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By guest blogger Nancy Swarbrick

When I was visiting my mother in Hamilton recently, one of her friends brought around a treasure for me to admire. It is an American mail order catalogue for a firm called Montgomery Ward & Co., dated 1920.

You might ask how it ended up in New Zealand. Well, one reason was that Montgomery and Ward shipped goods all around the world – to England, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and, yes, New Zealand. According to Jeannette (Mum’s friend) the catalogue came from a descendant of a well-known Auckland department store family, so perhaps it was used by the management to identify the season’s latest fashions in advance, or even to order stock.

Whatever its origins, the catalogue is a fascinating source of information about all manner of everyday activities, covering as it does goods ranging from farm machinery, vehicles, furniture and furnishings to clothing, shoes, patent medicines, toys and games, books, musical instruments and much more.

The clothing sections are lavishly illustrated with detailed descriptions, and while most are black and white, there are some colour plates. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Many of these dresses seem more frilly than I had imagined clothes of that era to be – perhaps they became more tailored later in the decade.

In the women’s underwear section there are some astonishing garments I had never heard of including these scary-looking ‘maternity corsets’, advertised as providing ‘support’.

Maternity corsets

Then there is the ‘envelope chemise’, a kind of cross between a petticoat and bloomers, and the ‘boudoir cap’, presumably for wearing in bed.

Envelope chemise - almost a chastity belt!

Boudoir caps

Amongst the ‘hose supporters and sanitary articles’ there is the ‘sanitary apron’, to be worn backwards inside a skirt , and the ingenious combined ‘brassiere and dress shields’.

A range of sanitary aprons

Sanitary apron

Brassiere and dress shield

These are just a few glimpses into over 470 crowded pages – it really is an amazing historical source. Jeannette, who is now 90, wants to give the catalogue to an appropriate archive or library, and has asked my advice. I’m a bit stumped. Do the Gloryboxers have any suggestions?

May 2017
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