By Jacquelyn Curtis
If Australia were to introduce a national costume, what would it be? Maybe an akubra hat paired with khaki shorts and RM Williams boots, to symbolise our rugged bushland? Or a pair of togs and a surfboard, to represent our beaches and surf culture? Perhaps a Collette Dinnigan evening gown, to show the explosion of Aussie designers in the fashion world? Or maybe just casual clothes, to capture the ‘dressed down’ nature of the everyday Australians?
University professor Jennifer Craik considers this question, and the role of fashion and dress in society, in her research Manly Bushwackers or Sartorial Sandinistas: Unpicking the study of Australian fashion and dress .
Dr Craik discussed some of the themes of her work at the first Staff and Visitors Seminar for 2007.
Dr Craik explained how traditionally “the idea of fashion in Australia was somewhat of an oxymoron” with casual clothes dominating the dress of Australians.
The benefits of studying fashion and dress as an academic field was addressed, with an overview of the emergence of ‘fashion theory’ studies in Australia to show how it could move beyond a study of only practical elements.
“Much of the study on fashion and dress study has focused on the practical, not on theory,” Dr Craik said.
“And in a lot of cases where fashion theory is studied in universities it is coupled with art history, history or cultural studies across a wide range of disciplines.
“My interest is to study fashion and dress as an academic field; to examine how it is seen as a system of communication, how identities are constructed through clothes and how they are reflect social roles and status,” she said.
The seminar canvassed literature to find the ‘essence of Australian fashion’, revealing the “Australian predilection for ‘dressing down’ in casual, practical, life-oriented forms of fashion and dress”, according to Dr Craik.