Melbourne in the mid 20th century

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The development of Melbourne was much slower after the goldrush, depression and the world wars, as the globe relaxed into a time of peace. Slowing down on the military front allowed development on the civilian one, with motors, power sources and even fabrics evolving rapidly. Collins Street continued its legacy from the previous century of being the city’s centre of fashion.

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The architecture changed with the times. While deco buildings were still being erected, moderne, functionalist and early modern styles started to emerge in the 1940s. And we must mention suburbia, a global phenomenon of the century especially associated with the 1950s. It changed the world and Melbourne with it.

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Melbourne was turning into a city, and transport was vital. Trains continued to be developed. The tram system was expanded, and fundamentally changed. Earlier in the century trams did not pass through the city, terminating at the then Armadale station in Kings Arcade. W class trams, a precious relic of the 1940s, still run today. the expanding city also became more and more reliant on cars. Once a luxuary, they were now becoming a part of everyday life. The iconic Chevvy became a symbol of elegance and freedom — for those that could afford it.

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Australians have always been fascinated with the beautiful natural landscape of this place. This continued throughout this period, with gorgeous country estates such as Wild Cattle Creek being built.

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There were waves of migration from other countries, spurred sometimes by tradgety. Melbourne has been a multi-cultural city ever since it developed from a small colony, with the goldrush in paticular attracting people from all over the world. The Royal Exhibition Building holds early evidence of this. However the 20th centuary brought huge numbers of migrants. This brought new aesthetics and traditions to the city, greatly enriching it, and transforming it to the place it is today.

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A change in fashion

Many of the fashions that became popular in this period persist to this day. Fabrics such as nylon were invented. Machines made previously exclusive fabrics affordable.

And yet in many ways the styles of the 1940s were still lean and functional. The second world war only ended in 1945, and times were hard. The 40s spawned a straight cut, blocky look, with fabrics being tailored to reduce waste. Simple but modern dresses can bring the feel of this time into your wedding.

The 50s was a time of big skirts and big hair — the kind that has been immortalised by the movie Greese. These styles are always classic, producing fabulous images. For something with even more of an edge you could try a rockabilly style, or a big 50’s up-do.

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And then in the 1960s the world changed. Every moment in the 20th century wasn’t at flux, but the 1960s is when we think of the world becoming truly modern. Art, music and writing transformed, with new styles becoming possible. Fashion followed. Classic numbers we see today, such as strapless dresses with fishtail skirts, owe their inception to this time. The mini became popular (followed closely by the maxi) and the thin, tapered pants so popular on TV and in music videos would fit right in with the current skinny and straight jeans trend.

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You can find our previous page on Melbourne’s History at Marvellous Melbourne — Late 1800s to the 1930s.

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