NMA collection record

Latvian national costume, 1945


This is a Latvian national costume made by Mrs Guna Kinne. The costume consists of eight separate pieces that, when combined, form an elegant costume, rich in colours and textures. Shown here are the drawstring skirt, which is made of red wool with vertical woven inlays creating colourful patterned stripes; a 'crown' worn by unmarried women, which features beading and metallic braiding over red felt, with the top edged by large crystal beads; a naturally coloured linen waistcoat decorated with an embroidered black pattern of geometric curves at the edges, on the chest and hips; and a white linen shift blouse decorated with embroidered geometric patterns in red and grey at the collar, the cuffs and the shoulders.

Educational value

Mrs Guna Kinne was a Latvian refugee who immigrated to Australia in 1948. Separated from her family, she escaped from her homeland using false documents. After living in various displaced persons camps in Germany, Kinne boarded the SS Swalbard to start a new life in Sydney, Australia. Among her meagre belongings in a single suitcase was a Latvian folk costume. Kinne began making this costume in 1939 and continued to add to the ensemble until 1957.

Mrs Kinne recalls she wore the costume a few times before she left Latvia, at social occasions and as part of a folk dance troop. The first time she wore the costume after leaving Latvia was in Germany at the Geestacht Latvian Displaced Persons Camp dance in December 1945. This was the same night she met her husband.

Mrs Kinne's experiences are representative of post-war Latvian migration to Australia. After the Second World War, the Australian Government adopted a new immigration policy which encouraged European emigration to Australia to boost a low population. By 1952, almost 20,000 Latvians had come to Australia as part of the program. Many, including Mrs Kinne, participated in Latvian community organisations formed to help maintain cultural activities and provide mutual social support as emigrants adapted to life in their new country. Mrs Kinne and her husband arrived in 1948 and settled in Melbourne. They became actively involved in the Good Neighbour Program and took part in various Latvian celebrations and gatherings where Mrs Kinne wore her traditional costume.

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