Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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A Study of Design Elements in 1930s Bridal Wear

“Fashion in the 1930s saw a move towards a more feminine silhouette, with bias-cut clothes in smooth fabrics emphasizing the natural contours of the body” (note 1).

 

1930s fashion is characterized by its romance and elegance. Garments from this period shed the boyish frivolity of the 1920s and predate the War-imposed practicality of the 1940s (note 2). The 1930s, although most often remembered for the economic hardship of the Great Depression, were also a time of glamour and escapism. With the growing number of films being made, Hollywood was beginning to take center stage. Many designers were inspired by the allure of the Hollywood image and created feminine pieces that accentuated the figure. Bridal wear followed close behind, mirroring the trends of the mainstream fashions of the time.

By comparing it to other wedding dresses from the 1930s, the context of Hamilton’s wedding dress can be better understood. Garments from the online collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum were used to identify the defining characteristics of 1930s bridal wear (note 3).

The sampling of comparable 1930s bridal ensembles included gowns that were cream coloured, slim-fitting, long-sleeved, and featured at least one embellishment or exaggerated manipulation. The defining features of these comparable dresses can be organized into elements that focus on the simplicity, the train, the Medieval Influence, the selective embellishment, and the fit. All of these defining features are seen in Mollie Hamilton’s dress and thereby show it to be a classic example of bridal attire from that era.

The Simplicity simplicityMainbocher dress from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute C.I.50.110a–j

Garments from the 1930s seem to exude a feeling of effortlessness and ease. Whether it is the way the fabric draped, the textile’s smooth surface texture, or the lack of elaborate embellishment, bridal gowns from the 1930s can be characterized by their clean and simple lines (note 4).

The Train Picture 027 Callot Soeurs dress from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute 2009.300.1300a–f

The train was an important feature in many 1930s wedding gowns. Historically, it was a sign of wealth and rank. There were sumptuary laws restricting the wearing of certain fabrics and garments to designated groups. By the 1930s, however, this was no longer the case (note 5). Trains would have come at an added expense due to the surplus of fabric, but one did not have to be royalty to be able to wear them. The dramatic exaggeration the train brought to a dress increased the visual interest of the often otherwise plain garment.

The Medieval Influence 56.16a-e_front 0010Elizabeth Hawes dress from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute 2009.300.3559a–e

Many bridal gowns from the 1930s featured embellishments and details reminiscent of the Medieval period. For example, the bow headdress on the above garment is similar to the horned headdresses and hennin worn in the 15th century (note 6). Many small accessories, necklines, and fabric manipulations are very similar to those used in the Middle Ages.

 The DetaildetailHerman Patrick Tappe dress from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute 2009.300.7325

 1930s bridal wear, as previously stated, was often very simple in appearance. This does not mean, though, that the garments were completely lacking in adornment, intricacies, and drama. In fact, the opposite is true. The simplicity of dresses from this era often acted as a sort of blank canvas, allowing the details to shine. Common details from this period include beading, lace, covered buttons, and gathers (note 7).

 The FitfitCharles James dress from the Victoria & Albert Museum T.271-1974

One of the most defining features of 1930s bridal wear is the slim-fitting silhouette and emphasis on elegance (note 8). Since the dress hugged the wearer’s body, the fit of the garment was very important. Elements such as fabric drape, strategic placement of seams, and accentuating a curvaceous female form were essential to the success of a stylish dress of this period.

How These Elements Come Together in Mollie Hamilton’s Wedding Dresswalton-ball-epherema_photograph-6

Mollie Hamilton’s wedding dress from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

The Simplicity

 Mollie Hamilton’s wedding dress was made of a sleek, shining, cream-colored satin. The body of the dress has very little decoration; the emphasis is on the flowing fabric and long, elegant lines. Mollie exuded an effortless beauty in the garment on her wedding day of June 27, 1936 when she married Dr. Horace Gifford (Lou) Walton-Ball.

The Train

The long flowing train on Mollie’s dress highlights its drama and elegance. Her trailing veil drapes over and beyond the length of the train to create a captivating difference in textures.

The Medieval Influence img_4093editPhotograph by Hannah Dobbie, 2016.

The headpiece Mollie wore with her wedding gown resembles a divided hennin (note 6). The beaded rosettes along the dress’s collar are also reminiscent of the neckline embellishments used in dress from the Middle Ages.

 The Detail img_4097editPhotograph by Hannah Dobbie, 2016.

 Mollie’s wedding dress features smocking around the cuffs and on the shoulders. This decorative effect is enhanced by small imitation pearl beads. Beads are also used to elevate the centers of the neckline rosettes. These features create interest and drama on the otherwise unadorned dress.

The Fit

The dress Mollie wore on her wedding day fit her perfectly. The draped fabric fit closely to her body and clung to her curves. The gathering in the bodice created a slight blouson effect that was mirrored in the sleeves. The slim fitting dress was an embodiment of elegance.

Mollie Hamilton wore a very fashionable dress to her 1936 wedding. As this comparison to wedding dresses in other museum collections has shown, her dress illustrates the stylistic features most common in 1930s bridal wear.

Notes:

Note 1: “Introduction to 20th-Century Fashion,” vam.ac.uk, accessed October 31, 2016, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/introduction-to-20th-century-fashion.

Note 2: To view more garments like this, visit “Collections”. The Met Museum. Last modified 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection.

Note 3: This is Question #15 on the Reflection Checklist (Appendix 2) in The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion (Bloomsbury, 2015), 201.

Note 4: M. DeLong and K. Petersen, “Analysis and Characterization of 1930s Evening Dresses in A University Museum Collection,” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 22, no. 3 (2005): 99-112.

Note 5: Catherine Kovesi Killerby, “Sumptuary Law in Italy 1200-1500”. Oxford Scholarship Online, 2002. Chapter 6. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199247936.003.0007

Note 6: For more information on Medieval headdresses, visit “Glossary of English Hairstyles and Headdress,” sites.tufts.edu/putajewelonit. September 21, 2011. http://sites.tufts.edu/putajewelonit/2011/09/21/glossary-of-english-hairstyles-headdress/

Note 7: To view more garments with these features, visit “Victoria and Albert Museum Search the Collections”. Collections.Vam.Ac.Uk. Last modified 2016. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/.

Note 8: M. DeLong and K. Petersen, “Analysis and Characterization of 1930s Evening Dresses in A University Museum Collection,” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 22, no. 3 (2005): 99-112.

References:

“Collections”. The Met Museum. Last modified 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection.

DeLong, M. R. and K. Petersen. “Analysis and Characterization of 1930s Evening Dresses in A University Museum Collection.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 22, no. 3 (2004): 99-112.

Ehrman, Edwina. The Wedding Dress. London: V & A Publishing, 2011.

Harris, Kristina. “On Collecting Bridal Gowns.” Antiques & Collecting Magazine 06 (1997): 22-26.

“Introduction to 20th-Century Fashion.” vam.ac.uk. Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/introduction-to-20th-century-fashion.

Killerby, Catherine Kovesi. “Sumptuary Law in Italy 1200-1500.” Oxford Scholarship Online. 2002. Chapter 6. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199247936.003.0007

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object Based Research. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Toplis, Alison. “Wedding Dresses 1775-2014.” West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 22, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 2015): 102-105.

“Victoria and Albert Museum Search the Collections”. Collections.Vam.Ac.Uk. Last modified 2016. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/.


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Mary Hamilton’s Wedding Dress: A Study of a 1930’s Gown

Wedding dresses are often only worn once and then carefully stored away as a material memory of a significant event” (note 1).

This is true of  a fashionable 1930s satin wedding dress and headpiece that was worn by Mary Hamilton (1908-2000) at her Toronto wedding in 1936. Mary’s dress and headpiece as well as related ephemera were recently donated to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection by her daughter, Mary Walton-Ball.

Walton-Ball Ephemera_newspaper clipping.jpg

Newspaper clippings of Mollie Hamilton from June 6, 1931 and February 1, 1930 (left to right). Publication unknown.

Mary Hamilton, known as Mollie, was born into a prosperous Toronto family in 1908. The Hamiltons were in the steel business and made many contributions to the city’s industry. Mollie studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music and sang in Healey Willan’s choir, as well as the Yorkminster Park Baptist Church choir. In 1935, Mollie was offered a position with a stage company and performed live before the main show at the Imperial Theatre. In addition to these endeavours, she sang on a radio show called the “Blue Coal Hour”.

On June 27, 1936, Mollie married Dr. Horace Gifford (Lou) Walton-Ball. The reception was held in the garden of their home at three in the afternoon (note 2). The couple went on to have two children; David in 1939 and Mary in 1945. Mollie contributed to her community as a volunteer at the Toronto Western Hospital gift shop (note 3). Throughout her life, Mollie travelled across Europe and North America. Mollie, in her 92nd year, passed away on July 4, 2000. She was described as “feisty with a quick sense of humour” and “elegant, articulate, and graceful” (note 4).

The words elegant and graceful describe 1930s fashion just as fittingly as they do Mollie’s personality and demeanor. According to the book The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashion, dress styles from this period were, “eclectic, but the strongest trends were slim-fitting draped styles inspired by classic or medieval dress” (note 5). Mollie Hamilton’s wedding dress fulfills all of this criteria, making it an embodiment of a fashionable 1930s bridal gown.

walton-ball-epherema_photograph-6

A photo of Mollie on her wedding day; June 27, 1936.

The dress is made of a creamy white bias cut satin (FRC2015.09.001). It has no labels, so there is no indication of where or by whom it was made. Mollie’s daughter Mary suggested that the garment was likely custom-made by a dressmaker in Toronto (note 6). The bodice features gathers on either side of the point created by the empire waist seam. Those gathers are repeated along the neckline, which is topped by a border of silk rosettes with beaded centers. The sleeves of the dress are adorned with beaded smocking on the shoulders and along the cuffs at the wrists. There are snaps at the base of the wrist to allow the hand of the wearer to pass through this snug closure.
picture2

Sketch of the wedding dress sleeve, rosette, and bodice by Hannah Dobbie, 2016.

The gown’s skirt begins at the empire waist and continues in a gradual flare. The skirt’s already long length is extended by a train of 41 inches (104 cm). The train begins at either side of centre front, growing in size as it reaches the centre back of the garment. The flare created is dramatic; to ensure that the fabric fell with the desired effect when worn, small weights were sewn into each side of the hem.

This dress was machine-stitched, with the beadwork being sewn by hand. The dress is unlined and does not have any pockets. The selvedge of the fabric can be seen in one of the seams between the train and the skirt. There is no form of reinforcement and there has not been any finishing process on the fabric. Four self-covered buttons arranged vertically down centre back with a hook and eye closure above them serve as this garment’s only form of closure.

The dress is in good condition. It shows little to no fading and only very slight signs of wear. Some beads have fallen off and there are some small stains on the under side of the train where it would have dragged on the ground. There do not seem to be any signs of alteration or intentional removal of embellishments.

When worn, this fabric would feel smooth, cool, light, and luxurious on the skin. A faint swooshing of the satin would be heard when parts of the dress rubbed against each other. The garment’s construction is relatively simple, but the intricate details and beadwork create an impression of understated beauty.

According to a study of vintage evening wear by DeLong and Petersen, dresses in the 1930s were characterized “by slim-fitting elegant shapes and vertical lines that created the image of a womanly curvaceous body, with surfaces defined by fluid fabrics and enhanced by fitted shapes” (note 7). Mrs. Walton-Ball’s wedding dress was a very of-the-moment, stylish piece that, 80 years later, still looks fashionable. This garment evokes a sense of glamour, elegance, and femininity — characteristics that Mollie Walton-Ball herself exemplified.

Notes:

Note 1: Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim. 2015. “Case Study of a Lanvin Wedding Gown” in The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London: Bloomsbury, 160.

Note 2: Handwritten letter written by Mollie Walton-Ball in April, 1968.

Note 3: Funeral program for Mollie Hamilton dated August 8, 2000.

Note 4: Ibid.

Note 5: Edwina Ehrman, The Wedding Dress (London: V & A Publishing, 2011), 117.

Note 6: Email correspondence with Mary Walton-Ball dated October 6, 2016.

Note 7: M. DeLong and K. Petersen, “Analysis and Characterization of 1930s Evening Dresses in A University Museum Collection,” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 22, no. 3 (2005): 99-112.

References:

Ehrman, Edwina. The Wedding Dress. London: V & A Publishing, 2011.

DeLong, M. R. and K. Petersen. “Analysis and Characterization of 1930s Evening Dresses in A University Museum Collection.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 22, no. 3 (2004): 99-112.

Mida, Ingrid and Kim, Alexandra. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object Based Research. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.


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Smythe Les Vestes: The Story is in the Name

By Jennifer Braun

Designer Elsa Schiaparelli once wrote; “A dress has no life of its own unless it is worn.” According to this statement, a one-button women’s blazer which now resides in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC) has had a dejected biography and a short-lived one at best. From the manufacturer straight to the FRC, the blazer adorned with a houndstooth pattern and caramel leather elbow patches has never been worn or owned by a particular individual. Instead, it has been stored in the archives since its production in 2012 in order for students and researchers alike to study its craftsmanship and the unique history of a Canadian company – Smythe les Vestes – who found success through its popularity.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_FRT_Web

Black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, double vent back, single button closure, patch pockets, notched lapel. Label reads: Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

Designed and manufactured in Toronto, this fitted blazer was coveted by FRC Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida with good reason. As fan of the brand from its launch in 2004, she asked the designers at Smythe to donate something to the collection in 2012 and chose this jacket as well as another piece from the same collection – a black wool tuxedo style womenswear jacket FRC2012.02.002 (Note 1).

The fine tailoring and quality that went into creating this jacket are evident at first glance. Sold for the price of $695 and stamped with the celebrity approval of the likes of Kate Middleton, January Jones, Charlize Theron, Blake Lively and more – who would expect anything less?

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_RGT_Web

Side view of black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, double vent back, single button closure, patch pockets, notched lapel.      Label reads: Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

The piece currently housed in the FRC was a part of Smythe’s pre-fall 2012 collection and was one of three one-button variations that made-up the season’s line. The blazer has a classic cut and is fastened at the waist with one brown button. Three same-coloured surgeon cuffs also adorn its slightly cropped sleeves. On the front of the jacket, to the right and to the left, two diagonally-cut flap pockets can be found.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_Det_11_Web

Detail of jacket’s leather patches on elbows  Smythe les Vestes.                     FRC 2012.02.001

This timeless staple – the jacket – is the pillar of Smythe’s success. The company was founded in 2004 by lifelong friends Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner when they discovered a gap in the market to perfect and bring the women’s blazer outside of the office. At the time, 200-dollar statement jeans were having a moment and women needed a third piece to finish off this easy-going look. They believed a jacket was the solution. Evidently, women everywhere agreed. More than 10 years later, Smythe can be found on the racks of high-end retailers like Holt Renfrew, Barney’s New York, Bloomingdales and more.

At its inception, Smythe was the only company who specialized in the one garment category. Before their introduction, shoppers bought tailored jackets as part of a full suit and not a separate. By specializing, they were able to perfect this garment type and reach mass appeal.

Their first collection was sold at Holt Renfrew and was an instant success. Their first shipment included a one-button blazer which become the brand’s foundation. “The one-button blazer was one of the pillars of our very first collection and we really built our brand on that silhouette,” Lenczner explained to me in a personal phone interview.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_Det_8_Web

Button detail on black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

The one-button blazer did not come about without several fittings and challenges, however. Besides a bra, a jacket is the most complicated garment in terms of construction and pattern work. “Part of our challenge was that we really wanted to establish our own fit,” Lenczner says. To explain further, she said:

We were frustrated that we would see this amazing jacket or blazer on a mannequin and then we would go into the store and discover that the whole back of the mannequin was pinned […] So we really challenged our pattern makers to break those rules and to really heavily tailor our garments so that the fit that we saw and wanted for so many years is actually what they received.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_BCK_Web

Back of black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows,       Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

They worked with several different pattern makers and went through 20 to 30 different drafts before getting the right fit. The process ended up taking about six months.

The Smythe jacket which now resides in the FRC was modelled off of that first one-button blazer. There have been slight modifications since they first introduced it, such as a minor modification of the lapel width and the sleeve length. Like the first version, the FRC’s rendition also has a double-back vent and a typical menswear inspired print.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_B34_Web

Black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, double vent back, single button closure, patch pockets, notched lapel.                            Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

Adopted from men’s fashion, the tailored jacket for women was not always deemed an appropriate choice for the opposite sex, however. According to Diana Crane, upper-class women first adopted suit jackets as early as the seventeenth century to be worn as part of their riding habits and for walking in the countryside. By the nineteenth century, it was still considered an ‘alternative style’ of dress for women along with ties, men’s hats, waistcoats and men’s shirts. The fashionable style originated in England, and was apparently later adopted by the French. And though by the nineteenth century the suit jacket was considered “the symbol of the emancipated woman”, it was still not appropriate to be worn with trousers (Note 2). Instead in the 1860s and 1870s, women wore tailored but skirted suits modelled after masculine styles (Note 3).

By the 1930s, the ‘mannish trend’ swept all forms of women’s apparel. The heightened popularity of men’s inspired women’s wear was due to women entering the workforce during World War I. Marketti and Angstman explain: “Women adopted tailored clothing to convey a message of ability and professionalism and as a means of communicating the social change of women entering the workforce.” In addition to working, more women participated in sports like cycling and hiking. Women’s magazines such as Vogue declared suits an indispensable and “essential garment.” Popular culture and Hollywood stars helped create an environment in the 1930s where masculine clothing for women was accepted, including the adoption of tailored jackets (Note 3).

The 1970s and 1980s saw a new dress-for-success craze. According to Patricia Cunningham, by 1978, women comprised 41 percent of the work force and the fashion industry took note. Once again, suits and the tailored jacket was reinforced as a sign of power. Women’s magazines and books like John Molloy’s 1977 The Women’s Dress for Success Book promoted the importance of maintaining an appearance of authority in the workplace. The suit jacket was a common clothing item that was promoted as a garment that would help women achieve such a look.

Ironically, in 2004, after decades of media effort to put women in suits and limiting power dressing to the board room, Smythe hit a gold mine when they decided to take the suit jacket out of the workplace and into a contemporary, fashionable world.

Still, just like the fashions of the 1930s that advised women to choose “clothes that would appear neither offensively ‘mannish’ nor dangerously feminine” as a way to “appear professional and avoid unwanted attention” (Note 4), the Smythe jacket also offers both feminine and masculine details. “We love that mix of our fit is really feminine, it’s very tailored to the body, and we love the juxtaposition between a tailored really feminine fit with a menswear driven fabric,” Lenczner explains.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_Det_2_Web

Detail of black and white tweed jacket, Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

The houndstooth pattern chosen for this particular jacket appears many times throughout their collections, as well as other typical men-inspired textiles like herringbone, Donegal tweed and pinstripe.

Their pre-fall 2012 collection as well as previous collections are often inspired by fabrics as opposed to a particular theme. “We’re very lifestyle driven so when we design every collection, we come from a lifestyle point-of-view as well as we are inspired by textiles.”

Following the dress-for-success craze of the 1970s, in our culture, blazers and other suit-like jackets are often considered to denote professionalism, seriousness of purpose and formality (Note 5).

For the Smythe designers, the one-button blazer has come to represent something similar:

I think to us it represents confidence [..] Our customer, she’s driven by fashion, she is very conscious of value, you know, she’s not into fast fashion, she is conscious of her body and she wants to show her body off and a customer who likes to show her figure is interested in our line because of the tailoring and because of the fit.

In 2011, Smythe begun introducing other garment types like blouses, pants, and dresses. “There came a time where we just wanted to flex our design muscles and have fun, and introduce new categories, and show people that we can do other things,” Lenczner says.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_LBL_Web

Label reads: Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

Still, it is the jacket that continues to define the Smythe brand and is reflected in the name of the company since Les vestes translated from the French means ‘the jackets’. This garment type is the brand’s DNA and is what makes Smythe a truly sought-after name, coveted by celebrities and fashion research collections alike.

Notes:

1. See an earlier post on this blog dated November 8, 2013 called “A Made in Canada Success Story: Smythe Jackets.” 

2. See Diana Crane, “Clothing Behavior as Non-Verbal Resistance: Marginal Women and Alternative Dress in the Nineteenth Century.” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 3.2 (1999): 241-45.

3. See Sara Marcketti and Emily Thomsen Angstman. “The Trend for Mannish Suits in the 1930s.” Dress 39.2 (2013): 135-52.

4. Ibid: 138.

5. Monica M. Moore and Gwyneth I. Williams. “No Jacket Required: Academic Women and the   Problem of the Blazer.” Fashion, Style & Popular Culture 1.3 (2014):  360.

Works Cited:

Atkinson, Nathalie. “Full Mettle Jackets; Tired of the Hunt, the Duo Behind Smythe Figured it would be Easier to make their Own Outerwear than to Try to Find it in Stores.” National  Post, September 12,  2009.

Cunningham, Patricia A, “Dressing for Success: The Re-Suiting of Corporate America in the 1970s.” The Berg Fashion Library, 2005. Accessed: 6 Mar. 2016.

Crane, Diana. “Clothing Behavior as Non-Verbal Resistance: Marginal Women and Alternative   Dress in the Nineteenth Century.” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture  3.2 (1999): 241-68.

Lenczner, Andrea. Personal interview. 11 February 2016.

Marcketti, Sara B., and Emily Thomsen Angstman. “The Trend for Mannish Suits in the 1930s.” Dress 39.2 (2013): 135-52.

Moore, Monica M., and Gwyneth I. Williams. “No Jacket Required: Academic Women and the   Problem of the Blazer.” Fashion, Style & Popular Culture 1.3 (2014): 359-76.

 

Jennifer Braun is a freelance fashion writer from Montreal, currently completing her first year in the MA Fashion program at Ryerson University. When she isn’t writing about the fashion scene, she’s watching Sex and the City or planning her next big story. Follow her on Twitter @justbejealous.

This article was edited and posted by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida.

 


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The Language of the Kimono

by Ingrid Mida, Acting Curator/Collection Co-ordinator

Kimonos, long associated with the cultural fabric of Japan, have their own language. For example, ‘Kimono o kiru’ means ‘I’m going to wear kimono.’ Although this loose-fitting, T-shaped garment is worn by both men and women, and generally constructed out of lengths of a standard width fabric, every element of the garment serves to communicate aspects of the wearer’s identity, including age, gender, class and even the formality of the occasion. The type and colour of fabric, the length of the sleeves, the presence or absence of crests, and the type of accessories worn with the kimono can all be read like texts.

FRC_Coats_2013.03.005_F34_Web

Kimono, silk. ca.1930s. FRC2013.03.005

In 2013, three silk kimonos were donated to the FRC, including this blue-gray silk kimono with padded hem and red silk lining (FRC2013.03.005). The donor indicated that these garments were acquired by her grandparents in the 1930s during a trip to Orient, but it is not known whether the kimonos were purchased to be worn as loungewear or to be kept as souvenirs. The donor was not aware of any associated obi or other accessories that would normally be worn with these garments. Kimonos were collectible items and some versions were made expressly for export to western markets (note 1).

FRC_Coats_2013.03.005_Det_8_Web

Detail of textile, kimono ca.1930s. FRC2013.03.005

The radiant colour and pattern of this plain weave silk furisode (long-sleeved) kimono is a signal of youth. As a woman aged, she was expected to wear more subdued colours and patterns would be confined to the hem (note 2). In this kimono, the pattern appears relatively high on the body and depicts a landscape scene with cranes, turtles, flowers, and cherry trees in blossom. Parts of the scene have been over-embroidered with silk thread or gold thread. The red silk lining is visible on the neckband (eri), at the hem and as the sleeves move. The hem is thickly padded (hikisuso). At one time, such padding was associated with “aristocratic ladies and high prostitutes of the Edo period,” but is now often adopted for “the modern version of the traditional wedding ensemble” (note 3). The sleeve-length of a kimono is another element that is linked to gender and age, and these swinging sleeves are mid-length. They do not fall all the way to the ankle and this length is associated with a semi-full dress for unmarried women (note 4). The rounded corners of the sleeve are also markers associated with the garments of a single female.

FRC_Coats_2013.03.005_Det_11_Web

Detail of sleeve, kimono FRC2013.03.005

The kimono body (mihada) is atypical in that it has a horizontal seam at mid-body where the patterned material has been attached to the blue-gray silk. There would not normally be a seam here as typically the garment would be shortened by folding the extra fabric under the obi (note 5). This seam suggests that its western owner shortened the kimono so that it could be worn without an obi. The inside lining also shows evidence of unpicked basting stitches would have been used during laundering of the kimono.

This beautiful kimono is rife with meaning. Intended for a young, unmarried woman perhaps for her pending nuptials, we will never know whether it was actually worn for that purpose. Nonetheless, it serves as a primer of kimono connoisseurship.

Note 1: Terry Satsuki Milhaupt, Kimono: A Modern History, London: Reaktion Books, 2014, 234.

Note 2: Liza Dalby, Kimono: Fashioning Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993: 196-197.

Note 3: Ibid: 92.

Note 4: Ibid: 167.

Note 5: Annie Van Assche, “Interweavings: Kimono Past and Present” in Fashioning Kimono. Dress and Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Japan. London: V&A Publications, 2005.

References:

Dalby, L. (1993) Kimono: Fashioning Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Milhaupt, T. (2014) Kimono: A Modern History. London: Reaktion Books.

Van Assche, A. (ed.), (2005). Fashioning Kimono. Dress and Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Japan. London: V&A Publications.