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/
by Shira Yavor
In Part 1, I outlined my source of inspiration and research for this project. In part 2, I outline my remaking of the Courrèges raincoat seen in the 1993 photograph by William Laxton.
In making a technical drawing of the coat, I combined elements that were visible in the photo and inferred what the rest could have looked like. My research in Part 1 helped me understand Courrèges’ aesthetic. He once said: “I made the garments fall away from the body by starting from the shoulders. Darts were no longer necessary” (Guillaume 8). This suggested that there were no shaping darts in the photographed coat; the front and back would drape freely off the shoulder without darts.
I draped the front and back pieces on a Judy with muslin fabric. I later adjusted the pattern, straightened and trued the lines. I drafted the collar according to the technique shown for drafting an inset band in the book Pattern Making for Fashion Design (Armstrong 206). I slashed and spread the collar from the neckline up, so that it sits away from the neck. I used a compass to draft the flowers with 5 petals. The draping and drafting process took approximately 5 hours.
The black & white photograph led me to believe that this dress was made in white vinyl, but I later discovered it was actually made in yellow vinyl. Courrèges space age garments were often made in white, since white represented purity and gave off a futuristic look (Guillaume 13). The fabric I purchased was a white heavyweight vinyl with a shiny surface texture that mimicked leather. The ideal fabric would have been a bit lighter and completely smooth and reflective, however I was not able to source any.
In order to sew this material smoothly, I purchased a Teflon sewing foot and leather needle to help the fabric move along. I also purchased white polyester threads and a thicker thread for topstitching. I purchased a coordinating lining and fusing for the closure part of the jacket. At the end of the sewing process, I had the snaps installed at Leather Sewing Supply Depot.
After I got the desired fit, I transferred the muslin to a pattern and cut the vinyl pieces. This fabric was hard to deal with, because it creased easily, and could not be ironed. I tested out light ironing through another piece of fabric, but the vinyl got sticky. I had to roll out all of the fabric in order to cut it. Pins could not be used at all during the cutting and sewing process because they left holes in the fabric. The fabric was very bulky while sewing. At first I was careful not to crease the fabric and rolled it out of the way while sewing, but it was inevitable that some parts got creased, such as the flowers and sleeves.
I first constructed the front, and then continued to sew the back, the lining, then sewed the collar and sandwiched it between the self-fabric and the lining. I used the guide for sewing circular pocket’s in Carr’s book for reference in order to figure out how to sew the circular cutouts. For the collar, under-stitching helped it curve nicely. Cutting slits in the seam allowance also helped, and I did this in the collar and cutouts.
I tried to flatten the seams using a clapper – a wood tailoring tool, however it made little difference. Only under-stitching and top stitching held the seams open properly, so I did this wherever possible.
Most of the lining was machine stitched. Part of it was left open in order to flip the garment over to the right side. I then closed this part with a slipstitch. Although ideally, the coat would have had a full lining, I left the sleeves unlined. Instead I serged the armhole opening of the lining to keep it from fraying. This part of the garment construction was not as accurate as it could have been due to time constraints.
The whole process of creating the coat, excluding research and shopping for supplies took approximately 38 hours. I spent 5 hours creating the pattern and muslin, and 33 hours in sewing it.
Alekna, Catherine. Sewing the 60s. Blogger, 2009, http://sewingthe60s.blogspot.ca/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2016.
Armstrong, Helen Joseph. Patternmaking for Fashion Design. 5th ed. Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.
Carr, Roberta C., Pati Palmer, Ann Hesse. Price, and Barbara Weiland Talbert. Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing. Portland, OR: Palmer/Pletsch, 1993. Print.
Handley, Susannah. Nylon: The Manmade Fashion Revolution: A Celebration of Design from Art Silk to Nylon and Thinking Fibres. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. Print.
This post was edited and posted by Ingrid Mida, Curator, Dress Historian & FRC Collection Co-ordinator.
by Shira Yavor
My Making History project is inspired by a black and white photograph of a model wearing a dress/raincoat with cutouts and a flower motif designed by André Courrèges (Note 1). This image included the caption: “André Courrèges, Dress, photographed by William Laxton, 1960s.” My research included examining garments from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. I also considered the prominent cultural and social forces of the sixties, since fashion captures shifts in culture, being a fugitive form of applied art (Garner 145). Part 1 will present my research. Part 2 will outline the process of remaking the garment.
André Courrèges was a French designer (1923-2016), and launched his fashion house in Paris in 1961. He has been described as the designer who best captured the space age (Garner 40). DuPont developed textiles which were used for moon suits, and these new materials inspired cosmic silhouettes and a new futuristic style. The space age can be compared to a child exploring parts of the world that are seen for the first time (Topham 156) and this aspect can be linked to Courrèges’ youthful designs.
Courrèges clothes were often made for childlike figures. Chanel compared his designs directly with childrenswear (Guillaume 16). Childrenswear definitely had an impact on womenswear, and the influences went both ways. 1960s costume for girls followed the styles that women were wearing. Girls’ dresses became less fitted, more A-line, and shorter. Pants became suitable for girls to wear at school and not only for play in the late 1960s, when pantsuits became more acceptable for women (Tortora, Eubank 574).
Courrèges designed two lower priced lines directed at a younger market: Couture Future, targeted towards 30-40 year olds for 1/3rd of couture prices and Hyperbole, a less expensive line for 20 year olds, available for approximately 1/5th of couture prices (Lynam 203).
In the 1960s, the younger generation was looking for something new and shocking in fashion, and the miniskirt fulfilled that need (Garner 145-147). While Courrèges took credit for the miniskirt, Mary Quant said “the girls in the street” were the ones who wanted this style, so neither designer can really take full credit for it (Lynam 198). The look Courrèges wanted to create emphasized freedom, from the silhouette to the styling. Courrèges saw the body as “a whole”, and therefore did not want to separate the upper and lower body with a waistline (Guillaume 7). Instead he made clothes that floated over the body. The garments Courrèges created were “easy to wear” (Guillaume 4). He, like his contemporaries, Paco Rabanne and Mary Quant, sometimes incorporated industrial materials such as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Velcro ® and various plastics into designs. Courrèges said: “At first vinyl used to crack” (Guillaume 15). Mary Quant also initially struggled when working with PVC, since the material would stick to the sewing foot and the seams were weak (Handley 106).
To better understand the construction of Courrèges’ garments, I visited the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and examined two Courrèges Paris pantsuits, both of orange knit to study how these garments were constructed and finished.
In the first example, the Courrèges pantsuit consisted of a zippered jacket and matching bell bottom pants with cuffs (FRC2013.02.009 A+B). The seams on this acrylic pantsuit are all sewn and topstitched, except for the pant cuff. Finishing details show that this is high quality garment, for instance the shoulder area is fused from the inside. A small snap closure holds the top of the jacket in place, in addition to the zipper. The garment is highly functional, all of the pockets are real and the garment is lined in a similar orange shade. The polyamide lining is hand stitched with corresponding coloured thread on the pants, and transparent nylon thread on the jacket. Although this garment is from the Hyperbole line, which a cheaper ready to wear lines, functionality, high end finishing and comfort were still considered.
The second orange pant suit (FRC2014.07.587 A+B) is also from the Hyperbole line. Made of orange knit, the pants are surprisingly unlined since the wool, cotton, acrylic blended material is less comfortable to touch. The jacket is lined with 100% acetate and has fake flap pockets, less functional than the first jacket. The vinyl details are in quite poor condition today, peeling off, and according to dress historian curator Ingrid Mida are reflective of the instability of these early plastics. The pants have a zipper that is stitched in by hand.
Although both pantsuits are from the lower priced Hyperbole line, they both featured the famous white snaps and Courrèges initials logo. As well, they both had many fine finishing details using a combination of hand sewing and machine stitching. In recreating the dress in the photo, I used this information to guide my remaking.
In Part II, I will present my remaking of the Courrèges raincoat/dress.
This post was condensed and edited by Ingrid Mida, Curator and Dress Historian, FRC Collection Co-ordinator.
Note 1: When referencing Courrèges throughout the project I am referring to the designer himself and his wife as spokespeople of the brand. Although the image of Andres Courrèges stands in front of the brand, his wife and creative partner Coqueline was said to have done much of the casting and design work (Lynam 197).
Crane, Diana. “Globalization, Organizational Size, and Innovation in the French Luxury Fashion Industry: Production of Culture Theory Revisited.” Poetics, 24, 1997. Pp 393-414. Science Direct. Web. Accessed 9 Nov. 2016.
Guillaume, Valérie. Courrèges (Fashion Memoir). London: Thames & Hudson, 1998. Print.
Lynam, Ruth. Couture: An Illustrated History of the Great Paris Designers and Their Creations. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972. Print.
Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Print.
Tortora, Phyllis G, and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. New York, NY: Fairchild Publications, 2009. Print.
Shira Yavor is a third year Ryerson Fashion Design student. This Making History project was undertaken in Fall 2016 for a Costume History assignment.
By Amanda Memme
The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection owns five top hats – quite a few, I thought, for this type of accessory. One top hat stood out among the rest (FRC2014.07.091 A-J). This hat was housed in a luxurious hard-shell case of leather and canvas that had been stencilled with the initials E.J.L.T. Not only was this top hat in relatively pristine condition (considering its age), but the case also contained other items: three shirt collar stocks, two well-worn pairs of fine leather gloves, a silk tie and two velvet cushions.
Who would go to such lengths to label this item and what do the letters represent? Also, what is the significance of the additional contents of the box? These questions exemplify individualization of the hat itself.
Individualization of the item describes the “de-commoditization” of a thing according to Igor Kopytoff’s seminal essay “The Cultural Biography of Things.” According to Kopytoff, in capitalist and non-capitalist societies alike, things may be endowed with value; and with value, objects become tradable. If an item’s ability to be traded is what commodifies it, its individualization – through purchase or trade, and hence, ownership – is what changes its status to that of a ‘non-commodity’. He writes: “Such singularization is sometimes extended to things that are normally commodities – in effect, commodities are singularized by being pulled out of their usual commodity sphere” (74). As such, I was curious to uncover who owned this well-kept hat, and forgo its commodity biography in favour of studying its life as a singularized possession.
While I analyzed the hat’s physical attributes using Ingrid Mida’s checklists from her book The Dress Detective, Ingrid told me that E.J.L.T. are initials of Edward James Lennox (1854-1933), an architect of notable Toronto landmarks, including Old City Hall and Casa Loma.
E.J. Lennox courted clients that were elite members of society including Henry Pellatt, for whom he designed Casa Loma, and George Gooderham, for whom he revamped the King Edward Hotel. This information is relevant in discussing the particular biography of my object because, not only does it illuminate an enigmatic physical signifier, but also, ownership of an item gives it different meaning than it had as a homogenized commodity. Kopytoff writes: “In the homogenized world of commodities, an eventful biography of things becomes the story of various singularizations of it” (90). Hence, had this hat been owned by another person, its biography would differ greatly. Perhaps Lennox even wore the top hat and accessories for one of the events related to the opening of these Toronto landmarks. Suddenly, through Ingrid’s revelation, my subject transcended its likely status as a dress artifact – useful for the study of material culture – and became a “precious Toronto relic,” as Adjunct Professor Janna Eggebeen pointed out.
Aside from the initials stencilled on its carrying case, other notable physical attributes of Lennox’s hat include its relatively good condition. Considering its age, the exterior shows minor deterioration, and mostly along the inside of the brim. This fact, as well as the other formal items included in the box (the collar stocks, leather gloves and tie) suggest the hat was likely reserved for occasions of significance. Folledore notes the emblematic significance of the top hat in formal occasions:
The hat continued, of course, to be a simple, practical way of protecting the head against adverse weather conditions, but it was also used more and more as a way of expressing complex messages heavy with meaning. The [top] hat, like a royal crown, definitely had an emblematic function, since it was a clear statement of virility, and a means of pleasing…respect… (Folledore 25)
The preservation of the hat suggests that it was carefully handled by subsequent owners (see curator’s note below). I believe this reinforces the sentiment that the hat is a precious item with known historical and geographic importance. Adding to this rich significance is the hat’s materiality.
The hat is tall, flat-topped, with an elegant up-turned brim and a flared cylindrical shape. It comprises rigid material covered with different silks – the black exterior, by Ingrid’s assessment, is silk plush. The upturned brim is covered with smooth, black silk and altogether, the exterior is finished with a ribbon.
The interior is covered in cream silk and contains a leather sweatband where the crown meets the interior brim. This is the part which would rest on the head when worn. The natural medium brown of the leather is stained darker by oils from a forehead – leaving a lasting imprint of the legendary wearer. The leather is branded on both sides with a maker’s mark. The overall choices in materials are luxurious, and the format non-utilitarian. These two aspects of its materiality suggest the item is of a ‘special’ type – what Kopytoff would refer to as from “the sphere of prestige items” (71).
Further illuminating this symbol of power is another, singular detail: a third maker’s mark, in the centre of the crown, printed on the cream silk lining. The mark consists of the manufacturer’s name – Henry Heath Limited – surrounded by the British emblem and text which reads “By Warrant to His Majesty the King.” This detail comprises what is known as a Royal Warrant – a distinction granted to tradespeople who supply the British Monarch and whose manufacturing upholds high standards. The warrant gives status to the maker and its products, and in turn to its owner.
At what upon first glance seemed an innocuous men’s top hat, proved to be anything but. The material evidence suggests that it was owned by a wealthy individual of power, was worn for select occasions and subsequently taken care of. Upon deeper research, the signifiers which led to this assessment were illuminated by Ingrid’s revelation of the name of its former owner. Its relative importance is also relevant in the context of Ryerson’s Fashion Research Collection. Although another hat top from the collection is also stored in a very similar leather case, most others were stored in cardboard boxes, not necessarily original to the hat. As shown by the photo below, their conditions starkly contrast with that of the Lennox hat.
What does this reveal? It reveals that, although these items once existed in the same “commodity sphere,” to quote Kopytoff, their post-commodity biographies are vastly different. The signifiers of the other hats say something about their histories, each unique from the others. The hats do share one thing in common, and that is their current biographies, since they have all become further singularized as artifacts belonging to the university.
In every society, there are things that are publicly precluded from being commoditized…This applies to much of what one thinks of as the symbolic inventory of a society: public lands, monuments, state art collections, the paraphernalia of political power, royal residencies, chiefly insignia, ritual objects, and so on. Power often asserts itself symbolically precisely by insisting on the right to singularize an object, or a set or class of objects (Kopytoff 73).
As such, E.J. Lennox’s top hat is totally de-commoditized because, for one thing, it is part of a research collection as an artifact. For another, its viability to return to the commodity sphere has long diminished, as Kopytoff would point out, because it is no longer a fashionable item. Though it will no longer impart status on a wearer, it will, as part of a collection, connote power of the university. As long as it exists, the hat and accesories will provide an educational opportunity and a glimpse of the past. Of course, E.J. Lennox’s legacy of monumental buildings certainly far exceeds his top hat, but his top hat is significant because it humanizes him.
Amanda Memme is a graduate student in the MA Fashion Program at Ryerson University. This post was condensed and edited by Ingrid Mida.
This top hat came into Ryerson University’s possession in 2014 via the donation of the Suddon-Cleaver Collection. Alan Suddon’s records indicated that it was given to him by Mary Gooderham. This fact is interesting since Gooderham was a client of Lennox, but there is no further information on that aspect of its provenance.
Eggebeen, Janna. Personal Interview. 9 March 2017.
Folledore, Giuliano. Men’s Hats. Modena, Italy, Zanfi Editori, 1989.
Kopytoff, Igor. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” The Social Life of Things, 1986, pp. 64–92.
Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. London, Bloomsbury, 2015.
Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 27 February 2017.
by Christine Gow
Much like the clothes that parade down the catwalks of the world’s fashion capitals, the fashionable female body is also subject to the cyclical whims of taste. When we manage to attain the unattainable—that year’s bump, lump, or lack thereof du jour—we tire of it and move on. Take, for example, the statuesque supermodels of the late 80s, who gave way to heroin chic’s Kate Moss in 1993; she, in turn, conceded the crown to a gravity-defying Gisele Bündchen at the end of that decade. While boy-slim silhouettes still dominate the pages of high fashion magazines in 2017, pop culture has permeated the arena of health and beauty and overinflated boobs and butts provide a shapely foil to the tiny waists of a million social media feeds.
It is with this in mind that I ask Ingrid Mida, curator of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and author of The Dress Detective, to show me the selection of bustles in her care. The idea of temporarily exaggerating one’s shape with a strap-on 3D form appeals, having once had a costly brush with dermatological fillers (lips, $1600, looked like a platypus for six months). “Bustles,” Ingrid replies, “are so fun. We have a whole variety of them—in different materials, shapes etc. I will bring out the whole box.” She is right—the collection hosts a plethora of styles from the bustle’s hey day in the 1870s and 80s. Here, I must note, that bustles were conceived as a way to support the elaborate and heavy draping and embellishments of the dresses of the time, not as a way to give the impression of a larger-than-average bum. In Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazar: 1867-1898, Stella Blum explains that “the knees had been freed by this time, and the trains for day disappeared for easier walking, but the weight of these costumes and the structures needed to support the huge rear extension added little to increase mobility. Many of the fabrics were upholstery like in quality, made heavier by the profuse use of beading, fringes, braids and furs” (1974). When viewed from the side as was intended this rear profile looked like the backend of a horse.
Blum also describes how our perpetual ennui is the primary catalyst of change in fashion, stating how “it often manifests itself as a dissatisfaction with the original shape of the body and seeks expression in a wide variety of anatomical constrictions and distensions.” From her vantage point in the 1970s, she felt that “of these deviations from the natural, none is so difficult for the modern eye to justify in terms of esthetics, comfort or practicality as the form considered fashionable in the mid-1880s.” Ms. Blum clearly did not anticipate the impact Kim Kardashian or Nicki Minaj would have on the desired female form in the new millennium at the time of her writing.
The mid-1880s is known as the high bustle period, as in the 1870s a much lower profile was in fashion (Peteu and Gray 2008). Harold Koda, curator of The Met’s Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed exhibition in 2001, explains how “the silhouette of the 1880s was created with corsetry and “dress improvers” such as (the) wire-mesh bustle. Structured foundation garments exaggerated the sexually-dimorphic curves of the female body.” What was then achieved with wire mesh is now the domain of gym squats and implants, but Koda points out that the shape women sought with the bustle was nothing new, even then: it was a “deliberate revival of the “bum rolls” and “half-farthingales” of the Baroque era. The height of this style peaked in 1887 and 1888 and “can be explained by the competition between Thomas P. Taylor and Henry O. Canfield (both of Bridgeport, Connecticut) to invent a viable folding bustle” (Peteu and Gray 2008).
The bustle I find the most interesting within Ryerson’s collection is precisely this type, though not because of the wire-mesh, double croissant-like shape, or intriguing combination of straps and laces. This one is the only one with any sort of maker’s mark. “THE REVERSIBLE PLATED BUSTLE”, proclaims the neat red print on the cotton twill tape used to secure the wire form to the wearer, the vestiges of a patent number barely visible in faded ink below. “MADE ONLY BY THE WESTON & WELLS MANUFACTURING CO.” in Philadelphia, P.A., by “AN AMERICAN BRAIDED WIRE CO.”, this bustle speaks of American ingenuity in a newly industrial world, and thus, in a sense, of the American dream. I love the perky sense of optimism this fashion invention projects. Dated to circa 1885, the bustle’s original owner is unknown, having come to Ryerson through the vast Cleaver-Suddon donation, a collection of artifacts amassed by fine arts librarian Alan Suddon and acquired in 2001 by Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver on his passing.
As you can well imagine, a rigid metal structure strapped to your behind would make sitting rather awkward, and innovations in bustle making stemmed from inventors looking to solve this problem. Koda explains that these were normally “attached only by a waistband, so that they could shift or lift when the wearer sat. Frequently, they were collapsible, but even in those cases, a woman was required to shift her bustle to the side and perch on the edge of her seat”. It seems ironic that at this time women began to actively participate in sports, even daring to try such masculine pursuits as yachting and fencing. It mattered little what a woman was doing; in order to remain fashionable she still had to wear a corset and bustle—even when running around a tennis court (Blum 1974). This sport, I posit, could well have been the purpose of my ‘reversible plated bustle’, though a little further research tells me that her manufacturer was a purveyor of “torsion braided wire springs for carriage cushions and backs” (Fitz-Gerald 1896).
Perhaps Weston & Wells were only concerned with the comfort of a lady’s backside while seated; of the bustles patented between 1887 and 1888, “when the most extreme protruding bustles were in fashion, 44% were for folding bustles to aid in sitting.” Innovation in this area required engineering adeptness, as these contraptions needed to be robust enough to offer significant support, fold when the lady sat, and spring back into shape when she rose. In an 1888 bustle patent, inventor Alice White described the extreme “mortification of the wearer” should her bustle tangle and not regain its intended shape (Peteu and Gray 2008). Though bustle patents outnumber those of other shaping garments (there were 261 between 1846 and 1920, versus 205 hoop patents in the same period), it is only after 1890 that patent records show a major turn in attention to skirts designed for sports and professional activities. “Shaping devices followed the generally accepted timeline for fashionable silhouettes, indicating market demand as a patent incentive” (Peteu and Gray 2008).
Did the wearer of this bustle use it in her attempts to chase a ball around a clay court from the confines of a corset and gown? If she did, this lightweight add-on would have been the least of her worries. The light soiling on the straps suggests excessive perspiration did not manage to escape her corset and petticoat, which could mean the sport was played at a more leisurely pace, or that the corset had formidable powers of absorption (the torn loop where the bustle would attach to the corset and missing stainless cap at the end of one lace indicate that perhaps she did engage in athletic pursuits of some kind). A certain level of plainness was mercifully acceptable in sporting ensembles at this time, but it could well have been that this lady’s greatest concern was not how many points she could win but simply how best to sit. Although extreme rear profiles were only favored for a short while within the two decades of the bustle’s prime, the undergarment itself would remain fashionable in much subtler incarnations into the next century. Surprisingly, Peteu and Gray found that four patents were filed between 1921 and 2007, indicating there exists those who still champion its cause. In any case, it is either the masterful engineering or the short time this bustle was on trend that accounts for its relatively well-kept condition.
American anthropologist Igor Kopytoff writes: “commodities must be not only produced materially as things, but also culturally marked as being a certain kind of thing. Out of the total range of things available in a society, only some of them are considered appropriate for marking as commodities. Moreover, the same thing may be treated as a commodity at one time and not at another. And finally, the same thing may, at the same time, be seen as a commodity by one person and something else by another.”
From valued undergarment to artifact—practically overnight, in the grand scheme of things—I am thankful that when millions of these bustles were relegated to the scrap heap in 1889 or 90, a lady somewhere tucked this particular one into the farthest reaches of her closet, perhaps hoping that it would one day again come back into fashion.
Blum, Stella. 1974. Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazaar, 1867-1898. Dover Publications.
Fitz-Gerald, William N. The Automotive Manufacturer. Vol. 37. New York City, N.Y.: Trade News Publishing Co., 1896.
Koda, Harold. Extreme Beauty: the Body Transformed (The Costume Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 6, 2001 – March 17, 2002). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.
Kopytoff, I. 1986. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective.
Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. 2015. The Dress Detective: A practical guide to Object-based research in Fashion. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Peteu, M. C., and S. Helvenston Gray. 2008. “Clothing Invention: Improving the Functionality of Women’s Skirts, 1846-1920.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 27 (1): 45–61.
Sloan, Will. “A Stitch from Time” Ryerson University. December 12, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2017. http://www.ryerson.ca/news/news/General_Public/20141212-a-stitch-from- time/.
Christine Gow is an MA Fashion candidate and communications professional, researching how the fashion industry could actively subvert dominant cultural narratives surrounding female consumers over the age of 40 and this market’s digital engagement within omni-channel fashion retail.
This blog post was part of an object-based research assignment for MA Theory II and has been edited by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida.
By Jenn Bilczuk
In the 1940’s, Paris was under occupation and designers elsewhere were cut off from their Parisian inspirations. To prevent the demise of the industry, American designers were thrust into a position of fashion authority that had been previously denied to them (Buckland). Key influencers, like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, fueled by economic nationalism promoted homegrown talent in hopes of stimulating American investment in American designers (Buckland). The increased publicity and the changing social landscape of the forties elevated Claire McCardell’s simple yet stylish design into fashion discourse. She emerged as: “refreshing unFrench” (Yohannan).
McCardell designed well cut garments that transitioned into well made mass-produced pieces. Trained in haute couture techniques, McCardell repelled from the frivolity of couture garments – but not without studying every Parisian design she could get her hands on, giving her an impeccable understanding of clothing construction (Robinson, 104). McCardell took inspiration from the needs of the American women that she identified with. During the war, women were interacting with the world in new ways and McCardell was acutely aware of the evolution of the mid-century woman – she aimed to create clothing that was “at once appropriate for the office, cocktail hour and leisure” (Yohannan).
Claire McCardell’s designs were radical in the context of the forties, since they did not feature shoulder pads, back zippers, boning, and the heavily constructed looks of the times (Yohannan). Instead McCardell garments embodied the fundamentals of sportswear as it is known today: offering functionality, quality and practicality, characteristics so entrenched in contemporary fashions that they remain largely “under appreciated and understudied” (Robinson, 100). McCardell created pieces that were fashionable and durable. Some of her signature elements were derived from the functional characteristics of American working class clothing. For example, her use of cotton, reinforced by classic double stitching from denim work eventually became a design staple (245, Kirkland). Her production of stylish clothing in traditionally non-fashionable fabrics was ground breaking. She preferred wools, jerseys and cottons because of their reasonable price and availability (Kirkland, 252); “effectively ennobling everyday materials by way of thoughtful design and deftly executed construction” (Yohannan).
These design signatures came to be known as “McCardellisms”, distinctive in identifying a garment as her design (Robinson, 110). She made use of techniques from couture production, but only “those that worked within the constraints of mass production and American fashion” (Robinson, 106). Her distinctive use of the bias cut was influenced by the work of Madeleine Vionnet, which she was exposed to during her training years in Paris (Robinson, 105). The McCardellisms were features that integrated functionality into women’s every day wear. She insisted on deep side pockets in every garment, including her evening gowns, as pockets offered “a place to put one’s hands so as not to feel ill at ease or vulnerable’” (Yohannan and Nolf, quoted by Stanfill). As she instructed her models to display her designs with their shoulders leaning back, hips thrust forward, and hands in their pockets, she is credited with creating the modern slouched stance used on the catwalk today (Robinson, 108).
The Ryerson Research Fashion Collection has a garment by Claire McCardell : a red cotton below-knee length dress in a white and black trefoil motif, with a shawl collar and short sleeves (FRC2014.07.477). The dress was dated by the donor to the 1940s. In 1940, McCardell began her second chapter with Townley Frocks as the head designer. The label in the dress reads “Claire McCardell Clothes: By Townley”. During her first period designing with the company in the thirties, McCardell’s work was strictly under the Townley label – the company fearing that naming the designer would make McCardell difficult to work with (Kirland. 239). The label change in the forties however only strengthened the relationship between McCardell and Townley, which lasted until her death in 1958.
The dress itself is in remarkable condition – reflecting the designer’s belief that “good fashion somehow earns the right to survive” (Kirkland, 307). Any displays of aging are only visible upon close inspection. Under the collar and inside the pockets, the original darker red colour contrasts the faded red of the exposed fabric, a combination of age and wear. The latter is further displayed in the discolouration visible directly in the underarms and the hem of the skirt which is slightly tattered; seams are starting to separate, the stitches loosening from one another. There are multiple alterations – re-stitching done in red, and eventually in contrasting threads of black and white. The signs of wear and the overall condition signify a beloved dress, one that was worn often but taken care of, supported by the integrity of its production.
The red cotton dress is a modified princess cut, the seams detailed in white contrasting thread – a McCardellism of reimagining classic patterns in modern fashion. The princess cut features continuous vertical panels, shaped to the body through the torso with no waistline seam – rather than a typical bodice and skirt. Alternatively, the red dress has two vertical bust darts that begin near the shoulders and meet the top of the large side pockets, detailed again in white thread; eventually merging into the side seam at the bottom of the pockets. There is a rather large zipper on the left side that was originally red, but has chipped away to reveal silver from use – it’s placement essential to a woman’s ability to dress herself, another McCardellism (Robinson, 125). The center seam mimics the double stitching techniques borrowed from denim work. The dress is cut on a bias with pink tape used selectively along the inner hem, both shoulders, and on the inner right side seam: a signature detail, giving the garment greater movement and elegantly draping on the body.
In 1947, after the war had ended, Dior released the New Look – characterized by its emphasized bust, longer hemline, indented waist and accentuated hips (Charleston). The look contradicted militaristic aesthetics of the period that broadened women’s shoulders and narrowed their hips (McDowell, 70). Comparatively, McCardell’s red cotton dress in the FRC reflects a similar silhouette, leading me to believe that the dress could have been produced in the later years of the 1940s – specifically between the years of 1946-1949. Despite the presence of the aforesaid McCardellisms; the piece conspicuously lacks other specific design details of her pieces in the early forties, such as adjustable waistlines, wraps and spaghetti ties, large belts, and gilt hooks and eyes. While McCardell rarely used zippers after the war, when she did they were a highly visible design detail (Robinson, 125); in this case the red cotton dress features a zipper on the left side, drawing attention with contrasting white thread.
Sally Kirkland, a Vogue fashion editor, recalled a conversation in spring 1946 with McCardell when the designer shared her prediction that the “following spring she thought women were going to want very full and much longer skirts” (271) in response to the silhouettes of the forties and the restrictions enforced during the war. The next spring, McCardell released a collection of dresses with full circle skirts and dropped hemlines – working out “new proportions so that the unaccustomed length and fullness was set off by a snug bias bodice and tiny waist” (Kirkland, 271). The red dress embodies these very features: a narrow fit through the bust, drawing in at the waist, and opening towards the hips; which are further accentuated by the large, rounded pockets on both the left and right side. The back of the dress is embellished with a piercing, almost a gore, and without risking the integrity of waistline, offers additional volume while making the round skirt much fuller. It is also significantly longer than her dresses from earlier in the decade; measuring at 31 inches from the front waist to the hem, and hangs slightly longer at the back measuring 34 inches from waist to hem. The skirt hangs around 10-12 inches longer than previous designs (Kirkland, 271). The dress would fall well below the knee on a wearer between 5’5″ – 5’7″.
All things considered, I believe that McCardell’s 1946 prediction that “fashion would gravitate towards longer lengths, yards of fabric, and rounded narrow shoulders”, manifested itself in the red cotton dress of the FRC, dating it more accurately to the years 1946-1949 (Robinson, 135). While both Dior and McCardell envisioned the emergence of the silhouette, Dior’s dramatic interpretation overshadowed Claire’s much simpler designs. In this one red cotton dress, I see evidence of the difference between the old world of French fashion versus the new American look; the male versus the female designer; and glamour versus practicality. Her vision developed into a more youthful feminine silhouette “often made more so with a shawl collar”, and produced in practical fabrics as displayed in the red cotton dress (Kirkland, 71); a mainstay in the “wardrobe of college girls, working women and housewives alike” (Yohannan). The red cotton dress of the FRC perfectly embodies Claire McCardell’s approach to dressing the American woman; it harmoniously incorporates function into fashion, moving with the wearer through the day in effortless style.
Buckland, Sandra Stansbery. “Promoting American Designers, 1940–44: Building Our Own House.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed. Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2008. N.p. Dress, Body, Culture. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.
Claire McCardell Red Cotton Dress. American. 1940-1949. Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Toronto. Ryerson University. Web.
Charleston, Beth Duncuff. “Christian Dior (1905–1957).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. N.p Web 29 Feb. 2017
Kirkland, Sally. “McCardell.” American Fashion: The Life and Lines of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell, and Trigére. Ed. Sarah Tomerlin Lee. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book, 1975. 209-316. Print.
McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear?: What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion. N.p.: Simon and Schuster, 1956. Print.
McDowell, Colin. Forties Fashion and the New Look. N.p.: Bloomsbury, 1997. Print.
Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.
Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 1 March 2017
Robinson, Rebecca J. “American Sportswear: A Study of the Origins and Women Designers from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.” Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, n.d. 2003. Web. 7 Mar. 2017
Stanfill, Sonnet. “Curating the Fashion City: New York Fashion at the V&A.” Fashion’s World Cities. Ed. Christopher Breward and David Gilbert. Oxford: Berg, 2006. N.p. Cultures of Consumption Series. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017
Yohannan, Kohle. “McCardell, Claire.” The Berg Companion to Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. N.p Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.
Jenn Bilczuk is a first-year MA Fashion student at Ryerson University. This post was written for an object-based research assignment in MA Theory II and has been edited for the FRC blog by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida.
By Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker (Edited by Ingrid Mida)
In our Making History project, we chose to analyze and recreate a Romantic tutu inspired by the Pas de Quatre ballet. This ballet was first performed in London, England during the Romantic era on July 12, 1845 and choreographed by Jules Perrot. This ballet featured four prima ballerinas of the Romantic era: Lucile Grahn, Taglioni, Carlotta, and Fanny Cerrito. They were icons of the time and often appeared in each other’s benefit performances, but this was the first performance to showcase all four leading female dancers in a single ballet.
Prior to the Romantic period, female dancers wore heavy constrictive dresses resembling court fashion that weighed them down and limited their ability to dance. The key change in ballet costuming was the rise of skirt hems, which was seen as quite scandalous at the time (Mida 37). The changes allowed ballerinas to show off their much improved and intricate footwork. This new shortened ballet skirt fell to just below the knee.
The Romantic tutu endures as a classic costume of ballet that continues to be featured in performances of major dance companies around the world. Each element of the costume emphasizes the femininity of the dancer.
When this ballet was presented in 1845, the bodices of the costumes were constructed very similarly to those seen in regular clothing. Like the corsets of the time, they were tight (Bicat), with low cut necklines to put the dancer’s long necks on display (Victoria and Albert Museum). This was further emphasized by sloped shoulders, mirroring the fashions of the period (Cargill 6). The bodice also followed the the 19th-century ball gown style through V shaped waistlines, aligned close to the waist (Mida 37).
Our recreation of this ballet costume was inspired by the illustration of the Pas de Quatre ballet shown above. Our process included visual analysis of the illustration, research into ballet costumes and fashions of the Romantic period, object-based analysis of the tutus in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and a visit to the wardrobe department of the National Ballet.
The bodice of the costume is a structured garment resembling the corset worn in the Romantic era. This bodice can lay under or over the skirt depending on the design of the costume. In analyzing the illustrations of the Romantic tutus and bodices worn by the original troupe in 1845, we determined that the bodice should lay on top of the tutu. The bodice was constructed with a center front seam and stylized front princess seams. These seams narrowed toward the center front and formed a point at the waistline. We drafted the pattern for this area by manipulating a petite size eight women’s bodice block. The neckline of the bodice was horizontally lowered and slashed across the top and the waistline angled down toward the center front. We split and rotated the fullness of the waist dart into the shoulder of the bodice in order to create princess seams. We used buttons to fasten the bodice to the skirt since the elastic that would be used by costume departments today had not been invented in 1845.
As the back of the costume was not shown in the illustrations, we inferred the design of the back bodice. Similar pattern drafting techniques were used to alter the back bodice as were used for the front bodice. We chose to use princess seams in the back bodice panels, as it is very uncommon to have princess seams sewn only on the front of a garment. We concluded the bodice had a center back opening in which a line of clasps was sewn. This was also a feature found in each bodice that we examined from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and The National Ballet of Canada.
The pattern piece for the sleeve was slashed and spread to create the flowing effect seen in the illustration. Space for gathers and pleats was added into the sleeve pattern and a shoulder strap was drafted to provide support. This design feature prevents the sleeve from falling completely off the shoulder when dancing. The final bodice design has three front seams, two side seams and two back seams, which adds up to eight panels in total.
A Romantic tutu is a tulle skirt that falls to just below the knee. It is made up of several layers of fabric that have been gathered, pleated, or a combination of techniques used to cinch in the fabric at the waist (Fielding). After discussing the options with the head of National Ballet of Canada’s costume department, we chose to gather the waistline since this is a quick method that is suitable for beginners.The tutu was drafted as seven rectangles with a gathering ratio of 3:1. Based on the illustrations, we measured the length of the tutu to fall to just below the knees and used seven layers of tulle to capture the desired level of opacity. We used two pink tulle layers amongst the five other white layers.
We chose a woven white cotton for the bodice paired with white piping and plastic boning. Shiny white polyester organza was used for the sleeves. Polyester tulle was used in white baby pink, and also white with shimmer for the tutu. Webbing and two-holed buttons were used along the waist to attach and detach the bodice from the skirt.
In this project, we learned that the desire for a freer flowing garment to dance in sparked the need and creation of the romantic tutu. Being dancers ourselves, we loved learning about the history and magic associated with this costume. Now we also appreciate the work, time and effort that is required to make the romantic tutu.
Bassett, Lynne Z. Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy. N.p.: Wadsworth Atheneum, 2016.
Bicat, Tina. Period Costume for the Stage. The Crowood Press, 2003.
Binney, Edwin. Glories of the Romantic Ballet. Dance Books LTD, 1985.
Cargill, Mary. “Dance Costumes In The Western Performance Tradition.” Performing Arts Resources 27. (2010): 3-8. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
Lee, Carol. Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution. Routeledge, 2002.
Looseleaf, Victoria. “The Story of the Tutu: Ballet’s Signature Costume has a Fabled Past and a Glamorous Present”. Oregon International Ballet Academy. June 21 2015.
Martin, David, Gabriel, Norman R, “An ‘Informalizing Spurt’ in Clothing Regimes: Court Ballet and the Civilizing Process.” The Berg Fashion Library, 2001. Web Accessed: 27 Sep. 2016.
Mida, Ingrid. “A Gala Performance Tutu”. Dress. Vol 42, no 1. 2016.
Victoria & Albert Museum. “Dance Costume Design – Victoria & Albert Museum”. Vam.Ac.Uk, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/dance-costume-design/.
Note from editor: This Making History project was part of an assignment for Dr. Alison Matthew David’s Costume History class at the Ryerson University School of Fashion. The assignment submitted by Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker was condensed and edited for clarity, and has been posted with their permission.