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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?


Kerryn is not the only Glorybox blogger to get lucky at the local op shop.  A colleague, Melanie, purchased the following fabulous examples from the Sallies in Karori.  Hanging up in the second-hand bras section of the shop, these pieces appear to be from the 1960s and 1970s. 

Example of Hickory underwear

Most of these examples were produced by Hickory, a New Zealand manufacturer.  They feature metric measurements as well as warnings about the company accepting no responsibility for damage to the elastic by fingernails or rings.

Label warning about the dangers of fingernails and rings

However, you would need fairly strong hands to damage this underwear, as what you can’t appreciate is the heavy elastic waistband.  It would not be easy to remove them quickly.  The underwear does have beautiful detailing with lace and trims.  The inside features boning and attachments for suspenders.  A perfect foundation garment!

Lace details on the front

The white bra’s straps are cloth rather than elastic.  Most of the fabric is cotton with some elastic panels at the back.  It has a large range of hooks – indeed six to fasten the bra together.

A white Hickory bra

It also features vertical boning with a dainty embroidery pattern at the front.

Hickory label on bra

The above image is another Hickory example and both bras are size 14B.

The final example are ‘Slim Form’ underwear  from Australia that are made of elastane and nylon.  They appear to have a bit more wear as they would be less cumbersome to remove.  The front panel has an embroidered set of initials of the manufacturer, SF for Slim Form.

Inside showing Australian label

 We suspect that many individuals would nowadays be horrifed to wear these large pieces of underwear but the level of detail found in each piece is certainly impressive.

May 2018
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