Frock Club brings fashion and friendship to Ben Lomond

Women in picture hats, fur coats, brooches, and fur coats flocked - and frocked - to a style and fashion presentation at Ben Lomond War Memorial Hall on Tuesday morning.

"It's about getting away from the things that worry them," Jen Jeffrey, from the Rural Financial Counselling Service, one of the day's sponsors, said. The organisation's focus is social connectedness and wellbeing in rural communities.

"When they're at home, all they can see is drought. When they come to something like this, they talk to one another; they have a yarn, a laugh, and a cup of tea. It gives them time out from what they're facing daily."

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An estimated 130 people, from as far as Tamworth and Grafton, came to the event - many in period clothes, or vintage styles.

Ben Lomond resident Melody Van Nistelrooy wore a 1920s-inspired suit and cloche hat; Jeanette Bush donned clothes she designed using 1940s vintage patterns; and Beth White brought the black dress, with beautiful beadwork, her mother-in-law wore to her son's wedding.

'20S CHIC: Melody Van Nistelrooy. Photo - Nicholas Fuller

'20S CHIC: Melody Van Nistelrooy. Photo - Nicholas Fuller

Glen Innes resident Marie Wharton said she is planning a similar event for the History House's 40th anniversary next year.

The patron of the museum said when it opened girls dressed in clothes they made - and she hopes to keep up the tradition.

The event was a fundraiser for the Ben Lomond community, with morning tea provided by the Hall Committee.

FORTIES FASHION: Beth White with her mother-in-law's dress. Photo - Nicholas Fuller

FORTIES FASHION: Beth White with her mother-in-law's dress. Photo - Nicholas Fuller

"We're delighted that they came to us," Mrs White said. "It's evidence of our reputation, which seems to be that we do really good food... We have a facility, and the best way to do it is to use it. You can generate so much yourself, but when people recognise the quality of a facility, and they come to you, that is the icing on the cake."

Ms Povall and Ms Hennes talked about issues facing the fashion industry, and displayed clothing from Federation to the Fifties.

"Clothes are the most wonderful currency for women," Ms Hennes said. "We've been talking clothes all our lives, all our centuries. Since 1700, there have been women closeted talking about clothes and dressing, so it's part of our DNA."

PRESENTERS: Ruth Povall and Lois Hennes. Photo - Nicholas Fuller

PRESENTERS: Ruth Povall and Lois Hennes. Photo - Nicholas Fuller

The fashion industry, Ms Hennes said, suffers globally from a lack of engineers - people who can take a set of measurements, draft a pattern, and fit it to a figure. People today, she said, have not got the skill to build the fitting shape into two pieces of material. Result: tights with an onion bag over the top, designed for pencil figures - rather than the variety of human body shapes.

"As the skills of fashion design and garment technology are lost, so, too, is the joy of clothing," Ms Hennes said.

The Australian fashion industry, Ms Hennes believes, has declined since the 1970s and 1980s, when the Whitlam and Hawke governments got rid of protectionism, reduced trade tariffs, brought in overseas products, and shipped manufacturing offshore. The industry assumed, wrongly, that someone who could make a garment could also make a pattern - and design and engineering took a step backwards. Many women with TAFE technical training felt they had been let go.

"It's really sad that sort of engineering for girls has gone," Marie Wharton agreed. "Whether they'll ever bring it back, I don't know."

FASHION AND FRIENDSHIP: Marie Wharton, of Glen Innes. Photo - Nicholas Fuller.

FASHION AND FRIENDSHIP: Marie Wharton, of Glen Innes. Photo - Nicholas Fuller.

Ms Hennes and Ms Povall believe young STEM graduates should enter the fashion industry, which, they feel, needs leadership and foresight. Youngsters at Ben Lomond Public School got a taste of fashion, treading the catwalk in vintage re-engineered outfits. Could they enter the industry one day?

"It's about starting again with the kids - getting them interested in clothes, and understanding what clothes really mean," Ms Hennes said. "They learn about nutrition and sport, but nobody teaches them what clothes feel like."

Ms Hennes also displayed period clothes, from 19th century corsets to '30s chemises and shifts, and from 1920s silk crêpe de chine housecoats and career dresses to '40s beach dresses (often recycled curtains or lounge fabric) and '50s princess dresses worn by debs at balls. The first half of the twentieth century, she believed, was the high point of creativity; later designs simply repeated those styles.

"There's nothing new in the shop!" Ms Hennes said.

Another way to slow down fast fashion - off-the-rack clothes, often made in sweatshops - may be to tax the waste process, Ms Hennes suggested, so the consumer pays at the start for the ultimate cost of disposal.

Fashion, she said, is the second largest industry in the world that contributes to carbon. There are mountains of slowly degrading clothes in landfills, while manufacturing a single pair of jeans - growing cotton, dyeing, and manufacturing - takes the equivalent of seven Olympic pools. The industry is experimenting to develop more ecologically-friendly textiles - another opportunity for science students.

This was the second Frock Club event in the region; they visited Deepwater in April.

The Frock Club will visit Walcha in November, while Ben Lomond will host a fashion parade in October.

The event was funded by GlenRAC, the Alstonville Historical Society (home of Frock Club), and the Rural Financial Counselling Service NSW; and supported by Arts NW and the NSW Rural Women's Network.