Signaling Australian Identity

Since colonial times, Australian dress has been marked by strong regional differences. The dress of Sydney tends to be stylistically closer to American, with Melbourne more British and conservative, and subtropical cities like Brisbane and Perth favoring brighter, casual clothing affected mostly by the prevailing climate. Although these differences cannot be termed Australian per se, regionalism is one way that Australians define themselves. The other defining characteristic that emerged during colonial times was a supposed egalitarianism in men's dress. Associated with the dress of experienced rural "old hands," it consisted of rough rural and goldfields' attire quite different from conventional urban clothing. This comprised cabbage tree (palm-leaf) hats or slouch felt hats, later the Akubra hat, smock frocks, checked shirts, and hardwearing moleskin trousers and boots. A mythology has grown up around this masculine clothing, deeming it to be quintessentially Australian, though this has not been the case with women's dress. Companies, including RM Williams and Blundstone boots, continue to foster this mythology, and sell versions of their clothing worldwide, but nowadays to both sexes and not solely for rural wear.

A taste for Australian motifs and indigenous color schemes in dress and swimwear textiles was evident from the 1940s. But it was the 1970s that marked a particular watershed in the history of recognizably Australian fashions. Jenny Kee and partner Linda Jackson, who set up the Flamingo Park boutique in Sydney in 1973, initiated a novel style of art clothing that, among other romantic influences, later paid tribute to the native flora and fauna of Australia. It was in debt to the designs of indigenous peoples with whom they collaborated, or some would say exploited. The following decade saw a number of Australian companies achieve a degree of success in the international market. These included Coogi and Country Road, with its superior quality clothing in "natural" earthy colors, promoting so-called rural values, with outlets in the United States by 1985. The popularity of colorful, locally inspired Australiana designs, at their peak in the late 1980s, declined for everyday wear at the start of the next decade with the onset of more minimalist tastes. Only vestiges of this linger on, mainly in garments destined for the tourist market.

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