We invent nothing, we always start from something that has come before . Christian Dior

Detail of Art-Deco inspired beading on black chiffon Flapper style dress, c.1925. FRC2003.10.002
Detail of Art-Deco inspired beading on black chiffon Flapper style dress, c.1925.

Historic garments can inform and inspire the present, offering up design potential for reinterpretations of styles of the past or serving as evidence of how fashion was worn and lived for material culture studies. Seeing a dress in a photo is a very different experience than feeling the weight of the fabric in hand, examining the details of cut, construction and embellishment, considering the relationship of the garment to the body or searching for evidence of how  the garment was worn, used or altered over time.

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is a repository of several thousand garments, accessories, furs, and fashion ephemera acquired by donation to the School of Fashion since 1981. For several years, this collection lay dormant behind an unmarked door …. that is until I wedged it open just a little.

Over the past 18 months, I have been working to make this collection accessible for students, faculty, and visiting researchers. During that time I have re-discovered garments that document aspects of the history of Canadian fashion since 1860 as well as garments designed by international designers like Christian Dior, Valentino and Balenciaga.

BALENCIAGA Label, FRC1992.01.019

With the support of Dr. Lu Ann Lafrenz, we were awarded a Learning and Teaching Grant to digitize some of the key pieces in the Collection. Each piece was chosen by me and is important in its own way, either because of the provence, the label, or its social history. This past summer, about 100 pieces were photographed by a team of two students. Restrictions in budget meant that we were not able to photograph some of the older or more fragile pieces that would have required considerable extra work to mount and/or conservation work to protect, but hopefully that will happen in due course.  

Detail of silk kimono, c.1930s. FRC2013.03.005. Gift of Anne Callahan
Detail of silk kimono, c.1930s. FRC2013.03.005.
Gift of Anne Callahan

Although my work to re-establish the Collection is far from complete, the door has been opened a crack, and I hope to eventually open up the door up all the way, offering access to the many beautiful artifacts therein – whether you are on campus or on the other side of the world. I have posted a selection of items already on Pinterest and encourage you to visit or follow me on Twitter.

At the present time, access to the facility is by appointment only, but I welcome your questions and comments any time.

Over the course of the next year, this blog will serve as a window into the Collection. I will feature items here, offering additional descriptive information which might not be visible in the photos as well as contextual material and links to other research. With each post, the door will open just a little wider….

Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

This project has been sponsored by a grant from the Learning & Teaching Office at Ryerson University.

Posted by:Dr. Ingrid Mida

Curator, Dress Historian, Collection Co-ordinator of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Part-time Lecturer, Lead Author of "The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide on How to do Object-based Research in Fashion."

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