At The Beach Exhibition – 100 Years of Summer Fashion

November 16, 2015

1960s sixties surf babes surfboard bikini

Last week, I popped down to the Auckland Maritime Museum, to see their new exhibition, At The Beach – 100 Years of Summer Fashion in New Zealand. Running from the 17th of October all the way until the 8th of February next year, it was a nostalgic look back at the last century of beach fashions in New Zealand, and how much the beach and summer holidays mean to the country as a whole. Featuring only New Zealand made or designed garments the exhibition also charts an informal history of our fashion industry. Being that my Honours thesis was about nostalgia and the memories that people attach to clothing, as well as the fact that I work in 2 different second hand stores & love vintage prints and clothing, it hit several of my clothing related interests and I really enjoyed the hour I spent wandering around.

1960s sixties car teenage beach

One of my favourite bits was the several collages full of holiday photos – ranging from glamourous black & white images of the 40s & 50s, through to sepia-tinged quintessential summer snaps of the 70s & 80s. As well as being full of recognisable details, these had personal stories and memories from the families who donated them, really giving you the feeling of being right there with them. Some of the garments on loan also had stories attached to them, I really liked one about a shirred swimsuit from Sandy Hall – her mother bought it in 1960 & wore it for the rest of her life, which goes to show how well made garments used to be.


The attention to detail in the exhibits was pretty great, with reproduced classic kiwi baches, dairies and camping areas such as the dairy/ice cream bar with all its vintage packaging and teenage mannequins standing around gossiping.

beach cape towel towelling vintage sixties fifties bathing cap parasol

My favourite items were these two candlewick towel-capes, I would really really love one and can just picture myself sitting on the sand under a sun umbrella with it draped around my shoulders! I think it would be pretty easy to make but the tricky part would be finding the candlewick fabric to make it from.

at the beach swimming costumes dress

It was also super cool seeing bathing dresses like these two, the one on the left is from 1890-1900 and the one on the right from 1910-1915. The thought of going swimming in something like this is very strange, but at the time it must have been so liberating to wear!

swimwear bathers togs knitted vintage overskirt

This knitted blue one-piece on the left caught my eye as well – dating from the 1940s, it’s knitted from wool & would have been the height of fashion – but I can imagine when it got wet how heavy and saggy it would get which makes me pretty thankful for lycra and underwire! The outfit on the right surprised me in a different way – I used to own the skirt part of it in the exact same print, but sold it on Trade Me several years ago! I do wonder if the one in the museum is in fact the exact one I used to own but since it’s with the matching swimsuit (which I never had) I doubt that it is.

at the beach exhibition auckland maritime museum

The exhibition was produced in conjunction with the New Zealand Fashion Museum, which is an online-based museum who have pop-up exhibitions (like this one) that aim to record and share the stories of the people, objects and photographs that have contributed to the development of New Zealand’s unique fashion identity. As well as visiting the physical exhibitions, there is also a large selection of photographed clothing to browse online, plus the ability to upload your own items for posterity, which is perfect if you have an amazing item that has been handed down through your family, or even something cool found in an op shop with an obvious back story.

at the beach new zealand fashion museum exhibition maritime museum auckland

Although I’ve spent most of my life living in Auckland, I actually hadn’t been to the Maritime Museum before, & could have spent a little longer looking around if I had more time. The exhibition meanders throughout the whole museum which means if you have more time to spare, or inquisitive small children, you can also look at several boats, visit the 1840’s rocking boat replica as you learn about New Zealand’s first immigrants, and reminisce about the 1995 America’s cup. The best bonus – this exhibition is free to see if you are an Auckland resident, all you need is proof of address – something like a library card should get you in.




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