s traditional Māori cloaks are worn at official occasions such as royal tours.

Clothes can be a way of expressing identity or group membership. For instance, gay men and lesbians have sometimes dressed differently from heterosexuals. People with particular religious or political beliefs may also show this through clothing.

How to cite this page:

Fiona McKergow, 'Clothes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/clothes (accessed 24 April 2018)

Story by Fiona McKergow, published 5 Sep 2013