Go back in time through the fashion of the 1920s and 30s

Floral dresses on display at the Nightlife exhibition. Image: Lionel Baker

THE NIGHTLIFE EXHIBITION at the Barwon Park Mansion showcases the evening wear of the 1920s and 30s in an immersive experience that transports you to a different era.

The exhibition was put together by the National Trust, featuring their fashion collection which consists of over 35 never-before-seen garments that reference the night sky and all things play.

National Trust volunteer, Colin, 65, played at the Barwon Park Mansion as a child and has many memories and experiences of being in the house over the years.

National Trust volunteer, Colin, at the Barwon Park Mansion. Image: Lionel Baker

He said he loves sharing his knowledge with visitors and seeing them enjoy the building and its rich history.

“We want people to have a greater appreciation for a different age; it’s a grand building for the grand dresses. We thought it was the only building in Victoria suitable to display these works of art,” he said.

The ‘between the war period’ of the 1920s and 30s was an experimental time for fashion; influenced by cinema, and events such as the Depression changed the course of fashion.

Nightlife exhibition entrance at the Barwon Park Mansion. Image: Lionel Baker

The 20s was bright and an illusion for all with garments that reflected the city lights, glitz and glamour as a means of escape. It turned dark in the 30s, as the decade that experienced the Depression.

Many of the exhibition’s dresses are black as it became a symbol of elegance and sophistication, knowledge, experience and sexual enlightenment. The dresses are grouped into sections where it is clear what influenced the fashion at the time, like floral and Egyptian styles.

Whether you prefer a self-guided tour or would like more information from a volunteer, visitors can explore the dresses throughout the mansion amidst the light displays and learn more about the restoration process of the dresses that get donated to the Trust.

Light display illuminates the black dresses for an immersive experience . Image: Lionel Baker

Visitor Linda, 56 of Geelong, said she loved being able to explore the history of fashion in Victoria through the atmosphere of the house and the dresses on display.

“They’re beautiful, just gorgeous. The dresses of today are so different. The garments back then are so close fitting it’s as though you’d have to starve yourself to wear them,” she said.

The exhibition has been received with great success following the Mansion’s recent exhibition for film ‘The Dress Maker’, which brought in 22,000 visitors over three months – doubling its usual 11,000 visitors, annually.

The exhibition provides more than just a visual feast of beads, fabrics and sequins as you can get to know more through the volunteers; National Trust volunteer and President of the Barwon Promoters, Elva Cawood, has worked at the Barwon Park Mansion for seven years.

National Trust volunteer and President of Barwon Promoters, Elva Cawood. Image: Lionel Baker

After suffering a back injury rendering her unable to work, Ms Cawood decided to keep the family tradition alive by volunteering at the house; her grandmother and two aunties worked in the mansion as servants back in the day, along with her grandfather who helped build the house.

Ms Cawood loves being able to dress up and take her role at the Mansion seriously, adhering to traditional dress codes and role playing.

“I was never one to dress up as a child, so being able to do it in a place like this is just a ball!” she said.


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