’56 Olympics ladies’ team skirt found in University archives

September 16 / 186

On the sixtieth anniversary of the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956, many of Victoria’s collecting institutions are running programs to celebrate. In a moment of timely serendipity the Australian Team ladies’ skirt made by Fletcher Jones has recently been uncovered at the University of Melbourne Archives. 

Archivist Melinda Barrie has been exploring the items that found their way into the archive following the Games, and points out that the unveiling of the team uniform is still a major moment in the excitement leading up to the opening ceremony.

“Top Australian fashion designers are especially selected by the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) to produce the green and gold attire for our sporting greats,” she says.

“In 1956 the AOF was well aware of intense public attention associated with the outfitting of our national sporting heroes. So in the lead up to the Melbourne Games, AOF Secretary Sir Edgar Tanner approached well-respected Victorian garment manufacturer Fletcher Jones with a proposal for them to produce both the men’s and women’s Olympic uniform. Fletcher Jones accepted the commission and publically acknowledged what a great honour it was for a ‘country factory’ to be selected,” Ms Barrie says.

Fletcher Jones circulated advice to staff announcing the news about the Olympic uniform commission in an excited note that read: “Yes. It is official! We have GOT the Games Contract. Hooray, all 400 Aussie athletes will march in the grand Olympic parades wearing immaculate cream coverdines. Plus 8 greys have also been chosen to “steal the show” for Australia.’

However Ms Barrie says this jubilation masked the fact the company at that time was a gentleman’s outfitter only. 

“Manufacture of ladies skirts and slacks was uncharted territory for the company, and Jones had initially demurred on the offer, worried about how to produce a flattering feminine pleat. 

“He also had concerns about how the move into ladies wear would affect his brand and the company slogan ‘no man is hard to fit!’”

Sixty years later a vintage pleated pale grey skirt has been unearthed from deep within the repository at the University of Melbourne Archives by Archivists working on the Fletcher Jones collection transferred to UMA in 2012. 

“With care the skirt was unpacked revealing a pink label zigzag stitched to the inside pocket which showed the unmistakable five interlocking coloured rings of the Olympic brand. A memo called ‘Tale of a Skirt’ pinned to the item confirmed that it was indeed the ‘first skirt made for the 1956 Olympic team’.”

Ms Barrie explains that after the 56 games the skirt went on to become a well-regarded staple in the Fletcher Jones product range. 

“Today Fletcher Jones skirts can still be found in second hand shopping outlets and are very popular vintage pieces.”

 

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