There comes a point in each semester when the uni’s endless sea of stripes, denim, grey, black and white becomes a bit too monotonous to bear. At this point, vintage fashion never fails to provide a fresh and energising splash of colour. Fashion Rules OK, the new exhibition at the University of Otago’s de Beer Gallery, is ushering in Autumn in bright and cheery style. On display you’ll find books, magazines, posters, and paraphernalia all relating to the wonderful and wild world of fashion throughout history.
The four glass cases outside the gallery are filled with kaleidoscopic collections of intriguing fashion treasures. Vintage posters of laughing hourglass girls in gaudy colours hark back to a different time, while Seamfree Supp-hose Stockings are cheerfully advertised. Men’s fashion has a cabinet to itself, while a magnificent, emerald green Dior heel rests proudly, dating back to the ‘50s or ‘60s.
Inside, Britain’s first ever fashion magazine, The Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion, displays regency and 19th century styles in an intimidating volume. Before Vogue, Cleo, and Fashion Quarterly, 18th century women paraded these pages donning enormous, dome-like dresses.
Leaping forward a few years, I laughed out loud at The Clothing Budget pamphlet, a home science resource teaching girls how to properly buy clothes. Budgeting their clothing money was clearly a major concern, and a serious science; The Clothing Budget describes the importance of comparing the cost of certain items with their “wears per year”. “When is a bargain a bargain?” the book asks viewers (it’s 2016 and we still don’t have the answer).
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this exhibition is a timeline of Barbie dolls, dating back to her smouldering original creation in 1959. Over the years this miniature fashion icon has worn more outfits than most people would wear in a lifetime, with a body shape and style that is changing rapidly too. Mattel’s recent development of a range of Barbie shapes, sizes, and colours is a hopeful indication of the future of the fashion industry – one not only accepting of variation, but celebratory of it.
If you haven’t visited the Special Collections gallery before, check it out on the first floor of the library next time you’ve got an hour between classes. They host a great range of free exhibitions each year, showcasing the wicked treasures you’d have never known our library has to offer.