Chrissy Amphlett's School Uniform

Contributed by: Powerhouse Museum

Box pleat uniform front Box pleat uniform side Box pleat uniform back Box pleat uniform and shirt with peter pan collar Belt detail Box pleat details Tunic neckline detail and shirt collar Box pleat tunic and shirt on display at the Powerhouse in 'The 80's are back' exhibition which ran from December, 2009 - Marxh,  2011 Tunic manyfacturer's label Label inside shirt, showing the garment was manufactured by Taleb of Marrickville, New South Wales
  • Australian dress register ID:

    605
  • Owner:

    Powerhouse Museum
  • Owner registration number:

    98/193/1
  • Date range:

    1994
  • Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

Chrissy Amphlett's iconic school uniform represents the unrestrained performance style of the lead singer of the internationally successful Australian rock band, Divinyls. The navy blue box pleat tunic and white shirt with a Peter Pan collar is one of several school uniforms worn in performance by Amphlett. Amphlett credits the uniform with enabling her to create the persona of the angry, sexually provocative schoolgirl that allowed the band to transcend the Australian pub scene and find international fame.

Amphlett's aggressive, theatrical performances are renowned for breaking the mould for female musicians, but she found it difficult to express herself in the band's early performances. In these, she cowered in the shadows at the back of the stage, her fringe obscuring her eyes. The personal nature of the songs she'd composed left her feeling raw and exposed. Inspired by musicians such as Iggy Pop, Angus Young (AC/DC) and Stevie Wright (Easybeats) who expressed their musical vision through stage personas, and encouraged by band manager, Vince Lovegrove, she took on the role of a rebellious schoolgirl. This provided freedom to convey the attitude underpinning her music.

According to Amphlett's autobiography, her first performance in uniform blew the roof off the old Astra pub up the hill from Bondi Beach... there had never been such an uninhibited performance from an Australian female singer... I tore around the stage haranguing the crowd, scowling, screaming and head banging, and somehow singing the songs perfectly. 

Amphlett credits this performance as lift-off for the band, enjoying success in Australia, and some success in the USA in the early 1980s with hits such as 'Science Fiction', 'Boys in Town' and 'Pleasure and Pain'. Even greater success was found in the USA with the single 'I Touch Myself', which reached no 4 in March, 1991.

Although a wave of Australian bands were making names for themselves internationally during the 1980s, Divinyls were unique in being fronted by a female singer leading her own band, writing her own material. Amphlett's distinctive persona, voice and intense, wounded lyrics have been an inspiration to a new generation of Australian female performers such as Isabella Manfredi of 'The Preatures', Ella Hooper and Missy Higgins. 

As well as inspiring young performers, Amphlett's legacy lives on in Amphlett Lane, Melbourne and the 'I Touch Myself' breast cancer awareness project founded by the Cancer Council, Australia.  

    

Author: Julie McFarland, 7/11/2016.

Description

Girl's school uniform consisting of shirt and tunic with belt. The shirt is in white cotton, size 14, has a straight cut with a Peter Pan collar, long sleeves, bust darts and a breast pocket. Centre front fastening with clear/white plastic buttons. Machine sewn, with manufacturer's label inside centre back. The sleeveless tunic is in navy blue wool polyester, with square neck, box pleats and belt loops at the waist. Machine sewn and unlined. It has a tunic belt made of matching wool polyester with a blue plastic buckle. The belt threads through the plastic buckle and is held by a fabric loop. Machine sewn and unlined.

History and Provenance

Music featured strongly on both sides of Chrissy Amphlett's family. Her maternal grandparents held family singalongs at home around the piano and her mother performed with the Geelong Musical Company. Her uncle, Ernest Sage, was a renowned performer of opera and choral hymns.

The Australian singer Pattie Amphlett, known as Little Pattie, is Chrissy Amphlett's cousin. Little Pattie achieved #2 chart success as a teenager in Sydney with her debut single from November 1963, 'He's My Blonde Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy'. Little Pattie's success encouraged Chrissy to believe 'an Amphlett could make it'.      

Chrissy's father, Jim Amphlett had served in World War II. He was only seventeen when he enlisted and the Germans captured him almost immediately. He remained a prisoner for the rest of the war. According to Chrissy Amphlett's autobiography, 'Pleasure and Pain My Life', her father had an unpredicatable temperament, probably as a result of undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder. Her mother, Mary Amphlett (nee Banbrook), encouraged Chrissy's love of acting, singing and dancing and Chrissy performed in small roles in Geelong Musical Comedy Productions such as 'The Sound of Music', 'Oklahoma' and 'Annie Get Your Gun' in her pre-teen years. 

After attending the local high school, Belmont High in Geelong, Chrissy left home as a teenager and travelled to England, France and Spain. She was arrested in Spain for busking and detained for three months. 

Returning from Europe at the age of twenty, Chrissy won a role in the musical 'Let My People Come' which reflected the sexual liberation of the era, and in which the cast performed in the nude. Her mother, Mary, showed support for Chrissy and attended performances, despite the confronting nature of the show. According to Chrissy's autobiography, her father, Jim, had middle class aspirations for his daughter and wanted her to marry respectably. Chrissy's wild stage performances were a means of expressing her disdain for her father's conservative aspirations for her.      

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Christina Joy Amphlett was born on 25th October, 1959 in Geelong, Australia. She was baptised in the Baptist church on Collins St, Melbourne. Her great uncle, Ernest Sage, an opera singer and renowned singer of choral hymns, sang at her baptism.

She was the younger of two girls born to Mary and Jim Amphlett. Her sister, Leigh, was four years older than Chrissy.

Amphlett had a volatile romantic and songwriting partnership with Divinyls guitarist, Mark McEntee between 1982 and 1993. Their partnership ended acrimoniously, and the band broke up in 1997. McEntee and Amphlett were inducted into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards) Hall of Fame in 2006.

On 27th July, 1991 Amphlett married American drummer Charley Drayton. Drayton played with Divinyls from 1991- 1997 and in 2007 when the band briefly re-formed for a tour. 

Chrissy died at home in New York City on 21st April, 2013 at age 53 after suffering from multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. Unfortunately, multiple sclerosis prevented Amphlett from having treatment for breast cancer. Her husband, Charley Drayton was with her when she died as were her cousin, Pattie Amphlett (Little Pattie, a 1960s surf pop singer) and Amphlett's sister Leigh and her nephew. A wake was held for her at the Baptist church where she was christened.  

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

There are many different kinds of communities, and because rock bands spend so much time in each others' company and on the road, they become a community. 

The Australian band Divinyls had a wild and reckless image arising from singer Chrissy Amphlett's husky voice and powerful, sexualised stage presence. The band, which emerged from the flourishing pub rock scene of the 1980s, first came to prominence with their soundtrack and cameo performances for the 1982 Australian film 'Monkey Grip'.

Divinyls soon transcended the pub rock scene and had four Top 10 albums in Australia and one in the US. The single, 'I Touch Myself', (1991) made it to No. 1 in Australia, and was a top 10 hit in the US and Britain. The band split in 1997. In 2006, Chrissy Amphlett and guitarist Mark McEntee were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, after which they re-formed Divinyls for a tour in 2007. The band split again after the tour, this time for good.

Amphlett's school uniform, suspender belt and fishnet stockings were a distinctive visual trademark. She adopted this look as a means of controlling her public image. Reported in online magazine, 'Women's Agenda' of April 23rd, 2013, Amphlett said:                

I was having a lot of trouble singing the lyrics and being able to project and Vince Lovegrove, our manager took me to an AC/DC concert... and the next day I went out and bought a school uniform, suspenders and stockings. It inspired me and it freed me up and I took it out on everyone... I was surrounded by so many men and so the uniform was (me giving) the finger to everyone... and (it enabled me to) become this monster and then I had the power.

Amphlett's uniquely strong stage presence combined with her distinctive voice and fearless lyrics secured her place internationally in the forefront of the rock industry and as an icon for female performers.  

Just six weeks after Chrissy's death, her husband Charley Drayton and cousin Pattie Amphlett presented a petition to Melbourne City Council in support of naming a Melbourne laneway in Chrissy's honour. Amphlett Lane, which is off Bourke St behind the Palace Theatre, was officially named on 18th Frebruary, 2015.   

 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

In the early 1980s when Divinyls were breaking into the Australian rock scene, Australia was undergoing a period of prosperity and was expressing its emerging identity through numerous cultural forms. Australia won The America's Cup, protests against nuclear weapons drew crowds of over 100,000 on Palm Sundays and the Wilderness Society, under the leadership of Bob Brown, saved the Franklin River in Tasmania from being dammed. Internationally, the Communist Eastern Bloc was crumbling and the AIDS crisis spread throughout the Western world.

Rock music was one of the cultural forms through which Australia expressed newfound confidence internationally. Men at Work, Mental as Anything, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Rose Tattoo were among the Australian bands strutting international stages. INXS, fronted by charismatic lead singer, Michael Hutchence, performed globally to huge crowds. Although Australian acts such as 'The Easybeats' and 'The Bee Gees' had made it internationally prior to the 1980s, the wave of bands making it in Europe, the USA and the UK in the '80s was fundamentally different. This difference is expressed succinctly by Nick Cave, who says that prior to the 1980s, Australia still needed America or England to tell them what was good.  

Within the international music scene, MTV videos promoted pop artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna, while punk was a firmly established form of rock, and an inspiration for Amphlett. In her autobiography, 'Pleasure and Pain', Amphlett writes she was influenced by Deborah Harry of Blondie, as Harry was one of the few women fronting a rock band internationally.

While women had made some gains in the workplace, this was not reflected in the booming pub rock scene in Australia, or even on the iconic music television program, 'Countdown', hosted by Ian (Molly) Meldrum. Bands such as Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil and AC/DC were making a mark, but it was largely a boys' club. Few females fronted rock bands in Australia, and those who did were usually conventionally pretty and well behaved on stage. Chrissy challenged the boys' club with her wild and aggressive performances. Her unique stage presence ensured Divinyls a place in Australian rock history. 

 

Where did this information come from?

Amphlett, Chrissy, Pleasure and Pain My Life, Sydney, Hachette Australia, 2000. 

Australian Government, Australian Rock Music, http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-rock-music

Cox, Peter, The Powerhouse Museum is Rewinding the 80s with a Spectacular New Exhibition, Artdaily.org, Dec 11, 2009 http://artdaily.com/news/34857/The-Powerhouse-Museum-is-Rewinding-the-80s-with-a-Spectacular-New-Exhibition#.V6ALJp1--Um

J Files, Portrait Story, Chrissy Amphlett by Ivan Durant, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZeg6AGuXQw#t=64

Powerhouse Museum, https://ma.as/365179|title=Juke magazine |author=Powerhouse Museum

Sydney Morning Herald Entertainment, Chrissy Amphlett dead at 53', 22nd April, 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/chrissy-amphlett-dead-at-53-20130422-2ia30.html#ixzz4DVvpkvsq

The Australian, How Chrissy Amphlett decided she was the 'monster' Australia needed, April 22, 2013, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/music/how-chrissy-amphlett-decided-she-was-the-monster-australia-needed/story-fn9d2mxu-1226626142284

Women's Agenda, 23 April 2013, Chrissy Amphlett: Surrounded by men, the uniform was me 'giving the finger, http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/item/2021-chrissy-amphlett-surrounded-by-men-the-uniform-was-me-giving-the-finger

 

 

 

This garment has been exhibited

On display at the Powerhouse Museum in 1994- 1997 for the 'Real Wild Child' exhibition - an exhibition that celebrated the Australian rock industry from the 1950s -1990s. The exhibition travelled in Australia in 1998 and was then lent to the Performing Arts Museum, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne for the exhibition: 'Kindred Spirits - the performing arts family which ran from October, 1998 to February, 1999. It was again on display at the Powerhouse Museum's 'The 80s are back' exhibition, which ran from December, 2009 to March, 2011.  

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Christina (Chrissy) Amphlett. Donated by Chrissy Amphlett to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1998 after being lent for the 'Real Wild Child' exhibition in January, 1994. 

  3. Worn by:

    Christina (Chrissy) Amphlett, lead singer of the rock band 'Divinyls'.

  4. Occasion(s):

    Performances with rock band 'Divinyls' in early 1994. One of several school unforms worn by Amphlett during her rock career.

  5. Made by:

    Manufacturer of tunic: department store, David Jones. Shirt made by Taleb in Marrickville, Sydney, New South Wales.

  6. Made for:

    Made for David Jones department store, Sydney, New South Wales. Intended for school girls.

Trimmings / Decoration

Both the tunic and shirt are unadorned.

Fibre / Weave

Navy blue wool/polyester tunic in a twill weave and white cotton/polyester shirt in plain weave.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Both parts of the garment are entirely machine stitched.

Tunic made by department store, David Jones.

The shirt was made by Taleb, in Marrickville, Sydney. This company has been producing school uniforms since 1959. The company's website advertises that it produces uniforms for girls and boys including blazers, dresses, tunics, skirts, shirts, trousers, pullovers and shorts. See https://taleb.com.au/

 

Label

Tunic label: 'DAVID JONES'.  '12'. 'POLYESTER/WOOL/WASHING INSTRUCTIONS/HANDWASH IN WARM WATER/DO NOT SOAK, BLEACH OR WRING/DRIP DRY OR DRY CLEAN WITHOUT DELAY/AWAY FROM DIRECT HEAT/WARM IRON ONLY/DRY CLEANABLE (P) (30).

Shirt label: 'MISS FUTURE/by TALEB/size 14/ MADE IN AUSTRALIA'. 

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

Cut

The school tunic is a box pleat style. Three box pleats front and back, suspended from a square yoke.  

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

Tunic has a fabric and plastic zipper on right hip. Zipper approx 250 mm. Pocket inside zip.

Shirt has a white plastic button of approx 10 mm diameter on each cuff. Six identical buttons down centre front opening. Top button secures the Peter Pan collar.   

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Tunic and shirt are entirely unlined.

Measurements

belt shirt tunic
Girth
Neck 390 mm
Chest 860 mm 840 mm
Waist 915 mm 790 mm
Cuff 225 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 605 mm 700 mm
Back neck to hem 685 mm 700 mm
Back waist to hem 480 mm
Sleeve length 500 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 155 mm 65 mm
Cross back 480 mm 420 mm
Underarm to underarm 480 mm
Convert to inches

The length of the garment from shoulder to hem is 900 mm.

Dress Themes

Chrissy Amphlett wore a school uniform in her stage performances to make a confronting statement and to assume a persona. She always wore public school uniforms and chose drip dry fabrics so that the garment could be washed in the hotel basin and dry overnight. (Information from Patricia Thompson, also known as Little Pattie, Chistina Amphlett's cousin, telephone conversation with Peter Cox, Curator, Powerhouse Museum, 17/8/98).

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Copyright laws prevent images of Amphlett performing in the school uniform from being uploaded to the Australian Dress Register. There are many photos of Amphlett in performance online, such as the URLs provided above. 

Other related objects

Other objects from the "Real Wild Child' exhibition in the Powerhouse's collection include: Little Pattie Costume (98/75/1:2), Collection of rock concert programs (98/77/1.27), Martin Plaza costume (99/111/1), Jenny Morris costume (99/113/1:41), Easybeats guitar (99/108/1), Rock music posters, stickers, magazines, contracts, handbills etc (99/113/1:41).

Link to collection online

  • http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Chrissy+Amphlett+Pictures&view=detailv2&&id=F772F94B7E22E9BCB6AAF273ADE99FF1636302EB&selectedIndex=29&ccid=0L2O5obY&simid=608015702137833536&thid=OIP.Md0bd8ee686d8fe7d21e94d4083d5891ao0&ajaxhist=0
  • http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Chrissy+Amphlett+Pictures&view=detailv2&id=C852B5E1ADF59DED836CC22A3095D7FD0E350B6C&selectedindex=34&ccid=vR5Qe8YJ&simid=608023677892757169&thid=OIP.Mbd1e507bc609372d7db6886b0599301fH0&mode=overlay&first=1
  • http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Chrissy+Amphlett+Pictures&view=detailv2&&id=F2E257897FBC558DCBAE80D85E524CF78FFA3D2C&selectedIndex=10&ccid=QWgDJRTh&simid=608048816341257553&thid=OIP.M4168032514e123131c22fb00504ef58fH2&ajaxhist=0
  • http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Chrissy+Amphlett+Pictures&view=detailv2&id=BB942DB75D5392E100A3231287D4C45EA746C5C6&selectedindex=20&ccid=AzzcXryT&simid=608036846262685068&thid=OIP.M033cdc5ebc9333bbf8e45dce2c884787o0&mode=overlay&first=1
  • Condition

    No repairs, stains or damage. The uniform does not appear to have been worn often. 

    State

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

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