A Bit of Love in Every Stitch

Gustav Wagner's Childhood Coat

This elaborately embroidered coat was once worn by Gustav (Gus) Friedrich Wagner (1881–1950) and is thought to have been made by his mother, Johanna Hermine (Mina) (1857–1921) in the nineteenth century German style. The coat is made from black cotton velvet with white embroidery and lace trim and bone false buttons.

The side view of the coat seen below allows an appreciation of the large sailor’s collar, false half-belt, deep pockets and embroidery detail. The front of the coat can be seen in the photograph of Gus Wagner as a child taken at Burton Brothers Studio in Albury in 1883.

The coat represents a rare example of German-style children’s clothing in Australia and is an outstanding example of skilled needlework. To our twenty-first century eyes the coat appears to be more suited to a young girl but is representative of the custom, popular in the nineteenth century of placing small boys in dresses for the first four or five years of their lives. They were then ‘breeched’, or placed into their first pair of short trousers and did not get to wear long trousers until puberty or their early teens.

It is unlikely that this beautiful coat was only worn by Gus. Such elaborate embroidery and needlework would have taken many hours so it would be expected that the coat was a family piece and as such, also worn by Gus’s brothers and sisters and handed down to the next generation.