Book Review: Badge Boot Button by Craig Wilcox tells the story of Australia through the uniforms we wear

“Uniforms conceal and uniforms reveal. They wrap the bodies of millions of Australians every day, deflecting sun and rain, insulating against heat and cold, making feet more mobile, camouflaging thighs and chests that would be distracting to display openly and correcting our all-too-human anatomy by lengthening legs, broadening shoulders and masking disappointing hairlines!”

Craig Wilcox, with the assistance of The National Library, has pulled together an amazing multitude of articles, photos and drawings spanning from 1788 to the present, all collected under the apt title – Badge Boot Button. The book covers so many different uniforms; from the world of sports, including Footy and Cricket; to professional uniforms, including military garb to airline uniforms. Not to mention bathers and school uniforms. There are so many different uniforms included I’m actually surprised Wilcox managed to fit so many different types of regalia in a book that’s only 166 pages.

With this compendium Wilcox has created a window into the past, offering readers a unique glimpse into a world that many of us may never have seen. Reading this book felt like a journey back in time, or being sat amongst the collectables in an antique shop, wishing I could see and touch many of these pieces. Maybe someone should put on an exhibition in the future (if they haven’t already!)

The book brings together a diverse collection of uniforms, they can look smart, casual, and some even shocking. There are more than a few recognisable blasts from the past too. Check out the famous Pucci uniform worn by female Qantas stewards from 1974 to 1985, or the Woman’s Royal Army Corps stunning bottle green skirts and tunics with brass buttons – the list goes on.

Wilcox even lets us in on the history behind these different uniforms. So you can read how woman designed uniforms during the Second World War, or perhaps how nursing uniforms were torture in the 1970’s. Accessories get a mention too, after all, uniforms can mean gloves, respirators, goggles, hats, colour patches, shoulder capes, stockings the list goes on.

All these different uniforms were worn to suit a specific function, and bring a degree of conformity. They stand for a company, group or level of employee. But at the same time uniforms can reflect social and political change. Throughout the book, Wilcox, explains how and why these uniforms came about, how they changed over time, and why these changes took place. Badge Boot Button is a well researched work, there is a lot of Australian history in these pages. So it’s well worth taking a peek. And not only does the compendium make for a fascinating read, the full page posters depicting the multitude of uniforms make the book visually appealing and well worth investing in.

Badge Boot Button by Craig Wilcox is available now through NLA Publishing