At the Beach: 100 years of summer fashion in New Zealand

Past exhibition

Through more than 100 garments the At the Beach exhibition shows what we wore at the beach in the last 100 years and records the evolution of our summer fashion. It explores how our relationship to the coast encapsulates our identity, how it has inadvertently influenced it, and how it permeates our everyday existence.


Modesty, lifestyle, material shortages and technology have all made an impact on our preferred summer wardrobe. In the 19th century, 'covering up' meant a modest swimming costume of blouse, bloomer, skirt, stockings, shoes and a cap, all made of dense dark cotton, today our 'cover up' is more likely to be an SPF-rated suit as protection from the sun. By the 1920s a desire to be active at the beach led liberal young women to adopt the same fitted woollen swimming suits worn by men, a choice with echoes in the 1990s rise in popularity of sleek one-piece suits designed for speed.

The application of science and technology delivered new man-made materials that allowed form-fitting and quick-drying. Bright colours and patterns were possible, and soon holiday clothing infiltrated the urban wardrobe: singlets, t-shirts, trousers for women, bare legs, sandals and jandals appeared as daywear on city streets.

The exhibition invites reflection on how our close proximity to the coast has impacted on who we are and how we give expression to that identity through what we wear. The culture of ease and functionality evident in our beach attire, is also apparent in the fashion that defines New Zealand style. Leisure, pleasure, activity and practicality are positive values associated with our beach culture and are elevated to fashionable features by our contemporary designers.

Curated by Dianne Ludwig and Doris de Pont.

Supported by Purfex, Apparel Line, Big Colour, Dion Coleman and Lenard Johnston.

Watch co-curator Doris de Pont talk about the exhibition, At the Beach.

Garments in the exhibition

When & where

1 December 2017 - 18 February 2018
Puke Ariki, New Plymouth

26 November 2016 - 19 February 2017
The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt

17 October 2015 - 8 February 2016
New Zealand Maritime Museum, Auckland