Costume and conversion in The Salvation Army, 1880-1901 — Australian Historical Association annual conference hosted by The Australian National University

Costume and conversion in The Salvation Army, 1880-1901 (390)

Kerrie Handasyde 1
  1. University of Divinity, Melbourne

While many nineteenth-century dissenting ministers rejected clerical garb in favour of plain clothes, Salvationists set themselves apart. They ritually laid aside their old clothes along with their past sins, and adopted distinctive military-style uniforms that materially communicated the Army’s mission to convert on an Empire-wide scale. For women especially, uniforms authorised them to speak in public and provided an identity that defied the conventions of the day. Salvationists performed their belief not only in the streets but on stage and screen, adopting further costumes with each persona. For magic lantern shows and print media photographs they dressed as those they sought to save: unemployed men, violent abusers and fallen women. In early films by the Army’s Limelight Department they dressed as first-century martyrs, Roman guards and even a lion. Drawing on archival images and reported responses to the many costumes, this paper examines issues of conversion, gender and class in the Salvation Army’s communication of belief.