Life in the 20th century

Page 6 – Appearances

We present ourselves to the world by the way we dress and wear our hair. Our appearance reveals - and conceals - things about ourselves. Whether we have carefully selected from a full wardrobe or simply grabbed the first thing at hand, our clothing shows the times and places in which we live.  In all societies, social status or wealth, ethnic difference and even region are indicated by dress. Group identity can be strengthened by uniforms (formal or informal); occupations are revealed by particular forms of clothing; rites of passage are usually accompanied by special clothes. Styles of dress and hair support ideas of masculinity and femininity, and they may confirm, or challenge, popular gender stereotypes.


Woman in mini-skirt

The controversy caused by the flapper look in the 1920s paled beside the reaction to the miniskirt in the 1960s. Some people said the mini as provocative; it could unleash sexual disorder among men excited by the sight of so much female leg. Pantyhose were essential to the miniskirt, which often barely covered the buttocks; suspender belts or the cumbersome apparatus sometimes required by stockings were impractical with miniskirts.

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Group photo of rugby players

The greater organisation of sports such as rugby at the beginning of the century was reflected in uniforms. Irregular team clothing had largely disappeared and the rugby jersey was formalised. The round-necked pullover-type jerseys of the 1890s were replaced by lace-up tops with a V-neck insert giving extra protection around the shoulders. This 'New Zealand Football Team'— probably the one that beat Australia 9–3 in August 1904 when this photograph was taken— wears the black jersey and silver fern adopted 12 years earlier as the official uniform of the national side.

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How to cite this page

'Appearances', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012