The late Dulcie Mason’s culturally significant handmade dress collection is bringing fond memories to life while raising funds for a central Queensland op shop.
Ms Mason was a Darling Downs girl who loved to dance — and with every occasion, her good friend and dressmaker Thelma Beutel handcrafted her a new outfit to suit the latest fashion.
“These dresses are incredible,” Anglicare volunteer and colour stylist Jacquie Mackay said.
The eclectic collection of 70 dresses, accompanied by accessories including gloves, bags and hats, dates back to the mid-1900s.
“It really is something to be seen, it will bring back a lot of memories for a lot of people I’m sure,” Ms Mackay said.
“We start off with a dress that probably dates back to the 1940s which is a little bit austere … but it has the most beautiful beading, absolutely incredible hand beading.
“But then as we move into the 1950s, you start to get a lot more of the colours back in again, a lot more interesting in the design, little nipped in waist and full skirts with petticoats underneath.
A culturally significant collection
When Dulcie died in 2017, she left the collection to textile artist Nicki Laws who had hoped to find a permanent place for the frocks to be displayed – but she died in 2018.
Steve Townson, president and director of the Australian Cultural Library said the collection was not a typical acquisition.
“They were very close to being discarded, potentially,” Mr Townson said.
“They were offered to other institutes, but no-one seemed to value the collection.
“The dresses are clearly significant though, as an example of local manufacturing of all different styles and designs.
“So, we took a gamble by saying we would accept them and at least put them into storage until something could be done with the collection.”
Since taking it on board about a year ago, Mr Townson said a special guest had attended one of three exhibitions of the collection.
“The daughter of Dulcie had turned up and mentioned that by us using the exhibition and the dresses for fundraising for an op shop in Rosewood — that was exactly what her mother’s intentions would’ve been for the dresses,” he said.
“Ultimately, the idea is to find another organisation that is more suitable for the collection, so a fashion museum or something that would clearly appreciate and be able to preserve it a lot better than our criteria and our expertise.”
Mr Townson said while the dresses remained in the library’s collection they would continue to display them for a good cause.
“It seems to bring out a lot of people from different backgrounds, different ages as well to kind of reflect,” he said.
“We’ll attempt to, every now and then, use them as a way of fundraising for a community organisation or at least bringing people out.
“In particular elderly people, out of their homes, it will [give them] somewhere safe and somewhere to reflect and be part of a community.”
Supporting small non-profit organisations
Nicole Poll, Anglicare Bargain Store coordinator, said the organisation was grateful for the library’s support.
“We decided that we too would do a fashion parade of our clothing from the store just to create more awareness of what we actually sell because we have some beautiful stuff,” Ms Poll said.
“All the volunteers from the store have been involved – we have about 15 models that’ve all been involved and it’s taken a lot of hours.”
Rockhampton volunteer Julie Thornton contributed her own designs to Anglicare’s pre-loved fashion parade being held with the Dulcie display.
“I’ve been doing art to wear for 20 years,” she said.
“I think I’m the only one doing wearable art now in central Queensland.
Ms Thornton hoped wearable art and pre-loved fashion would become more popular.
“I think now with everybody talking about the environment – we really need to think more seriously about recycling clothes.
“The amount of clothes that are given away every year is really distressing, and I think if people start looking and thinking about what they’re buying, it will help save the planet.”