Cover of New Idea featuring woman in white dress and title 'New Idea Beauty book. No. 1'The New Idea beauty book. No. 1, Your beauty problems answered, circa 1936

On 1 August 1902, a magazine ‘devoted exclusively to the needs and problems of the Australian home and its mistress,’ was published for the first time. Its title, New Idea, was a reflection of its aim, which was ‘to present the newest ideas continually arising in every branch of a woman’s life and interest.’

The magazine was sold for three pence an issue, or readers could subscribe for three shillings per year. Subscribers could also send away for ‘perfectly fitting, thoroughly stylish and up-to-date’ paper sewing patterns for nine pence each.

Illustration of woman dressed in finery sitting on a park bench patting a dog, a woman also infine costume, stands beside her holding a parasol Costumes drawn from ‘Model’ paper pattern designs, New Idea, 1 August 1902, p 43

The first issue was an eclectic mix, featuring pages of poetry, anecdotes and short fiction, an article on athletics for women, and numerous columns which were to become regular features, including ‘Marriages of the month’, ‘Society fads’ and ‘Etiquette for all occasions.’

There was a three-page spread on ‘The Gentle Art of Beauty’ which included a sobering rumination on ‘Why Beauty Fades,’ as well as home remedies for every affliction known to womanhood; from wrinkles and pimples, to dry lips and sunburn.

The inaugural edition of New Idea also included the first instalment of a special ‘Good taste’ competition, in which 15 leading Australian drapery firms submitted their design ideas for summer. Over subsequent editions readers were asked to assess the style and merit of each design and then vote for them in order of preference.

You can see some of the designs below:

Black and white photo of woman in long flowing white dress and matching hat. ‘Good taste’ competition, design no 1, New Idea, 1 August 1902 p 33 

Black and white photo of woman in long sleeved dress with patterned bodice and fancy hat‘Good taste’ competition, design no 2, New Idea, 1 August 1902 p 34 

Woman wearing white designer gown and matching hat with lace detail‘Good taste’ competition, design no 3, New Idea, 1 August 1902 p 35. This dress was eventually announced as the winning design 

The first issue of New Idea was a resounding success, garnering many favourable reviews in the newspaper.

‘The journal should prove of great value in the home, and helpful to housewives generally.’ (Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 20 August 1902, p 2)

‘It is neatly got up and prettily designed … Not a mawkish paragraph is found in its pages.’ (Canowindra star and Woodstock recorder, 29 August 1902 p 2)

Today, New Idea magazine turns 120! Its archive is a fascinating window into our social history.

Green cover featuring large numbers 2 and 5 with black and white photos of a boy and a girl wearing knitted clothing itemsFrom 2 to 5 : 11 smart and practical new styles. From the New Idea knitting book for small boys and girls, circa 1940s

More to explore …

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