Surprising things: a costume museum

Should someone suggest to you a visit to a private costume museum out at Bulleen,  then just say yes.

They’ll mean The Costume Collection, Yarra Park in Greenaway Street Bulleen.  You’ll drive down Greenaway Street (named for an early farmer in the district), past the factories and chain wire fences and you’ll think “This couldn’t possibly be right”.  But it is.

The owner and curator, Loel Thomson, describes her museum as “a hobby that grew”- hence the rather unconventional setting in a factory in a small industrial pocket beside the Yarra River.  The factory, however, provided many of the things her costume museum needed- space, few windows and an airconditioned and filtered atmosphere.  She has more than 10,000 items in her collection, though only a fraction of them are on display at any one time, and the display changes regularly.

I loved the way the costumes were displayed.  Mostly you could walk around them to see them from all sides, and for those that were less accessible she had wardrobes and furniture of the period arranged so that mirrors reflected the costume from the side or rear.  There was a strong chronological aspect to the display, and it included children’s and men’s clothes as well.   A fascinating section featured ‘things we wouldn’t wear today’ showing furs and jewellery made from animal parts. There was  this ‘slink’ jacket-

that looked like fur jackets that I remember women wearing.  It’s only when you read the sign that you realize that ‘slink’ means ‘unborn calf’.  What travesties euphemisms cover!

Her aim in creating the museum is to collect everyday clothes that people wore.  Obviously the clothes were treasured enough for them to be preserved by family, or put away ‘for good’.  Many of them are purchased, commercially-produced items (she shows the labels) and although there are some formal wear costumes, most of them are day clothes.  She has a large library of magazines, pictures and books in order to research her displays, and in many cases she has been able to match private photographs of people wearing similar clothes,  or magazine advertisements,  to the costumes on show.

The museum is open only by appointment, so you’ll need to ring Loel Thomson herself on  9852 1794 and if there’s only a few of you she may be able to join you up with a larger group.  There’s a small entry charge by donation, which goes to charity.  It’s worth every cent and more.

There’s more photos from her collection here in a blog from February 2010- they are all beautiful too, and most of them were new to me so the display obviously changes quite substantially from time to time.  So- if you’re offered an opportunity to see it, or if you’d like to organize a trip for a group yourself- do!

7 responses to “Surprising things: a costume museum

  1. It is really a superb thing Loel is doing. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

  2. I have seen a few collections on the history of fashion, and have always surprised myself by loving the subject. Not being a fashionista myself, I treat the subject like any other important area of social history.

    So thank you for this post. I had never heard of The Costume Collection in Bulleen before.

  3. That looks so interesting. Hope to check it out sometime when in Melbourne.

  4. An informative post about a wonderful creative project/ museum site. Your comments have me thinking about the kinds of everyday clothing we pack away “for good” (and therefore preserve) — what we save, and why. For example, I have saved a few of things my children wore when they were young; a maternity sundress; a fleece-lined flight jacket I wore in high school, and I no doubt have other “favorites” stored away. As to why, I am not sure. They are material objects that take me back to another time in my life, and it would be hard to toss them out.

    • Yes- I keep clothes with emotional resonances for me as well, although I doubt if my children would even recognize that- it would just be a pile of old junk to them.

  5. A heartfelt thanks to Nicole for organising the 16 Feb 2011 group to the Costume Collection. I was fortunate to be invited to this by my friend Louise, and I couldn’t have been more surprised at what was in store. For those who haven’t been to the Costume Collection, it’s a real hidden treasure and (IMHO) world class.

    I’m so grateful to dedicated private collectors such as Loel Thomson. It’s a privilege to be able to view a part of her collection, be reminded of times past, and delight in our social history via brilliant collections such as this one. It’s such a credit to her that this collection is so well cared for, and so beautifully presented. I can’t wait to go back!

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