The Dress Detective

As fashionable books go, Dressed couldn’t be better dressed.

It features a tactile pillow front and back cover as well as a bookmark ribbon, indulging author Claire Regnault’s love of haberdashery.

Produced by Te Papa Press, it is an exquisite tome that will delight both historians and fashionistas.

Regnault, known to many as @dressdetectiveagency on Instagram, is also senior curator New Zealand histories and cultures at Te Papa and has worked in the sector since 1994.

Claire Regnault, Author

Poring over the pages, one discovers that dress from 1840 to 1910 in New Zealand shares many concepts with modern-day fashion.

For example, Hūria Mātenga of Whakapuaka in Nelson reportedly preferred to buy her fashionable European gowns from England rather than Nelson.

The red dress, fitted with a bustle pad, was purchased from James Spence & Co in London.

The company offered clients around the world an international mail order service along with detailed illustrated instructions on taking measurements to ensure a perfect fit.

Not so different to online shopping today!

Dressed teems with the fascinating, busy lives of early businesswomen, society women and civic figures, and features dresses and fashionable accessories from museums throughout Aotearoa as well as 300 images.

Hūria Mātenga of Whakapuaka

It truly is a national treasure that makes a significant contribution to the histories of colonial dress.

It shows how New Zealand’s dress history was alive to international trends but also shaped by interactions with Māori, the demands of settler lifestyle and the country’s geography and environment.

During Regnault’s research, it was thrilling to find an actual image of a garment being worn, such as an 1844 watercolour wedding portrait of Anna Bishop and matching it with the remains of her green wedding dress.

She found a letter from Bishop’s 88-year-old daughter referencing the gown in the museum’s old files stamped ‘closed’ and discovered that the poorly catalogued bodice in the collection was indeed a match!

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