FHM’s Tango Tea

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo demonstrate the Tango

Tango Teas were a popular pastime in polite society from the early 1910s well into the early 1930s. Dressed for the afternoon in hats and gloves, ladies and gentlemen took tea in palm-filled hotel courts while viewing a fashion parade and demonstrations of the latest dances. It was a safe environment, free of vice and scandal.

This was the inspiration for the Fashion History Museum’s Fall event this year. Last year the FHM held a Regency Ball in honour of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, but this year the festivities skipped a century to honour the centennial of the end of the Great War, and of Canadian women winning the vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Diane Gallinger, convinces guests to support women’s rights to vote.

The event began with the tea, for those wanting something cold, coca-cola was offered in the classic curvy glass bottles, first marketed in 1916. A selection of finger sandwiches, including a period favourite of olive, walnut, and cream cheese for vegetarians (a growing trend in the 1910s), and sweets, which included chocolate squares (dubbed ‘brownies’ in 1906) and doughnuts – a popular treat offered servicemen by the Red Cross and other aid societies. U.S. soldiers liked doughtnuts so much, they became known as ‘doughboys’.

Next on the menu were a series of games: Name That Tune, a couple of product pricing games courtesy of The Price is Right, and a round of What’s My Line, with a special guest appearance by English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst – quickly identified by our panel after only two questions! Mrs. Pankhurst then gave a rousing speech for the women’s vote before we started into the featured event of the day.

Alys Mak-Pilsworth wearing her blue striped peg-top dress with pink sash – a dress she finished just hours before the event!

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo were flown in from San Francisco to demonstrate and teach the popular dances of the decade. Two classes earlier in the day were offered for keeners, but we were assured that as long as you can walk and count, you can dance most of the 1910s dances. The afternoon included a mix of tangos, Castle Walks, and the Maxixe, as well as a zoo of novelty animal dances: The Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, and the more familiar Foxtrot.

For those wanting to take a break from dancing, there were silent films in an adjacent room including the first film in which Charlie Chaplin appears as his Little Tramp character, as well as a couple of Suffragetto board games.

It was a fabulous bit of fun, and unknown to the guests, there were only a few backstage dramas, like a broken hot water urn, and forgotten teacups. The event would not have been possible without the help of the staff (Alys Mak-Pilsworth, Emily Jackson, Shany Engelhardt, and Bria Dietrich), and volunteers (Nikita Byrne-Mamahit, Fiona Thistle, Susan Walford, Diane Gallinger, and especially Rose Mak!)

I know there is a lot of interest in a 1920s event, and we will do one eventually, but I think for next year we are looking at either a WWII Victory dance, or maybe a Victorian cotillion… we are already working on the details.

Everyone gets into the One-step

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Why the BIG todo over white after Labour Day?

Even though it’s a bit of a joke, every year some fashion magazine or blog brings up the ‘no white after Labour day’ rule. But there never really was a ‘rule’.

Until the 19th century white was an impractical and unaffordable colour to maintain. However, a series of developments in the 19th century changed all that:

Firstly, cotton became much cheaper to buy, thanks to the invention of the cotton gin. While most cotton in the 18th century was printed for outerwear, partly as a way to obscure staining, by the early 1800s, plain white cotton dresses became a high fashion statement. Cleaning methods were also improving during the 19th century, making white an easier colour to maintain. Peroxide and chlorine bleaches became the ultimate cleaning methods for keeping white clothing snowy white.

Secondly, fashion, which was still European in origin during the 19th century, was adapted for colonial climates. India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America were hot and humid, and dark wool suits and dresses were displaced by white wool, linen, and lightweight cotton as more suitable materials for the climate.

Thirdly, the middle class was becoming wealthier and more influential during the 19th century, and they had more leisure time. Coal-fueled townhouses and sooty industries made white an impractical colour for most of the year, but for summer holidays in the mountains or seaside, white clothing and ice cream helped to keep everyone cool.

Fourthly, sportswear was a new concept in the late 19th century, but as men and women took up the fashionable sports of tennis, badminton, croquet, and lawn bowling, crisp white clothing was the perfect way to look good, keep cool, and hide sweat. Wimbledon still retains a white-clothing rule for its players.

Labour Day was first observed in 1872 in Canada, and in 1894 in the United States, and the early September date soon became the unofficial end of the summer season. Before global warming, September was also the beginning of cooler weather, harvest, the resumption of school and university classes, and general business as usual.

By the 1950s air conditioning was still a luxury for most households, but it was becoming standard in office buildings. More workers were also buying automobiles and living in leafy suburbs – the seasons began to blur. Winter holidays were becoming more popular as summers became more bearable. It was in this postwar era, when white was no longer primarily a practical choice for beating the heat that the unspoken tradition for wearing white in summer began to break down. Women’s magazines began to suggest white as an inappropriate colour to wear after Labour Day, unless you were a bride. This ‘rule’ was only made up as the tradition dwindled in importance each year until only white shoes were considered inappropriate for wear after Labour Day. Now, that too is no longer a consideration in our age of year-round sandals, sneakers, and flip-flops worn in the office.

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Fashion in Song – Got a Pair of New Shoes (1937)

From the 1937 film Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, Judy Garland sings this song, or parts of it, throughout the film:

I spent my money today on something I had my heart set,
Just like a lady in vogue I feel like one of the smart set.
I didn’t buy pearls like other girls; I didn’t buy diamond rings,
I didn’t buy clothes of fancy hose or a canary bird that sings.
But I got a pair of new shoes, polished up and paid for
Honey, they were made for going to town.

Got a pair of new shoes, pretty patent leather,
Ought to get together going to town
Prouder than a peacock strutting down the street,
Haven’t you heard I’m like a bird with wings on my feet,
Cause I got a pair of new shoes polished up and paid for
Honey, they were made for going to town.

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Fashion Humour

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Berlin Felt and Rumpel Felt Companies

Born in Saxony on May 10, 1850, (Johann) George Rumpel completed his schooling at the age of fourteen and then apprenticed as a shoemaker with a three year  indenture. George then followed his two older brothers example & immigrated to Canada, settling in Hamilton, Ontario in 1868. He found employment at The John McPherson Co., manufacturers of boots and shoes, and in 1872 married Wilhelmine (Minna) Hartmann.

In 1875 the couple moved to Berlin, Ontario and for two years George worked at the Berlin Felt Boot Company, which had been founded in 1871 by Jacob Shantz in the basement of a button factory at King and Railway (College) streets. In 1879 George bought out the felt business and relocated it to a former tobacco manufacturer at Victoria & Waterloo Streets to be nearer the Grand Trunk Railway station.

Berlin Felt Boot Company, c. 1892

In 1886 Rumpel exhibited a pair of felt knee-high Wellington boots at the ‘Colonial and Indian Exhibition’ in London, England. A few years later he presented examples of his ‘lumberman’s socks’ in Paris (these were felt boots, worn as liners with rubber boots.) In 1903 George travelled to Germany to study advances made in the manufacture of felt and purchased machinery & equipment to expand his production.

On 16 February 1904, disaster struck the Berlin Felt Boot Company when fire consumed two of the factories. As the buildings collapsed, smoldering embers were blown across town, but a heavy snow covering on roofs kept the fire from spreading. Only two buildings of the Berlin Felt Boots Company remained – a small factory, and a large storehouse.

Rumpel was a well-known Berlin citizen. His home at King and Cameron streets was considered one of the finest in Berlin, and he was a member of town council for eight years before serving as mayor of the town of Berlin in 1898.

Rumpel sold his business in 1909 to a Montreal investor who created The Consolidated Felt Company from the amalgamation of the Berlin Felt Boot Company, Kimmel Felt Company, and Elmira Felt Company. Rumpel stayed on as president until 1912 when he left to create the Walter G. Rumpel Felt Company for his son Walter. The company made felt for a variety of purposes – boot liners, saddlery, insulation… The following year Rumpel created The Oscar Rumpel Shoe Manufacturing Company, which specialized in felt slippers, for his son Oscar. George Rumpel died in 1916, the same year Berlin’s name was changed to Kitchener.

Rumpel Felt Company, built 1912/13

By the time Walter’s son John Rumpel took over the business after Walter’s death in 1944, the business had been renamed the Rumpel Felt Company. In 1966, John’s son David joined the business. The company was closed shortly before John’s death at the age of 92 in 2008. The 1912/13 factory built by George, near the original 1879 location, was purchased by the Region of Waterloo and has been given a heritage designation.

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Was there ever a summer without a tennis fashion scandal?

When tennis really was a fashionable, social game…

This year the big tennis fashion todo is over Serena Williams’ black catsuit at the French Open. I think she made a mistake by suggesting it was for health reasons since there are plenty of options for loose clothing and compression tights that would have been within tournament rules that were also suitable attire for avoiding blood clots.

Serena and her sister Venus have a history of shocking attire on the courts, wearing outfits of non-traditional colours and patterns. The controversy over the catsuit shouldn’t have come as a surprise since there was already precedence set by Wimbledon when it banned catsuits in 1985 after Anne White wore one, even though it was white, in compliance with Wimbledon’s all-white clothing rule. However, next to shorts and a polo top, Williams’ catsuit was a practical choice and, in black, looked far better on Serena than the long-johns look of the white catsuit worn by Anne White.

This sport has a history of fashion controversy: Baby doll dresses, logos and branding, coloured outfits, lace trimmed panties, nude coloured panties, no bras, flag sweatbands, flashy jackets or bags, jewellery, skirts cut too high, tops cut too low – it’s always something.

With catsuits now banned, Serena opted yesterday to wear a tutu instead…

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Fashion in Song – Dedicated Follower of Fashion (1966)

This song is lampooning the Carnaby street world of English mod boutique culture and those who followed every latest craze. The Kinks songwriter Ray Davies claims he wrote the lyrics for Dedicated Follower of Fashion after having an argument with a fashion designer at a party about the slavish conformity of fashion.

The song was released on February 25, 1966 and was a hit, although The Kinks themselves were never happy with the final version that was released.

They seek him here, they seek him there
His clothes are loud, but never square
It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion

And when he does his little rounds
‘Round the boutiques of London Town
Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is)
He thinks he is a flower to be looked at
And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight
He feels a dedicated follower of fashion

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is)
There’s one thing that he loves and that is flattery
One week he’s in polka-dots, the next week he is in stripes
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion

They seek him here, they seek him there
In Regent Street and Leicester Square
Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on
Each one an dedicated follower of fashion

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is)
His world is built ’round discotheques and parties
This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is)
He flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly
In matters of the cloth he is as fickle as can be
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion
He’s a dedicated follower of fashion

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Perfect Knitting Mills

In 1914, German born Max Becker formed the Perfect Knitting Mills Ltd. (P.K. Mills Ltd.) in Listowel, Ontario. In 1927 P.K. was sold to Mercury Mills, and the official name was changed to Maitland Spinning Mills, although the P.K. brand continued well into the 1940s.

Knitting fell from popularity after World War II, and Maitland Spinning Mills was scheduled to close on September 5, 1952 when a former employee of the company, David D. Hay, and some investor associates, bought the company and renamed it Spinrite Yarns and Dyers Ltd. Although no longer owned by Hay, the Canadian owned company continues to operate to this day.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Monarch Knitting Company

Bathing suits, 1919

The Monarch Knitting Company was founded in 1903 in Dunnville, Ontario. They specialized in creating spun worsted knitting wool for hand knitters, as well as machine-knitted garments, primarily sweaters and swimwear. The company expanded rapidly, opening another plant in St. Thomas, Ontario in 1908, followed by another plant in St. Catharines. In 1910, the company expanded into the U.S., opening ‘The First and Only Sweater Mill in Buffalo.’

Monarch pattern for knit suit, c. 1936

During both World Wars, Monarch took on sizeable wartime contracts while also producing huge amounts of military coloured yarn for civilian hand knitters to make gloves, balaclavas, hats and scarves for the armed forces. Between the wars, the company developed pattern booklets to promote the sale of yarn for home knitters, and held the contract to supply hockey jerseys to the NHL.

Monarch was the largest manufacturer of yarns in Canada until after World War II when intense competition from other manufacturers forced Monarch to consolidate operations to just its Dunnville facility and Toronto head office. Monarch failed to adapt to modern tastes and a waning interest in knitting forced the company to close in 1967.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Hydro City Shoes

In 1889 G. V. Oberholtzer founded a shoe factory with his business partner M. Armbrust in Berlin, Ontario. After Armbrust’s death, Oberholtzer carried on alone, moving the company to new premises in 1893 to Weber and Victoria streets, to be nearer the railway station. In 1897 Oberholtzer built a tannery in Port Elgin to supply leather for his shoemaking. Three years later, on June 7, 1900, Oberholtzer died at the age of 34.

Ownership of the company next came under the Detweiler brothers (Noah and Daniel), there were also two younger brothers (Joseph & Aaron) who worked in the plant. In the midst of the Great War, Berlin, held a vote to change its name. Anticipating what many thought would be the favourite, the company changed its name to ‘Hydro City Shoes Manufacturing’. Although Kitchener won as the new name for Berlin, the company stayed with Hydro City until closing its doors in the late 1960s.

The company originally made McKay sewn leather boots and shoes for men, women, and children, but gradually came to make only men’s and boys footwear, including footwear for work and uniforms. Labels produced by the company included: Hydro, Hydro Arch Rest, Hydro Police Boot, and Hydro Winguard Safety Toe.

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