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). 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

Notes 

­­­­­­­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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Notes

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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A Peek inside a Pumpkin Yellow Corset

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Corset, c.1900. Cotton, Metal, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

This under bust corset (FRC 2013.05.001), dated 1900, is made of a rich pumpkin coloured woven jacquard cotton with a motif of staggered flower buds and stems (Note 1). The corset is lavishly trimmed with lace threaded with a similar yellow toned satin ribbon along the busk, and top and bottom edges. The centre front closes with metal slot and studs that are unmarked. The spoon busk measures 12 ¾ inches, with hand-stitching visible at the openings for surrounding each of the slots of the busk.  The closed waist measures 23 inches, and there is notable discolouration along the panels along the waistline of the corset, as well as signs of wear including small stains and discolouration. Looking closely, there appears to have been four separate remnants of stitching resembling the shape of a dart, located respectively on each side of the front and back of the corset.  There are 12 pairs of metal eyelets on the back to lace the corset; however the original laces are not present. The corset is lightly boned with 5 flexible bones placed directly beside each other, on each side of the corset, as well as one bone on either side of the eyelets at the back.  One of the bones located on the back pokes out of the casing at revealing what appears to be ¼ inch flat white metal bone. The garment appears to have been sewn by machine; however the stitching is noticeably lacking fluidity and accuracy.

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Back view corset, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

Examining the inside of the corset, the top and bottom edges are trimmed in cotton bias tape in a darker shade of pumpkin yellow. The five bones on each side of the corset are clearly visible within their white cotton casings. The busk has been enclosed leaving the raw edge of the fabric visible, and closed with large herringbone like stitch along the length of the busk. The seaming is quite visible and the seam allowance along the waistline, and centre front and back have been left raw, and have shredded over the years. Upon close inspection there are remnants of vibrant pink stitching concentrated along the waistline. Given the placement it could be surmised that the raw edges of seaming along the waist could have been enclosed by lining along the waistline at some point.

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Inside view, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Ingrid Mida

 

This corset is a bit of a conundrum. The vibrant colour and trimmings, as well as light boning and size would suggest that this is more of a fashion corset for a smaller women; however the use of the spoon busk is usually for the more practical purpose of containing a larger stomach. Furthermore given the construction of the corset with flexible boning only being used at the sides, this corset was probably intended more for looks rather than to greatly reduce one’s waist; as it would only lightly shape and support the figure. The weight and quality of fabric do not seem to be appropriate for the early 1900s, as it is a lightweight cotton jacquard fabric in a very vibrant yellow (Note 2). Nor does use of the spoon busk, or decoration of it, which does not seem to be typical of the period (Note 2).  Additionally the decorative outside of the corset would infer that the garment was more of a fashion item, made for someone who could afford to have a more frivolously coloured item of clothing; in contradiction there is the odd lack of finishing on the inside of the garment, as well as in the accuracy of the stitching.

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Side view corset, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

 

 

The vibrant pink stitching remnants may indicate that there once was a lining of that colour; however the remaining raw edges still seem very odd for a corset from the early 20th century. As for the indications of the four dart-like stitch remnants, this again is extremely odd as darts are not a normal feature in corsets. This would suggest that they would have been added later to accommodate a smaller waist, and then taken out later to expand it again.

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Detail inside corset (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Ingrid Mida

Typically corsets from the early 1900s are longer lined, and have a more curvaceous silhouette with the S bend shape. This is not at all consistent with the style of this corset; though it could be argued that the surface embellishment is somewhat similar. While there were shorter under bust corsets, more similar to the shape of this corset, there are very distinct differences.

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Corset, c.1907, French, The Metropolitain Museum of Art (C145.68.174)

Under bust corsets from the turn of the century have far more boning, and are constructed in less vibrant coloured but lavish fabrics like silk,  with more detail, and do not employ the use of a spoon busk, but a straight busk. They can however be trimmed with decoration, but the busk is not typically decorated.  This is clearly illustrated in contrast between the corset in question, and this plain white cotton corset, ca. 1900 (C.I.41.103.4) from the Met, which is similarly cut, but far more heavily boned. It also closes with a straight busk, and has far less surface decoration in contrast to the highly decorated spoon busk of the pumpkin yellow corset.

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Corset, ca.1900, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I41.103.4)

There were also ribbon corsets at this time, like this cream ribbon corset from Ryerson (FRC 2014.07.228) which have only light boning at the sides, very similar to this corset in number and placement-all being concentrated beside one another at the sides.  The fabric used in this ribbon corset is also far more expensive, being entirely silk,. Though the fabric is on the more decorative side, the fabric is still a plain weave, not patterned. Finally, the ribbon corset does not have similar trimmings, but instead a single ribbon decoration at the top of the busk, which is straight not a spoon shaped.

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Ribbon Corset, c.1900, R&G No.65, Ryerson (FRC 2014.07.228) Photo by Millie Yates

None of the other early 20th century corsets were constructed from comparable textiles – neither in composition, weave or colour. Nor do any of the corsets feature decorated busks, or even just spoon busks; nor do they have separate panels cut along the waistline. Given the inconsistencies when compared to various other corsets from the early 1900s, there is a good chance that this pumpkin cotton corset is a vintage theatre costume corset, taking inspiration from the style of early 1900s corsets.

This corset seems to be a hybrid of different corset styles which would coincide with it being a theatre costume corset, as costume designers do not always make period accurate costumes, but are looking more for a certain aesthetic. This would also account for the vibrant colour of the fabric, and stitching, as well as the amount of surface decoration. Additionally the peculiar lack of finishing on the inside would makes sense as well, as  theatre costumes are often left unfinished on the inside as they are not visible to the audience, as well as for ease of making alterations. This could also explain the dart like shapes still visible, as it could have been altered for a production. Finally the amount of wear it seems to have could be explained by the use it would have gone through being a costume; but also suggested that it is a vintage item.

As there was no provenance attached to the artifact upon acquisition, there is no way to know with certainty the origins of this undergarment. However, this artifact offers an interesting peek into 20th century corsetry and the complex nature of dress artifacts.

 

Notes

1. For more information on fabrics, see: http://www.dressandtextilespecialists.org.uk/dats-toolkits

2. See various early twentieth century corsets, all in pale coloured, plain cotton or silk fabrics with surface embellishments and straight plain busks.

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900-1905

Corset, ca.1900

3. To learn a bit more about common corsetry misconceptions, this article offers additional information: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/everything-you-know-about-corsets-is-false/

 

References

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86753.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/109083.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86390.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86393.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86394.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86398.

“Corsets Early 19th Century – Edwardian.” Vintage Fashion Guild : Lingerie Guide : Corsets Early 19th Century. July 11, 2012. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://vintagefashionguild.org/lingerie-guide/corsets-early-19th-century-edwardian/.

Johnston, Lucy. “Corsets in the Early 20th Century.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/corsets-early-20th-century/.

Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective a Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic,  2015.

“Reflecting Historical Periods in Stage Costume.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/reflecting-historical-periods-in-stage-costume/.

Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1970.

 

This post was reviewed and edited by Curator and Dress Historian Ingrid Mida.