Florence Austral red & black blouse

Contributed by: The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles

Front view Half front left Right side Left side Back view Tear on front float panel tie Fabric rot on lining, underneath. Delicate seams Fabric wear on waist band
[Collapse all]

Object information

Significance statement

"The Waters of the Rhine seem to mount high, and over all rides the triumphant voice of Florence Austral as Brunnhilde. Her singing can justly be called queenly. Even after hearing the glorious singing of Frida Leider on other records, Austral's triumphant voice remains in the mind." -Neville Cardus, Manchester Guardian, 1928.

Florence Austral was a prominent figure in the opera world in the early 20th Century.  It was in 1914 that Austral won first place in two voice catagories in a competition in Ballarat. With this she recieved a scholarship to study in New York. From there she traveled to London and made her Covent Garden debut on 16 May 1922 as Brünnhilde in Wagner's Die Walküre. During the mid-1920s she made the first of more than 100 recordings for HMV. She recorded operatic arias as well as songs, sacred music and oratorio extracts. In 1930 Austral become a principal singer with the esteemed Berlin State Opera. This same year Austral showed the first signs of multiple sclerosis. From here her opera career suffered as a result of the advance of this debilitating disease. Austral did however continued to do recital and concert work. She was forced into retirement in 1940 and returned to Australia in 1946, almost completely paralysed with the multiple sclerosis. Due to economic circumstances Austral needed to make an income so she taught singing at the Newcastle Conservatorium from 1954 until her retirement in 1959.  

We can only imagine that along the way she bought and wore examples of the latest fashions from America and England and would have brought them back to Australia with her. It appears that she gifted her blouse to the daughter of her accompanist.

This blouse is a beautiful example of 1920's womens day wear. The fabric choice of silk, its flame red and black colour and geometric print design scream the 'Jazz Era'. Fashion used dramatic geometric patterns and strong colours in the era and a distinct move away from the pervious period of organic and romantic influences. This is an era when designers of womenswear introduced seperates. Wearing blouses and skirts as seperates for day wear became the norm and dresses were mostly reserved for evening wear. 

Author: Justine Malinowski, 14/7/14.


1920's style blouse, features cross over front press studded to waist edge. Neckline has a 'floating' collar that is bias cut and attached into neckline. Short sleeves with asymmetrical float panel stitiched down over bias trimed shoulder seam. Front waist is finished with a bias trim with 2 deep and 1 shallow pleats on each side of front. Back bodice features a 'V' panel running to centre back waist using selvedge edges of fabric. Back neckline has narrow bias edge. Floating edges are finished with a zig zag stitch. Fabric features a geometric circular spot print in red and black. Garment bodice is lined with same weight plain red silk.

History and Provenance

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

Florence Austral: Born Florence Wilson in Victoria in 1892, she was given the name Austral because it was thought to be more suitable for an opera star. She became a Wagnerian soprano singing at Covent Garden, Berlin Opera House and in America. She married John Amadio the flautist, brother of Claude Amadio, but the marriage did not last. She developed multiple sclerosis and had to give up performing. On return to Australia she began teaching at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music with Marjorie Foott of East Maitland as her accompanist. She gave the blouses to Florence Foott, Marjorie’s daughter. She died in a Newcastle nursing home in 1968. The blouses were donated to Mrs. Nell Pyle that in turn became part of the collection of The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles of East Maitland, NSW.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Florence Austral was a significant figure and singer in the Opera world of the early 20th Century. 

This garment has been exhibited

'In Our Area', an exhibition of significant clothing and textile items that tell a story of the Lower Hunter and Maitland district.

  1. Place of origin:

    Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Florence Austral later given to Florence Foott, daughter of her accompanist from The Conservatorium of Music in Newcastle.

  3. Worn by:

    Florence Austral and later Florence Foott.

Fibre / Weave

Silk fibre in a light weight chiffon. Outer fabric is a bright red with a 1 colour (black) print. Bias binding has been cut from the same fabric as outer fabric. Lining fabric is same weight silk in a plain pink red.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


All construction is done by machine with finishing is by hand. Press studs are sew on by hand.


Possible alterations to bottom hem, perhapes shortened, binding has been re-attached, evidence of different coloured thread and workmanship across garment.

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


The floating panels are bias cut. Majority of bodice pieces are cut on the straight grain.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


2 press studs on front waist, hand sewn onto garment

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


Neck 770 mm
Chest 1010 mm
Waist 920 mm
Front neck to hem 465 mm
Back neck to hem 430 mm
Sleeve length 320 mm
Neck to sleeve head 95 mm
Cross back 330 mm
Underarm to underarm 470 mm
Convert to inches

Sleeve width at mid bicep = 380mm. Sleeve head is slightly dropped.

Dress Themes

The design of the garment and the textile print are quite dramatic. This garment may have been purchased while Florence Austral lived overseas in England or America.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Other related objects

 A white linen blouse belonging to Florence Austral is also in the collection of the Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles, Maitland. 

Link to collection online


Garment is in good enough condition to be displayed on a mannequine.

Evidence of repairs

Front left cuff has been tacked, tears to front floats where they tie at front, some fabric rot in back bodice lining near neck.


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


  1. Frayed
  2. Holes
  3. Torn
  4. Worn
[Collapse all]