Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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The Journey of a Chinese Robe: Part 1

Unlike Europe where a dragon is a representation of evil, dragons are a sacred symbol in Chinese culture as bringers of strength and good fortune. Dragons, although a mythical creature, are composites of real animals with “the trunk of a snake, scales of a carp, tail of a whale, antlers of a stag, face of a camel, talons of eagles, ears of bull, feet of a tiger, and the eyes of a lobster” (note 1). Strategically placed dragons have been intricately woven into this traditional men’s robe (FRC2016.01.001 shown in the photo below) housed in Ryerson’s Fashion Research Collection. It was the dragons on this robe as well as my Chinese heritage that led me to study this artifact.

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Front of jifu FRC2016.01.001. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

Using the object-based research approach from The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim (note 2), I will write a series of four blog posts about this robe. In part I, I introduce the garment and the original owner. In Part II, I take a closer look at the construction of the garment and in Part III consider the symbolism. To conclude the series of posts in Part IV,  I examine similar robes from the collection of the Textile Museum of Canada.

A robe, also known as a jifu, is a full-length garment worn to semi-formal occasions such as in court or serving the Manchu imperial government. A jifu was the official costume of the Chi’ing period (note 3).

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Back of man’s jifu FRC2016.01.001. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

This robe was dated to 1892 and 1903 based on extensive family history provided by the donor. The original owner of the robe, Philip Brunelleschi Cousland, was born on July 12, 1861 in Glasgow, Scotland. At the age of 21, he earned his Bachelor of Medicine and Doctor of Medicine from Edinburgh University (note 4).

Philip

Philip Brunelleschi Cousland. Photo provided by donor.

As a member of the Barclay Church and the Medical Missionary Society, Philip travelled to the South of China where he lived in Swatow, now known as Shantou, for three years and worked in the local hospital to treat patients. Philip then travelled 30 miles up the river to Chao-Chow-Fu, a walled city with no doctors or hospitals intending to provide medical care. Philip received a very hostile reception as “foreign devils” had not been seen there before and although he was not allowed to preach, he earned the community’s trust and treated up to 100 patients a day.

In 1892, Philip travelled home to Scotland. On his way back to China via Victoria, British Columbia, he met a missionary teacher named Susan Harrington. The two were married in Hong Kong in March 1893 and had three children.

Family

From left, top row: Philip and Clyde. Second row: Jessie, wife Susan and Kenneth. Photo provided by donor.

The family lived in Chao-Chow-Fu, and land was purchased there to build a hospital in 1894. At first, many local people opposed this idea, but after rebuilding the walls which had been broken down three times, the Burns Memorial Hospital opened in March of 1896. It was sometime thereafter, but before 1905, when he left China, that Philip received the robe and a number of related textiles as a gift in honour of his work in the community.

In the subsequent years, Philip returned to China periodically to write medical textbooks. He also served for three years as the president of the Council on Publication of the China Medical Missionary Association and helped in the formation of the Nurses Association of China. His work was acknowledged by the Chinese government with the Order of the Golden Sheaf. Philip died on July 7, 1930 in Victoria, British Columbia.

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FRC2016.01.001. Close up of collar. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

Passed down through the family as a keepsake, this robe was donated to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection in 2016 so that it may be examined and studied by students and visiting scholars. After a long journey of 12,378 km from Shantou to Toronto, this robe is now in its final resting place in FRC storage. 

Notes

Note 1: Chinese dragon. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Chinese_dragon

Note 2: Mida, I., & Kim, A. (2015). The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca

Note 3: Collections. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://collections.textilemuseum.ca/index.cfm?page=collection.detail&catId=10013&row=123

Note 4: Written family history provided by the donor.

This post was edited by Ingrid Mida.


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Reading a Cape: Part III

According to dress historian and curator Ingrid Mida, when an item is donated to a collection, the donor can sometimes provide information that helps to date a particular garment. In this case, the donor thought that the cape might have belonged to her grandmother but it might also have belonged to another member of the family. Like many garments that are treasured for many years in the family home, memories fade and that information has been lost.

Dating a cape is more challenging than dating a dress since the general shape of a cape is largely the same whatever period it originated in. In the comparative analysis presented in part II of the series, I observed that the materials used and the type of embellishment on this cape confirmed the date of origin as the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. In this final blog post in the series, I will compare the label in this cape to that of other T. Eaton Co. garments in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection to match fonts and attempt to more precisely date this garment.

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Using the label to help date a garment is one method to narrow the range of manufacture according to dress historian and curator Ingrid Mida. With an interest in graphic design, I decided to use my knowledge of typography to do exactly that. Fonts go in and out of fashion like anything else. For example, the popularity of blackletter in the fifteen century or the sans serif styles of the 1930s (note 1). With the knowledge of these patterns and when fonts were created, we can determine a more precise date for when this garment was manufactured.

Even so, determining the font used on a label can be tricky. Labels, unlike books for example, are not printed, they are woven. This can make it difficult to make a font appear exactly like it would be printed on a piece of paper using a press. The corners would not be as sharp nor the curves as smooth. Taking this into consideration, I combed through many fonts that were popular at the time to determine which was used on each label. While it is definitely possible that these fonts were used on the labels after the date of creation, it still provides a starting point and suggests the garments were made sometime after that year.

The T. Eaton Company was founded in Toronto in 1869 by Timothy Eaton and in 1905 expanded operations to Winnipeg. Over time, its retail operations spread across Canada (­­­­­note 2). Over the course of the history of the company, different labels appeared in garments and are associated with various fashions in fonts. In the four comparable garments that I examined, the general logo of the T. Eaton Company label remained the same. However, a different font was used for each one. As well, other information on the label also changed. For example, one label says “Made in France for T. Eaton Co” while another whereas another reads “T. Eaton Co. 190 Yonge St. Toronto”.

A black wool cape (FRC2014.07.457) dated to the 1890s (shown below) uses the font Akzidenz-Grotesk Condensed. This font was released in 1898 and designed by Ferdinand Theinhardt for Berlin’s Berthold Type Foundry (note 3). It is sometimes referred to as Basic Commercial or Standard in English-speaking countries. Therefore, the garment was made after 1898.

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FRC2014.07.457. Label in Cape. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

The label in a white sheer cotton blouse (FRC2014.99.001) is shown below. This blouse was dated to 1900-1910. The font used for this label is also Akzidenz-Grotesk, however it is not the condensed version rather the regular version which was also released in 1898. Therefore, this garment was also manufactured sometime after 1898.

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FRC2014.99.001. Label in Blouse. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

A black silk shirtwaist (FRC2008.03.007) was also dated to 1900-1910 based on the silhouette. However, the font used on this label is Franklin Gothic Condensed. Franklin Gothic was named after Benjamin Franklin. It was drawn in 1902 by Morris Fuller Benton but released in 1905 by the International Typeface Corporation (note 4). The condensed version was not released until approximately a year later when the family was expanded to include italic and extra condensed (note 5). In addition, the first T. Eaton Co. store in Winnipeg opened in 1905 therefore this garment could not predate that (note 6). Taking this information into consideration, this garment was not manufactured until at least 1905.

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FRC2008.03.007. Label in Shirtwaist. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

The font used on the label of the cape being studied is the original Franklin Gothic which was released in 1905 therefore the garment must have been manufactured sometime after that (note 7). However, the exact date of manufacture cannot be determined from an analysis of the fonts alone since font usage is not limited to the year they were created. However, at a minimum it tells me that the cape was made sometime after 1905.

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FRC2017.05.004. T Eaton Label. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

Sans serif fonts like Akzidenz-Grotesk and Franklin Gothic were considered grotesque fonts because they were viewed as ugly compared to the serif and Roman styles before them (note 8). However, in present day they are considered clean and minimalist being widely used everywhere. These sans serif fonts were used for labels because they contain less decorative elements such as serifs, making them easier to weave.

Capes are a type of garment that is difficult to date based on the silhouette. The inclusion of the address on the label indicates that the cape must have been made between 1882 and 1930, when the store moved to a location at Yonge & College (Note 2.) The analysis of typography indicates that this garment was made sometime after 1905. Putting that information together with the knowledge gained from my comparative analysis of capes in Part II, I suggest that the cape can be dated to 1905-1910. 

Notes

Note 1: Haley, A., Poulin, R., Tselentis, J., Seddon, T., Leonidas, G., Saltz, I., … Alterman, T. (2012). Typography referenced: A comprehensive visual guide to the language, history and practice of typography. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers.

Note 2: McQuarrie, J. (2017, August 14). Eaton’s. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/t-eaton-company-limited/

Note 3: see note 1.

Note 4: Jacobs, M. (2017, October 20). Franklin gothic font family. Retrieved from https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/typography/font-list/franklin-gothic

Note 5: see note 4.

Note 6: see note 2.

Note 7: see note 1.

Note 8: Harding, M. (2017, August 21). What are grotesque fonts? history, inspiration and examples. Retrieved from https://creativemarket.com/blog/grotesque-fontsv

This post was edited by Ingrid Mida.

 

 


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Reading a Cape: Part II

In Part I of this blog post series, I considered the construction of a T. Eaton Company cape (FRC2017.05.004 shown in the photo below) in terms of fabric, surface decoration and function. In this blog post, I undertake a comparative analysis of capes as suggested in the Reflection checklist from The Dress Detective (note 1). 

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T. Eaton Company Cape FRC2017.05.004

A cape from T. Eaton Co. dating to the 1890s and shown below (FRC2014.07.457) is shorter in length than the cape being studied, but the black wool fabrics are very similar. Although this cape would probably not be worn in the middle of a cold Canadian winter, it would still provide some degree of warmth since it is made of wool. This wool has also been woven into a twill weave, similar to FRC2017.05.004. Instead of velvet appliques, this cape features decorative beading and a frilled hem and collar.

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FRC2014.07.457. T. Eaton Co. Cape. Photograph by Millie Yates.

This 1890s cape shown in the photo below (FRC2014.07.160) is about half of the length of the cape being studied and likely made to be worn in the evening. It is made from black velvet with a fur trimmed collar and hook and eye fasteners. The most strikingly similar feature to FRC2017.05.004 is the embellishment of hand-sewn floral braid that spans the entire surface of the cape.

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FRC2014.07.160. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

Another evening cape (FRC2014.07.156) from the 1890s is made of black velvet, with a short mandarin collar and a silk tie and lining. Floral cutwork decoration and beading embellish the shell of this cape. Its surface decoration is quite similar to the cape being studied, even though it is much shorter in length. This floral surface decoration on both these evening capes leads me to believe that this was a popular style at the time.

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FRC2014.07.156. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

In considering capes from other collections, I identified two capes with Bertha collars that are similar in styling to the T. Eaton cape that is the focus of my project. The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a similar cape (C.I.41.78.1) that dates back to 1901. Although this garment was made in America, the styles are similar. Made out of a plaid wool, the cape has an identical long Bertha collar in addition to a short turned down collar.

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Cape from the Costume Institute Metropolitan Museum of Art. C.I.41.78.1

The collection of  the Victoria and Albert Museum includes a cape (T.333-1995) that is also similar in styling. Made of a deep, moss green wool, the cape also has a long Bertha collar, similar to the collar of the cape being studied. However, instead of a stand collar, it has a small turned down collar. Dated to 1905 and identified as originating from France, this cape illustrates how fashion is a global phenomenon. 

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Cape from the Victoria & Albert Museum T.333-1995

Capes are one-size fits all garments and especially suitable to wear over the fashions of gigot sleeves in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Gigot sleeves were snug at the elbow and full at the shoulder making them quite large (note 2). Therefore, a fitted coat would not easily fit over the large sleeves, making a cape a more suitable option for the cold weather. Some of the capes considered above would have been worn mainly for warmth and others for style. The T. Eaton cape that is the focus of my study is both stylish and warm and this comparison shows that it fits within the fashions for capes of the time. 

Notes 

­­­­­­­Note 1: Mida, I., & Kim, A. (2015). The Dress Detective: a practical guide to object-based research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic.

Note 2: From paris: The gigot sleeve. (1905, Jan 26). Vogue, 25, 123. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/879154695?accountid=13631

Edited by Ingrid Mida.


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Reading a Cape: Part I

Ryerson’s Fashion Research Collection is home to many capes ranging from evening capes to nursing capes, but one in particular caught my eye. This stunning full-length wool cape with velvet appliques and a bear fur collar had me in awe at first glance (FRC2017.05.004). It is bold, striking and emanates a sense of power. Donated by Mary Wyatt, it is believed that this garment was worn by her grandmother who lived in Carleton Place, a small town not too far from Ottawa, Ontario and was dated to the 1900s (note 1).

Intrigued by the beauty of this specific garment, I did a close reading of the garment following the approach outlined by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim in The Dress Detective (note 2). In part I of a series of three blog posts, I will consider the construction of the cape. In Part II, I will compare this cape to others of the same time period. In Part III, I will compare the labels of different T. Eaton Co. garments to more precisely date this garment.

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FRC2017.05.004. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

Manufactured by the T. Eaton Company, this cape is made of natural materials – wool, silk and fur. The outer shell is a very fine wool woven into a twill weave producing horizontal ridges. The lining is made of a smooth, black silk which would help to regulate the body temperature and wick away moisture. It is evident that this cape has been worn until no longer possible as the lining is fraying and has shredded beyond repair. After the cape was donated to the FRC, mesh was sewn on to prevent further damage. In between the outer and inner layers, there is an interfacing made of wool felt, which would have provided an extra layer of warmth.

The outer wool layer is constructed of two pieces with a center back seam, whereas the inner lining of silk is made up of four pieces. The flared cape is 40 inches/101 cm long from neckline to hem and would fall to about shin length. The use of machine-stitching is consistent with the dating of this garment to the early 1900s. The machine stitching of the seams is not visible except under the Bertha collar. Hand-stitching is evident in the ruched pocket decoration and in attaching the label.

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FRC2017.05.004. Illustration of Cape Body (excluding collars) by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

The cape has three collars that layer over each other. The first layer is a large stand collar that sits close to the neck. The outer side, facing away from the wearer is decorated with floral velvet appliques. To add warmth and decoration, the inner side of the collar which would touch the neck is lined with bear fur. This is the most striking and unique aspect of the garment. The fur is in immaculate condition with the exception of an area that has become slightly matted from touching the back of the neck. The fur is smooth to the touch and would keep the wearer warm. The second and third collars are considered Bertha collars which drape over the shoulders, almost as if they were short capes. The top Bertha collar is sewn into the neckline with the stand collar and the under-Bertha is attached about 4 inches/10 cm down from there. The left side of the under-Bertha is slightly detached at the centre, likely due to use/wear.

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FRC2017.05.004. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

The collars are not the only areas that have been embellished with black velvet appliques. Machine sewn onto the lower half of the cape is a large section of the same appliques that runs around the entire garment. This section is about 10 inches/25 cm wide.

Keeping the cape fastened are seven hook and eye closures, two on the collar and five on the front. They are spaced 3 inches/7.5 cm apart, stopping just under halfway down the bodice. The eye portions are made of metal and wrapped with thread. The first and third eyes are fraying, exposing the metal. The hooks are also made of metal; however, they have been painted black. On the left side of the garment is an extension made of the same wool fabric about 1 inch/2.5 cm wide resting underneath the closures to prevent them from touching the wearer. The eyes have caused fraying and discolouration turning the black wool a rusty yellow-orange colour.

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FRC2017.05.004. Detail of frayed part of extension. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018

Three pockets are located in the lining of the garment. Two of which are placed vertically on either side of the centre front opening. The pockets are placed towards centre front for easy access. Decorating the 4 inch/10 cm opening, pieces of ruched fabric and bows have been hand sewn on, but are now slightly coming detached due to the delicate nature. The pockets are about 3.5 inches/9 cm wide and are located about 14 inches/35 cm down the centre front. They have been placed here so they could be reached easily by simply bending the arm at the elbow. These pockets are quite small, but would fit small objects like a watch or a key. An additional pocket is located horizontally on the left side of the cape. Its 6 inch/15 cm opening is decorated with the same ruching and bows. This pocket is 7.5 inches/19 cm wide located at about 19 inches/48 cm down centre front and about 7.5 inches/19 cm in. This puts the pocket at about hip level at the side of the body. This larger pocket could be used for objects such as money and gloves. In addition to the wool interfacing and fur collar which would provide warmth, the pockets make this cape even more practical.

The cape includes a manufacturers label that reads “The T. Eaton Co. Limited. 190 Yonge St. Toronto” written in white on a black background. The label is approximately 1 inch/2.5 cm wide by 2 inches/5 cm long. This label will be further examined in Part III to more precisely date this garment.

Given the fabrics used, the number of pockets and the style of the cape, this garment is both beautiful and functional. The hand sewn decorative touches, visible selvedge within the seams and use of high quality materials makes it evident this garment was created with a high degree of care and attention to detail. A garment like this would likely be worn by someone of means. In the next post in the series, I will compare this cape to others manufactured around this time.

Notes

Note 1: Email communication between Ingrid Mida and Mary Wyatt.

Note 2: Mida, I., & Kim, A. (2015). The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca

Edited by Ingrid Mida.


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A Weston & Wells Reversible Plated Bustle

by Christine Gow

Much like the clothes that parade down the catwalks of the world’s fashion capitals, the fashionable female body is also subject to the cyclical whims of taste. When we manage to attain the unattainable—that year’s bump, lump, or lack thereof du jour—we tire of it and move on. Take, for example, the statuesque supermodels of the late 80s, who gave way to heroin chic’s Kate Moss in 1993; she, in turn, conceded the crown to a gravity-defying Gisele Bündchen at the end of that decade. While boy-slim silhouettes still dominate the pages of high fashion magazines in 2017, pop culture has permeated the arena of health and beauty and overinflated boobs and butts provide a shapely foil to the tiny waists of a million social media feeds.

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Reversible Player Bustle c.1885

It is with this in mind that I ask Ingrid Mida, curator of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and author of The Dress Detective, to show me the selection of bustles in her care. The idea of temporarily exaggerating one’s shape with a strap-on 3D form appeals, having once had a costly brush with dermatological fillers (lips, $1600, looked like a platypus for six months). “Bustles,” Ingrid replies, “are so fun. We have a whole variety of them—in different materials, shapes etc. I will bring out the whole box.” She is right—the collection hosts a plethora of styles from the bustle’s hey day in the 1870s and 80s. Here, I must note, that bustles were conceived as a way to support the elaborate and heavy draping and embellishments of the dresses of the time, not as a way to give the impression of a larger-than-average bum. In Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazar: 1867-1898, Stella Blum explains that “the knees had been freed by this time, and the trains for day disappeared for easier walking, but the weight of these costumes and the structures needed to support the huge rear extension added little to increase mobility. Many of the fabrics were upholstery like in quality, made heavier by the profuse use of beading, fringes, braids and furs” (1974). When viewed from the side as was intended this rear profile looked like the backend of a horse.

Blum also describes how our perpetual ennui is the primary catalyst of change in fashion, stating how “it often manifests itself as a dissatisfaction with the original shape of the body and seeks expression in a wide variety of anatomical constrictions and distensions.” From her vantage point in the 1970s, she felt that “of these deviations from the natural, none is so difficult for the modern eye to justify in terms of esthetics, comfort or practicality as the form considered fashionable in the mid-1880s.”  Ms. Blum clearly did not anticipate the impact Kim Kardashian or Nicki Minaj would have on the desired female form in the new millennium at the time of her writing.

The mid-1880s is known as the high bustle period, as in the 1870s a much lower profile was in fashion (Peteu and Gray 2008). Harold Koda, curator of The Met’s Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed exhibition in 2001, explains how “the silhouette of the 1880s was created with corsetry and “dress improvers” such as (the) wire-mesh bustle. Structured foundation garments exaggerated the sexually-dimorphic curves of the female body.” What was then achieved with wire mesh is now the domain of gym squats and implants, but Koda points out that the shape women sought with the bustle was nothing new, even then: it was a “deliberate revival of the “bum rolls” and “half-farthingales” of the Baroque era. The height of this style peaked in 1887 and 1888 and “can be explained by the competition between Thomas P. Taylor and Henry O. Canfield (both of Bridgeport, Connecticut) to invent a viable folding bustle” (Peteu and Gray 2008).

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Label on bustle FRC2013.99.001

The bustle I find the most interesting within Ryerson’s collection is precisely this type, though not because of the wire-mesh, double croissant-like shape, or intriguing combination of straps and laces. This one is the only one with any sort of maker’s mark. “THE REVERSIBLE PLATED BUSTLE”, proclaims the neat red print on the cotton twill tape used to secure the wire form to the wearer, the vestiges of a patent number barely visible in faded ink below. “MADE ONLY BY THE WESTON & WELLS MANUFACTURING CO.” in Philadelphia, P.A., by “AN AMERICAN BRAIDED WIRE CO.”, this bustle speaks of American ingenuity in a newly industrial world, and thus, in a sense, of the American dream. I love the perky sense of optimism this fashion invention projects. Dated to circa 1885, the bustle’s original owner is unknown, having come to Ryerson through the vast Cleaver-Suddon donation, a collection of artifacts amassed by fine arts librarian Alan Suddon and acquired in 2001 by Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver on his passing.

As you can well imagine, a rigid metal structure strapped to your behind would make sitting rather awkward, and innovations in bustle making stemmed from inventors looking to solve this problem. Koda explains that these were normally “attached only by a waistband, so that they could shift or lift when the wearer sat. Frequently, they were collapsible, but even in those cases, a woman was required to shift her bustle to the side and perch on the edge of her seat”. It seems ironic that at this time women began to actively participate in sports, even daring to try such masculine pursuits as yachting and fencing. It mattered little what a woman was doing; in order to remain fashionable she still had to wear a corset and bustle—even when running around a tennis court (Blum 1974). This sport, I posit, could well have been the purpose of my ‘reversible plated bustle’, though a little further research tells me that her manufacturer was a purveyor of “torsion braided wire springs for carriage cushions and backs” (Fitz-Gerald 1896).

Perhaps Weston & Wells were only concerned with the comfort of a lady’s backside while seated; of the bustles patented between 1887 and 1888, “when the most extreme protruding bustles were in fashion, 44% were for folding bustles to aid in sitting.” Innovation in this area required engineering adeptness, as these contraptions needed to be robust enough to offer significant support, fold when the lady sat, and spring back into shape when she rose. In an 1888 bustle patent, inventor Alice White described the extreme “mortification of the wearer” should her bustle tangle and not regain its intended shape (Peteu and Gray 2008). Though bustle patents outnumber those of other shaping garments (there were 261 between 1846 and 1920, versus 205 hoop patents in the same period), it is only after 1890 that patent records show a major turn in attention to skirts designed for sports and professional activities. “Shaping devices followed the generally accepted timeline for fashionable silhouettes, indicating market demand as a patent incentive” (Peteu and Gray 2008).

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Did the wearer of this bustle use it in her attempts to chase a ball around a clay court from the confines of a corset and gown? If she did, this lightweight add-on would have been the least of her worries. The light soiling on the straps suggests excessive perspiration did not manage to escape her corset and petticoat, which could mean the sport was played at a more leisurely pace, or that the corset had formidable powers of absorption (the torn loop where the bustle would attach to the corset and missing stainless cap at the end of one lace indicate that perhaps she did engage in athletic pursuits of some kind). A certain level of plainness was mercifully acceptable in sporting ensembles at this time, but it could well have been that this lady’s greatest concern was not how many points she could win but simply how best to sit. Although extreme rear profiles were only favored for a short while within the two decades of the bustle’s prime, the undergarment itself would remain fashionable in much subtler incarnations into the next century. Surprisingly, Peteu and Gray found that four patents were filed between 1921 and 2007, indicating there exists those who still champion its cause. In any case, it is either the masterful engineering or the short time this bustle was on trend that accounts for its relatively well-kept condition.

American anthropologist Igor Kopytoff writes: “commodities must be not only produced materially as things, but also culturally marked as being a certain kind of thing. Out of the total range of things available in a society, only some of them are considered appropriate for marking as commodities. Moreover, the same thing may be treated as a commodity at one time and not at another. And finally, the same thing may, at the same time, be seen as a commodity by one person and something else by another.”

From valued undergarment to artifact—practically overnight, in the grand scheme of things—I am thankful that when millions of these bustles were relegated to the scrap heap in 1889 or 90, a lady somewhere tucked this particular one into the farthest reaches of her closet, perhaps hoping that it would one day again come back into fashion.

Works Cited

Blum, Stella. 1974. Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazaar, 1867-1898. Dover Publications.

Fitz-Gerald, William N. The Automotive Manufacturer. Vol. 37. New York City, N.Y.: Trade News Publishing Co., 1896.

Koda, Harold. Extreme Beauty: the Body Transformed (The Costume Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 6, 2001 – March 17, 2002). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.

Kopytoff, I. 1986. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective.

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

Peteu, M. C., and S. Helvenston Gray. 2008. “Clothing Invention: Improving the Functionality of Women’s Skirts, 1846-1920.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 27 (1): 45–61.

Sloan, Will. “A Stitch from Time” Ryerson University. December 12, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2017. http://www.ryerson.ca/news/news/General_Public/20141212-a-stitch-from- time/.

Christine Gow is an MA Fashion candidate and communications professional, researching how the fashion industry could actively subvert dominant cultural narratives surrounding female consumers over the age of 40 and this market’s digital engagement within omni-channel fashion retail.

This blog post was part of an object-based research assignment for MA Theory II and has been edited 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.