Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive

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The Bowler Hat

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

Hats can serve as a signifier of status as well as a functional purpose. The bowler, which was the first hard, round-crowned hat for men, was ordered in the 1850 by an Englishman by the name of William Coke, who apparently requested it to avoid having to continually replace his gamekeeper’s soft hats that were so easily damaged. Originally called a Coke hat by Lock’s of St. James who designed the hat for Mr. Coke, over time it came to be known as the bowler (or the derby in the United States) and is considered one of the most successful and enduring hats ever designed.

Men's Bowler Hat FRC1986.09.007

Men’s Bowler Hat

This men’s felted wool bowler hat (FRC1986.09.007) carries the label of Churchill & Co. Marlborough St London inside the crown. It is dated to approximately 1900 and the felted wool is tearing at brim. It was well worn by its owner as the leather lining is heavily aged from wear.

Cabinet Card (Bowler Hat)007

In this undated cabinet card by photographer Geo. A. Snider of Brantford, Ontario, Charles Taylor is dressed in a dark wool suit. The jacket has piping on the edges and a small pocket square is visible in the upper pocket. He stands holding his bowler hat in his right hand. Mr. Taylor is probably a country farmer, dressed in his Sunday best. His jacket is more finely tailored than his pants, and the open jacket and awkward pose suggests that this is likely the first time he has had his photograph taken. This cabinet card (FRC2002.04.348) has gold edging along one-side and has been trimmed, perhaps to fit in a frame. The date is estimated to be approximately 1885, when such mounts were popular.

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The Patricia Rogal Collection of Photographs

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator.

Another significant donation to the Fashion Research Collection was received from Patricia Rogal in 2002. In donating her personal collection of 984 carte de visite, cabinet cards and photographs dating 1860-1920, Patricia Rogal hoped to help students see “what real people wore” in the past. 

Carte des visite 003_LR

Cabinet card, backing removed. Undated. No photographer label.

Carte de visite and cabinet cards are albumen prints made from glass negatives, attached to stiff card backing usually printed with the photographer’s name. In this medium, we can  revisit the past to see the clothing that ordinary people wore in the latter half of the 19th century.

Carte des visites002_LR

Cabinet Card, Undated. Photographer’s stamp cut off. Donated by Patricia Rogal.

This small cache of rare carte de visite and cabinet cards is unusual in that it includes a substantial number of photographs in Canadian studios from Toronto and other Ontario towns. In a few cases, names have been carefully written in blue ink just below the image or on the back of the card. The thick cards are yellowed at the edges and some have faded. These artifacts are extremely fragile and ideally should be scanned to limit their handling. (Unfortunately, time did not permit that in the grant received from the Learning & Teaching Office.)

I find these photographs haunting. In studying these cabinet cards and carte de visites, my eye fixes on items of clothing that remind me of the specific historic pieces in the collection, including one of the oldest garments in the collection, a greed plaid silk taffeta bodice and crinoline skirt from 1860. In these photographs, I feel like I am looking into the face of the wearer and seeing what is now a fragile artifact reborn. Through the image, the dress comes to life in a way that it will never be again.