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Ruth Espin Collection

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To celebrate New Zealand Fashion Week (26 August – 1 September) Tauranga Heritage Collection collaborated with the Tauranga City Library to display a collection of 1960s and early 1970s dresses worn by local woman Ruth Espin.

In 1968 Ruth secured a home science position at Otumoetai Intermediate and in that year met her husband Doug Espin. Together they would begin their farming life in the Western Bay of Plenty. Fashion was always important to Ruth and while raising young children and working hard on the farm she continued to follow what was in style.

New Zealand fashion in the 1960s and 70s thrived. Designers travelled internationally to keep up with trends which influenced their original designs. The skilled workforce of designers, cutters, machinists and finishers was regarded as essential employment and protected from imports by the Government. New Zealand labels Miss Deb, Cinnamon, and Petite Vogue were amongst the dresses purchased by Ruth from Mrs Ellison’s Clothing Store in Te Puke and Hartley’s on The Strand in Tauranga.

Maurice Mihotich founded Miss Deb in 1963 in response to the successes of Mary Quant in England and Seventeen in America. His label was directed to young women who wanted to dress in a style clearly different from that of their mothers. Miss Deb used quality design and fabrics and sold in major New Zealand Department stores such as Smith & Caughey in Auckland and Kirkaldie & Stains in Wellington. In the 1970s a trendy, younger market was identified by Mihotich. In a move to keep ahead of the competition, Cinnamon was launched as Miss Deb sought more sophisticated clients.

Joe Lewis had a long career in the fashion business, followed by sons Tony and Bill. Petite Vogue was one of their most popular franchised labels. Their fashion house, Classic Fashions Ltd, experienced a great period of expansion in the 1970s. They invested in the latest technology such as machines for blind-hem stitching, pin tucking, shirring and embroidering. A die press made buckles and metal ornaments.

Ruth loved these dresses. They reminded her of important moments in her life and how good she felt wearing them. We would like to thank Ruth and her family for donating them to the collection.