Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive

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Looking forward and back

By Ingrid Mida, Fashion Research Collection Co-ordinator

The halls outside my door are mostly empty. It is the summer term and time to take inventory – literally and metaphorically. I’ll be checking what’s in boxes and on racks against the locator tags on the inventory files. It is tedious and time consuming work, but necessary to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the database, as well as make it easier for me to find artifacts requested for research appointments. I also thought it would be a good time to take stock of all that was accomplished this past year and highlight some of the projects that took place in the Fashion Research Centre.

MA Fashion students at work in the FRC

MA Fashion students at work in the FRC

My primary focus of the year was accessioning and rehousing the nearly 600 artifacts that came to Ryerson from the Cleaver-Suddon Collection. This rich collection, a legacy of the late Alan Suddon that was sustained by Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver, has added much depth to our collection, especially in terms of nineteenth century artifacts. The oldest garment dates back to 1815 and is a long sleeved morning gown in a most delicate muslin with embroidered dots. Contemporary pieces include labels like Jenny, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Pierre Cardin, and Givenchy. For a lovely photo gallery of images, please see the article by Kathleen McGouran in the Ryersonian here. I also wrote a blog post about one of my favourite pieces from that donation here. There are also many photos on my twitter page.

Schiaparelli label inside fuchsia, purple and blue turban ca. 1950s FRC2014.07.148

Schiaparelli label inside fuchsia, purple and blue turban ca. 1950s FRC2014.07.148

As well, we received about 60 artifacts from the National Ballet of Canada including a tutu that dates from one of their earliest performances. I spent some time in the National Ballet archives to understand what material might be available to students who wish to do research on these costumes and have written a paper myself called “Biography of a Tutu” which I’ve submitted for peer review. Hopefully it will serve as an example of how students might approach this type of research.

And of course, we had many visitors to the Fashion Research Centre, including several class groups from Foundation I, Curation, Scenography, and Fashion Theory II. Outside visitors included a group of visiting scholars and curators from the Jackman Humanities Institute Fashion in the Museum Working Group, as well as a group of former CN Tower elevator operators who saw my tweet about the CN tower uniform for 1976 designed by Pat McDonagh.

Ingrid Mida (in blue sweater) with Scenography Class

Ingrid Mida (in blue sweater) with Scenography Class

Graduate student projects included research into menswear tailoring, sustainability in historic terms, Japanese designers, the wardrobe of Barbara Moon, embroidery and beading techniques, pink dresses in history, and corsets.

Embroidery on black crepe evening gown, ca. 1935 FRC2014.07.422

Embroidery on black crepe evening gown, ca. 1935 FRC2014.07.422

In the absence of dedicated exhibition space, I’ve been working on small collaborative projects with other institutions to help extend our reach. A 1860s apple green silk dress ensemble laced with arsenic dye will soon go on exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto to replace the gown currently on display in the Fashion Victims exhibit there.

Apple green silk dress ensemble, ca. 1860s, FRC2014.07.406 A+B+C

Apple green silk dress ensemble, ca. 1860s, FRC2014.07.406 A+B+C


Testing for arsenic in the Physics Lab

Testing for arsenic in the Physics Lab

In spite of very limited hours of operation, the Fashion Research Centre was a busy place this past year. I look forward to welcoming more students to the FRC in the fall as the word gets out about the many treasures therein.

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Wedding slippers c.1890

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator.


Cream satin wedding slippers, c.1889-1890.
FRC1987.04.001 A+B

Dress artifacts often have complex histories. When an artifact is accepted into a collection and time permits, a detailed history is obtained from the donor and included in the object record. This type of information is invaluable to future researchers, providing contextual information and a social history for the artifact that is otherwise very difficult to obtain. Ideally each donation would be accompanied by photos of the item being worn, information on where it was purchased, how much it cost, where and when it was worn. When this type of information is recorded, it can materially affect the relative importance and value of the item within a collection.

One of my favourite artifacts in the collection is this beautiful pair of cream satin wedding slippers with a one-inch Louis heel that date back to 1889-1890. These slippers are in perfect condition with only the barest hint of a scuff on the bottom of the soles, indicating that they were worn at least once, and then were carefully stored away as a memory of the day. Like many shoes of the period, there was no left or right for the pair; shoes were supposed to be rotated to ensure even wear.


Close-up detail of the satin bow on the wedding slipper c.1889-1890. FRC1987.04.001 A

The donor, Ruth D. wrote a letter that is on file that gives the history of these slippers.

These were wedding slippers of Mary Lawson of Caledon who wed Edward Dowling (a telegraph operator) of Bolton in either 1889 or 1890. There is no record of where the marriage took place – either Bolton or Caledon. Miss Lawson had a sister who lived in Buffalo so the slippers may have been purchased there. For the wedding, Miss Lawson wore a pale grey, long satin dress.

These shoes are important artifacts because of their social history. The fact that they were worn with a pale grey, long satin dress is also interesting. Although it was not unusual to wear a wedding dress that was not white, cream slippers would more typically have been worn with a cream wedding dress. How I wish I had a photo of the wedding couple!

To see other examples of wedding slippers of this type, online collections with similar shoes include:

Costume Institute at the Met:

1880 cream leather wedding slippers: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/112828?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=Wedding+slippers+1890&pos=13

1894 cream silk and leather wedding slippers: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/113196?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=Wedding+slippers+1890&pos=15

Oakland Museum:

1887 cream satin wedding slippers: http://collections.museumca.org/?q=collection-item/h4623138

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection only has a small number of select shoes in the collection, since students and faculty have relatively easy access to the vast collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, which is nearby. Nevertheless, artifacts such as this lovely pair of wedding slippers that have a social history have been retained in the Collection.

For further reading on 19th-century dress: 

Beaudoin-Ross, Jacquelin. Form and Fashion: Nineteenth-Century Montreal Dress. Montréal, Québec: Musée McCord d’histoire canadienne, 1992. Print.

Beaujot, Ariel. Victorian Fashion Accessories. London: Berg, 2012. Print.

Blum, Stella, ed. Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazaar 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, 1974. Print.

Brett, Katharine B. Modesty to Mod: Dress and Underdress in Canada 1780-1967. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967. Print.

—. Women’s Costume in Ontario, 1867-1907. Ed. Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, University of Toronto, 1966. Print.

Perrot, Philippe. Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. Print.

This project was made possible by a grant from the Learning & Teaching Office of Ryerson University.