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1894 Reform Dress Wedding

About wedding

In 1894 James Reeve Wilkinson and Kate (Katrine) Walker were married in Christchurch. Reports of the wedding attracted considerable attention because of the dress of the wedding party. A photograph of the wedding published in The New Zealand Graphic apparently shocked its readers because of the very prominent knickerbockers, a public statement by the wedding party of their strongly held principles of the necessity of rational dress for women.

Dress Reform Wedding

Wedding photograph of James Reeve Wilkinson and Kate Walker published in The New Zealand Graphic on 3 March 1894.

In 1893 the couple had published a pamphlet NOTES ON DRESS REFORM, AND WHAT IT IMPLIES. A newspaper report on the pamphlet is shown on this page.

Newspaper Reports

Otago Witness

Otago Witness, Issue 2087, 22 February 1894, Page 46


Dear Emmeline, — It was my good fortune to be present about a fortnight ago at what I suppose was the first rational dress wedding in New Zealand. The bride was Miss Kate Walker, an old Dunedin High School girl, who has been for many years a teacher under the North Canterbury Board of Education, the bridegroom, Mr J. R. Wilkinson, M.A., librarian of Canterbury College; both being strong supporters of the rational dress movement. The wedding took place at "Aborima," Christchurch, the house of Mrs D. W.M. Burn, also a prominent supporter of the movement; and among the guests were the bride's sister, Miss Nelly Walker, Miss Eva Meredith, and Miss Parry, all attired in tasteful knicker costumes. The Rev. L. M. Isitt, himself a sympathiser in the great reform of women's dress, performed the ceremony. A brief description of the costumes may be of interest to your readers. The style was, with one exception, alike throughout — viz , knickers, not too full, long vest, and slightly longer coat, with revers worn open. Mrs Wilkinson wore stone blue bengaline coat and knickers, cream gold-embroidered vest, a wreath of natural flowers, and bridal veil draped prettily, but not covering the face as usual. Miss Walker wore a suit of lemon merveilleux satin, the close-fitting tunic being trimmed with rich lace and edged with a ruching of itself ; the general effect somewhat suggestive of a Russian skating dress. Mrs Barn wore a suit similar to the bride's, but of gold brown cashmere, the vest trimmed with broad silk embroidery, and the edges of the coat finished with gold cord; to my taste the most effective costume of the whole. Miss Parry's suit was of navy blue cloth, the vest trimmed with gold tinsel gimp, and the coat edged with gold cord. Miss Meredith's suit was of a crimson corded stuff, the coat finished with silver cord, and the vest with broad cream silk braid. The gentlemen of the party, with two exceptions, wore knicker dress also. During the afternoon the bride and bridegroom left for Lyttelton, on their way to Governor's Bay for a week's modified camping out, leaving the rest of the party to finish the day in fun and frolic. A large size photograph of the wedding party is being exhibited in Messrs Standish and Preece's showrooms, and is attracting considerable attention.— CARMILLA.

Otago Witness

Extracted from an article FIN-DU-SIECLE FADS by Fabian Bell, Otago Witness, Issue 2105, 28 June 1894, Page 47.


We in New Zealand have obtained rather an unenviable notoriety as faddists, and the rest of the English-speaking world appear to watch our proceedings much as the elder brothers and sisters in a large family watch the vagaries of the youngest toddler to see "what he will do next," we, like the said youngster, being only too willing to fill the role, forgetting that the interest we excite is largely tempered with good humoured contempt — "it pleases them, it doesn't hurt us."

Some of our colonial fads are merely comical, as the Dress Reform League, which culminated in the knickerbooker wedding, now historical. Why the high priestess of this cult should declare that emancipated women — like the baby and Pears' soap — "cannot be happy till they get 'em" — i.e., the breeks— is difficult for non-faddists to see. Probably few will deny that all extremes of fashion are bad. When women with their long skirts act as street scavengers, or tighten their nether limbs so that they progress sideways like crabs, they expose themselves to ridicule, and freedom of movement is impossible; but if the skirt be shortened and loosened these difficulties disappear, and a woman can move easily in any direction. But so simple a reform is not sufficient for these faddists; something bizarre and startling must be advocated, with the enthusiasm and ardour of a religious belief, or the League itself would fizzle out.

North Otago Times

North Otago Times, 31 March 1893, page 3


By Miss K. Walker and J. R. Wilkinson, M.A. Simpson and Williams, Christchurch, publishers. Andrew Fraser, Oamaru, agent.

This little brochure, as its name implies, is written with the object of influencing a revolution in women's dress, but the authors have undertaken a large order. It is not within the scope of the knowledge of ordinary mankind to know much of the mysteries of female dress, and they are therefore not in a position to dogmatise on the subject of the necessity for an alteration. Women are the best judges of what is best for themselves, and if they can come to the conclusion that what is termed " knickers " in the little book under notice would be a healthier and more appropriate costume than the long flowing robes of the present day men would offer no objection to the change. Under any circumstances, however, it would not be men who would offer objection, for from the standpoint of economy they would be inclined to hurry on the reform. Tho objection to the reform will come from women themselves. Sylph-like figures can flit about in "bifurcated" garments, but those whose weight avoirdupois runs away over 12st will decidedly object to a style of dress that reveals the amplitude of their rotundity. Then is it not possible that feet, ankles and calves may play an important part in checking the spread of the "reform." The pamphlet says: "The higher dress reform consists in the adoption of a legged system of dress at times when such is more suitable than the skirt system. We desire women to free their lower limbs from continual confinement." Then It is said; "It is practically a reform in the under-things, and advocates the use of divided and combined undergarments, accurately fitted to tho body and not baggy about the legs, together with skirt lengthened and shortened to a convenient degree. It may also be viewed as an ordinary knickerbocker costume, with light skirt thrown round." The foregoing is the reform which the pamphlet designs to influence women to agree to, and many arguments are offered in support of the contemplated reform, the chief being that the costume would be healthier and would give the body better opportunities of development. We cannot see any good reason why reform should not be instituted in women's dress, but it would be presumptuous on our part to indicate in what particular direction that reform should develop itself. Women themselves are the arbiters of their own destines so far as reform in dress is concerned, and to them the subject must be left. We, however, believe that reform in dress may take place when a beneficent Nature endows each woman with similar physical adornments and developments, although this may be a puerile reason. Mrs Isabel May and Mr D. W. M. Burn, M.A., have written introductory notes to the brochure. The latter, in urging the adoption of the new dress, says: "And let no reader of these notes suppose that upon her will fall the terrible responsibility of taking the first step, That was taken long ago, even in New Zealand, and here and there about the colony we find courageous women in ones and twos and threes who have more or less thrown the old oracular to the winds; who work and walk, and ride, and cycle, and play tennis, and even pay their calls in knicker dress; and find themselves so enormously the gainers that they can afford to smile at the short-sighted opposition of to-day's majority that by tomorrow will have dwindled out of sight."