Milne & Choyce: A Century of Fashion


"It all began very long ago, 100 years ago in fact, when two shy but very adventurous young ladies Miss Charlotte and Miss Mary Jane Milne came to Auckland and established a shop for refined ladies."

So began the commentary for 'Do You Remember?', the fashion parade staged to celebrate the centenary of Auckland department store Milne & Choyce in 1966.

The one-hour event, perhaps best described as a mini theatrical, ran for a week in the store's Sky Room, and was a highlight on that year's fashion calendar. The opening sequence, in which two models in Victorian dress stepped from the pages of a replica photo album kept by the Misses Milne, followed by a bevy of girls in modern garments, set the scene for the rest of the show.

Covering 100 years of fashion, it was presented in a decade-by-decade format that cleverly compared the original clothes of a particular era with contemporary counterparts  - 19th century silk dresses with crinolines, for example, with pared back 1960s silk shift dresses, 1890s chiffon garden-party dresses with 1960s night-time chiffons, 1920s bathing costumes with the latest in beach babe bikinis.

Tina Grenville (right) wears a silk crinoline and bonnet and carries a parasol. Maysie Bestall-Cohen (left) models a 1960s yellow silk shift with cutaway shoulders and a high-banded neck. Photo © Auckland Star.

Cumbersome black travelling clothes "for a gruelling journey from Auckland to Hamilton" in 1866 contrasted sharply with nifty knit pieces designed for travel a century later.

The gowns dating from the 1860s to the early 1900s were actual garments belonging to members of Auckland's pioneering families who, in all probability, shopped at Milne & Choyce. They would have worn the clothes to balls, the theatre, musicales, fund-raising church soirees and other events.

'Do You Remember?' was produced by Paddy Walker, musical accompaniment appropriate to each decade was provided by the popular pianist Nancy Harrie, and dances from the different eras were performed by models Anne McClurg and Tina Grenville, both of whom were ballet-trained.

Shorter lunch-time parades presented during the celebrations featured footwear and Bri-Nylon, a new fabric with wash-and-wear properties the Victorians would never have dreamed of.

The event provided sales staff with the opportunity to dress up, too – in long black skirts and white leg-of-mutton sleeve blouses. Elizabeth Arden beauty consultant Eva Winton recalled with pleasure the efforts to create an 1800s’ look, and being photographed with Mr Robert Milne, resplendent in tail-coat, top hat and cravat.

Eva Winton (right) with Mr Robert Milne and fellow beauty consultants, 1966. Photo courtesy of Eric Winton.

Models in Victorian dress could also be found posing in Centennial Street, the replica colonial street built in-store by Milne & Choyce as a centennial gift to Auckland City and later moved to a permanent home in the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

FOOTNOTE: Although substantial evidence suggests that the year 1866 had been considered by Milne & Choyce management, senior employees and Auckland citizens in 1966 to have been the correct year of inception, further investigation from verifiable sources has proved otherwise. The Misses Milne took over an existing business in Wyndham Street owned by a Mr and Mrs Wilson in 1867 and didn’t begin trading until that year.

Text by Cecilie Geary.

Last published March 2019.

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