Mount Isa was a fashion forward town

SWING DANCE :Layered skirts and stiff petticoats made dancing easier in the 1950s. Picture: Supplied

SWING DANCE :Layered skirts and stiff petticoats made dancing easier in the 1950s. Picture: Supplied

WITH the rebirth of fashion, following the end of World War II, women were no longer adhering to the ‘Fashions for Victory’ edict of the National Council of Clothing Styles in Canberra.

Women were looking to a new style of fashion to regain their femininity after the austerity of the war years.

Hemlines which had sat comfortably just below the knee were raised 17 centimetres above the ground.

And with the higher hemline came higher heeled shoes and more refined hats; women were looking to fashion to clothe them as befitted life in a modern world.

As fashion moved on cautiously through the late forties, Central Store in West Street and Millthorpe’s Pioneer Store in Miles St, found it difficult to keep abreast of the latest women’s clothing styles; local ladies were expecting and asking for more modern clothing. But it was the dawn of a new decade, the fifties, coupled with the opening of Playtime which brought fun, fashion and femininity to Mount Isa.

From 1954, Playtime has introduced local women to the very latest fashion trends, carrying on the belief that no matter that Mount Isa was predominantly a mining community, there was no excuse for poor dress sense.

Through the fifties, fashion quickly relaxed out of the confines of the corset era into defined cone shaped bras and frilly panties for the now ‘fairer sex’. Skirts with many layers of stiff petticoats underneath were very popular combined with boat-shaped blouses and wide belts cinched at the waistlines; all the better to jive and dance the night away in.

However for the Miss Business Girl, a smarter more practical look would have been a Terylene Permanently pleated skirt, and a matching Brushed Nylon Blouse with a full length sleeve and button to the collar which was available at Playtime in sizes S.S.W. to O.S. in smart shades of Lemon, Pink, Apricot, Blue and Pale Green.

Through the fifties, sixties and seventies, almost every year a new international fashion style was launched, from Christian Dior’s A-Line shift dress, Cardin’s bubble and space age look through to the hippie era of tie-died batik cloth and Mary Quant’s flower explosion to Australia’s own John J Hilton and his ‘White Trader Safari’ collection which suited local climatic conditions.

Regularly, a new dress salon opened on Mount Isa’s own fashion stretch, West Street, led by Playtime that made the move to a larger and more prominent position on the corner of Isa and West Streets in the early sixties.

Beverlee’s Frock Salon, Jay Bee’s, The House of Fashion, Phyl Driscoll, and The Bee Hive Frock Salon were among the more successful stores, along with Playtime, which showcased their shop windows with every fashion temptation for the local female population to dress femininely.

In Miles Street, Lindsays (The Peoples Store) and Wendy’s Frocks were two more locally owned frock salons which advertised designs by Sandra Lee, Executive Miss, Seventeen and Evelyn Lee.

So it was that Mount Isa women were no exception when they lauded the simple shift dress that British fashion model, Jean Shrimpton wore to the Melbourne Cup in 1965.

CHANGING TIMES: Jean Shrimpton wearing the infamous outfit that scandalised race-goers at the 1965 Melbourne Cup. Picture: Supplied.

CHANGING TIMES: Jean Shrimpton wearing the infamous outfit that scandalised race-goers at the 1965 Melbourne Cup. Picture: Supplied.

Her simple but elegant white A-line frock worn ten centimetres above the knee may have offended the race-goers but it was her choice not to wear stockings, hat nor gloves that scandalised the nation.

As one humorous columnist (with tongue in cheek) wrote in the Melbourne Herald: “Listen, Jean Shrimpton, I’ll have you know that women wear hats and gloves and mink and diamonds even at bush race meetings in the Northern Territory.

“The dust is sometimes two or three inches deep, and whipped up by trade winds blowing across a flat that is several hundred miles wide. “But you must understand that the women out there wear hats.

STYLES CHANGING: Doris Piper’s photograph, for Beverlees Frock Salon, of model in judo-style pyjamas early 1970s, a more relaxed style. Picture: Supplied.

STYLES CHANGING: Doris Piper’s photograph, for Beverlees Frock Salon, of model in judo-style pyjamas early 1970s, a more relaxed style. Picture: Supplied.

“They wear gloves and the shoes that you perhaps cannot see for dust, may be crocodile hide with a matching bag …… As for bare heads and skirts four inches above the knee …… Unthinkable!

“My dear Miss Shrimpton, don’t you see there is a race meeting on?” And while Miss Shrimpton’s trendsetter A-line ‘mini’ shift dress may have scandalised the gentry and socialites in Melbourne, it quickly became the ‘dernier cri’ in Mount Isa.

However, with the shorter hemlines came a new quandary for ladies, to keep their decorum; how to bend over or pick up an object from the floor? Mrs Jean Byrne of Jay Bee’s Frock Salon always had a kind word for her cliental on the correct deportment. She would advise women to remember to bend knees into a semi squat, with back straight, to pick up or move the object on the ground.

And she would quite often demonstrate the action so her young customer would know how to refrain from the very unladylike stance of bending over from the waist and showing her ‘derriere’ to the public.

From the full skirts and stiff petticoats of the fifties, to international designers and Australian vogue, local women would wait with baited breathe for the next charity fashion parade to see the latest trends modelled.

And just to prove, fashion was not only for the hotter months, in the seventies, Playtime stocked Martin Moddell fur fabric coats which on average were priced $5 less than exactly the same coats in Sydney. George Beard, founder of Playtime was often quoted as saying, “Playtime for quality goods at city prices”.

Over the decades there has been a proliferation of styles just as there has been any number of fashion outlets that have opened their doors in Mount Isa which during the years after the war could have been tagged: The Best Little Fashion Town in the North West. Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton. www.kimmareeburton.com Photographs courtesy of Reader’s Digest, Mount Isa Mail and The North West Star newspapers. Information from Reader’s Digest, Melbourne Herald Newspaper Archives, Mount Isa Mail and the North West Star.