For someone who was never interested in fashion, Dorothy Nicol has carved out an unlikely niche.
After picking up a few second-hand dresses to sew into dolls’ clothes many years ago, Dorothy Nicol found she didn’t have the heart to cut up her finds.
Decades later, the former Masonic hall in Ms Nicol’s hometown of Lismore is now crammed with vintage clothing, some dating back to the 1800s.
Ms Nicol’s Flappers to Flairs display draws in fashion fans from all over, she and her collection have been the subject of a university student’s masters degree, and her pieces have graced fashion fund-raisers across the state.
After accidentally finding herself the custodian of the Western District’s clothing history, Ms Nicol said it took a while to realise the significance of her collection.
“I didn’t know for a long time what I was doing. I was just collecting dresses because I liked it, I didn’t realise there was so much to it.”
Every garment tells a story, many of local women – their wedding dresses, mother-of-the-bride outfits and ball gowns.
As Ms Nicol’s reputation has grown, so has her collection as people donate dresses and outfits.
One of her oldest pieces is a wedding dress dating back to the 1860s and her collection traces fashions right through to the 1990s.
Op shops have been a favourite haunt of Ms Nicol to add to her collection.
“The op shops were great places. They still are. I bought an op shop dress the other day from the 1950s. I don’t go searching for them, but just for fun I had a look and for $6 I thought ‘I can’t let that go’.”
At last count, Ms Nicol had 2000 dresses in her collection, but admits “that was a good while ago”. She is still adding to the collection, but “very selectively”.
Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Ms Nicol said that was the fashion era she loved the most. But fashion was not something that had interested her earlier in life. Ballroom dancing was her passion.
“When they had ballroom dancing that was the best time,” she said. “In the season you could go to a ball every week. And there was the belle of the ball and at the end of the season they’d have the belle of belles ball.”
About 400 ballgowns now reside in her collection.
“We started off with a glory box, then we went dancing, then made our debut. Our debut was where you went to the balls and you met the love of your life, as you call it. You got engaged and then you got married,” Ms Nicol said of the traditions of the time.
“That was the time I liked, it was good. It sounds organised, but it wasn’t.”
Ms Nicol’s collection has been used in fund-raisers across the south-west and beyond, raising thousands and thousands of dollars.
The latest event is an Easter Fashion Parade in Terang on Thursday, March 22, which will showcase wedding gowns and associated outfits. The parade will be held at the Terang Civic Hall from 7.30pm. Money raised will be shared by Cooinda and the Red Cross.