If you follow me on social media, you’ll know by now that I’m in the process of packing up to move to Ballarat. After six years of living in my hometown of Benalla, I’m ready for a new adventure. As Moving Day looms closer, I’m trying to take time out to visit some of my favourite places in town for the last time in a while.
One of the hidden gems of Benalla is our costume museum. It’s tucked away in the tourist centre and it’s a haven for vintage-loving visitors. It was a visit to this museum when I was in year seven that kindled my own fascination with vintage fashion. The museum owns clothing and accessories that date all the way back to the 1700’s (older than Australia itself!) which are all carefully stored and cared for on site. The display items change regularly, and on the Saturday I visited there was an exhibit of 1930’s evening wear in the secondary gallery. The main gallery was devoted to an exhibit of clothing owned by a woman named Margaret Richardson, who was a resident in Benalla until her passing two years ago. Mrs Richardson was famed for her incredible passion for fashion and her expansive wardrobe.
To visit the exhibit I wanted something fun and comfortable, but still fashionable. I opted for a new swing dress that I was gifted by a friend, and monochrome accessories to compliment it.
I am wearing:
The two exhibitions were magnificent, and we took our time wandering through and marvelling at the beautiful garments. I was especially taken by a heavily beaded cape in shades of blue, purple and green that reminded me of a peacock. As we moved through the museum, one of the curators struck up a conversation with us about a display of shoes. After chatting with her for some time, she asked whether we’d be interested in coming out the back of the museum to see the archives. I nearly clapped with glee. I’ve been to the museum so many times but I’ve never seen the workroom or archives. And being that I love vintage fashion, you can imagine how exciting this prospect was.
We were taken out the back to the workroom. The centrepiece of the room was a large sewing table, spread with fabric and folders filled with reference photographs. On a tall sewing form was a forest-green skirt, which our guide explained was a riding skirt from the 1800’s that was in the process of being repaired and restored. A large cabinet housed bottles of buttons, bolts of thread and all manner of fastenings and trims.
The archive room was our next stop, and it was honestly one of the most astonishing things I’ve seen in my life. Shelves reached from the floor to the ceiling, each one stacked with slim white boxes. Each box was meticulously labelled with the contents, which ranged from dresses to suits to blouses and even children’s clothing. Another wall housed a mountain of hatboxes, all similarly labelled and yet another was stacked with boxes of shoes. Along the far wall was a rail upon which hung evening dresses and furs, again all labelled and carefully wrapped in linen. I was taken aback by the array of historical garments that were being held here, and it moved me to see them all stored with such care and reverence. It’s clear to see how much the museum workers care about preserving these items and ensuring that they are properly restored and cared for. It was nothing short of amazing and I left feeling somewhat awed.
The costume museum has long been a favourite place of mine to visit, but until that day I truly had no idea of the scale of the collection or the dedication of the curators who work to run the museum. It’s quite fantastic to learn that something so special has been happening right under my nose for all the years that I’ve been attending the exhibits there. I feel like I got a peek into Santa’s workshop, and I have such respect for the people who have worked so hard to run the museum and preserve these flashes of fashion history.