Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive

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Evening gowns and Canadian designer Ruth Dukas

by Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator.

Brocade evening gown by Ruth Dukas, c.1963. FRC2013.02.001

Brocade evening gown by Ruth Dukas, c.1963. FRC2013.02.001

Ruth Dukas (b.1929) is a retired Canadian fashion designer who was once well known for her luxurious beading and embroidery on evening wear in the 1960s. This pale yellow, green and pink brocade evening gown by Ruth Dukas with banded beaded collar and beaded trim down the front of the dress and a bow at the bust-line is lined in silk, and is a recent donation to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. Although the Ruth Dukas label was once well known in Canada and the USA, her label is now largely unknown, except amongst those who keep these finely crafted gowns from the 1960s in the back of their closet as treasured memories of a special event – like this dress was for the woman who recently donated it to the FRC.

Ruth Dukas Made in Canada Label

Ruth Dukas Made in Canada Label

Although Ruth Dukas was an award-winning designer who exported her fashions to the United States, little has been written about Ruth Dukas and her place in Canadian fashion industry. In April 2011, I conducted an oral history interview with Ruth for the Royal Ontario Museum archives, supplemented that interview with correspondence with Ruth by email, and also examined newspaper and magazine clippings, photos, letters and telegrams from Ruth’s personal archive. I have also examined a handful of garments designed by her (Seneca College Fashion Resource Centre has several) and also kept in touch with Ruth, who recently shared her personal archive of sketches and other photos with me. I really should write up my research into a proper submission for an academic journal, but in lieu of that, I’ll share some of it here.

Ruth, was the daughter of a sample maker and grew up in Toronto, attending Ryerson Public School and then Central Tech high school from 1942-1946 where she studied art (the painter Doris McCarthy was one of her teachers). Although she had hoped to become a commercial artist, she found work as an embroidery designer on Spadina Avenue and in 1952 started her own business Ruth Embroidery Co. In 1962, she founded a dress manufacturing company called Ruth Dukas Limited located at Adelaide and Spadina.


Evening wear comprised the majority of the garments. At the time, the styles, according to the book In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Fashion by Caroline Routh, were “relatively austere and surprisingly modest. The strapless fifties gown gave way to more covered, classical, and narrower lines, often in solid colours in finely draped chiffons or simply styles carved in crisper fabrics such as rich brocades. Decolletage and sometimes even the bust-line hardly existed. Neat jewelled edgings and bands were used, often as part of the high-waisted neoclassic style. Evening separates of long skirts and various tops were an acceptable formula.” Designs were exclusive and Ruth estimates that “90% of the work was one of a kind”. She would “not make the same dress for anyone else”. She generally would only make three different colours and three different sizes, but would adapt designs to customize the look by changing the neckline and the sleeve.


Ruth Dukas label dresses were priced for a well-to-do customer with a price tag of $150-$450 in the 1960s. (In 1969, the average annual expenditure per family on Dresses by Women, 14 years and older, was $46.80). In a full page ad for the department store Simpson’s in the Globe & Mail dated Thursday, September 15, 1966, there is a Ruth Dukas gown described as “C-opulent splendor inflow of ball gown and matching coat of brocade. Lacquer red, extravagantly jewel banded by Ruth Dukas, Size 12, $495”.


Although she won many awards for her work and sold successfully across Canada and into the USA, Ruth closed her manufacturing business in 1972, and from 1973-1976, Ruth ran a store on Eglinton Avenue West called Ruth Dukas Today. In the years that followed, she also taught fashion design courses at Sheridan College and The Fashion Institute.  She ran the workroom for Jean Pierce, was a buyer and managed stores for Riche, designed knitwear alongside Alfred Sung, was a salesperson and buyer for Alan Cherry. In more recent years, she has devoted her time to oil painting, and the fine detail of her paintings continues to illustrate her meticulous attention to detail.

For further reading:

Routh, Caroline. In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Women’s Fashion. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., 1993. Print.

Advertisement for Simpson’s in The Globe & Mail: Thursday, September 15, 1966. Print.

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Evening gowns and Canadian Designer Pat McDonagh

By Ingrid Mida

There are many beautiful evening gowns in the Fashion Research Collection at Ryerson University, with the oldest gown dating back to c.1860.  Wedding gowns, ball gowns and evening gowns might only be worn once or perhaps only a few times, and then stored for many years before the owner is willing to part with them. Special event clothing often makes up a high proportion of study and museum collections, and that is also true at Ryerson.

I want to feature Canadian designers as much as possible on this blog and I have selected two evening ensembles created by acclaimed Canadian designer Pat McDonagh for this post.

Label: Pat McDonagh FRC2013.99.020

Label: Pat McDonagh

Pat McDonagh was born in England, studied at Manchester University and the Sorbonne, before coming to Canada in the 1970s. According to her website biography, she is known for her “innovative textile techniques and youthful romanticism” and has designed gowns for celebrities and royalty. She is one of the founding members of the Fashion Design Council of Canada and has had a remarkable career as a Canadian fashion designer with 2010 marking her 40th year in fashion. She has won a number of awards including:

American Legend Fur Award
Five World Bureau Awards, 1975
New York Times award for Design Excellence, 1982
Judy Award for Contribution to the Canadian Fashion Industry, 1992
The Majestic Mink Award, 1994
Bata Shoe Museum Best Shoe Award, 2000
Matinee International Award, 2002
NAFA Fur Award, 2002
FDCC Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003

The two gowns by Pat McDonagh that were photographed for the digitization project include: a gold lame two-piece ensemble (FRC2000.04.002A+B) and a white satin ball gown (FRC2013.99.020).


Gold lame two-piece evening ensemble (FRC2000.04.002 A+B)
Pat McDonagh, c. 1980s.

This shiny metallic gold lame Edwardian style top with puffed sleeves and ruffles with a matching gold lame long gathered skirt by Pat McDonagh captures the essence of the 1980s evening look, which was a blend of decadence and Hollywood glitz.


Back view Gold lame two-piece evening ensemble
Pat McDonagh, c.1980s (FRC2000.04.002 A+B)

The metallic finish of the lame and the cascade of ruffles would sparkle in the dimmest light.


White satin strapless evening gown with black velvet trim and applique. FRC2013.99.020
Pat McDonagh, c.2000s.

The snow-white satin evening gown with black velvet trim at the bust-line and black velvet applique on the skirt  is another statement piece by Pat McDonagh, but in a quieter and more refined way. Undated in the collection, it probably can be situated as having been crafted in the last decade. It is in perfect condition, and perhaps was worn only once as it is unmarked.


The black velvet applique is reminiscent of the soutache embroidery on white cotton gowns that was so popular in the 1860s. (See for example the White cotton pique day dress embroidered with black soutache from the Costume Institute at the Met. C.I.60.6.11 A+B recently on display alongside a painting by Claude Monet called “Women in the Garden” from 1866 in the exhibition Fashion, Impressionism and Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art seen in this installation shot).


Close up of applique detail on FRC2013.99.020

After writing this post, Pat McDonagh corrected my interpretation and told me that this dress was actually designed for “Canada’s first winner of the Rose of Tralee Festival in Tralee Ireland. Contestants of Irish descent come from all over the world to compete for the title of Irish Rose, the dress was prepared with traditional Irish symbols, it is the biggest pageant festival in the world.” This festival takes its inspiration from a 19th century ballad about a woman called “The Rose of Tralee” because of her beauty.

Both evening gowns featured in this post are finely finished, a hallmark of the Canadian label Pat McDonagh.

The FRC also holds another six garments by Pat McDonagh that were not photographed for the digitization project, including:

Ball gown,  hand-painted yellow silk with full skirt, c.2005-2010. (FRC2013.99.010)

Dress, Green, purple, orange and pink hoizontal striped silk chemise dress with short sleeves and V-neck, c.1970s. (FRC1998.04.003)

Evening gown, black floral printed chiffon spaghetti strap dress with blouson top, gathered waist and panelled overskirt, c. 1976-79. (FRC19888.02.008)

Evening gown, gray one-shoulder knit, beaded. c.2000-2010. (FRC2013.02.005).

Evening gown, grey sequined evening dress with train, spaghetti straps with cross-over back, c.2007-2010. (FRC.2013.99.025)

Skirt, Black lace tiered calf length. c.1980s. (FRC2000.04.003).

Additional References:

About Pat McDonagh”. Pat McDonagh n.d. Web, Jan. 2013.

Routh, Caroline. In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Women’s Fashions. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., 1993. Print.

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The Muff

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

The muff – a roll of fabric or fur, lined in wool, satin, silk, linen or other fabric – typically used to keep one’s hands warm is considered a feminine accessory. However, at one time the muff was used by both men and women.



One of the earliest muffs recorded was illustrated in the 16th century drawing by Gaspar Rutz from 1598 showing an English lady with a cloth muff hanging from her girdle (Morse Earle 1901: 448).

Fashionable men in the 17th century carried muffs as a mark of dignity. The wardrobe inventory of Prince Henry of England (1594-1612) in 1608 included: “Two muffes; one of cloth of silver embroidered with purles plates and Venice twists of silver and gold; the other of black satten embroidered with black silk and bugles” (Morse Earle 1901: 448).

A muff with a pocket could be used to contain or conceal objects and it was reported that in the 18th century the somewhat eccentric head of a college at Oxford University carried  in his muff a pair of scissors with which he slyly clipped off the locks deemed “too long” of male students (Morse Earle 1901: 450). It is not clear when muffs became a strictly feminine accessory, but it seems likely that this followed the changes in men’s attire in the early part of the 19th century.

Now the muff is considered a strictly feminine accessory, and in the 19th century, muffs sometimes served as a type of handbag  for carrying daily necessities such as a handkerchief or a bit of money. Sometimes muffs were worn suspended from the neck by a rich cord finished with tassels.

The Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine of December 1865 describes the fashions for muffs at the time as follows:

We are happy to announce to the ladies a decided novelty in muffs. They are, however, the prettiest and most ravissante [sic] little affairs we have ever seen, and we commend them to the notice of the ladies. They are to be had in ermine tipped with swan’s-down, seal-skin edged with sable and finished with a sable hood, mink richly trimmed, and grebe. As some of our readers may not be familiar with the grebe, we will state that it is the skin of a Russian duck, which is made up as fur into muffs, victorianes [sic], and collars.”  (page 549).

Lady with muff001

Cabinet card with deckled edge by A.S. Green, 361 Talbot Street, St. Thomas, Ontario.

In this historic photo from 1885-1890 (FRC2002.04.209), a cabinet card of a woman with her daughter by photographer A.S. Green of St. Thomas, Ontario,  both are dressed for winter, even though the photo was obviously taken inside the studio. The woman holds what looks to be a mink muff in her hand. Carrying visible signs of wealth, such as a muff or fur scarf, was a way to signify class.

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection has two muffs, one dates to approximately 1880-1890 and the other is a contemporary muff.



The older muff is made of black sheered velvet and has ruched brown silk sides (FRC1992.05.003). Stuffed with horsehair and lined with wool, it is dated to approximately 1880-1890. It does not have a pocket. The absence of a cord, tassels or other embellishment suggests that it likely did not belong to a rich woman.



This contemporary version of a muff (FRC2009.01.531) is brown sable and is lined in black satin with an interior corded loop and zipper. It has no label and is dated to post-1990. It was donated by Kathleen Kubas in 2009 and is one of many fur accessories that she owned.

This project was funded by a grant by the Learning and Teaching Office at Ryerson University.


Fashions. Notice to Lady Subscribers. Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine. Philadelphia, December 1865 (p.485-650)..

Morse Earle, Alice.) 1901. Two Centuries of Costume in America, Volume II. New York: The MacMillan Company.

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The Reversible Player Sports Bustle, c.1885-1890

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

In the latter part of the 19th century, the bustle (also known as the tournure in France) came in and out of fashion, and there were many variations that fashionably emphasizing a woman’s derriere. Designed to support the draping of the dress from the inside, they were constructed from various materials, including horsehair, stiffly starched cloth, and frames of whalebone, bamboo, rattan and wire.


Wire Bustle, c.1885-1890

The bustle pictured above is made of wire mesh and cotton tape with a metal fastener and would have been worn attached around the waist. This sports bustle has the label “The Reversible Player Bustle” and includes patent details dated 1885 for the manufacturer Weston & Wells Mfg. Co. of Philadelphia. It is likely from c.1885-1890. Worn underneath a dress or skirt of the period, it would have added dimension and bulk to the derriere, consistent with the fashions of the period.  The band is 79 cm (31 inches) in length and is pierced at about 17.5 cm (7 inches) in where the metal closure would have been fastened.

Sports like tennis were becoming more popular for ladies during this period and this wire bustle was intended to achieve a fashionable silhouette with a lighter substructure than those composed of horsehair or stiffly starched fabric. The wire construction would have facilitated movement compared to a more rigid bustle such as that worn under a formal gown (like the examples on the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Collection website), since this wire bustle is springy.


Label of the Reversible Player Bustle

Similar examples of wire bustles are found in the Kyoto Costume Institute Collection (pg. 284).

Further Reading:

The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute: Fashion, A History from the 18th to the 20th Century. ed. Akiko Fukai. London: Taschen, 2002.

Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Theatre Art Books, 1954 (fourth printing 1987).