Exhibition – Art of the Lacemaker

Needle lace panel of hunting scene, c. late 19th century

Needle lace panel of hunting scene, c. late 19th century

Guelph Civic Museum is hosting an exhibition of lace (July 11 – November 2) from the collection of the late Margaret Ruhland. Curated by conservator and friend of Margaret Ruhland, Joyce Dawson, the exhibition showcases examples of needle, bobbin and other laces from the early 17th century to the present day.

Kenn and I went yesterday, and also stayed for a lecture by local lace collector Nancy Pye. There is an overwhelming amount of lace to see – each more impressive than the last. It is impossible to pick a favourite. I am not a lace expert by any means and can identify only a few of the more obvious patterns, so this exhibition is excellent for anyone who wants to learn more, or just take in the beautiful hand-made patterns and not worry about trying to become an expert in one visit.

There is also a catalogue that was just printed last month For the Love of Lace: The Ruhland Collection, written by Margaret Ruhland and Joyce Taylor Dawson. It is beautifully illustrated with exceptional photographs. I couldn’t find it for sale online anywhere, but it is available from the Guelph Civic Museum, and you might be able search it via the ISBN 978-0-9918365-0-5 once it is in the hands of a distributor.

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Fashion in Song – Black Denim Trousers – 1955

“Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” was originally a top-ten hit for The Cheers in the fall of 1955. Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the song tells the story of biker and begins by describing the clothes he wears “…black denim trousers and motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back”. In 1956, French chanteuse Edith Piaf recorded a French translation of the song entitled “L’ Homme à la Moto”. This version was recorded by the Canadian group The Diamonds, in the fall of 1955.

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Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Mme Merlot Larchevêque


The label that appears in the evening gown below

In histories about the founding of Parisian Haute Couture, Charles Worth’s name always comes up, but he didn’t invent the industry single-handed. One of the other prolific houses of couture at the time was founded by Mme Merlot Larchevêque in 1855, three years before Worth’s name ever appeared on any Parisian dressmaker’s establishment.

Evening gown I borrowed from the Alan Suddon collection in 1995 for The Gentle Step: The Ladies Realm of Fashion 1800-1900.

Green gauze and ivory satin evening gown by Mme Merlot Larcheveque that I borrowed from the Alan Suddon collection in 1995 for an exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum entitled “The Gentle Step: The Ladies Realm of Fashion 1800-1900.”

Soon after the end of the American Civil War, steamship travel across the Atlantic increased as more Americans, made wealthy from recent industrial growth, toured European points of historical and fashionable interest. Parisian couturiers, like Mme Larchevêque, recognized the profits to be made from this nouveau client and catered to their needs. In 1867 she advertised in the American fashion journal Godey’s Lady’s Book that English was spoken in her shop on the Boulevard des Capucines (conveniently located across the street from the Grand Hotel.) Godey’s described the atelier in their February 1867 issue: “We enter the inner sanctum of Mme. Merlot Larchevêque, and see tissues of the most exquisite hues, of the richest textures, and in an unprecedented variety, thrown round in the greatest profusion.” Her address was identified alternatively on various labels as 21, 23, or 25 Boulevard des Capucines. No references could be found for the firm after the mid 1880s.

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Message in a sweater

I ran across this fascinating story from a local history blog and couldn’t wait until November 11 to post it… Jim Alexander was a resident of Hespeler, Ontario and a Corporal with the Li­ncoln and Wel­land Re­gi­ment in WWII. In March 1945 he was in Veen, Ger­many when he was or­dered back to En­gland to be decorated by the King for bravery.

330 Image41Al­though great­coats were supplied to sol­di­ers when needed, Alexander’s re­gi­ment was await­ing sup­pl­ies, in­clud­ing great­coats, and so he gave his coat to a fellow soldier before leaving for England. Upon ar­riv­ing in rainy, cold Al­dershot, Alexander went to a Red Cross Centre where he picked out a khaki, hand-knit wool sweat­er. After re­ceiv­ing his medal for brave­ry, Alexander re­joined his re­gi­ment and was given a new great­coat. The sweat­er was pac­ked away in his kit.

When Alexander returned to home to Hespeler in Janua­ry, 1946, his mother found the sweater as she sorted through his clot­hes for laundry. She recognized it as one she had knitted herself and proved it by snipping the seam between the double collar to reveal a two dollar bill with a hand written note in her hand requesting the recipient to write her to let her know how he was doing. Apparently it was common for women who had knitted socks, scarves, and sweaters for overseas to include money and notes in the hems and seams of their garments. It was pure coincidence that Alexander had picked the sweater his own mother had knitted and yet never looked inside the collar.

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The Canadian Home Journal 1905 – 1958

Canadian Home Journal fashions May 1912

Canadian Home Journal fashions September 1912

First published as The Home Journal in 1905, ‘Canadian’ was added to the title in 1910, and for the next 48 years the Canadian Home Journal was Canada’s best selling women’s magazine. This was Canada’s version of the popular U.S. women’s publications: Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, and Woman’s Home Companion, all of which were also available in Canada. Like its American counterparts, Canadian Home Journal offered fiction, recipes, and articles on child rearing, beauty care, homemaking, and decorating, as well as a monthly fashion spread illustrated with the latest pattern styles.

In 1928 another Canadian women’s magazine was founded – Chatelaine, which was aimed at the exact same audience as the Canadian Home Journal. However, Chatelaine never managed to surpass Canadian Home Journal’s subscription rate. Millionaire investor Jack Kent Cooke bought Canadian Home Journal’s publisher, Consolidated Press, in 1952. However, Cooke’s interests soon veered towards sports teams and in 1958, The Canadian Home Journal was sold off to its competition – Chatelaine’s owners MacLean Publishing.

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Mayfair – Canada’s elite style magazine 1927-1959

The Delineator, an American magazine with a Toronto printing, carried Canadian advertising, 1899

This issue of The Delineator carried Canadian advertising but was really just a Canadian printing of an American magazine, March 1899

Before the name Mayfair became associated with an English girlie magazine in 1965 it had a far more conservative, sophisticated reputation as Canada’s magazine of “culture, fashion, and social distinctions”. Intended for Canada’s fashionable elites (debutantes, brides, wives of important men…), Mayfair was launched in Toronto in May 1927 for 35 cents per issue.

The second issue hailed the success of Mayfair as proof Canada was now mature enough to have its own cosmopolitan publication. Until Mayfair, all Canadian fashion magazines were, at best, a Canadian printing of an English or American magazine with the same articles but  Canadian advertisements. Alongside fashion reportage travel articles were popular, especially about London and Paris and luxury holidays like cruises to Bermuda.

Mayfair, Canada's elite fashion and lifestyle magazine, 1931

Mayfair, Canada’s elite fashion and lifestyle magazine, April 1930

Despite its highbrow readership, the price of the magazine was dropped in the heart of the Depression to twenty-five cents in 1934, and although its Toronto-centric advertisements catered to the FOOF (Fine Old Ontario Family) factor, the publishing was transfered to Montreal in 1937.

Circulation dropped off during the 1950s as the upper crust content became less relevant in a world where ocean liners were being displaced by jets, and an exploding teen population had little interest in old-fashioned social hierarchies. The magazine’s last issue was printed in December 1959.

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Truth with Consequences – some interesting fashion charts



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As Seen In – Presentation gown worn by wife of Ontario Premier

From the collection of the Fashion History Museum, this dress was originally owned and worn by Ann Ferguson, wife of the Premier of Ontario Howard Ferguson on the occasion of her presentation at Buckingham Palace. I have tried to find the year of her presentation with no luck but judging from the dress style it is probably 1925:

IMGP5370_2 Ferguson 20s dress

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Everything you ever wanted to know about Beaver but were afraid to ask…

il_fullxfull.359425227_m018Beneath the guard hairs of a beaver’s coat is an incredibly thick, soft fur. This undercoat became highly desirable by felt makers during the Renaissance because it produced the finest quality felt, known for a beautiful sheen and hard resilience. By 1580 the fashion for beaver felt hats was exploding but the European beaver had been trapped to near extinction in its Eastern European/Western Russian habitat.

Fortunately Canada teemed with Castor Canadensis, the North American cousin of the European beaver. The Vintage clothing trade was born in Canada when Natives traded in last year’s beaver pelt winter robes for iron pots and wool blankets. After a year or so of wear the guard hairs fell out of beaver pelts leaving the soft undercoat of fur – exactly what was wanted by European felt makers. Unfortunately, the supply of used beaver robes was not enough to keep up with demand. British, French, and Dutch colonies began enlisting Native trappers to supply beaver pelts. Claims to beaver territories set in motion the Beaver Wars (1610-1614), pitting Native groups against each other as coastal sources dwindled and trappers ventured further inland for their pelts.

il_fullxfull.359425145_qce8By 1660, the Neutrals, a Native people living in what is present-day southwestern Ontario had been driven from their homeland, or assimilated by the Iroquois who had expanded their territory looking for beaver habitats. By 1667 the English had taken the Dutch colonies (New Amsterdam had been renamed New York), and the English soon skirted around French territory to set up the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) in 1670. All lands where rivers drained into Hudson Bay came under the HBC charter.

With England effectively controlling the beaver trade, London soon became known for its high quality felt hats, but that recognition came at a price. Unlike the used robes that had lost their guard hairs, raw pelts retained their guard hairs. A process had been developed in Russia called ‘carroting’ (because the fur turned orange in colour during the process), that treated the pelts with mercury nitrate to remove the guard hairs. Unfortunately, a side effect of this treatment also turned hatters mad from breathing  the mercury vapour.

Throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries, beaver was used to make up every type of fashionable round hat, bicorn and tricorn, but by the 1790s, beaver supplies were beginning to noticeably dwindle. The Northwest Company, created west of the HBC in 1779, merged with the HBC in 1821. That same year George Simpson, the governor of the newly merged company, enacted conservation measures to preserve the beaver population. A quota was established that limited the number of pelts each trapper could take, and a moratorium was put on the purchase of cub and summer pelts.

Trappers turned to otter, which also bore a superior fur undercoat. Otter populations teemed along the west coast but their numbers soon dwindled as top hats became high fashion by the 1820s. Fortunately a new hat material was about to solve the problem of a depleted felt source – silk plush. Hats of felt had a deep, lustrous finish and a short pile, while silk plush featured a high, glossy finish. To imitate the stiffness of a beaver or otter felt hat, silk plush hats were made on hard forms of baked layers of shellac-soaked cheesecloth, linen, and flannel before being covered with the soft, black silk plush.



There is an apocryphal story about the first silk plush hat appearing on the streets of London on January 15 or 16, 1797, worn by its creator J Hetherington. A crowd gathered to gawk at the shiny stovepipe on his head. According to one account the attention his hat brought got so out of hand that a child broke his arm among all the jostling, and Hetherington was arrested for disturbing public order. The Times reported the following day “Hetherington’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear…” It was a slow eventuality, but by 1850 silk plush had effectively displaced fur felt in the production of top hats.

Not only was the adoption of the silk plush top hat what ultimately saved the beaver and otter, although it took over a century for recovery of their populations, with the drop in demand for pelts for the fur felt trade, Russia no longer had use for a piece of real estate called Alaska. Russia was in debt and not being friendly with Britain because of the recently fought Crimean War, offered Alaska to the United States in 1859. The American Civil War tabled the deal until 1867 when the U.S. finally snatched up Alaska for 2 cents per acre.

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Fashion Myths “Everyone was so tiny back then…”

These images from the 1870s should dispel that myth…

b8vmdt cabinet5 il_570xN.324753253

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