Within My Teaching Box

My teaching box is wide open at the moment, spilling its secrets. Let me give you a photograph.

Not everything is there. This is because of the reason it’s open. I’m teaching a course on writing using your own voice, and that requires objects from the box. This means those objects are out of reach tonight – they’re gaps in an otherwise-overcrowded hatbox.

Those gaps aren’t terribly visible because they’re hidden by white soft plastic. Inside that bag is one of my newest teaching items.

It’s the model for a dress and has (to the best of my knowledge) never been worn. A one-off made to show the manufacturer what the dress would look like. It was made in Melbourne for a firm that had a warehouse in Flinders Lane, just off Swanston Street.

The waist is 62cm and the height about 104 cm, so it’s for a non-existent tall, slender woman who likes black. There’s so much potential for story in this. I envy my own students.

Because this dress is new to me, I don’t know much about it yet. I think this dress is from the 1950s. It can’t possibly be earlier than 1933 or later than 1971, because I know a bit about the firm that ordered it and those were the critical dates.


I’m very happy to hear your thoughts on it, and can take photographs of particular details if that will help. This is one of the great things about my hatbox: it’s for me to learn from as much as it’s for my students.



These pictures will help with the discussion, I hope.

Buttons and features


How narrow is the skirt?

Neckline and shoulders



About Gillian Polack

Gillian Polack is a historian as well as a fiction writer, which means that history is likely to creep into her blogposts. She is also Australian, a foodie, and has a strong love of things ranging from chocolate to folk dance. All her jokes are good jokes, even the ones that aren't funny at all.


Within My Teaching Box — 5 Comments

  1. Alas! Black doesn’t photograph well. But tell — what is the fabric? Is there a fiber content label? Is the skirt as narrow as it appears, or is fullness hidden by the black? Is the neckline asymmetric? Are those two buttons functional, or decorative, and what are they made of? How are the sleeves and hems finished — ruffles, hems, braid? How do you get into it — is there a zipper inserted into the back seam, the side? Or, possibly, the fabric is stretchy enough you can just pull it on over your head. Is it elaborately seamed, or simple? Are the inner seams finished? Is it lined, interlined?
    It is unlikely I will ever be in the same place as that garment, but I should tell you I am tall and slender….

    • There are no labels at all, for this wasn’t for sale but to make purchasing decisions on. The skirt widens a small amount from the waist, but is still very narrow.

      The seams are not properly finished, because this is a mock-up. No ruffles or braid – just straight hemming, but the sleeve has a notch in it. The neckline is asymmetric. The buttons are made of clear plastic and are purely decorative. There are no zips at all, which means the fabric has to stretch enough, and indeed, it’s mildly stretchy.

      I wonder if I can get better pictures by putting it on a different surface. I’ll give it a go.

      The material is not a natural fibre, and is knitted.

      • I should say that it’s not lined. And that, given it’s you, I could post it and you could model it (and wear it somewhere interesting, for that’s what smart dresses are for) and then post it back. If you wanted. And if we took careful measurements first to make sure it fits.

  2. Sigh. It probably would be an overindulgence, to post it back and forth. We must keep it in mind for cons, however. (Are you going to be at Worldcon in San Jose next year? Or Dublin in 2019?)
    A knitted and unlined dress brings up other issues. Like, is the fabric dense/unstretchy enough so that your underwear doesn’t grin through? Think tee shirts — those are knitted tightly enough that you don’t worry about glimpses of underwear or flesh. As a prototype it might well have been modified before going into production.

    • I doubt I’ll have enough money to get to San Jose, but I am aiming for Dublin (where the airfare costs over double the hotel, a con gets expensive!). The fabric is dense, so the underwear will only grin through if it’s very, very tight, and then it’ll be in shape, not through colour. This is why I thank maybe 50s. One of the reasons. As you can see, clothes aren’t my thing, though, so I’m guessing.

      If there’s a reason for the indulgence, let’s do it. All we need is a good excuse 🙂 Or one of us might travel close to the other. And if the worst comes to the worst I can indeed bring it to Dublin.