Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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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.

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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.

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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.
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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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A Child’s Paisley Dress from the 1850s

The following children’s short story “Frankie’s Party Dress” by Pam Johnston is a creative interpretation of an object analysis exercise.  

This story is based on a child’s paisley dress in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2014.07.196) dated to the 1850s. The dress was donated by Katherine Cleaver in 2014 as part of the Suddon-Cleaver Collection. The dress originally had a matching cape, but at some point before the transfer, the cape was lost.

Pam Johnston was inspired by her object analysis to create a fictional story about a making and initial wearing of a new dress in the mid-19th century. This story is told in the voice of a little girl named Frankie (Frances), only 3.5 years old. Although one might argue that a very young child would not notice such subtle details of cut and construction, I have known a couple very precocious children that noticed everything. And while it is also more likely that the dress was cut down from a larger garment instead of being made from a new bolt of cloth, I think Pam’s charming story serves to show how an object-based analysis might be used to creative ends.

 

Frankie’s Party Dress

by Pam Johnston

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Sketch of Paisley dress back 2014.07.196A by Pam Johnston

Mother is going to make me a new dress! This morning, Mother tied the ribbons of her bonnet beneath her chin, made sure my little straw hat was secure, and took my hand to walk across town to Mr. Whitely’s General Store. Mrs. Whitely had told mother that some new fabrics had just arrived at the shop from Britain.

Yesterday, my flat, black ankle-boots got muddy squishing in the rain-softened road, but today my boots, eyelet-trimmed drawers and white stockings stayed clean. The dirt road was firmly packed, the sun glowed bright and the breeze was fresh this late-summer morning. Soon it would be September, and Aunt Martha, Uncle Peter and Cousin Sarah would be moving West. I would miss my cousin Sarah, one of the only girls close to my age whom I had loved for as long as I could remember.

A brass bell tinkled as Mother swung the door open at Mr. Whitely’s. The leather soles of my boots made a stiff padding sound on the general store’s hardwood floors. Mother was wearing a low heeled boot which announced her presence with staccato-like steps (Severa 1995, 103). Mrs. Whitely greeted us warmly and immediately set to pulling the newest fabrics from their neat stack on the shelf. She smiled from behind the counter as she spread brightly coloured cotton calicos from Lancashire and fine worsted wool plaids and prints from West Yorkshire for us to see.

Even standing on my tip-toes, I could not see the top of the counter, so mother hoisted me up on a bent knee so I could see some fabrics made especially for little girls and boys my age. They were printed with patterns of tiny dots, triangles, stars, toy boats and balls (Severa 1995, 108). While mother rubbed the material between her fingers and thumb, and stretched out lengths to examine the patterns and quality, my eyes wandered to other fabrics still stacked on the shelf behind the counter. One pattern seemed to jump out at me.

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Pattern detail 2014.07.196A Photo by Pam Johnston

The fabric looked very familiar. Its pattern was bit like the swirling tear-drop shapes I had seen so often on the shawls many ladies in town wore. Mother and all the grand ladies wore those big shawls folded in a triangle shape, draped around their shoulders. They think these shawls are very special (Hiner 81-2), though I overheard Mother telling Aunt Martha that Mrs. Field’s shawl is even more special because it is made from soft goat hair, comes all the way from India, and cost Mr. Field a lot of money. I loved to lean on Mother’s shoulder when she wore that shawl. It felt so soft! Sometimes I would gently pull the fringes through my fingers, or pick up a corner in my hand. The fabric was smooth like silk, but slightly downy too, and hung heavily on my hand.

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Paisley Shawl, Wool, ca.1850. Met CI 2009.300.2962 Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Celeste H. Chasmer, 1921.

I had seen those same swirly sprigs and curled teardrops, in various sizes, on fabrics that covered cushioned chairs and dressed windows at Aunt Martha’s house, and our neighbour Rosa’s (Rossbach 10-11). Dresses made up in calicoes or worsted wools, block- or roller printed since well before I was born in 1849, were decorated with those same motifs (Johnston 104).

Despite its familiarity, somehow I knew the pattern was special, as if those who wore it were particularly respectable or rich or worldly (Hiner 82, 86). Though the fabric was not designed especially for little girls, I wanted to be like the grown ladies, and to be seen as special and smart.

I turned to Mother and whispered in her ear that I would like to see the fabric with the red and pink swirly branches on it. Mother searched the shelf with her eyes until she found the fabric and, when she did, a smile spread from her lips to her eyes. She seemed to approve, and accordingly asked Mrs. Whitely for a closer look.

The fabric was creamy white, like freshly shorn sheep, with alternating dense and sparse bands of pattern printed in stripes. A purple-red colour dominated the fabric, but as I looked closely, I saw that dusty rose, marigold, periwinkle blue, maroon, olive green and bright red interlaced the purple-red outlines. The motifs in one band looked like fans of leaves and grasses crawling up over each other in waves, while the other band depicted heads of grain and cut flowers reaching upwards and outwards, vine-like. Mother unrolled a few feet of cloth as I reached my fingers out to touch it. It was thin and smooth with a slight nap that was at the same time mildly scratchy.

“This is a fine worsted wool,” Mrs. Whitely informed us. “It should be good to keep little Frankie warm in the fall. And if you line it with cotton muslin, it will be comfortable.”

Mother agreed. She and Mrs. Whitely discussed the dress Mother was envisioning and Mrs. Whitely offered some pattern-making and construction advice. She then cut two and a half yards each of the Paisley wool and cotton muslin and a length of narrow cord, and found five small metal hooks for closure at the back. Mother had some cream coloured thread left at home from a dress she had made for me at the beginning of the summer, so, having all we needed, Mother paid Mrs. Whitely, and took my hand as we strode out the tinkling door of Mr. Whitely’s General Store.

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Paisley Dress front 2014.07.196A                                                              Photo by Pam Johnston

By Friday morning the dress was complete and it was time for the final fitting. Mother slipped the dress over my head, over my cotton bodice, drawers, and starched petticoats, closed the back with hooks and hand-stitched eyes, and spun me around to look in the mirror.

I squealed with delight, jumping and spinning to experience a transformed me in this new dress. I loved how the skirt puffed out over my petticoats, ending at just the right spot below my knees, and how it swished around my thighs when I spun. I could run and jump freely in the full skirt; the cotton lining felt soft on my neck and arms; the puffed sleeves made me feel like a butterfly with wings; and the high belted waist and pleated bodice made me feel like I belonged among the other girls my age (Severa 1995, 128). Then mother surprised me with another part of the outfit she had kept secret. She came from behind me and wrapped a matching collared cape, trimmed with black velvet ribbon, around my shoulders. Oh, how perfect!

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Dress and Cape, Suddon-Cleaver Collection File Photo

After what seemed like only moments of dancing and spinning in my new outfit, Mother told me that was enough, and made me change back into my everyday clothes. This dress would be for special occasions and Sunday best only. The good news was there was a special occasion tomorrow night and I could wear my new dress for the first time. I would be transformed into a lovely flowering, butterfly-winged creature, frolicking about with cousins and friends.

Afterward:

Frankie’s mother saved the dress and cape to give Frankie when she was married. Frankie then dressed her first daughter in the dress, and it continued to be passed down from generation to generation until it was finally recognized as an important piece of material culture by the late Alan Suddon, a former fine arts librarian at the Toronto Reference Library, who added it to his collection. When Mr. Suddon passed on, Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver acquired his collection, and she later donated some of the collection to Ryerson.

Works Consulted:

Buck, Anne. Clothes and the Child: a handbook of children’s dress in England, 1500-1900. New York, NY: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1996. Print.

Buxton, Alexandra. Discovering 19th Century Fashion: A look at the changes in fashion through the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Dress Collection. Cambridge, UK: Hobsons Publishing, 1989. Print.

Hiner, Susan. Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. Print.

Johnston, Lucy. Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail. London, UK: V & A Publishing, 2009. Print.

Koptytoff, Igor. “The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process”. The Social Life of Things. By Arjun Appadurai. Cambridge University Press, 1986. Print.

Parry, Linda. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: British Textiles from 1850 to 1900. [London, UK]: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1993. Print.

Rose, Clare. Children’s Clothes Since 1750. New York, NY: Drama Book Publishers, 1989. Print.

Rossbach, Ed. The Art of Paisley. Scarborough, ON: Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd., 1980. Print.

Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1995. Print.

                          . My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2005. Print.

Sloan, Will. “A stitch from time”. Ryerson University: News & Events. 12 December, 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.

Wass, Ann Buermann and Michelle Webb Fandrich. Clothing through American History: The Federal Era through Antebellum, 1786-1860. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2010. Print.

Pam Johnston is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts (Fashion) programme at Ryerson University, focusing her research on Biblical references to clothes and dress in comparison with written histories of ecclesiastical influences on dress in the Western world. She has an Bachelor of Fine Art from NSCAD University with a major in Textiles and a minor in Fashion, and lived in Halifax for ten years prior to returning to her home province of Ontario to study at Ryerson.


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A Comparison of 1860s dresses

by Alys Mak-Pilsworth

As the book The Dress Detective makes clear, an important step in reproducing historic dress is studying comparable examples from the same era. This step aids in identifying the typical attributes of the period as well as anomalies of the artifact being studied.This article compares the  white sprigged muslin day dress (FRC2014.07.409) from the Ryerson Fashion Research collection (shown below) with five comparable examples of 1860s dresses. Two dresses from the Fashion History Museum were examined in person and three comparable dresses of the same period were identified from the online collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Kyoto Costume Institute, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

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White sprigged muslin day dress, ca. 1860s, FRC2014.07.409, Suddon-Cleaver Collection, Gift of Katherine Cleaver

The white sprigged muslin day dress from the Ryerson FRC, and the two following examples from the Fashion History Museum came from the Suddon-Cleaver collection, and were gifted to the respective collections by Katherine Cleaver in 2014. Originally collected by Alan Suddon, they have a shared past. From the examination of these three dresses, it appears that they were all homemade.

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Blue silk striped dress with black velvet trim, ca.1860s, Fashion History Museum, FHM15.01.95, Suddon-Cleaver Collection, Gift of Katherine Cleaver

On first glance, this blue silk dress(FHM15.01.95)  from the Fashion History Museum might appear to be distinctly different than the white muslin dress from the Ryerson FRC. The most noticeable differences are the colour, weight of the textile, and the type of surface embellishment. The blue silk textile is a slightly heavier weight, and the woven pattern of two tones of blue, and black and white vertical stripes is very large and vibrant in comparison to the delicate muted pattern on the Ryerson FRC dress. The blue silk dress also has more embellishment with black velvet trim on the bodice and sleeve at the shoulders and cuffs (with lace edging), as well as a row of decorative black velvet buttons along the centre front. 

However, what is similar is that both dresses share a similar silhouette, and have long sleeves, high necklines and long full skirts. The waist sits at the same level,  slightly above the natural smallest part of the female torso. Both skirts have straight waistbands that are constructed in a similar fashion with multiple panels gathering into the waist, and with the excess seam allowance left hanging on the inside of the dress. However, on this blue dress the waistband is only visible on the inside and the skirt seems to be constructed with less fabric, as it is not as closely gathered at the waist. The embellishment of the skirt is very similar with a ruffle along the hem of the skirt.

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Skirt hem ruffle detail. Fashion History Museum, FHM15.01.95

Both dresses also share similarities in construction of and closures for the bodice. The dresses close with hooks and eyes all the way down the centre front to the waist, and then along the waistband. Though the blue dress does not have a separate inner bodice, its bodice has been boned in the same fashion, having two bones on each front side encased within the darts, as well as having one bone on the left centre front. Instead of including an inner bodice, the bodice has been flat lined. Additionally the sleeves are slightly fuller, with a little more volume at the elbow.

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Detail of bodice interior. Fashion History Museum, FHM15.01.95

The green and brown checked dress from the Fashion History Museum  (FHM15.01.92) shown below is very similar to the blue checked dress. The neckline is of the same design, as is the skirt shape and sleeve length. The waist line is also similar in terms of placement, and construction. The closure along the waist seems to be very similar, again carrying on from the centre front to the left side ending with hooks and eyes, although reaches slightly farther to the side then the previous example. The waistband, like the last example, is similar to the Ryerson FRC dress, but is also only visible on the inside.

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Green and Brown Checked Dress, 1860s, Fashion History Museum, FHM15.01.92, Suddon-Cleaver Collection, Gift of Katherine Cleaver

The skirt creates a similar silhouette, but again does not have as much fabric pleated into the waistband. The skirt has been cut in panels similarly to the Ryerson FRC dress, and is also finished the same way at the waist, leaving the excess seam allowance hanging on the inside of the dress. The sleeves, like the previous example are also fitted at the shoulder and cuff, but again are slightly wider at the elbow.

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Inside bodice detail. Fashion History Museum, FHM15.01.92

The bodice is boned, but the centre front bodice bone is on the right hand side, instead of the left, and there are no bones at the back of the bodice. The front bones have been encased within the two darts on either side of the front of the bodice, like both the Ryerson FRC dress, and the previous dress. The bodice has been flat lined instead of having a separate boned inner bodice, like the last example.

Dress 2 Front

Bodice detail. Fashion History Museum, FHM15.01.92

The most notable visual difference is the surface embellishment, and the fabric choice. This dress is trimmed with black velvet edged with black beading at the bodice and cuff of the sleeve. It also has black beaded decorative buttons down the centre front on the left hand side. The woven cotton in a green and brown medium sized check  is quite unlike the subtle pattern on the Ryerson FRC dress.

Three similar dresses from the 1860s were identified for comparison from online museum collections including the V&A Museum in London, the Kyoto Costume Institute in Japan and the Costume Institute at The Met in New York. These dresses exhibit more intricacy in construction and embellishment and are made of finer materials, and for these reasons, were likely owned and worn by persons with access to highly skilled dressmakers.

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Cotton  muslin dress trimmed with bobbin lace and machine embroidered whitework, 1869, V&A Museum, T.12 to B-1943, Gift of Miss Ada B. Cooper

This  cotton muslin dress (T.12 to B-1943) from the Victoria & Albert Museum is similar in season, fabric, and general silhouette to the Ryerson FRC dress. It shares the same high neckline, waistline placement and full skirt, but has a more distinct bustle shape, and appears to have a more substantial train. This dress is highly embellished with contrasting trim, and appears to have a separate waistband. 

Another key distinction is that the V&A dress is described as being three separate pieces, comprised of a blouse, skirt, and polonaise. As well the sleeves also have a slight width added to the elbow area, like the previous two dresses. The description makes no mention of boning or a lining.

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Day dress, late 1860s, The Kyoto Costume Institute Online Collection, AC4324 82-17-43AE. Photo by Taishi Hirokawa , Copyright of The Kyoto Costume Institute

This dress from the Kyoto Costume Institute is labelled as a summer day dress, and is made of a comparable fabric – a white cotton tarlatan with woven stripes. The silhouette of the dress is very similar with fitted long sleeves, a high neckline, a straight waistline sitting slightly above the natural waist, and a full floor length skirt. The skirt has a more defined bustle and a train than the Ryerson FRC dress, and is also distinctive with its use of a bright contrasting red trim, and its construction as it consists of a separate bodice and skirt. The description does not provide any information about the dress closure, nor does it specify  whether the dress has boning or is lined. Nonetheless, given the very transparent look of the top layer of the dress, the garment is likely lined or meant to be worn with an under-dress.

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American Silk Dress, 1865, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI.69.33.8a, Gift of Mary Pierrepont Beckwith             

This silk dress dress from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art bears a most striking resemblance to the Ryerson FRC’s white sprigged muslin day dress. Although the textile is silk instead of muslin, it still looks to be a very comparable weight and has a similar small repeating pattern in contrasting colours.

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Detail of textile. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI.69.33.8a

Both dresses share a similar silhouette, with a full floor length skirt, a straight waistband with the same placement, fitted long sleeves, a high neckline and a small collar. The surface embellishment is very similar, featuring self-fabric ruffles, in a very similar scale and amount. The most noticeable difference is the more defined bustle and train on the skirt.

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American Silk dress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI.69.33.82, 1865.

From what is visible in the photographs, the skirt looks to be cartridge pleated at the waist. Although there is no mention of an inner bodice in the short description, there seems to be a very similar outline of a capped sleeved inner bodice with a low neckline trimmed with lace. The pictures also appear to show an indication that the closure is at the centre front and carries along the waistband to the left side as it does the dress on the Ryerson FRC dress.

Conclusion:

This analysis of dresses from the 1860s has led me to better understand the common and uncommon attributes of 1860s dresses.

What all the dresses share is a common silhouette. Whatever the fabric choice, the dresses were long sleeved, high necklines with small collars, and had full pleated or gathered skirts with more fullness toward the back were the prominent look of the era. All had an element of surface embellishment – with trim and flounces or ruffles placed at the bodice, sleeve cuffs and skirt hems. Additionally these examples also show the variety of sleeve styles available; though they are all full length, they have distinctive differences in shape. Hooks and eyes down the centre front and along the waistband appear to be a typical feature of 1860s dresses. 

In contrast, the inclusion of a separate inner boned bodice does not seem to be a very common occurrence. This could be attributed to the resources available, or perhaps could be unique to dresses constructed from sheer fabrics. In any case, this is an interesting feature showcased in the white sprigged muslin day dress from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection.

References:

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based research in Fashion, London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

“Day Dress.” KCI Digital Archive. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://www.kci.or.jp/archives/digital_archives/detail_73_e.html.

“Dress.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/108189?rpp=60.

“Dress.” V&A Search the Collections. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13844/dress-unknown/.

 

This post was edited by the Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida.

 

 


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Portrait of a Little Black Dress

by Gabrielle Trach

There is a garment in many women’s closets that is so ubiquitous that it has a nickname: the “Little Black Dress,” or “LBD” to those who prefer sartorial shorthand. The fashion designer Coco Chanel claimed to have invented the term “little black dress” in the 1920s, though many designers of the time were working on a similar design concept (note 1). The little black dress is an evening or cocktail dress with a simple, yet elegant cut that is both effortless and timeless. Karl Lagerfeld  once said: “One is never over-dressed or under-dressed with a Little Black Dress.”

The LBD is a truly versatile garment that suits any occasion, since it can be dressed up with accessories or worn unadorned. It also does not become dated or out of style after a few years and can become a wardrobe workhorse. This is an apt description for a black crêpe cocktail dress by Pauline Trigère that now belongs to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2015.05.001).

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Black crepe cocktail dress by Paulene Trigere FRC2015.05.001, Gift of Marian Fowler

Picture a simple yet elegant black cocktail dress. It has a jewel collar, elbow-length sleeves, and a hem that lands just above the knee. The dress fits close to the body through the sleeves and bodice, gradually flowing away from the body into an A-line skirt. This dress sounds like any little black dress, but what makes the Trigère dress memorable is evident in the subtle design elements and tailoring – which include multiple, inch-wide panels that run vertically throughout the dress, gradually widening down the length of the skirt to a width of five inches at the hem. These panels also run the length of the sleeves, starting at two inches wide, tapering to one inch at the cuffs. These meticulous details of design and construction are what make this little black dress classically elegant, just like its former owner.

This LBD is one of several  Trigère pieces that previously belonged to Marian Fowler, a Toronto author and fashion aficionado, before she donated it to the FRC. Fowler earned her PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto, taught at York University, and was the recipient of the Canadian Biography Award (note 2). She wrote seven works of non-fiction, including The Way She Looks Tonight: Five Women of Style; Hope: Adventure of a Diamond; and In a Gilded Cage: From Heiress to Duchess. Fowler has also written for The Globe and Mail, The Beaver, and City and Country Home (note 3).

After discussing her wardrobe and fashion philosophy with me in an oral history interview that took place at her home in Toronto in November 2015, it became clear that this LBD is exemplary of Fowler’s overall taste and appreciation of timeless, expertly tailored, classic pieces. Fowler admitted that she was drawn to Trigère’s garments because of the designer’s attention to tailoring and quality: “… of all the American designers … certainly my favourite was Pauline Trigère, because she knew how to cut.”

Pauline Trigère (1912–2002) was a French-born American designer, known for her ready-to-wear designs, which were always tailored with precision, as well as her personal taste and style. After Trigère’s death in 2002, the New York Times reported that: “she was noted for not only her designing skills, but also her tailoring and such touches as constructing dresses with no obvious seams” (note 4). Trigère also made a clear distinction between fashion and style (note 5): Fashion is what people tell you to wear …… Style is what comes from your own inner thing.”

Fowler has an affinity for garments by Trigère and also donated another Trigère piece to the FRC – a cherry red knit day dress with square neckline, centre front seam, back zipper, raglan sleeves and angular pockets set into side seams lined in red silk with a matching open hip-length flared jacket, partially lined in red silk (FRC2015.05.002 A+B).

FRC 2015.05.002A_left side three quarter view_oweb

Cherry red knit dress with matching jacket (not shown) by Paulene Trigere FRC2015.05.002A Gift of Marian Fowler

The distinction between fashion and style asserted by Trigère is evident in Fowler’s personal wardrobe and her story. Fowler recounted that as a young woman, she was aware of the very prescriptive rules of fashion: matching shoes and handbags; hemline lengths being dictated each season; no wearing white after Labour Day, and only wearing navy-coloured clothing in the spring.

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Study of a Summer Day Dress ca.1860

By Alys Mak-Pilsworth

Sketch of 1860 Day Dress by Alys Mak-Pilsworth

Sketch of 1860 Day Dress by Alys Mak-Pilsworth

The dress I selected for this project is a muslin day dress dated from mid-19th century 2014.07.409, with the catalogue record specifically indicating it to be from the 1860s. The dress is one piece, with a ½-inch waistband sitting at the natural waist line. It features a fitted bodice with 4 inches of small cartridge pleating on both the center front and back at the waist, and a high neck line with a small ½-inch collar. The bodice is constructed from one back panel and two panels in the front. The dress has long one-piece sleeves that are fitted and feature a ruffle with one row of pin tucking in the middle just above each cuff. The skirt portion of the dress is cartridge pleated all along the waist line into the waist band with more concentrated cartridge pleating at both side of the dress. The skirt has been constructed from six panels of fabric, and features a 10 inch opening on the front right side of the dress most likely serving as a pocket slit. The hem of the skirt has also been adorned with two rows of ruffles, each with a row of pin tucking in the middle of the ruffle. The dress has a front closure from neck to waist at the center front, and then continues 4 inches to the right side of the dress to be closed at the waistband with two hooks and eyes vertically placed, closing right over left. The closure above the waistband is missing, apart from one hook remaining at the neck suggesting there were hooks down the front with sewn bars.

Summer Day Dress in white striped muslin FRC2014.07.409

Summer Day Dress in white striped muslin FRC2014.07.409

The fabric used in the construction of the dress is very fine, lightweight, white muslin, with faint horizontal woven stripes. Also visible, on the fabric facing outward, is a delicate two toned brown motif of what appears to be elongated stylized feathers or leaves, in pairs, overlapping in an X shape. The pairs are further organized in vertical stripes creating a pattern on the fabric. In between the motif of the stripes of feather/leaf pairs, equally distributed are very tiny clusters of three brown dots organized in a triangular configuration.

Close up of motif on textile FRC2014.07.409

Close up of motif on textile FRC2014.07.409

The dress appears to be a day dress given the more casual fabric, probably intended for warmer weather as the weight of the fabric is quite light. Looking at the information provided by the record of the previous collection the dress resided in, the dress was purchased in London, UK, and so would most likely be from the UK, or at least Europe. With this in mind; as well as the previous collector, Alan Suddon labeling it as a summer day dress; it seems that the dress would indeed have been intend for wear in the summer, or at least late spring.

Upon inspection of the inside of the dress, a small inner bodice can be seen. The inner bodice is made of what looks like medium weight white cotton and has a front closure, of six hooks and small sewn eyelets also closing right over left. The neckline is much lower than the outer bodice sitting 8 inches lower at the center front, and 6 inches below at the center back. The inner bodice also has small capped sleeves and is trimmed with off white ½ inch lace at both sleeve openings and the neckline. There are also 7 bones in the inner bodice, one on each side seam, two on each front side encased in the dart legs, and the remaining one placed at the center front on the right side.

Sketch of Inner Bodice by Alys Mak-Pilsworth

Sketch of Inner Bodice by Alys Mak-Pilsworth

The overall condition of the garment is very good. Besides the absence of the front closures above the waist, the garment seems complete. The fabric is still quite sturdy, and no major tears in the fabric or signs of wear or discoloration are visible. Given that the dress does not seem to have much sign of wear, it could be surmised that the garment belonged to someone who could afford to take care of their clothing and owned a number of garments. The design of the dress is quite simplistic and suggests that the dress probably would have been worn in the day, in more casual circumstances. It also seems to be a fairly conservative, demure design as the dress covers most of the body, and has a fairly restrictive quality with the fitted, boned bodice. The lightweight sheer fabric used for the dress gives it an airy quality and suggests it was worn in the summer.

Sketch of dress on a woman by Alys Mak-Pilsworth

Sketch of dress on a woman by Alys Mak-Pilsworth

The dress has been constructed well. The close and even stitching makes it look like it was sewn on a sewing machine, even though sewing machines would not have been widely available until later in the decade. The dress has been nicely finished with hand sewn details, such as the eyelets on the inner bodice. The seam allowances visible on the inside of the dress do not appear to be finished now, but they may have been pinked originally. During this time in fashion, dresses were typically worn over a crinoline and given its small size, it seems likely that the dress might have belonged to a younger woman.

 

Edited by Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator


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Thinking of spring flowers!

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

The snow is beginning to melt and it seems like spring might be round the corner. Fashion-wise this always makes me think of spring-like colours and floral motifs. Christian Dior once said: “After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.” Here is a small sampling of dresses from the Fashion Research Collection that make me think of spring flowers.

Printed floral silk chiffon dress with tiered handkerchief hem ca. 1929-1932 FRC1989.04.007

Printed floral silk chiffon dress with tiered handkerchief hem ca. 1929-1932 FRC1989.04.007

Pink paisley long-sleeved jersey knit dress with quilted skirt and self-belt, Simpsons The Room, ca.1965-1968. FRC1989.05.086A+B

Pink paisley long-sleeved jersey knit dress with quilted skirt and self-belt, Simpsons The Room, ca.1965-1968. FRC1989.05.086A+B

FRC_2pcEnsembles_1983.08.034_A+B_F34_2pc_Web

Multi-coloured floral print linen shift dress with matching long-sleeved coat, lined in gray silk. Label Jean Pierce. ca., 1962-1965. FRC1983.08.034A+B

Diane von Furstenburg green and white jersey top and skirt ensemble. ca., 1975-1982 FRC1983.08.015A+B

Diane von Furstenburg green and white jersey top and skirt ensemble. ca., 1975-1982 FRC1983.08.015A+B

 


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Hanae Mori Velvet Shift Dress with Target Pattern c.1970

by Ingrid Mida and Kimberly Leckey

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Hanae Mori Target Dress c.1970 FRC2009.03.001 Front View

This Hanae Mori shift dress with stand collar, short sleeves and belt is made out of velvet and is fully lined in black polyester satin. The design on the front of the dress is an abstracted pink and red circular target pattern. The design on the back of the dress is an abstracted motif of black and gray. One sleeve is in black velvet and the other sleeve is a repeat of the target pattern. The dress closes with a back metal zipper and two hooks and eyes at the collar. This Hanae Mori velvet shift dress with belt (FRC2009.03.001 A+B) was donated to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection in 2009 by Jocelyn Ryles. No other provenance information was obtained at the time of donation.

The following description and analysis was written by Ryerson School of Fashion student Kimberly Leckey and was revised and edited by Collection Coordinator Ingrid Mida. It should be noted that Kimberly Leckey’s interpretation of this dress represents only one of many possibilities. This dress might also be used to consider a range of topics in a scholarly approach to fashion research including: the design practices of Hanae Mori over her career, the nature of Japanese designers on western fashion, or perhaps the psychology reflected in the styles and silhouettes of 1970s fashions for women.

Description

The dress is sewn together with black polyester thread and the inside seams are cut in a scalloped design which stops 9” down on the side seams. The edges are hand-finished in a blanket stitch. The shoulder seams include a ¼” bra clip. As well, the binding on the dress zipper facing, armholes and hem is a Hanae Mori signature diagonal repeating print.

Outside measurements include: top of back neckline to hem- 39 ¼’’; top of front neckline to hem- 38 ¼’’; sleeve- 8’’ long; collar- 1 ¼’’ wide; side seams- 31’’; shoulder- 3 7/8”; front bust dart- 5 ¼” long, 3” down from armhole; back neck dart-2” long, 2 ¼ from center back; YKK zipper opening- 19”, 1/8” teeth. Inside measurements include: hem- 2”; inside seam allowance- ¾”; sleeve hem- 1 ¾” including twill tape; armhole seam allowance- 3/8” binding.

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Hanae Mori Target Dress c.1970 FRC2009.03.001 A+B Back View

The accessory which comes with the dress is a belt (FRC2009.03.001B) that is made of the same velvet as the dress and is 70 ½’’ long and 1 ¾’’ wide, with three gold rings with a diameter of 1 ¼”. The rings are spaced unevenly along the length of the belt.

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Hanae Mori Target Dress c.1970, Detail of Belt. FRC2009.03.001B

Reflection

The fabrication, the length of the dress and short sleeves suggest that this dress might have been ideal for an in-between season such as fall or spring in Toronto.

The dress was worn multiple times due to the wear evident on the inside underarm seam (where someone would apply deodorant which would then rub off on that particular spot) as well as the condition of the zipper that was once black but now exposes some of the silver finish underneath. This suggests that this dress was worn often.

The belt might be worn more loosely across the hips due to the fact that no side seam strings are present or seem to have previously been attached for the purpose of being held in place. It is also important to note that the three rings are dispersed unevenly which is curious. One reason for this might be for the adjustment of different lengths of excess belt which hangs when attached. Another might be for different uses of the belt, perhaps as a hair tie used around the head which would use the closest ring which then wraps around again and ties into the second or third ring.

My emotional response to this dress is one of delight to the pattern and colours and one of curiosity to the abstractness of the shapes and the use of the accessory.

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Hanae Mori Target Dress, c.1970. FRC2009.03.001 A+B, Side View

Speculation

I speculate is that this dress was owned and worn by a young woman in her mid-20s to late 30s who could afford a Parisian couture label like Hanae Mori and was young and spirited enough to pull off the loud abstract pattern of the velvet shift dress. The size and silhouette of the dress indicate that she had a slim figure.  The dress is not worn out, however the amount of wear suggests that it was often in rotation within her wardrobe. Her style was very on trend for the 1970s suggesting that she was expressive in how she dressed and was possibly involved in influential groups in the art or fashion world. She liked clothing she could wear in her own way and accessorize to create a full look and the accessory with the dress that could be worn multiple ways does just this. The Hanae Mori dress could have been worn out for drinks with friends, dancing, walking the streets of Toronto, or for a friend’s house party. The wearer of this piece had bold style and a taste for expensive clothing that allowed her to express her individuality.

 

Curator’s Notes by Ingrid Mida

This dress is one of three garments in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection by Hanae Mori. The other two garments include:

FRC2006.01.050 A silk chemise dress with 3/4 sleeves, in an abstracted pattern of black, gold, red, rust orange, purple, blue and black diagonal stripes. c.1980-1985.

FRC2012.03.001A+B+C Black cotton shell print skirt with alternate tops. A. Halter top with peplum waist and side boning. Ribbon ties and back button closures with loops. B. Alternate top with shoulder pads, puffed elbow length sleeves, piping on sleeve and around armholes and back button closures. C. Circle skirt, c.1989. Purchased at Creeds in Toronto.

All three garments are illustrative of the fine workmanship associated with the Hanae Mori label. The two dresses are both boldly coloured with vibrant abstracted designs that are signatures of the label. The target dress and the shell skirt with alternate tops are designed to give the wearer choice as to how to wear the pieces, indicating that Mori wanted to offer her wearer versatility and choice. Although all three garments have Hanae Mori labels, the text and design of the labels are different, offering the opportunity to research the dating and origins of the garments.

Hanae Mori (b.1926) was born in Japan and presented in New York for the first time in 1965 with her “East meets West” collection and began showing in Paris in 1977. Committed to craftsmanship by hand, she was one of the first Asian designers to be accepted into the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in the late 1970s. Her signature print was a butterfly, and the bright patterns and bold hues of her chic clothes appealed to strong, independent women. After Hanae Mori’s last collection in 2004, journalist Suzy Menkes wrote: “The mix of colour, pattern, and embellishment, but always with a controlled and elegant silhouette, proved how much the name Hanae Mori will be missed in the world of haute couture”.

 

References

Menkes, Suzy. “Hanae Mori: A Butterfly Good-bye”. The New York Times, July 9, 2004.

Mori, Hanae. Hanae Mori Style. New York: Kodansha International, 2001.

Vogue.com. Hanae Mori. Retrieved from: http://www.vogue.com/voguepedia/Hanae_Mori