28 November 2023

Riverina Rewind: When a DIY Prince Charming was the only option

| Michelle Maddison
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boy dressed as prince in 1920s

Frederick as Prince Charming, circa 1931. Photo: Museum of the Riverina (coloured by M Maddison).

Today, the Museum of the Riverina takes a step back in time to the era of the Great Depression.

The little boy shown here is Frederick Boyton Smith, the third child (and youngest son) born to Gracie Doris (nee Boyton) and Joseph Smith. Frederick was born in Manly, NSW, on 24 April, 1921.

He is about 10 years old in this photograph, which was probably taken in the backyard of the family’s home in Coolamon.

In the photo, Frederick is dressed as Prince Charming and wears a costume made entirely by his mother. It includes a blue silk hat decorated with white tulle, metallic ribbon and sequins around the edge; a blue silk jacket with off-white cotton ruffles at the neck and cuffs; blue-and-white-striped breeches made of blue cotton and white silk; blue cotton tights; and blue silk shoes.

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The shoes are handmade using blue silk fabric, and each has a blue fabric-covered button on top. The interior is fitted with a loose cardboard sole. The decoration that runs down the front of the jacket, around the bottom and above the ruffled cuff is actually white cotton wool!

Before the advent of the modern costume shop, outfits worn for fancy-dress occasions were most commonly made at home (or, for the wealthy, by tailors or seamstresses).

Surviving costumes dating to this era are not common, and are a testament to recycling – the reuse of materials and the creativity and resourcefulness of people in the first half of the 20th century.

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Frederick had two brothers: Keith Ronald (born Manly, 23 July, 1917) and Jack Boyton (born Manly, 29 May, 1919, died 1 September, 1919).

Frederick’s grandfather, David Boyton, was a farmer in Wagga. His father, Joseph, was also a farmer, with property at Berry Jerry, on the outskirts of Wagga. In 1963, Frederick married Heather Eileen Patricia Ray at Muswellbrook, NSW. He worked a wheat and sheep farm at Wallacetown, near Wagga.

The couple had two children: Joseph Frederick (born Wagga, 1964) and Eileen Harriet Gracie (born Wagga, 1966). Frederick and Heather divorced in 1984 after 21 years of marriage.

Frederick died in 2000, aged 79.

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