Theatre costume worn by Thea Rowe

Contributed by: Stanton Library

Theatre Costume worn by Thea Rowe Skirt -- part of Theatre Costume
worn by Thea Rowe Top -- part of Theatre Costume worn by Thea Rowe Bonnet -- part of Theatre Costume
worn by Thea Rowe 'British Folk Songs' Programme from 1945. The photograph on the front shows Thea wearing the costume Programme from performance by Thea Rowe at Albert Hall, Brisbrane, 1948. Photograph shows her wearing the costume
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Stanton Library
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

    1940 - 1950
  • Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This is a unique provenanced theatre costume in the Costume and Object collection of Stanton Library. Made and worn by Thea Rowe, an actor, singer and writer. She was born in Balmain in 1907 and died in Waverton in 1992.

Thea had a long career in musical theatre. In the 1940s she developed a one-woman show performing traditional British folk songs in costume. She toured extensively giving recitals in schools, music clubs and concert halls. Her husband Breffni Hosking was her manager and promoter. She made this costume to wear during her performances of the Scottish folk song "There's nae luck aboot the house". The style of the costume reflects a 20th century 'romanticised' view of the dress of working class people in the 19th century. She uses a plaid taffeta fabric to represent traditional Scottish tartan.

Thea played a significant role in the promotion of musical theatre especially during the dark days of the 1930s Depression and the Second World War. She not only entertained adults and children alike with her witty songs, she also educated them about the culture of the British Isles, She contributed to the Australian folk revival which aimed to study and preserve folksong collections.

Author: Susan Shaw, 15 July 2011.


Theatre costume, 3 pieces, Green taffeta plaid skirt and top with matching bonnet.

Skirt has a 150mm frill at bottom

Top (blouse) has press stud closure. Collar stand topped with lace frill. Frill around cuffs

Handsewn bonnet with ties of plain green taffeta ribbons. Stiffened and lined with plain green taffeta and underlined with recycled dress silk. Machine sewn frill on bonnet.

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Thea Rowe, a Sydney-born musical theatre performer, contributed significantly to the cultural life of the lower North Shore community.

After a long career (dating from the 1920s) as an actor, singer, radio and television performer in Australia and the British Isles, Thea and her husband Breffni Hosking came to live in Bay Street, Waverton in 1964.

From their Bay Street drawing room known as 'Theatre in a Nutshell' they presented plays. They were active members of the Waverton and North Sydney community.

Thea was a long time member of the North Shore Historical Society and among other things participated in community arts projects. She died in Waverton in 1992.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Thea Rowe was born in Balmain, Sydney in 1907. As a teenager she studied drama, music and dancing. In the 1930s she ran her own theatre school and wrote and produced musical comedies, notably 'The Dutch Kitchen'.

During the Second World War she produced and performed in a 'one-woman' show which travelled around Australia. On these tours she collected money for the war effort.

Later she toured with her husband Breffni Hosking who was also a talented musician. At this time she acquired an interest in traditional folk songs from the British Isles. She spent many hours researching the political and cultural stories attached to the songs. She included this research in her unique musical stage performances which ran for more than 30 years, often working for the Children's National Theatre and the Council of Adult Education. Her interpretations and renditions of folk songs would, she hoped, educate as well as entertain her audiences on what she advertised as 'Traditional Songs of our People'. She was made a 'Bard of Gorsedd' of Cornwell for her services to Celtic Culture.

As a talented artist she also inspired many generations of children to love poetry and drama. In 1976 she was awarded an MBE for services to the arts and Education.

Where did this information come from?

Information provided by donor of object

Information also obtained from: "In Tune -- A look at the musical life of North Sydney", by

John Shortis, published by North Sydney Council 1994

This garment has been exhibited

Launch of Stanton Library's Costume and Object Database 14 April 2011.

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Thea Rowe (professional name)

    (born: Dorothy Leanora Rowe)

    (married name: Thea Hosking)

  3. Worn by:

    Thea Rowe

  4. Occasion(s):

    During performances of traditional Scottish folk song "There's nae luck aboot the house"

  5. Place:

    In various theatres, schools and halls around Australia. May have also worn it during performances in the UK

  6. Designed by:

    Thea Rowe

  7. Made by:

    Thea Rowe

  8. Made for:

    Thea Rowe

Trimmings / Decoration

Green plaid taffeta, cream lace and green ribbon


Plain green taffeta ribbon on bonnet


Lace around collar and wrist

Fibre / Weave

Green plaid taffeta and cream lace and green ribbon

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Made by Thea Rowe to wear during performances of the Scottish folk song, "There's nae luck aboot the house". Combination of hand and machine sewing on the costume.


No significant alterations detected

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Blouse fastening is press studs

Skirt fastening button and loop on skirt

Green ribbon ties on bonnet

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Bonnet stiffened with unknown material which might be cardboard


blouse bonnet skirt
Neck 440 mm
Chest 950 mm
Waist 700 mm
Cuff 240 mm
Hem circumference 720 mm
Front waist to hem 430 mm 1070 mm
Back neck to hem 460 mm
Back waist to hem 1070 mm
Sleeve length 420 mm
Neck to sleeve head 100 mm
Cross back 280 mm
Underarm to underarm 410 mm
Convert to inches


Rim of brim of bonnet 560 mm

Depth of brim 70 mm

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

More information on Thea Rowe can be obtained from:

Oral History LH Ref OH/39 Local Studies Collection, Stanton Library

'Thea Rowe, actor and singer' (an edited transcript of a 1991 interview), In Tune, A look at the musical life of North Sydney by John Shortis, published 1994 by North Sydney Council

Thea Rowe: Scenes from her Life by Phil Young published by Phil Young, Glebe, Sydney, 2007

Copies of above are available from Stanton Library

Other related objects

The following objects belonging to Thea Rowe are part of the Heritage Centre costume and object collection at Stanton Library. The database can be accessed from the North Sydney Council website Follow the prompts from the Library pull down menu

* 'Harlequin' theatre costume also worn in her one-woman shows. It was probably worn

when she sang the traditional Scottish folk song 'The Queen Maries'. Object nos 274 (a) (b) (c)


* Soft kid ladies shoes. Object no. 248 to be worn with Harlequin costume

Link to collection online


Evidence of repairs

Some repaired hand stitching on the bonnet

Mould damage

On the ribbon of the bonnet


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Frayed
  2. Holes
  3. Stained
  4. Torn
  5. Worn
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