Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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An Ode to Claire McCardell in the object-based analysis of a Red Cotton Dress

By Jenn Bilczuk

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Claire McCardell for Townley red cotton dress c.1940-1949 FRC 2014.07.477

In the 1940’s, Paris was under occupation and designers elsewhere were cut off from their Parisian inspirations. To prevent the demise of the industry, American designers were thrust into a position of fashion authority that had been previously denied to them (Buckland). Key influencers, like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, fueled by economic nationalism promoted homegrown talent in hopes of stimulating American investment in American designers (Buckland). The increased publicity and the changing social landscape of the forties elevated Claire McCardell’s simple yet stylish design into fashion discourse. She emerged as: “refreshing unFrench” (Yohannan).

McCardell designed well cut garments that transitioned into well made mass-produced pieces. Trained in haute couture techniques, McCardell repelled from the frivolity of couture garments – but not without studying every Parisian design she could get her hands on, giving her an impeccable understanding of clothing construction (Robinson, 104). McCardell took inspiration from the needs of the American women that she identified with. During the war, women were interacting with the world in new ways and McCardell was acutely aware of the evolution of the mid-century woman – she aimed to create clothing that was “at once appropriate for the office, cocktail hour and leisure” (Yohannan).

Claire McCardell’s designs were radical in the context of the forties, since they did not feature shoulder pads, back zippers, boning, and the heavily constructed looks of the times (Yohannan). Instead McCardell garments embodied the fundamentals of sportswear as it is known today: offering functionality, quality and practicality, characteristics so entrenched in contemporary fashions that they remain largely “under appreciated and understudied” (Robinson, 100). McCardell created pieces that were fashionable  and durable. Some of her signature elements were derived from the functional characteristics of American working class clothing. For example, her use of cotton, reinforced by classic double stitching from denim work eventually became a design staple (245, Kirkland). Her production of stylish clothing in traditionally non-fashionable fabrics was ground breaking. She preferred wools, jerseys and cottons because of their reasonable price and availability (Kirkland, 252); “effectively ennobling everyday materials by way of thoughtful design and deftly executed construction” (Yohannan).

These design signatures came to be known as “McCardellisms”, distinctive in identifying a garment as her design (Robinson, 110). She made use of techniques from couture production, but only “those that worked within the constraints of mass production and American fashion” (Robinson, 106). Her distinctive use of the bias cut was influenced by the work of Madeleine Vionnet, which she was exposed to during her training years in Paris (Robinson, 105). The McCardellisms were features that integrated functionality into women’s every day wear. She insisted on deep side pockets in every garment, including her evening gowns, as pockets offered “a place to put one’s hands so as not to feel ill at ease or vulnerable’” (Yohannan and Nolf, quoted by Stanfill). As she instructed her models to display her designs with their shoulders leaning back, hips thrust forward, and hands in their pockets, she is credited with creating the modern slouched stance used on the catwalk today (Robinson, 108).

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Front view Claire McCardell for Townley red cotton dress 1940-1949 FRC2014.07.477

The Ryerson Research Fashion Collection has a garment by Claire McCardell : a red cotton below-knee length dress in a white and black trefoil motif, with a shawl collar and short sleeves (FRC2014.07.477). The dress was dated by the donor to the  1940s. In 1940, McCardell began her second chapter with Townley Frocks as the head designer. The label in the dress reads “Claire McCardell Clothes: By Townley”. During her first period designing with the company in the thirties, McCardell’s work was strictly under the Townley label – the company fearing that naming the designer would make McCardell difficult to work with (Kirland. 239). The label change in the forties however only strengthened the relationship between McCardell and Townley, which lasted until her death in 1958.

The dress itself is in remarkable condition – reflecting the designer’s belief that “good fashion somehow earns the right to survive” (Kirkland, 307). Any displays of aging are only visible upon close inspection. Under the collar and inside the pockets, the original darker red colour contrasts the faded red of the exposed fabric, a combination of age and wear. The latter is further displayed in the discolouration visible directly in the underarms and the hem of the skirt which is slightly tattered; seams are starting to separate, the stitches loosening from one another. There are multiple alterations – re-stitching done in red, and eventually in contrasting threads of black and white. The signs of wear and the overall condition signify a beloved dress, one that was worn often but taken care of, supported by the integrity of its production.

The red cotton dress is a modified princess cut, the seams detailed in white contrasting thread – a McCardellism of reimagining classic patterns in modern fashion. The princess cut features continuous vertical panels, shaped to the body through the torso with no waistline seam – rather than a typical bodice and skirt. Alternatively, the red dress has two vertical bust darts that begin near the shoulders and meet the top of the large side pockets, detailed again in white thread; eventually merging into the side seam at the bottom of the pockets. There is a rather large zipper on the left side that was originally red, but has chipped away to reveal silver from use – it’s placement essential to a woman’s ability to dress herself, another McCardellism (Robinson, 125). The center seam mimics the double stitching techniques borrowed from denim work. The dress is cut on a bias with pink tape used selectively along the inner hem, both shoulders, and on the inner right side seam: a signature detail, giving the garment greater movement and elegantly draping on the body.

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Back view of Claire McCardell red cotton dress 1940-1949 FRC2014.07.477 

In 1947, after the war had ended, Dior released the New Look – characterized by its emphasized bust, longer hemline, indented waist and accentuated hips (Charleston). The look contradicted militaristic aesthetics of the period that broadened women’s shoulders and narrowed their hips (McDowell, 70). Comparatively, McCardell’s red cotton dress in the FRC reflects a similar silhouette, leading me to believe that the dress could have been produced in the later years of the 1940s – specifically between the years of 1946-1949. Despite the presence of the aforesaid McCardellisms; the piece conspicuously lacks other specific design details of her pieces in the early forties, such as adjustable waistlines, wraps and spaghetti ties, large belts, and gilt hooks and eyes. While McCardell rarely used zippers after the war, when she did they were a highly visible design detail (Robinson, 125); in this case the red cotton dress features a zipper on the left side, drawing attention with contrasting white thread.

Sally Kirkland, a Vogue fashion editor, recalled a conversation in spring 1946 with McCardell when the designer shared her prediction that the “following spring she thought women were going to want very full and much longer skirts” (271) in response to the silhouettes of the forties and the restrictions enforced during the war. The next spring, McCardell released a collection of dresses with full circle skirts and dropped hemlines – working out “new proportions so that the unaccustomed length and fullness was set off by a snug bias bodice and tiny waist” (Kirkland, 271). The red dress embodies these very features: a narrow fit through the bust, drawing in at the waist, and opening towards the hips; which are further accentuated by the large, rounded pockets on both the left and right side. The back of the dress is embellished with a piercing, almost a gore, and without risking the integrity of waistline, offers additional volume while making the round skirt much fuller. It is also significantly longer than her dresses from earlier in the decade; measuring at 31 inches from the front waist to the hem, and hangs slightly longer at the back measuring 34 inches from waist to hem. The skirt hangs around 10-12 inches longer than previous designs (Kirkland, 271). The dress would fall well below the knee on a wearer between 5’5″ – 5’7″.

All things considered, I believe that McCardell’s 1946 prediction that “fashion would gravitate towards longer lengths, yards of fabric, and rounded narrow shoulders”, manifested itself in the red cotton dress of the FRC, dating it more accurately to the years 1946-1949 (Robinson, 135). While both Dior and McCardell envisioned the emergence of the silhouette, Dior’s dramatic interpretation overshadowed Claire’s much simpler designs. In this one red cotton dress, I see evidence of the difference between the old world of French fashion versus the new American look; the male versus the female designer;  and glamour versus practicality. Her vision developed into a more youthful feminine silhouette “often made more so with a shawl collar”, and produced in practical fabrics as displayed in the red cotton dress (Kirkland, 71); a mainstay in the “wardrobe of college girls, working women and housewives alike” (Yohannan). The red cotton dress of the FRC perfectly embodies Claire McCardell’s approach to dressing the American woman; it harmoniously incorporates function into fashion, moving with the wearer through the day in effortless style.

References

Buckland, Sandra Stansbery. “Promoting American Designers, 1940–44: Building Our Own House.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed. Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2008. N.p. Dress, Body, Culture. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Claire McCardell Red Cotton Dress. American. 1940-1949. Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Toronto. Ryerson University. Web.

Charleston, Beth Duncuff. “Christian Dior (1905–1957).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. N.p Web 29 Feb. 2017

Kirkland, Sally. “McCardell.” American Fashion: The Life and Lines of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell, and Trigére. Ed. Sarah Tomerlin Lee. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book, 1975. 209-316. Print.

McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear?: What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion. N.p.: Simon and Schuster, 1956. Print.

McDowell, Colin. Forties Fashion and the New Look. N.p.: Bloomsbury, 1997. Print.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.

Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 1 March 2017

Robinson, Rebecca J. “American Sportswear: A Study of the Origins and Women Designers from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.” Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, n.d. 2003. Web. 7 Mar. 2017

Stanfill, Sonnet. “Curating the Fashion City: New York Fashion at the V&A.” Fashion’s World Cities. Ed. Christopher Breward and David Gilbert. Oxford: Berg, 2006. N.p. Cultures of Consumption Series. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017

Yohannan, Kohle. “McCardell, Claire.” The Berg Companion to Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. N.p Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Jenn Bilczuk is a first-year MA Fashion student at Ryerson University. This post was written for an object-based research assignment in MA Theory II and has been edited for the FRC blog by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida. 


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A Study of a 1940s Cocktail Dress by Jack Liebman

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FRC2014.07.024 Black crepe dress with abstracted crinoline print by Jack Liebman (Photographed by Hannah Dobbie)

This post examines a black cocktail dress from the 1940s by Montreal-based manufacturer Jack Liebman. His design is characterized by its sophisticated colour scheme, flattering shape, and unique pattern. Dresses of the 1940s typically fell below the knee, the shoulders were usually squared, and the natural waist was often belted (note 1). This Jack Liebman dress shares many features in common with other wartime garments, and yet also blurs the perception of what a dress from the 1940s should look like.

This dress is made of a fine black crepe. There are bust darts, shoulder darts, two hidden zippers, and large sewn-in shoulder pads. The dress’s skirt is attached to the bodice at the natural waistline. The fullness this creates falls delicately to form a soft and flowing garment. One of this dress’s most interesting details is the addition of two draped panels that hang over the hips. (note 2). This dress is machine stitched with black thread. The tight even stitches have held up in some places, but are beginning to loosen and break in areas such as the waist and side seams. The garment is unlined, thus making all internal seams visible. The unfinished edges of the seam allowances are significantly frayed. Along the dress’s inner neckline is a Jack Liebman label. It reads “Original Fashion Preferred Styled by Jack Liebman”.

In addition to the intermittent seam breakage, this garment shows various signs of wear. There are holes in the side bodice and back skirt seams where the thread tore completely. The Jack Liebman label is significantly discoloured. There are several dark spots, implying untreated stains. Attached to each side seam at the waist is a corded thread suggesting that at one time there may have been a belt to accompany the dress.

This dress is stylish and unique, however it lacks fine details such as lining and high quality thread. Because of the absence of refinement in this garment’s construction, it can be conjectured that this dress was sold at a mid-level price point. Little is known about Jack Liebman Dresses Ltd., aside from its location at 423 Major Street, Place 3008, Montreal.

The impression this dress makes is one of stylish poise. The name of the original owner is unknown; it was purchased from a Salvation Army store in 1965 by collector Alan Suddon (note 3). The unique pattern and interesting details combine to conjure an image of an elegant Canadian woman marching through the cobblestone streets of Montreal in this flowing dress. The fabric would swoosh around her knees as she walked and the hip panels would bounce slightly with each step. This woman would match the crowd with her broadly padded shoulders and cinched natural waist, but she would stand out in it because of the boldness of the black crepe and the swirling, playful print that adorns it. The silhouette is very indicative of the 1940s and suggests femininity, poise, and vitality.

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Detail of dress by Jack Liebman FRC2014.07.024 (Photographed by Hannah Dobbie)

The hip panels on this dress are reminiscent of eighteenth-century panniers. Panniers began as round hoops that attached to skirts. They gradually became flatter from front to back and wider in the hips. These caged apparatuses grew to be very large by the middle of the century; they could span as long as six feet from hip to hip (note 4). An alternative form of panniers was a bag-like structure that tied around the wearer’s waist to enhance the hips. These styles were very popular for most of the eighteenth century, however they began to fade away in the 1780s (note 5). The swooping panels on Jack Liebman’s garment act as a sort of deflated pannier. They draw attention to the hips, just as historic hoops did.

This historic reference is interesting on its own, however, it is enhanced by the choice of textile. The figures depicted on the textile are wearing crinolines; a second nod to the fashions of the past. The cage crinoline developed in the mid-nineteenth century, replacing petticoats and freeing the wearer’s legs beneath her skirt. Jessica Glasscock, a research associate at the Met Museum, describes the expansive silhouette achieved with the cage crinoline; “Made of hoops of whalebone, cane, or steel held together with cloth tapes or encased in fabric, the light, effective support of the cage crinoline allowed dresses to achieve an expanse as great or greater than that provided by the eighteenth-century panniers” (note 6). The crinoline came to replace the pannier, but both were meant to enhance and exaggerate the hips of their wearers.

It is interesting to compare the structure of seventeenth and eighteenth century bodies to the relatively free one of the 1940s. Wartime garments featured natural waists and loose, flowing skirts. Women began wearing pants. The fashions of this period were rooted in utility (note 7). Perhaps this is why Jack Liebman chose to include references to such seemingly whimsical and extravagant periods of fashion history.

An additional detail that is interesting to note is the dating of the dress. This garment came from the same period as the “New Look”. This was Dior’s first collection and it marked a shift from the days of practicality and fabric shortages to a time of prosperity and femininity. The “New Look” was famous for its cinched waist, full skirt, and extreme elegance (note 8). Jack Liebman’s dress features all of these characteristics, while also including unique hip panels that, while comparable to panniers, also resemble a peplum. Many of Dior’s designs featured peplums, as did various other garments throughout the 1950s (note 9). This Jack Liebman design is a good example of how the “New Look” echoed through fashion at different price points. Although Dior is credited with introducing the style, many designers all over the world were migrating towards these silhouettes before 1947.

Jack Liebman was a participant in the growing Canadian garment industry of the twentieth century and his garments contribute to our nation’s rich fashion history (note 10).

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Side view of Black crepe dress by Jack Liebman FRC2014.07.024  (Photographed by H.Dobbie)

Notes:

Note 1: “1940s Women’s Clothing,” University of Vermont Humanities, accessed January 15, 2017,  https://www.uvm.edu/landscape/dating/clothing_and_hair/1940s_clothing_women.php.

Note 2: The hip panels are made of two roughly rectangular panels. The shortest sides of these rectangles are sewn along centre front to the side seam and from the side seam to centre back, thus allowing the length of the panel to hang over the hip. The fabric from these panels are gathered where attached to the waist seam.

Note 3: Alan Suddon was a private collector who amassed the garments in the Suddon-Cleaver Collection. See Will Sloan, “A Stitch from Time,” Ryerson Today, December 12, 2014. http://www.ryerson.ca/news/news/General_Public/20141212-a-stitch-from-time/

Note 4: Yvette Mahe, “History of Women’s Hooped Petticoats”. Fashion In Time. 2013. www.fashionintime.org. January 19, 2017. http://www.fashionintime.org/history-womens-hooped-petticoats/3/

Note 5: To learn more about the history of panniers, visit, “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Panniers,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 19, 2017, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1973.65.2/

Note 6:  See note 5.

Note 7: See note 1.

Note 8: To learn more about Dior’s “New Look”, visit, “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Christian Dior (1905-1957),” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dior/hd_dior.htm.

Note 9: See note 8.

Note 10: To learn more about the history of Canada’s garment industry, visit, “The Garment Industry and Retailing in Canada”, Berg Fashion Library, accessed February 6, 2017, https://www-bloomsburyfashioncentral-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/products/berg-fashion-library/encyclopedia/berg-encyclopedia-of-world-dress-and-fashion-the-united-states-and-canada/the-garment-industry-and-retailing-in-canada

References:

“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Christian Dior (1905-1957),” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 23, 2017 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dior/hd_dior.htm.

“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Panniers,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 19, 2017, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1973.65.2/

Mahe Yvette, “History of Women’s Hooped Petticoats”. Fashion In Time. 2013. www.fashionintime.org. January 19, 2017. http://www.fashionintime.org/history-womens-hooped-petticoats/3/

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

“The Garment Industry and Retailing in Canada”, Berg Fashion Library, accessed February 6, 2017, https://www-bloomsburyfashioncentral-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/products/berg-fashion-library/encyclopedia/berg-encyclopedia-of-world-dress-and-fashion-the-united-states-and-canada/the-garment-industry-and-retailing-in-canada

“1940s Women’s Clothing,” University of Vermont Humanities, accessed January 15, 2017,  https://www.uvm.edu/landscape/dating/clothing_and_hair/1940s_clothing_women.php.


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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.

Frankie dress resized

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!

dress and cape

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.