Take a glimpse into South Australia’s history through The Catford Costume Collection

Costuming and fashion history gives us a glimpse into the past. And now you can dive into History SA’s own historical fashion and costuming collections.

Costuming and fashion history gives us a glimpse into the past. And soon you will be able to dive into History SA’s own historical fashion and costuming collections.

One of the most renowned and vibrant collections is The Catford Collection. 

Garments worn, bought and made in South Australia form the bulk of this rich collection.

Started by Beth Catford in 1971, the collection consists of more than 3000 pieces of costume, accessories, jewellery, homewares and toys.

When Catford inherited the nucleus of a costume collection from her aunt, Therese Innes, the Yesteryear Costume Gallery came to life in the mid north of South Australia, in Orroroo.

Dedicating her life to building the collection, Catford was hoping to find a place that would look after the collection with as much care as she and her aunt had.

In April 2008, Beth Catford donated the collection, entrusting the History Trust of South Australia to take over management.

As Beth said in an interview published in the Review Times Record in 1978, “There is a story attached to everything” and that is evident through every piece.

Handmade and manufactured, treasured wedding gowns, underwear and children’s playthings, the collection is very diverse.

A huge portion is dedicated to women’s clothing, including footwear, accessories and underwear. Bridesmaid dresses, party dresses and other stunning representations of the time, it truly is a time capsule of the evolution and cycles of women’s fashion.

Along with women’s clothing, there are a significant number of men’s and children’s clothing and accessories that are also part of the collection. 

The collected works are of huge historical significance. Represent a period spanning the 1850s through to 1999. All are meticulously logged.

 Corinne Ball, the Senior Curator of Collections, History Trust of SA highlights that there, “there are some really amazing pieces from intricate beaded dresses from the 1920s, fine cotton undergarments, children’s faux fur coats and mend three-piece suits.”

Other highlights of the collection include a complete costume worn by the mother of distinguished South Australian pioneer aviators – Captain Sir Ross Smith and his brother Lieutenant Sir Keith Smith. It is a luxury ball gown in cream silk and highly decorated with pearls, silver beading and lace, dating back to 1885-8.

Another prominent piece is a 1920s silk day dress worn by charity worker Lady Constance Jean Bonython (1891-1977).

Cataloguing collection of this size is an arduous task, but once done, it will be an incredible exhibition by the History Trust of South Australia. 

Once on display the people of South Australia a chance to view get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of South Australians through the clothes they wore.

To stay updated or to see what other incredible exhibits and collections are available through The History Trust of South Australia, head to their website.

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