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The dress detective

Claire Regnault delves into New Zealand’s fashionabl­e history and shares her discoverie­s.

- Words Carolyn Enting

As fashionabl­e books go, Dressed couldn’t be better dressed. It features a tactile pillow front and back cover as well as a bookmark ribbon, indulging author Claire Regnault’s love of haberdashe­ry. Produced by Te Papa Press, it is an exquisite tome that will delight both historians and fashionist­as.

Regnault, known to many as @dressdetec­tiveagency on Instagram, is also senior curator New Zealand histories and cultures at Te Papa and has worked in the sector since 1994. Poring over the pages, one discovers that dress from 1840 to 1910 in New Zealand shares many concepts with modern-day fashion. For example, Hūria Mātenga of Whakapuaka in Nelson (pictured above) reportedly preferred to buy her fashionabl­e European gowns from England rather than Nelson.

The red dress (also pictured), fitted with a bustle pad, was purchased from James Spence & Co in London. The company offered clients around the world an internatio­nal mail order service along with detailed illustrate­d instructio­ns on taking measuremen­ts to ensure a perfect fit. Not so different to online shopping today!

Dressed teems with the fascinatin­g, busy lives of early businesswo­men, society women and civic figures, and features dresses and fashionabl­e accessorie­s from museums throughout Aotearoa as well as 300 images. It truly is a national treasure that makes a significan­t contributi­on to the histories of colonial dress. It shows how New Zealand’s dress history was alive to internatio­nal trends but also shaped by interactio­ns with Māori, the demands of settler lifestyle and the country’s geography and environmen­t.

During Regnault’s research it was thrilling to find an actual image of a garment being worn, such as a 1844 watercolou­r wedding portrait of Anna Bishop and matching it with the remains of her green wedding dress. She found a letter from Bishop’s 88-year-old daughter referencin­g the gown in the museum’s old files stamped ‘closed’ and discovered that the poorly catalogued bodice in the collection was indeed a match!

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 ??  ?? Dressed Fashionabl­e Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910 By Claire Regnault Te Papa Press, $70.
Dressed Fashionabl­e Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910 By Claire Regnault Te Papa Press, $70.

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