Written by LAURA PIETROBON
The image conjured in your mind when I mention “Historical Society” is not necessarily an exciting one. Maybe you see a room of distinguished gentlemen, reeling off long lists of dates and places. Societies like this probably exist. But here in Adelaide we have a more exciting version.
The Victoriana Society was founded in 1983. A group of men from the Military Historical Society wanted to be able to wear their uniforms more often, and form a broader society that included women. Kay Inverarity, a founding member of the society, has always been interested in making costumes “I started off by dressing dolls, my Barbie dolls, in period costume!” she said. Whether they joined out of curiosity or were introduced by friends or partners, an interest in the recreation of some gorgeous period costumes seems to be the big drawing card for members. Emily Brown was being inducted as a member on the night I attended a Victoriana Society meeting in early March:
“I’ve always had an interest in history…that’s why I joined.” Emily is keen to test her skills on period costume, particularly in the Edwardian era. This is something she will tackle with the help of the sewing workshops where members learn or improve their skills.
“You do get a lot of support if you actually are a sewer and make your own (costumes), this is the sort of thing you need to be involved in” said member Ann Ruwoldt. It can be a daunting task, assembling all the beautiful fabrics, laces and embellishments into a gorgeous and historically accurate dress. “Men’s stuff is not too bad” said society member Rui Barroso. Male costumes are sometimes easier to buy than make.
A hot topic of discussion at the monthly meeting was the appearance at last month’s Government House open day. I was surprised at how specific members were about costumes they could wear to events. There were specifications right down to which decade within the 1800s the clothes came from.
“In the Victorian period there was a change approx every 10 years, but towards the end of the Vic period you got a change approx every 5 years.” said Kay
It is no wonder many members have whole walls lined with costumes and accessories such as fans, hats and bags! Member Dylis Mort (Baroness Dylis Mort, actually, how cool!) has a huge collection of antique fans, dating from the 1700s to the 1930s!
Costume and fashion play a big role in the society, but it also incorporates learning about life in the Victorian and Edwardian era. Member David Ruwoldt said “it’s a fascinating time.” The Society meeting I attended was followed by a surprisingly interesting talk about vintage buttons! “We’ve had so many wonderful speakers,” said Dylis. Talks have also included the lives of famous people, food, music, a magic lantern slideshow and much more. “All the time you’re learning; you never know it all.” said Dylis.
This society celebrates history and lifestyle from the Victorian and Edwardian era. Most members rather enjoy this part. Societies like this are so important for, as Emily so eloquently put it, “keeping the history alive.”
“It’s good for other people to have that knowledge…and to go back in time”
Dylis Mort agrees with her, she believes the public are also impressed with the efforts the society goes to – and not just with their costumes. As Ben Todd said, part of the fun of the society is “re-enacting…the little nuances of the time, like guys (tipping) their hats to the ladies.”
President Jayne Kader said the society had members from people in their 20s to their 80s. The mix of older and younger members is something you wouldn’t necessarily expect at a historical society.
“It’s a lot more fun than you would expect!” says Anne Ruwoldt with a laugh. And I must say, I have to agree with her.
** There is a TREASURE TROVE of costuming societies around Adelaide. Besides the lovely Victoriana Society (www.victorianasociety.org.au), Adelaide also has a Costumer’s Guild (www.australiancostumersguild.org.au), a Steampunk Society (www.adelaidesteampunk.info) and much, much more! So if you have a passion for costuming, make sure you check these societies out!