Off The Rack – W.J. Voit Rubber Company, 1922 – 1983

The Voit Rubber company was founded in Los Angeles in 1922 by W. J. Voit. Starting as a rubber tire manufacturer, the company branched into sporting goods and claimed they invented the inflatable beach ball in the late 1930s.

In 1957, the company was sold to AMF and in 1963 operations were moved to Santa Ana, California. It was around this time, when the company was at the height of its production, that a line of sneakers were added to their yield. Over the next twenty years the rubber business dwindled in the U.S., eventually leading to the closure of Voit in 1983.




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Shopping at the Junior League Thrift store in Vancouver, 1946


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Patent Fashions – Before the Reebok pump


It was not Reebok but Fillmore Moore of Farmington Connecticut who built the first inflatable shoe. His 1893 patent describes the technology for a rubber bag midsole that “when the screw plug is turned … air can be blown into and out of the bag.” To Reebok’s credit, their patent cited Moore’s 1893 Pneumatic sole in their patent.

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Edison’s contribution to fashion

Edison's 1877 model of the electric pen

Edison’s 1877 model of the electric pen

Edison inadvertently invented the device that would become the modern tattooing machine. In 1875 he invented an electric writing instrument consisting of a steel needle driven up and down the barrel of a pen. The device punched tiny holes into a stencil that could be used to print many copies of the same document. He received the patent for his Autographic Printing Pen on August 8 1876, but the device was cumbersome and not popular. Improvements were made to the invention in 1877 and sales somewhat improved. In 1891, Samuel O’Reilly modified Edison’s pen idea by introducing an ink filled needle to create an electric tattooing pen. Many improvements were made to the tattoo machine over the years, mostly with the intent to make the machine lighter and allow for better effects, such as shading, by being able to adjust the depth, power and speed of the needle.

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Underwear as cocktail wear – British Nylon Fair, 1960

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Dominion Woollens and Worsteds 1928-1959

In 1870 Scottish-born Robert Forbes entered into a partnership with Jonathan Schofield in Hespeler, Ontario to operate J. Schofield & Co. – a mill to produce woollen flannels, plaids and tweeds as well as drugget carpeting. In 1874 the partners purchased the Randall, Farr & Co., a larger woollen mill on the edge of town, and in 1880 Forbes bought out Schofield and renamed his enterprise R. Forbes & Co. In 1888 the company was incorporated and Robert’s 28 year old son George took over as president and ran the company until 1928.


Dominion Woollens and Worsteds, c. 1950s, everything to the right of the water tower no longer exists

The new owners renamed the company Dominion Woollens and Worsteds Co. Ltd. and despite the onset of the Depression, could boast their business was the largest woollens and worsteds mill in the British Empire. They employed a third of the entire population of the town of Hespeler, and during WWII also employed hundreds of ‘mill girls’ who came from across Canada to make Canada’s wool for military uniforms. In 1959 the company went into receivership and was purchased by Silknit. Despite production being diversified to include synthetics, the business slowly went into decline. Production ceased in 1984 and more than a third of the building was destroyed shortly afterward in a fire.

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Selling to film

1920s coat with the white rabbit fur collar removed

1920s coat with the white rabbit fur collar removed

I began selling on eBay in 1998 – mostly vintage clothing I already had well represented in the collection and other small collectables (article here). I did sell a few things I now regret, but most of the garments and accessories I parted with went to a better home where they would be better appreciated than if they had been left to languish at the bottom of a box in my collection, never to see the light of day.

Blue rose print rayon top, c. mid 1960s

Blue rose print rayon top, c. mid 1960s

There were a few dealers I sold to often like Cameron Silver of Decades in LA, and Deborah Burke of Antique Dress in Boston, as well as famous collectors, curators, and even celebrities such as Hamish Bowles and Sharon Stone. I also sold several pieces to costumers and set dressers, especially at Sex and the City and Mad Men. However, the only two pieces I ever noticed on film again (other than a chenille bedspread but couldn’t find an image of online) were a 1920s coat worn by Sarah Jessica Parker (the coat had a rabbit fur collar, which had been removed); and a blue rose print blouse from the mid 1960s worn by January Jones in Mad Men.

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It’s a Cinch!

f5fcf6a1-b672-436d-979c-747c2608bdc1Join us at the Fashion History Museum during the month of March to make your own corset. For an hour each Wednesday evening (March 4, 11, 18, 25) designer Kerri Mercer of Black Orchid Designs, will guide you through the steps of tailoring a 1904 pattern for a riding waist-cinch to your own size. This is a beginner’s class but does require basic sewing skills and no fear of using a sewing machine. Instruction and all materials are supplied (any special outer material, if desired, is extra) Course fee is due by February 18 to ensure placement in course as space is limited. $300.00. Contact us at 519 267-2091 for reserving your space now.

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2014 Academy Award Costume Nominees

IMGP8471All five costumers nominated for their film work this year have been previously nominated  and all but one has at least one Oscar. The only designer not to have won an Oscar is Anna B. Sheppard who is nominated this year for Maleficent. Sheppard is better known for her work in historical films – especially those set in the 1940s: The Pianist, Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds and Captain America. Maleficent’s costumes are historically based fantasy and are an opulent recreation of the Disney cartoon classic, but it isn’t always easy to tell where the costuming ends and the CGI begins.

Into_the_Woods_38Colleen Atwood has been nominated for another historical-fantasy Into the Woods. Atwood often works with Tim Burton and has won Oscars for Alice in Wonderland, Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. Atwood’s work for Into the Woods is excellent, but she has had the greatest freedom to create her fairy tale characters. While fantasy film costumers are free to mix colours, periods and styles, historical costumers are limited by the reality of historical accuracy. To borrow an old adage – it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

9eda21cc-035a-11e4-_728134cThe Grand Budapest Hotel is also an historically-based fantasy, costumed by Milena Canonero, whose long career of Oscar-winning costuming includes: Marie Antoinette, Chariots of Fire, and Barry Lyndon. Canonero’s strength is historical drama, but the Grand Budapest Hotel is a comedic film set in a non-specific pre-war European nation. Although this type of film requires no historical authenticity, Canonero creates an original alternate universe with believable period costuming.

Academicians-epic-movie-Mr-TurnerFinally we get to the films that are historically based. The first of which is Mr. Turner. I have not been a fan of Jacqueline Durran’s work because her approach to historical authenticity is loose. Her previous work includes Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and she has won an Oscar for Anna Karenina, which although historical, was presented as a theatrical fantasy. Mr. Turner, however, is being presented as an historical film, and I find her work takes too many liberties with accuracy, although her work is exceptional at conveying mood.

caftans-inherent-vice-w724Finally,  there is Inherent Vice, costumed by Mark Bridges who I first noticed for the exceptional job he did on Boogie Nights. Bridges won his Oscar for The Artist, and although he used a lot of off-the-rack repro dresses for that film, he created the right look and feel for the period. Inherent Vice also captures a feeling – Los Angeles during that cusp of time when the 1960s turned into the 1970s, wedged between the Manson murders and Disco.

So who will win? The academy doesn’t like giving out costume awards for recent eras so we can safely nix Inherent Vice; Mr. Turner was my least favourite for costuming but that doesn’t mean anything since I don’t get a vote; Into the Woods is good but it’s not anything unexpected. This leaves two dark horses for winners. Anna B. Sheppard who did a magnificent job recreating the Disney inspired vision of Maleficent, and Milena Canonero who created a pre-war alternate universe. I would be happy with either and would really like to see Sheppard recognized, but I have to give Canonero the edge.

PS: Am a bit surprised Selma didn’t get a nomination for best costuming…

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Faking It at FIT

Faking-It-brochure-cover_482I am fascinated by this side of fashion and always thought there was potential for an  exhibition and/or book on the topic. The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York thinks so too and beat me to it!

Their online exhibition is now available and its an interesting read – the breakdown of the differences between the Chanel and the Orbach’s copy of the grey tweed suits pictured in this image is fascinating!


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