This Edwardian two-piece day dress epitomises the elegant fashions of the well-to-do in the early 1900s. It belonged to a woman of means who could afford the domestic help needed just to put on a dress like this. The same servants would undertake the menial household labours that its wearer could not perform in such a costume. The old rose colour of the silk satin fabric is typical of the sunny optimism of this pre-war age. So too are the ornate decoration of the bodice and the lavish use of lace and net. The full-length skirt flares slightly at the bottom. Left plain at the back, it has a repeating leaf pattern in self-coloured braid down the front. The bodice’s neck is high, held up with boning, while the sleeves, made from the same horizontally pleated net, are full-length and fastened at the wrist with hook and eyes. The tiny waist would have required tight corseting. In 1909 this would have thrust the bosom forward and the lower body to the back; the fashionable ‘pigeon-breasted’ profile that favoured the mature woman.

Mrs Isabel Emma Walker (née Blakeley) wore this dress when she became Mayoress of Dunedin in 1909. Her husband was a plumber who had risen to become the City’s leading citizen and went on to be a sharebroker. According to legend (inspired perhaps by his humble origins) Mayor Walker was involved in an unsavoury fracas with the Prime Minister, Joseph Ward, while hosting the visit of Lord Kitchener to Dunedin in February 1910. Insufficient places had been provided in the carriage to convey the official party from the Railway Station to their hotel. The story is that Mr Walker punched the Prime Minister’s jaw, shouldered him out of the carriage and took his place beside Lord Kitchener, who never blinked an eye. This is almost certainly untrue but, if it were, one wonders what poor Mrs Walker’s reaction would have been. She did at least have the privilege of being ‘presented’ to the taciturn Kitchener, who was at the time one of the British Empire’s most popular celebrities.
Production Date
Circa 1909
1,390 (h) x 555 (w) x 470 (d) mm (on mannequin)