Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive

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Making History: Inspired by Courrèges Part 2

by Shira Yavor

In Part 1, I outlined my source of inspiration and research for this project. In part 2, I outline my remaking of the Courrèges raincoat seen in the 1993 photograph by William Laxton.


Courreges-inspired coat by Shira Yavor. Model Alanna Furlong & Photographer Arnold Lan 

In making a technical drawing of the coat, I combined elements that were visible in the photo and inferred what the rest could have looked like. My research in Part 1 helped me understand Courrèges’ aesthetic. He once said: “I made the garments fall away from the body by starting from the shoulders. Darts were no longer necessary” (Guillaume 8). This suggested that there were no shaping darts in the photographed coat; the front and back would drape freely off the shoulder without darts.

I draped the front and back pieces on a Judy with muslin fabric. I later adjusted the pattern, straightened and trued the lines. I drafted the collar according to the technique shown for drafting an inset band in the book Pattern Making for Fashion Design (Armstrong 206). I slashed and spread the collar from the neckline up, so that it sits away from the neck. I used a compass to draft the flowers with 5 petals. The draping and drafting process took approximately 5 hours.

The black & white photograph led me to believe that this dress was made in white vinyl, but I later discovered it was actually made in yellow vinyl. Courrèges space age garments were often made in white, since white represented purity and gave off a futuristic look (Guillaume 13). The fabric I purchased was a white heavyweight vinyl with a shiny surface texture that mimicked leather. The ideal fabric would have been a bit lighter and completely smooth and reflective, however I was not able to source any.

In order to sew this material smoothly, I purchased a Teflon sewing foot and leather needle to help the fabric move along. I also purchased white polyester threads and a thicker thread for topstitching. I purchased a coordinating lining and fusing for the closure part of the jacket. At the end of the sewing process, I had the snaps installed at Leather Sewing Supply Depot.

After I got the desired fit, I transferred the muslin to a pattern and cut the vinyl pieces. This fabric was hard to deal with, because it creased easily, and could not be ironed. I tested out light ironing through another piece of fabric, but the vinyl got sticky. I had to roll out all of the fabric in order to cut it. Pins could not be used at all during the cutting and sewing process because they left holes in the fabric. The fabric was very bulky while sewing. At first I was careful not to crease the fabric and rolled it out of the way while sewing, but it was inevitable that some parts got creased, such as the flowers and sleeves.


Close up of flower cut out. Photographed by Arnold Lan. Model Alanna Furlong.

I first constructed the front, and then continued to sew the back, the lining, then sewed the collar and sandwiched it between the self-fabric and the lining. I used the guide for sewing circular pocket’s in Carr’s book for reference in order to figure out how to sew the circular cutouts. For the collar, under-stitching helped it curve nicely. Cutting slits in the seam allowance also helped, and I did this in the collar and cutouts.

I tried to flatten the seams using a clapper – a wood tailoring tool, however it made little difference. Only under-stitching and top stitching held the seams open properly, so I did this wherever possible.

Most of the lining was machine stitched. Part of it was left open in order to flip the garment over to the right side. I then closed this part with a slipstitch. Although ideally, the coat would have had a full lining, I left the sleeves unlined.  Instead I serged the armhole opening of the lining to keep it from fraying. This part of the garment construction was not as accurate as it could have been due to time constraints.

The whole process of creating the coat, excluding research and shopping for supplies took approximately 38 hours. I spent 5 hours creating the pattern and muslin, and 33 hours in sewing it.


Alekna, Catherine. Sewing the 60s. Blogger, 2009, http://sewingthe60s.blogspot.ca/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2016.

Armstrong, Helen Joseph. Patternmaking for Fashion Design. 5th ed. Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

Carr, Roberta C., Pati Palmer, Ann Hesse. Price, and Barbara Weiland Talbert. Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing. Portland, OR: Palmer/Pletsch, 1993. Print.

Handley, Susannah. Nylon: The Manmade Fashion Revolution: A Celebration of Design from Art Silk to Nylon and Thinking Fibres. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. Print.

This post was edited and posted by Ingrid Mida, Curator, Dress Historian & FRC Collection Co-ordinator. 

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Making History: Inspired by Courrèges Part 1

by Shira Yavor

andres courreges

Courreges Raincoat photographed by William Laxton

My Making History project is inspired by a black and white photograph of a model wearing a dress/raincoat with cutouts and a flower motif designed by André Courrèges (Note 1). This image included the caption: “André Courrèges, Dress, photographed by William Laxton, 1960s.” My research included examining garments from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. I also considered the prominent cultural and social forces of the sixties, since fashion captures shifts in culture, being a fugitive form of applied art (Garner 145). Part 1 will present my research. Part 2 will outline the process of remaking the garment.

André Courrèges was a French designer (1923-2016), and launched his fashion house in Paris in 1961. He has been described as the designer who best captured the space age (Garner 40). DuPont developed textiles which were used for moon suits, and these new materials inspired cosmic silhouettes and a new futuristic style. The space age can be compared to a child exploring parts of the world that are seen for the first time (Topham 156) and this aspect can be linked to Courrèges’ youthful designs.

Courrèges clothes were often made for childlike figures. Chanel compared his designs directly with childrenswear (Guillaume 16). Childrenswear definitely had an impact on womenswear, and the influences went both ways. 1960s costume for girls followed the styles that women were wearing. Girls’ dresses became less fitted, more A-line, and shorter. Pants became suitable for girls to wear at school and not only for play in the late 1960s, when pantsuits became more acceptable for women (Tortora, Eubank 574).

Courrèges designed two lower priced lines directed at a younger market: Couture Future, targeted towards 30-40 year olds for 1/3rd of couture prices and Hyperbole, a less expensive line for 20 year olds, available for approximately 1/5th of couture prices (Lynam 203).

In the 1960s, the younger generation was looking for something new and shocking in fashion, and the miniskirt fulfilled that need (Garner 145-147). While Courrèges took credit for the miniskirt, Mary Quant said “the girls in the street” were the ones who wanted this style, so neither designer can really take full credit for it (Lynam 198). The look Courrèges wanted to create emphasized freedom, from the silhouette to the styling. Courrèges saw the body as “a whole”, and therefore did not want to separate the upper and lower body with a waistline (Guillaume 7). Instead he made clothes that floated over the body. The garments Courrèges created were “easy to wear” (Guillaume 4). He, like his contemporaries, Paco Rabanne and Mary Quant, sometimes incorporated industrial materials such as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Velcro ® and various plastics into designs.  Courrèges said: “At first vinyl used to crack” (Guillaume 15). Mary Quant also initially struggled when working with PVC, since the material would stick to the sewing foot and the seams were weak (Handley 106).

To better understand the construction of Courrèges’ garments, I visited the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and examined two Courrèges Paris pantsuits, both of orange knit to study how these garments were constructed and finished. 


Courrèges pantsuit FRC2013.02.009 A+B

In the first example, the Courrèges pantsuit consisted of a zippered jacket and matching bell bottom pants with cuffs (FRC2013.02.009 A+B). The seams on this acrylic pantsuit are all sewn and topstitched, except for the pant cuff. Finishing details show that this is high quality garment, for instance the shoulder area is fused from the inside. A small snap closure holds the top of the jacket in place, in addition to the zipper. The garment is highly functional, all of the pockets are real and the garment is lined in a similar orange shade. The polyamide lining is hand stitched with corresponding coloured thread on the pants, and transparent nylon thread on the jacket. Although this garment is from the Hyperbole line, which a cheaper ready to wear lines, functionality, high end finishing and comfort were still considered.


The second orange pant suit (FRC2014.07.587 A+B) is also from the Hyperbole line. Made of orange knit, the pants are surprisingly unlined since the wool, cotton, acrylic blended material is less comfortable to touch. The jacket is lined with 100% acetate and has fake flap pockets, less functional than the first jacket. The vinyl details are in quite poor condition today, peeling off, and according to dress historian curator Ingrid Mida are reflective of the instability of these early plastics. The pants have a zipper that is stitched in by hand.

Although both pantsuits are from the lower priced Hyperbole line, they both featured the famous white snaps and Courrèges initials logo. As well, they both had many fine finishing details using a combination of hand sewing and machine stitching. In recreating the dress in the photo, I used this information to guide my remaking.

In Part II, I will present my remaking of the Courrèges raincoat/dress.

This post was condensed and edited by Ingrid Mida, Curator and Dress Historian, FRC Collection Co-ordinator. 


Note 1:  When referencing Courrèges throughout the project I am referring to the designer himself and his wife as spokespeople of the brand. Although the image of Andres Courrèges stands in front of the brand, his wife and creative partner Coqueline was said to have done much of the casting and design work (Lynam 197).


Crane, Diana. “Globalization, Organizational Size, and Innovation in the French Luxury Fashion Industry: Production of Culture Theory Revisited.” Poetics, 24, 1997. Pp 393-414. Science Direct. Web. Accessed 9 Nov. 2016.

Guillaume, Valérie. Courrèges (Fashion Memoir). London: Thames & Hudson, 1998. Print.

Lynam, Ruth. Couture: An Illustrated History of the Great Paris Designers and Their Creations. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972. Print.

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

Tortora, Phyllis G, and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. New York, NY: Fairchild Publications, 2009. Print.

Shira Yavor is a third year Ryerson Fashion Design student. This Making History project was undertaken in Fall 2016 for a Costume History assignment.

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Making History: A Romantic Tutu

By Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker (Edited by Ingrid Mida)



Allycia Coolidge wearing a romantic tutu inspired by the costumes of the Pas de Quatre ballet of 1845 for the Making History Project (Photo by Joanna Lupker)

In our Making History project, we chose to analyze and recreate a Romantic tutu inspired by the Pas de Quatre ballet. This ballet was first performed in London, England during the Romantic era on July 12, 1845 and choreographed by Jules Perrot. This ballet featured four prima ballerinas of the Romantic era: Lucile Grahn, Taglioni, Carlotta, and Fanny Cerrito. They were icons of the time and often appeared in each other’s benefit performances, but this was the first performance to showcase all four leading female dancers in a single ballet.

Prior to the Romantic period, female dancers wore heavy constrictive dresses resembling court fashion that weighed them down and limited their ability to dance. The key change in ballet costuming was the rise of skirt hems, which was seen as quite scandalous at the time (Mida 37). The changes allowed ballerinas to show off their much improved and intricate footwork. This new shortened ballet skirt fell to just below the knee.

The Romantic tutu endures as a classic costume of ballet that continues to be featured in performances of major dance companies around the world. Each element of the costume emphasizes the femininity of the dancer.

When this ballet was presented in 1845, the bodices of the costumes were constructed very similarly to those seen in regular clothing. Like the corsets of the time, they were tight (Bicat), with low cut necklines to put the dancer’s long necks on display (Victoria and Albert Museum). This was further emphasized by sloped shoulders, mirroring the fashions of the period (Cargill 6). The bodice also followed the the 19th-century ball gown style through V shaped waistlines, aligned close to the waist (Mida 37).


Pas de Quatre (1845) Lithograph of Carlotta Grisi, Marie Taglioni, Lucile Grahn and Fanny Cerrito (Source: The V&A Theatre Museum)


Our recreation of this ballet costume was inspired by the illustration of the Pas de Quatre ballet shown above. Our process included visual analysis of the illustration, research into ballet costumes and fashions of the Romantic period, object-based analysis of the tutus in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and a visit to the wardrobe department of the National Ballet.

The bodice of the costume is a structured garment resembling the corset worn in the Romantic era. This bodice can lay under or over the skirt depending on the design of the costume. In analyzing the illustrations of the Romantic tutus and bodices worn by the original troupe in 1845, we determined that the bodice should lay on top of the tutu. The bodice was constructed with a center front seam and stylized front princess seams. These seams narrowed toward the center front and formed a point at the waistline. We drafted the pattern for this area by manipulating a petite size eight women’s bodice block. The neckline of the bodice was horizontally lowered and slashed across the top and the waistline angled down toward the center front. We split and rotated the fullness of the waist dart into the shoulder of the bodice in order to create princess seams. We used buttons to fasten the bodice to the skirt since the elastic that would be used by costume departments today had not been invented in 1845.

As the back of the costume was not shown in the illustrations, we inferred the design of the back bodice. Similar pattern drafting techniques were used to alter the back bodice as were used for the front bodice. We chose to use princess seams in the back bodice panels, as it is very uncommon to have princess seams sewn only on the front of a garment. We concluded the bodice had a center back opening in which a line of clasps was sewn. This was also a feature found in each bodice that we examined from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and The National Ballet of Canada.

The pattern piece for the sleeve was slashed and spread to create the flowing effect seen in the illustration. Space for gathers and pleats was added into the sleeve pattern and a shoulder strap was drafted to provide support. This design feature prevents the sleeve from falling completely off the shoulder when dancing. The final bodice design has three front seams, two side seams and two back seams, which adds up to eight panels in total.

A Romantic tutu is a tulle skirt that falls to just below the knee. It is made up of several layers of fabric that have been gathered, pleated, or a combination of techniques used to cinch in the fabric at the waist (Fielding). After discussing the options with the head of National Ballet of Canada’s costume department, we chose to gather the waistline since this is a quick method that is suitable for beginners.The tutu was drafted as seven rectangles with a gathering ratio of 3:1. Based on the illustrations, we measured the length of the tutu to fall to just below the knees and used seven layers of tulle to capture the desired level of opacity. We used two pink tulle layers amongst the five other white layers.

We chose a woven white cotton for the bodice paired with white piping and plastic boning. Shiny white polyester organza was used for the sleeves. Polyester tulle was used in white baby pink, and also white with shimmer for the tutu. Webbing and two-holed buttons were used along the waist to attach and detach the bodice from the skirt.

In this project, we learned that the desire for a freer flowing garment to dance in sparked the need and creation of the romantic tutu. Being dancers ourselves, we loved learning about the history and magic associated with this costume. Now we also appreciate the work, time and effort that is required to make the romantic tutu. 


Bassett, Lynne Z. Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy. N.p.: Wadsworth Atheneum, 2016.

Bicat, Tina. Period Costume for the Stage. The Crowood Press, 2003.

Binney, Edwin. Glories of the Romantic Ballet. Dance Books LTD, 1985.

Cargill, Mary. “Dance Costumes In The Western Performance Tradition.” Performing Arts Resources 27. (2010): 3-8. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

Lee, Carol. Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution. Routeledge, 2002.

Looseleaf, Victoria. “The Story of the Tutu: Ballet’s Signature Costume has a Fabled Past and a Glamorous Present”. Oregon International Ballet Academy. June 21 2015.

Martin, David, Gabriel, Norman R, “An ‘Informalizing Spurt’ in Clothing Regimes: Court Ballet and the Civilizing Process.” The Berg Fashion Library, 2001. Web Accessed: 27 Sep. 2016.

Mida, Ingrid. “A Gala Performance Tutu”.  Dress. Vol 42, no 1. 2016.

Victoria & Albert Museum. “Dance Costume Design – Victoria & Albert Museum”. Vam.Ac.Uk, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/dance-costume-design/.

Note from editor:  This Making History project was part of an assignment for Dr. Alison Matthew David’s Costume History class at the Ryerson University School of Fashion. The assignment submitted by Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker was condensed and edited for clarity, and has been posted with their permission.

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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. 


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.


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.

Dress 1 Fabric

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

dress 5

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.


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.


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.


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.


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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A Dissection of a Wool Jacket by Christian Dior for Holt Renfew

By Millie Yates

Dior Jacket Front 2013.99.007

Wool Jacket by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew, Front FRC 2013.99.007

It is impossible not be intrigued by the deceptively simple design of this garment. Though it appears uncomplicated, the process of creating its perfect drape and elegant angles required mastery. Such is the beauty of couture.  This wool tweed cropped jacket with ¾ sleeves was designed by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew and is from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2013.99.007).  Initially the jacket was dated as originating from 1958-1963, but further research has revealed that there is a high probability that it is from 1955-1956 and that there was once a matching dress or skirt.

There are many subtle and complex details to be noticed. For example, the front and back of the jacket are cut on the bias, which results in a soft chevron effect. The sleeves are cut as part of the body of the jacket with a seam that follows the shoulder line. There is a diamond-shaped gusset under each underarm. In couture tradition, there are bound buttonholes on the front of the jacket and three metal weights concealed in the lining towards the hem of the jacket to help it hang properly.

The jacket is very angular in shape, with sharp straight edges along the hem, collar, pockets and sleeves. The collar of the jacket is flat and wide. There are three large textured round buttons at the front that hold the jacket closed. These buttons are very large at 2 inches (10 cm) across and appear to be made of plastic. Two 5-inch (13 cm) wide tailored pockets sit on either side of the centre front, towards the bottom of the jacket. The pockets are lined but would have limited functionality due to their very shallow depth. The selvedge is not visible in the garment, because the jacket is fully lined with facings at the neckline and centre front. The gusset under the arm appears in both the shell and the lining of the jacket. There are no reinforcements to the jacket, in terms of boning, padding, or wire. This garment was made with a combination of machine and hand stitching. The care taken with construction is apparent, and this affirms the quality and cost associated with a Dior garment.

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

The fabric of the jacket gives it the appearance that it would be very warm. The wool tweed has been matched with a silk satin lining. The outer shell of tweed has a number of colours in its pattern, with brown and a greyish green being the most prominent as well as some flecks of white. The silk satin lining is reddish brown.

The garment has a label at the neckline that reads: “Christian Dior Original in Canada Exclusive with Holt Renfrew and Co. Limited.” It was in 1951 that Christian Dior and Holt Renfrew made an agreement for exclusive Canadian reproduction rights (Palmer 117). The label does not indicate the season or exact year that the jacket was made. There are no care labels, name tags or size labels within the garment. There is no information on the owner as the jacket was donated to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection anonymously.

This jacket is a truly beautiful piece. Constructed to sit lightly on the body, it is boxy but would not overwhelm the frame. The design of the jacket is both clever and subtle: a perfect marriage between couture quality and everyday versatility. It is a classic jacket: something proper to wear in a professional setting or for formal occasions. Though a serious piece of clothing, its cropped length, big buttons and the 3/4 length sleeves of the jacket present as anything but austere and boring.

Dior Jacket, FRC2013.99.007

Dior Jacket, FRC2013.99.007

Studying this garment requires some historical context, which is most easily provided by considering comparable garments. There are several other Dior pieces in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, but the most directly comparable examples can be found in the collection of the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  An online search reveals that there are 797 garments by Christian Dior in the collection of the Costume Institute. From this sample, the general patterns and trends in Dior’s early designs are apparent. Dior is most known for The New Look, which date from his first collection in February 1947 and the silhouette features a padded bust and hips, sloping shoulders, and a dramatically nipped-in waist. As the 1950s move along, the shape of Dior’s jackets change too. Collars are wider, sleeve lengths are often shorter and the slim waist is often integrated into the matching skirt or dress: many of Dior’s jackets from the late 1950s are cropped and boxy, much like this particular garment from the FRC.

One of the most similar dress artifacts in the collection of the Costume Institute is not a suit jacket but a coat. The coat is dated to 1956, almost ten years after Dior’s first collection (Met Accession Number: 2002.262). Like the FRC jacket, its design is a bit of a contrast against his earlier designs. The jacket is 44 inches (112 cm) long at the centre back, and has a sack-like shape. The shoulders are unpadded like the FRC jacket, and the sleeves are not set in at the shoulder, but appear to be almost kimono-style. Similarly the FRC jacket does not have traditional set-in sleeves. The 1956 Dior coat also has three wide, round brown buttons as a closure. Beyond the obvious similarities in shape, one of the most important and exciting resemblances is the fabric: the wool used for both the coat and the jacket appears to be a very similar (if not the same) greyish-brown tweed. This similarity makes it highly likely that the FRC garment was produced in the same year, as a similar-looking self fabric suggests that the two garments are from the same collection. Like the FRC jacket, the design of this coat appears all at once very simple yet also masterfully conceived: this is the beauty of a Dior garment.

Another comparable artifact found in collection of the Costume Institute Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was the “Virevolte” dress and matching jacket from the Fall/Winter 1955 collection (Met Accession number 2009.300.443a–d). Like the FRC garment, this ensemble is made of a very similar looking brownish-grey wool tweed. The jacket is a little shorter than the FRC garment: at centre back it measures 17 1/2 inches (44.5 cm) whereas the FRC jacket selected is approximately 21 ½ inches (54.5 cm). The “Virevolte” outfit features a cropped wool tweed jacket with set-in sleeves and a built-up collar, with a matching wool tweed dress to go underneath. Beyond the obvious similarities in fabric and cut, what is most interesting about the “Virevolte” ensemble is the dress underneath. It is reasonable to assume that the garment from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection would have at one point been accompanied by a matching dress or skirt. The “Virevolte” gives a good idea of the garment that might been worn with the jacket from the FRC. It, too, is beautifully designed and it features short sleeves constructed in a similar fashion to the sleeves on the Dior jacket from the FRC. The sleeves are cut with the front panels and widen under the arms with a gusset insert. There are two darts that bring in the waist on the front of the dress, and these darts widen into two box pleats down the skirt of the dress. A thin brown leather belt cinches the waist and matches the buttons down the bodice of the dress. The curatorial notes provided with this artifact read: “No matter which silhouette (Christian Dior) chose, the slim sheath or the bouffant skirt, the narrow waist recurs in nearly every garment.” It seems probable that the skirt or dress that accompanied the jacket from the FRC might have been quite fitted at the waist to contrast the little jacket’s boxy shape. In seeing the photographs of this ensemble on a dress form, it becomes a lot easier to see how the garment from the Fashion Research Collection might have looked as a complete outfit. After seeing “Virevolte” one could imagine that it would have been a very trim, smart look.

After a thorough analysis and comparison to similar garments, many mysteries still surround this garment. Who purchased this jacket? Who wore it? What secrets lie inside the garment, beyond the silk-satin lining? Though one can only speculate at the answers to these questions, this garment offers the opportunity to study the masterful construction of Dior.. The House of Dior is known to guard the secrets of  the design and construction of their pieces. Each clue gathered in a close study of such pieces is a step towards understanding the ever-intriguing Christian Dior’s work.


Bruna, Denis. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale UP, 2015. Print.

Cawthorne, Nigel. The New Look: The Dior Revolution. Edison, N.J.: Wellfleet, 1996. Print.

Dior, Christian. Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior. London: V & A Pub., 2007. Print.

Giroud, Francoise, and Sacha Van Dorssen. Dior: Christian Dior, 1905-1957. New York: Rizzoli, 1987. Print.

Palmer, Alexandra. “Couture, Fashion Shows and Marketing.” Couture & Commerce: The Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s. Vancouver: UBC, 2001. 117. Print.

Palmer, Alexandra. Dior: A New Look, a New Enterprise (1947-57). London: V & A, 2009. Print.

Parkins, Ilya. ” Christian Dior: Nostalgia and the Economy of Feminine Beauty.” The Berg Fashion Library. The Berg Fashion Library, 2012. Web. 28 Jul. 2015.

Pochna, Marie France. Dior. New York: Assouline, 2008. Print.

Pujalet-Plaà, Eric. “New Look.” The Berg Fashion Library. The Berg Fashion Library, 2005. Web. 29 Jul. 2015.

Nudelman, Zoya. The Art of Couture Sewing. New York: Fairchild, 2009. Print.


Notes on Comparable Garments in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection:

1) Green and cream tweed wool jacket and skirt suit by Maggy Reeves FRC 1998.06.007 A+B

A similar garment from the Fashion Research Collection is a Maggy Reeves tweed jacket and matching skirt. Like the Dior garment, the jacket is made of a woollen material with a silk lining. There are many similarities in cut, too: the Reeves jacket has a flat collar, button closure and a slightly cropped length. The bold look of the large round buttons, the soft cut of the collar and the matching skirt nipped in tightly at the waist compare well to the Dior jacket, too. One major similarity between the Reeves jacket and Dior jacket is the flawless job of concealing darts and seams. Both garments appear to be only one piece due to a delicate balancing of the tweed fabric.

2) Citron yellow cropped jacket with sleeveless dress by Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner FRC 1986.01.001 A+B

At first glance it does not appear that the Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner jacket and matching dress have much in common with the Dior garment: the Bill Blass ensemble is a citron yellow colour with a pale blue lining. Its fabric is a brocade silk, and appears to be a formal outfit. Though quite different in colour and fabric, in many ways, the cut and design of the Bill Blass ensemble resembles that of the FRC Dior jacket. Like thee garment, this jacket does not have traditional set-in sleeves: its centre front and centre back panels were cut in a T-shape. With the Blass jacket, there is a side panel that continues and becomes the bottom-half of the sleeve, resulting in princess seams along centre front and centre back that curve into the sleeve seam where the armhole should be. Like the Dior jacket, the yellow jacket also has a gusset under the arm.

3) Yellow Boucle wool belted coat “143C Dior SANFRAN” by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew FRC 1997.04.044

In a beautiful saffron yellow, this coat has a striking fitted waist and an a-line skirt. A wide belt with a fabric-covered buckle secures the middle. Like the Dior jacket, this coat has many couture quality details. For example, both garments have bound buttonholes. Both garments also have a subtle topstitching done along each edge of the garment: pockets, centre front, sleeve hem and jacket hem. This garment is closer in cut to Dior’s iconic New Look silhouette: with its belt and darting, it cuts an hourglass figure. If the Dior jacket had a matching skirt or dress to accompany it, it might be possible to compare the shape of the entire outfit to the shape of the yellow coat. Like the Dior jacket, the coat is lined with a matching silk fabric. Both garments are made of very fine materials.

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Special Topics Course Class Visit behind the scenes at the Textile Museum of Canada

by Ingrid Mida

Behind the scenes with conservator Hillary Anderson at the Textile Museum of Canada

Behind the scenes with conservator Hillary Anderson at the Textile Museum of Canada

Recently we had the great privilege of going behind the scenes at The Textile Museum of Canada. This museum houses over 13000 textile artifacts that span 2000 years of history and their stated aim is to enhance the cultural understanding of textiles. Our guide for the morning was the TMC Conservator Hillary Anderson, who is an alumni of the School of Fashion at Ryerson University. She had interned at the TMC during her undergraduate studies and went on to earn her credentials as a conservator. She mentioned how useful her skills in sewing, draping and cutting were in creating custom mannequin forms and for the myriad of other tasks that a conservator has to do.

During our visit, we got a sneak peak at some of the pieces that Hillary worked on for the upcoming show called Home Economics: 150 years of Canadian Hooked Rugs that will open on 24th September 2015 and run until 8 February 2016.

Sneak peak at the hooked rugs and conservation supplies

Sneak peak at the hooked rugs and conservation supplies

We also had the chance to visit the storage facilities with Hillary where the students learned about techniques of storage for different types of objects. And we all marvelled at the colourful and joyful Festival Hats worn by children.

Hillary Anderson holding one of the Festival Hats from the TMC Collection

Hillary Anderson holding one of the Festival Hats from the TMC Collection

We rounded out our visit with a tour of the Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol exhibition during which time Hillary explained some of the challenges of mounting dress. She also recommended two books for anyone interested in this topic including  A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting as well as Textile Conservation.

These types of behind-the-scenes visits are rare and special treats, especially since museum storage facilities are often not able to handle more than a few people at a time. But what is even more valuable is when someone as busy as Hillary Anderson is willing to share their knowledge. Thank you Hillary and thank you Textile Museum of Canada. If you have not had a chance to visit the exhibition of Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol, do be sure to get there before 4 October 2015.


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