Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive

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Reading a Cape: Part II

In Part I of this blog post series, I considered the construction of a T. Eaton Company cape (FRC2017.05.004 shown in the photo below) in terms of fabric, surface decoration and function. In this blog post, I undertake a comparative analysis of capes as suggested in the Reflection checklist from The Dress Detective (note 1). 


T. Eaton Company Cape FRC2017.05.004

A cape from T. Eaton Co. dating to the 1890s and shown below (FRC2014.07.457) is shorter in length than the cape being studied, but the black wool fabrics are very similar. Although this cape would probably not be worn in the middle of a cold Canadian winter, it would still provide some degree of warmth since it is made of wool. This wool has also been woven into a twill weave, similar to FRC2017.05.004. Instead of velvet appliques, this cape features decorative beading and a frilled hem and collar.


FRC2014.07.457. T. Eaton Co. Cape. Photograph by Millie Yates.

This 1890s cape shown in the photo below (FRC2014.07.160) is about half of the length of the cape being studied and likely made to be worn in the evening. It is made from black velvet with a fur trimmed collar and hook and eye fasteners. The most strikingly similar feature to FRC2017.05.004 is the embellishment of hand-sewn floral braid that spans the entire surface of the cape.


FRC2014.07.160. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

Another evening cape (FRC2014.07.156) from the 1890s is made of black velvet, with a short mandarin collar and a silk tie and lining. Floral cutwork decoration and beading embellish the shell of this cape. Its surface decoration is quite similar to the cape being studied, even though it is much shorter in length. This floral surface decoration on both these evening capes leads me to believe that this was a popular style at the time.


FRC2014.07.156. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

In considering capes from other collections, I identified two capes with Bertha collars that are similar in styling to the T. Eaton cape that is the focus of my project. The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a similar cape (C.I.41.78.1) that dates back to 1901. Although this garment was made in America, the styles are similar. Made out of a plaid wool, the cape has an identical long Bertha collar in addition to a short turned down collar.


Cape from the Costume Institute Metropolitan Museum of Art. C.I.41.78.1

The collection of  the Victoria and Albert Museum includes a cape (T.333-1995) that is also similar in styling. Made of a deep, moss green wool, the cape also has a long Bertha collar, similar to the collar of the cape being studied. However, instead of a stand collar, it has a small turned down collar. Dated to 1905 and identified as originating from France, this cape illustrates how fashion is a global phenomenon. 


Cape from the Victoria & Albert Museum T.333-1995

Capes are one-size fits all garments and especially suitable to wear over the fashions of gigot sleeves in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Gigot sleeves were snug at the elbow and full at the shoulder making them quite large (note 2). Therefore, a fitted coat would not easily fit over the large sleeves, making a cape a more suitable option for the cold weather. Some of the capes considered above would have been worn mainly for warmth and others for style. The T. Eaton cape that is the focus of my study is both stylish and warm and this comparison shows that it fits within the fashions for capes of the time. 


­­­­­­­Note 1: Mida, I., & Kim, A. (2015). The Dress Detective: a practical guide to object-based research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic.

Note 2: From paris: The gigot sleeve. (1905, Jan 26). Vogue, 25, 123. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/879154695?accountid=13631

Edited by Ingrid Mida.

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Reading a Cape: Part I

Ryerson’s Fashion Research Collection is home to many capes ranging from evening capes to nursing capes, but one in particular caught my eye. This stunning full-length wool cape with velvet appliques and a bear fur collar had me in awe at first glance (FRC2017.05.004). It is bold, striking and emanates a sense of power. Donated by Mary Wyatt, it is believed that this garment was worn by her grandmother who lived in Carleton Place, a small town not too far from Ottawa, Ontario and was dated to the 1900s (note 1).

Intrigued by the beauty of this specific garment, I did a close reading of the garment following the approach outlined by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim in The Dress Detective (note 2). In part I of a series of three blog posts, I will consider the construction of the cape. In Part II, I will compare this cape to others of the same time period. In Part III, I will compare the labels of different T. Eaton Co. garments to more precisely date this garment.


FRC2017.05.004. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

Manufactured by the T. Eaton Company, this cape is made of natural materials – wool, silk and fur. The outer shell is a very fine wool woven into a twill weave producing horizontal ridges. The lining is made of a smooth, black silk which would help to regulate the body temperature and wick away moisture. It is evident that this cape has been worn until no longer possible as the lining is fraying and has shredded beyond repair. After the cape was donated to the FRC, mesh was sewn on to prevent further damage. In between the outer and inner layers, there is an interfacing made of wool felt, which would have provided an extra layer of warmth.

The outer wool layer is constructed of two pieces with a center back seam, whereas the inner lining of silk is made up of four pieces. The flared cape is 40 inches/101 cm long from neckline to hem and would fall to about shin length. The use of machine-stitching is consistent with the dating of this garment to the early 1900s. The machine stitching of the seams is not visible except under the Bertha collar. Hand-stitching is evident in the ruched pocket decoration and in attaching the label.

Cape Final Technical.png

FRC2017.05.004. Illustration of Cape Body (excluding collars) by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

The cape has three collars that layer over each other. The first layer is a large stand collar that sits close to the neck. The outer side, facing away from the wearer is decorated with floral velvet appliques. To add warmth and decoration, the inner side of the collar which would touch the neck is lined with bear fur. This is the most striking and unique aspect of the garment. The fur is in immaculate condition with the exception of an area that has become slightly matted from touching the back of the neck. The fur is smooth to the touch and would keep the wearer warm. The second and third collars are considered Bertha collars which drape over the shoulders, almost as if they were short capes. The top Bertha collar is sewn into the neckline with the stand collar and the under-Bertha is attached about 4 inches/10 cm down from there. The left side of the under-Bertha is slightly detached at the centre, likely due to use/wear.


FRC2017.05.004. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

The collars are not the only areas that have been embellished with black velvet appliques. Machine sewn onto the lower half of the cape is a large section of the same appliques that runs around the entire garment. This section is about 10 inches/25 cm wide.

Keeping the cape fastened are seven hook and eye closures, two on the collar and five on the front. They are spaced 3 inches/7.5 cm apart, stopping just under halfway down the bodice. The eye portions are made of metal and wrapped with thread. The first and third eyes are fraying, exposing the metal. The hooks are also made of metal; however, they have been painted black. On the left side of the garment is an extension made of the same wool fabric about 1 inch/2.5 cm wide resting underneath the closures to prevent them from touching the wearer. The eyes have caused fraying and discolouration turning the black wool a rusty yellow-orange colour.


FRC2017.05.004. Detail of frayed part of extension. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

Three pockets are located in the lining of the garment. Two of which are placed vertically on either side of the centre front opening. The pockets are placed towards centre front for easy access. Decorating the 4 inch/10 cm opening, pieces of ruched fabric and bows have been hand sewn on, but are now slightly coming detached due to the delicate nature. The pockets are about 3.5 inches/9 cm wide and are located about 14 inches/35 cm down the centre front. They have been placed here so they could be reached easily by simply bending the arm at the elbow. These pockets are quite small, but would fit small objects like a watch or a key. An additional pocket is located horizontally on the left side of the cape. Its 6 inch/15 cm opening is decorated with the same ruching and bows. This pocket is 7.5 inches/19 cm wide located at about 19 inches/48 cm down centre front and about 7.5 inches/19 cm in. This puts the pocket at about hip level at the side of the body. This larger pocket could be used for objects such as money and gloves. In addition to the wool interfacing and fur collar which would provide warmth, the pockets make this cape even more practical.

The cape includes a manufacturers label that reads “The T. Eaton Co. Limited. 190 Yonge St. Toronto” written in white on a black background. The label is approximately 1 inch/2.5 cm wide by 2 inches/5 cm long. This label will be further examined in Part III to more precisely date this garment.

Given the fabrics used, the number of pockets and the style of the cape, this garment is both beautiful and functional. The hand sewn decorative touches, visible selvedge within the seams and use of high quality materials makes it evident this garment was created with a high degree of care and attention to detail. A garment like this would likely be worn by someone of means. In the next post in the series, I will compare this cape to others manufactured around this time.


Note 1: Email communication between Ingrid Mida and Mary Wyatt.

Note 2: Mida, I., & Kim, A. (2015). The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca

Edited by Ingrid Mida.

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Introducing Victoria Hopgood

It is my pleasure to introduce Victoria Hopgood as a member of the FRC team. She is a talented photographer and this summer, she will photograph artifacts from the collection, as well as assist with research and design related projects in the FRC. She has also taken over the FRC’s instagram account @RyersonFRC. Last week, she began with the theme of polka dots and will adopt a new theme each week of the summer. I invite you to join in to see her selection of beautiful garments in the FRC on Instagram.

In the fall, Victoria Hopgood will commerce her third year in the Fashion Communication program at Ryerson. Victoria has interned for Mass Exodus and volunteered for many fashion events and weeks. She hopes to use her artistic skills and eye for design to pursue a career in graphic design.


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FRC Online Collection Database

The collection catalogue is now online. This allows you to read the catalogue entries and related images, if available, for many of the artifacts in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. Not all artifacts have been catalogued however, so you are invited to email if you are looking for something in particular. The random images button on the sidebar allows you to see some of the images that have been uploaded so far and there are many more to come. Please visit http://ryersonfashion.pastperfectonline.com/

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Elite Syncopations Leotards: Part 3, Contextualizing the Ballet

Part Three will explore the context of Elite Syncopations and its role as part of the National Ballet’s repertoire.  I also analyse footage of a performance by the Royal Ballet in order to see the costumes as they were used onstage.

Elite Syncopations was first premiered by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, October 7, 1974 and was choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.  The ballet has come to be known for its jaunty rag-time music and demanding virtuosic performances, but it had an uncertain debut.  As Crisp states though “widely thought, at its premiere, to be a lightweight novelty, the ballet has, in fact, been often revived at Covent Garden and mounted for Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, the Bavarian State Ballet and the Houston Ballet” (Note 1).

The National Ballet premiered Elite Syncopations on November 10th, 1978.  It is usually performed grouped with other short ballet pieces such as Song of a Wayfarer and Chroma such as in the 2012 season (Note 2).  The ballet is non-narrative and focuses on a series of characters showing off their dancing to each other as a live band performs the rag-time tunes.  The National Ballet describes it in their 2012 Ballet Note as “free-form fantasy on situations and social dances of the dance-halls in the early years of the 20th century; the dance contest, the cakewalk, the slow drag and the stop time” (Note 3).  By including this ballet in its repertoire, the National Ballet can show off the athleticism of their dancers with a crowd-pleasing ballet.  The bright colourful costumes and shorter run time along with cheerful subject matter may seem less intimidating to those unfamiliar with dance, and encourages new viewers to attend.

Elite Syncopations Dress

As mentioned in Part One, I watched recordings from the Royal Ballet as a visual aid to better understand the costumes within the context of the ballet.  Since they were made in order to replicate Ian Sperling’s designs, the video could give me a close approximation to how they would look in the National Ballet’s productions. I am choosing to focus on the Shy Girl costume for this analysis because I am most familiar with the design.  It is important to remember that each company would inherently have slightly different interpretations of the choreography and costuming.  It should also be noted that the recording was at a fair to low quality, so some details may have been missed.  While a good resource, a recording is not a perfect substitute for a live performance of the National Ballet performing Elite Syncopations.  

As seen in the video, the female dancers wear either leotards with long sleeves and full tights, or a variation on the Shy Girl costume silhouette.  Many of them are outfitted with various hats.  Like the Shy Girl, many of the corps dancers are wearing tights of different colours. One thing that all the female dancers have in common is that their pointe shoes have been dyed to match their tights. Having dyed-to-match pointe shoes makes the dancer’s legs even longer and lengthens their lines so that they are more visually appealing.  One new detail I noticed in the recording were the dark purple gloves that the Shy Girl was wearing.  They had been dyed to match the dark purple of the sleeves, and caused her hands to seemingly disappear into the black backdrop. (Note 4)

The Shy Girl can be seen in various dances with the corps and features in a pas de deux with her partner the Shy Boy.  As this part of the recording was focused on these two dancers, it was much easier to pick out small details on her costume.  The “shy girl” and “shy boy” enter stage right, swinging hands and gazing at each other.  Their dance features some comedic awkward partnering and eventually the culminates in a series of lifts.  In this version she is wearing a four pointed tiara-like hat, as well as dangling chandelier earrings.  By seeing the dancer dressed in her costume, we are now able to see how the personality of the dancer is enhanced and shown through her clothing. The two dancers seem quite smitten with each other, therefore hearts are an appropriate adornment for her tights.  She has a shy but flirtatious and fun personality, so the short circle skirt suits her perfectly.  To emphasize this warm personality even further, Spurling used circles and other curvilinear forms to decorate her costume.  Spurling’s costume design ultimately gives the audience an idea of who the Shy Girl is, even before she starts to dance.

Spurling’s designs for Elite Syncopations were not always favoured by critics, as they were deemed overly decorated and colourful, even likened to licorice allsorts candy (Note 5).  However, I argue that these costumes demonstrate a combination of function and pleasing aesthetics.  The costumes do not impede the dancer’s movements, and also convey personalities of each character immediately. A leotard is a paradoxical garment, as it conceals the dancer’s skin, but reveals the dancer’s body.  By choosing to paint the leotards as if they were clothing, Spurling subverts expectations and delivers quirky, playful costumes.    


Note 1: Clement Crisp, “Into the Labyrinth: Kenneth MacMillan and his Ballets,” The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 25, no. 2 (2017): 188, accessed August 2, 2017,http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/stable/40004138?pq-origsite=summon&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents

Note 2: “Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017,https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes/elite-syncopations-ballet-notes-(2012).aspx

Note 3: Ilbd.

Note 4: Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film, Directed by Acosta, Carlos, Leanne Benjamin, Yuhui Choe, et al. Opus Arte, 2010.

Note 5: “Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. AcademicOneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.


Bell, K. (1993). “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19. Accessed July 17, 2017.http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

Crisp, Clement. “Into the Labyrinth: Kenneth MacMillan and his Ballets.” The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 25, no. 2 (2007): 188-198. Accessed August 2, 2017.

“Alumni Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN

“Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. Academic OneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.dop=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

“Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives


Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film. Opus Arte.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.

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Elite Syncopations Leotards: Part Two, The Mens Corps Costume

Part two focuses on two unfinished costumes which reveal more about the painting and construction methods of the Elite Syncopations outfits.

Initially I was going to focus only on the Shy Girl costume, however when dress historian and curator Ingrid Mida turned my attention to some other artifacts in the research collection, I found there was more to explore about these costumes.  The National Ballet also donated yardage of uncut fabric which had been prepared for the an Elite Syncopation Corps Man leotard, as well as the same leotard which appears to have been partially sewn.  These two artifacts allow us to see steps of the construction process, giving us a glimpse of behind-the-scenes methods used by the wardrobe department.

Uncut yardage for corps man (2014.08.052).  Drawings by Teresa Adamo.

Beginning with the uncut yardage, faint pencil markings can be seen denoting the outline of the costume and around the checkered pattern.  There is a dotted line around its perimeter which is presumably the cut line.  Seam allowance is not marked, but would likely be ¼” as it was with the Shy Girl costumes.  As Bell states in her article The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations), “The designs are hand – painted onto the tights using pigment mixed with a glue binder” (Note 1).  The brushstrokes can clearly be seen occasionally going outside the lines in several places.  Seeing these individual markings, there is a strong impression left from the painter and reinforces the hand made aspect of costumes.

Bell summarizes how the garments are finished after the paint has been applied.

The painted tights are then carefully removed from the stretcher, wrapped in tissue and carefully folded so that no colour touches the unpainted portions, or no design touches another. The tights are put into a special basket and steamed in a huge steamer for several hours to set the paint. This process may have to be repeated several times when one colour goes over another. The costumes are gently washed in cold water to clean and set the dyes. Finally, the buttons and bows are sewn on as necessary. Each costume takes about 18 hours to complete.  (Note 2)

Compared to making a tutu,which takes at least 120 hours of skilled labour to complete, leotards are a much smaller time commitment for the wardrobe department (Note 3).  However, I think that to regard this number in isolation belittles the skill and confidence it would take to paint the designs considering the permanency of the paint magnified by the number of colours on each costume.  Similarly to the Shy Girl costumes, these incomplete artifacts present some questions of their own.  Could they have possibly just been test samples for the wardrobe department?  Or was there a mistake with the paint that simply could not be approved?  On the uncut yardage, some colour is bleeding out from around each coloured square, and the green checks also have a splotchy, uneven look to them, so it could be assumed that the colour fastness of the paint may have been a problem.

Right: Cut leotard for corps man (2014.08.053).  Drawings by Teresa Adamo

As for the pattern layout, the garment retains its center front and center back seams, but like the Shy Girl tights, the seams on the legs have been moved to the center back of the leg.  A zipper would have presumably been installed in the center back seam.  The front and back torso is attached as one piece from approximately the about the hip to the ankle, but has a side seam from under the arm to the hip area to account for some shaping around the torso.  It is also important to note that the pattern appears relatively small, but the material’s degree of stretch would have been taken into account when drafting the pattern.

At this point, we have a strong idea of what the Elite Syncopations costumes look like and how they were made.  Through the Shy Girl dresses and tights, we have discovered how we can get much more information about an artifact by looking at similar or even “identical” artifacts and comparing their minute differences.  By looking at the Corps Man costumes, we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of hand craftsmanship.  When viewed together, these six artifacts reveal much more about the artistry and labour behind the Elite Syncopations costumes than we could hope to gain by looking at one in isolation.   


Note 1: Karen Bell, “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19, accessed July 17, 2017,http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

Note 2: Ibid.

Note 3:  For more information about tutu construction, visit “The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx


Bell, K. (1993). “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19. Accessed July 17, 2017.http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

“Alumni Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN

“Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. Academic OneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

“Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives


Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film. Opus Arte.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.  

“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx