House of Lucas: Australian Fashion History at the Gold Museum

A rich slice of Australia’s sartorial history is revealed this week as the House of Lucas exhibition opens at the Gold Museum in Ballarat.

The iconic House of Lucas was a family-owned brand operating in Ballarat, Victoria from 1888 until 1968, employing hundreds of people in the local area. The exhibition is a tribute to the personalities who shaped the House’s history – when founder Eleanor Lucas was widowed in 1878, she started sewing underwear and shirts to support her family, and when she was widowed again in 1888, she launched House of Lucas, and by 1908, the firm employed over 200 people.

From historical photos of the factory and advertisements that ran in the Australian Women’s Weekly in the 1950s, to a beautiful two-piece Pierre Cardin suit that was produced by the House of Lucas circa 1960, other archival pieces & precious fashion objects, the exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to discover a unique part of Ballarat’s history.


House of Lucas were the first in Ballarat to use electrical power, and in 1905, Tilly Thompson was hired by Lucas as a sales rep, making her Australia’s first female commercial traveller.

Putting Ballarat on the map as a producer of high quality clothing, Lucas was one of the first textile manufacturers to open a knitting factory equipped with the latest machinery, as well as a dye house. Lucas produced Australia’s first knitted nylon tricot which revolutionised their lingerie and dress lines. Lucas and Thompson, or the Lucas Girls, as they were affectionately known, developed commercial relationships with American lingerie firm Vanity Fair (Lucas manufactured Vanity Fair lingerie for the local Australian market) and French couture house Pierre Cardin. This dramatically increased the House’s prestige and exclusivity, and in 1930, a Lucas stylist travelled to study European markets and buy fabric samples.

Gold Museum curator Snjez Cosic says

“The House of Lucas exhibition provides a fascinating glimpse into such an important part of Ballarat’s history, both in terms of the fashion industry, but also the individuals who shaped the House of Lucas. It’s a thrill to bring the stories and historical pieces to life through this exhibition.”


There are so many great regional exhibitions happening in Victoria right now, it’d be rude not to take a road trip, really. The Gold Museum is located within the grounds of historic Sovereign Hill – a great place for kids. There is much more to see in Ballarat too, like my favourite cafe Yellow Espresso and a rummage through the Mill Markets, perfectly suited for your vintage, self-important historian myood, post-House of Lucas experience.


Need to know:

  • The House of Lucas Exhibition is on at Gold Museum at Sovereign Hill, Bradshaw Street, Ballarat.
  • The exhibition runs from October 28th until March 26th, 2017.
  • Ballarat is approx 115.9km from Melbourne city, or a 1 hour 20 min drive.

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Pictured at top: Maggie Tabberer modelling a Pierre Cardin garment created by the House of Lucas


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