Bathers, bathhouses, and the law in 1921…

Part of a July 25, 1921 New York Times newspaper came in with a recent donation and in it was this interesting snippet:

“Fully 500,000, according to police estimates, visited Cony Island yesterday, and of this number probably 150,000 took to the surf in the morning. By noon not a bathhouse was available. A line of 3,000 persons was waiting at the Municipal Bathhouse early in the morning, and grew in size with the hours. Anticipating the lack of bathhouse facilities, Jacob Sander of 317 East 121st Street took twenty of his neighbors to Coney Island in his big moving van. He transformed the van’s interior into dressing rooms by means of a curtain swung amidships, and the party made ready for the water. Policeman Harry Whitlaw of the Coney Island Station noticed the novel bathhouse and told Sander he was violating the law. When Sander protested the policeman tendered him a summons, which Sander refused to accept. Then Whitlaw arrested him and ordered the van containing the bathers’ clothes driven to the station house. Sander was charged with disorderly conduct. The desk lieutenant ordered the clothing taken into the Station house for safekeeping, and later, the anxious group of men and women were permitted to dress in the van, which was guarded by policemen and watched by a crowd of several hundred. Police Chief Treacy of Long Beach is determined to break up the practice of motorists using their cars as bathing houses. This afternoon he and his men made twenty-one arrests, including five or six women and later arraigned them before Justice Cassius Coleman. The men were fined $5 and the women were permitted to go under suspended sentences.”

These bathing beauties are from the same summer but different the same year in a different city - Washington D.C., 1921

Bathing beauties on June 25, 1921 in Washington D.C.

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Fashion History Museum’s new home…

We can let the cat out of the bag now – the Fashion History Museum has a new location! The initial stages of securing the property are now complete and although there are still some more hurdles to get over if all goes well we should be opening our doors about a year from now. An article that appeared in today’s Waterloo Region Record by Martin DeGroot covers the details:

The ‘Museum Without Walls’ Finally Gets Some

“The announcement isn’t quite official yet, but it has been confirmed that the Fashion History Museum (FHM) has finally found a home.

Since the project was founded in 2004, and from the time it became part the regional cultural scene in 2007, this unique creative enterprise has been operating as a “museum without walls.”

Under the leadership of co-founders Kenn Norman (chair) and Jonathan Walford (curatorial director), the collection has grown steadily: It now includes more than 10,000 garments.

They’ve also built an extensive library and archives of fashion-related publications and documents, and created numerous exhibits that have been on display in places nearby, across Canada, and as far away as Hong Kong and Bahrain.

But except for a short-lived experiment with a storefront space at Southworks in Galt, there has been no ongoing physical presence, and the address has always been a Cambridge post office box.

The address will remain in Cambridge, but it’s a north of the 401 location. And it’s not a P.O. box, but an actual post office building that was built in 1922 and served the Hespeler community until it was decommissioned in 1993.

Hespeler's Old Post Office - 74 Queen Street, Cambridge. The future home of the Fashion History Museum

Hespeler’s Old Post Office – 74 Queen Street, Cambridge. The future home of the Fashion History Museum

So there are two dynamic building projects in Cambridge that involve repurposing old post office sites, one in Galt led by Idea Exchange (Cambridge Libraries & Galleries), and now this one in Hespeler.

In this case, the project involves leasing the space from a landlord who cares about the building and its heritage, the Hespeler community, as well as the vision and purpose of the museum.

A grant from Arts Connect Cambridge, a volunteer city committee dedicated to supporting arts organizations and individual artist’s projects, has helped secure the location.

It’s not a large space, but there’s ample room for galleries, office, the library and archive, as well as the collection.

Getting it ready is going to take some time. The original idea was to aim for the late spring, but after hearing about plans for some major reconstruction work in downtown Hespeler next summer, a fall opening started looking more feasible.

There are a number of programs in the works that will keep the museum in the public eye until the doors of the new facilities open about a year from now.

To begin with, there’s the Street Style exhibit developed with the Waterloo Region Museum as part of the Building Waterloo Region festival of architecture that ran over the summer. An exploration of the connections between the design of women’s fashion and architecture in Waterloo County between 1873 and 1973, Street Style will remain on display until January 15.

At the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives down the road in Brampton, an FHM exhibit called Waist Management — “a visual journey through three centuries of sensational corsets, crinolines, bustles and bras that have been used to idealize the female form since the late 18th century” — will run from November to February.

Norman and Walford are also looking forward to continuing the longstanding FHM relationship with the Grand River Film Festival when it returns November 3-8. Their contribution will be an exhibit related to Hollywood costume designer Adrian, whose most famous work was for the “The Wizard of Oz,” which reaches its 75th anniversary this year.

The first public event at the new site will be a vintage clothing sale involving a dozen dealer booths and the South Central Sausage food truck from Southworks on November 22.

We can also look forward to a major event themed around the fashions featured in the “Mad Men” television series in the spring.

To keep up with what’s happening with the Fashion History Museum while its new home in Hespeler is under development, visit or send a request to be added to the subscriber list for their quarterly newsletter by phone (519-620-0009) or email (

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Vintage Shopping… a history

I am beginning a new feature today – a ‘registry’ of vintage clothing dealers. Sometimes I feel like I am over a hundred when I begin talking about what it used to be like buying vintage clothing ‘back in the day’ – and I was hardly a pioneer when I started haunting vintage shops in the late 1970s.

It wasn’t necessarily always cheaper or easier to find vintage clothing then, but it seemed to be a lot more fun! I used to go out on a Saturday morning with $50.00 in my pocket and come home with bags of treasures from garage and church sales, thrift shops, and vintage clothing stores. Some of my friends also into vintage would get together for what we called ‘drag and brag’ – where we dragged everything to someone’s house and bragged about how good our finds were.

Some of my best finds came from shops that are no longer around. There are a few vintage shops like I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet in London, and Screaming Mimi’s in New York, that are famous, but most of these shops were small, owner-operated boutiques that will fade into history unless it’s written down, and so I begin with these inductees:

Sandy Stagg, c. 1978

Sandy Stagg, c. 1978

Amelia Earhart

Shortly after English-born Sandy Stagg emigrated to Toronto in August 1968, she opened a vintage clothing store on Charles Street called Amelia Earhart Originals. In the 1980s she sold her business to Lana Lowen and opened Fiesta, a restaurant that catered to the New Wave crowd. In 1990 Stagg moved back to London where she returned to the vintage clothing scene in Portobello Road. In 2008 Stagg sold off her vintage stock in London and came back to Toronto but not to work in vintage clothing.




Cabbages and Kinx

In 1977 I visited my first vintage clothing store – Cabbages and Kinx. Located on Cambie street near Cordova in Gastown, Vancouver. You had to walk down a set of stairs to get to the narrow shop, set below the sidewalk. The shop was decorated like a Victorian parlour, with bamboo bookshelves draped with Victorian paraphernalia, antique shoes and carte de visite photographs. It was very dark and moody and always smelled of incense. Steven Lippold founded Cabbages and Kinx in 1973. I bought my first antique garment from him – a black lace dress from the 1890s for $60.00. I stopped going to his shop in the early 1980s as his stock shifted more towards imported contemporary punk and fetish rubber and leather clothing. Lippold moved his shop around the corner onto Hastings street sometime in the 1980s and closed up in 2004 after a fire gutted his business.

Courage My Love

Courage My Love, 1975

Courage My Love, 1975

In 1975 Stewart Scriver and Patricia Roy opened a three-room shop at 60 Cecil Street in Toronto. The bulk of their stock was acquired from defunct general store stock and warehouses found across rural Ontario and Quebec, as well as the rag warehouses of Toronto where bundled old clothes were sold by the pound. By 1978 Toronto was becoming Hollywood North because of its potential location shoots, and Courage My Love began supplying costumes to the film industry. In 1980 Courage My Love moved to its present location at 14 Kensington Avenue and has built up a reputation for affordable vintage – but no bargaining! For more about Courage My Love, read their first person history here.

Deluxe Junk

In 1973 Ken Spada filled up his red van with old clothing and accessories and vintage house wares as he drove from Toronto to Vancouver. Upon arriving in Vancouver he set up shop in Gastown but soon relocated to West 4th Avenue. In the 1970s most of the store’s stock was bought ‘by the pound’ from rag yards. As that source dwindled, Spada began taking vintage consignments. I went into Spada’s shop exactly three times and was kicked out twice for asking if he could do better on a price (his prices were always high.) Apparently you weren’t allowed to ask for a discount on bundles, or about anything ‘on display’ – even nicely. Spada must have had faithful clients because the shop remained open for forty years. They relocated back to Gastown in the 1980s and, after Spada’s death in 2008, remained open until 2013.

Hats in Deluxe Junk, c. 2010

Hats in Deluxe Junk, c. 2010

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Politics of Fashion/Fashion of Politics

Image from McLaean's (I didn't ask permission but they printed some of my pictures and didn't credit me, so we are even...) Jeremy Laing, the show's designer with a caftan with Jackie Kennedy photoprint, Jeanne Beker guest curator with white wool coat worn by Margaret Trudeay, and Sara Nickelson, the museum's curator, with Vivienne Tam Mao-print dress.

Image from McLaean’s (I didn’t ask permission but they printed some of my pictures and didn’t credit me, so we are even…) Jeremy Laing, the show’s designer with a caftan with Jackie Kennedy photoprint; Jeanne Beker, guest curator, with white wool coat worn by Margaret Trudeau; Sara Nickelson, the museum’s curator, with Vivienne Tam Mao-print dress.

Last night was the opening party for Toronto’s Design Exchange (D/X) new exhibition Politics of Fashion/Fashion of Politics. The Fashion History Museum loaned 9 items to D/X – three hippie outfits, two mini dresses by Quant and Beene, and four paper dresses from the 1960s.

I debated about whether I should blog about this show because although there are great artifacts to look at there are some issues with the message and venue that are problematic. First of all, the D/X is located in one of the most difficult places to find, drive to, and park in the city. It is no where near Toronto’s other cultural attractions and I once spent 40 minutes in a traffic jam travelling 2 blocks to get to its parkade entrance.

Fashion journalist Jeanne Beker is the show’s guest curator. The D/X approached Beker to curate a fashion-theme exhibition and she came up with the idea of political messaging in dress. But the meaning of ‘political’ is being used in its broadest sense. There are actual garments worn by Prime ministers Harper and Trudeau, a copy of the dress worn by Michelle Obama on the night of her husband’s presidential election win, an Oleg Cassini dress and Brooks Brother’s suit represent the influential style of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. My favourite in this section is Margaret Trudeau’s 1970 wedding dashiki that she made herself from a pattern – can you imagine that happening today?

The more figurative meaning of politics is showcased in a series of islands, some of which depict a bouillabaisse of political causes, from anti-fur campaigns to disaffected youth. Other islands feature designers who have infused political meanings into their collections such as Hussein Chalayan’s Burka dress and Vivienne Westwood’s punk. Other islands represent revolutionary ideas in dress that changed fashion, such as 1980s Japanese designs by Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. There are the inexplicable inclusions of Moschino and Patrick Kelly  – I guess Kelly is there because he was the first black Parisian haute couturier… I also don’t understand why the inclusion of stage clothes from androgynous performer Klaus Nomi and drag queen Ru Paul – stage clothes are not fashion, they are performance dress and gender bending performance dress dates back to before Shakespears. The ‘politics’ meaning gets stretched thinner and thinner with the inclusion of four chairs with covers, and a telescoping table, all of which can be transformed into dresses and suitcases. This tableau was created by Hussein Chalayan but I can not see any political message in it whatsoever.

The show tries to do too much – is everything about politics? I thought everything was supposed to be about sex, except sex, which is supposed to be about power… I’m confused.

If you can find the D/X go, enjoy the artifacts – Klaus Nomi’s black vinyl outfit, two spectacular Alexander McQueen outfits (God I love that man’s work), and some clever pieces by Miyake and Chalayan, as well as Margaret Trudeau’s wedding dress are worth the price of admission. The show runs until January 25, 2015.

The Chairs and table by Chalayan — is there a political message?

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The Canadian Queen – Canada’s first fashion magazine

jonathon 51 CANADIAN QUEEN DECEMBER 1890 1In print for about three years, the exact dates of publication for The Canadian Queen are not known because no library seems to own a complete run. However, calculating from what exists and the issue numbers that appear on the publications, The Canadian Queen debuted sometime in 1889 and ended in late 1892 or early 1893, possibly due to the  economic depression of 1893 (although it is not known if this was the cause.)

9801956634_057401ba5d_zLike most ‘fashion’ magazines of the time, The Canadian Queen was really a women’s magazine with a mix of fiction, travel articles, household advice and fashion. The fashions depicted in The Canadian Queen are really just a Canadian printing of Harper’s Bazaar fashion plates that appeared in several international publications. The drawings for Harper’s Bazaar were mostly created in Germany from French fashion reports. The Canadiana division of the Library of Parliament has 19 issues of The Canadian Queen scanned and available online to view.

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The Fashion of Politics

Paper dress with image of Pierre Trudeau, 1968

Paper dress with image of Pierre Trudeau, 1968

The FHM is loaning 13 pieces (including the Trudeau paper dress from the 1968 Liberal leadership convention shown at right) to the Toronto Design Exchange for their exhibition Fashion of Politics/Politics of Fashion, opening this Thursday. There was a great article in the Globe and Mail this weekend that featured highlights from the exhibition.

One of the best examples of fashion and politics is relevant to an historic vote happening this week that may result in Scotland becoming independent of England. In 1746 the tartan and kilt was abolished in Scotland in an attempt to subdue Highlander rebellion and bring them under government control. After the law was repealed in 1782, the wearing of tartan kilts became the national dress of Scotland.

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What I Did on My Summer Holiday – Part 2 – A Bit of Shopping…

After hitting several antique stores in Canandaigua, New York we headed off to Sturbridge.

Girl's straw hat, c. 1870 from Canandaigua antique store; Green mohair and embroiderd satin cloche, early 1920s, and Grape decorated Early Edwardian hat with New York label, c. 1905, both from Sturbridge sale.

I bought more than just hats, but they were a favourite this trip: Girl’s straw hat, c. 1870 from Canandaigua antique store; Green mohair and embroiderd satin cloche, early 1920s, and Grape decorated Early Edwardian hat with New York label, c. 1905, both from Sturbridge sale.

We had never been to the Sturbridge Antique Clothing and Textile Show, although we used to go to Molly’s vintage sale in Springfield, Mass in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After Molly retired the Sturbridge show sprang up in its place. Of the advertised 140 booths at the Sturbridge sale I would estimate there were about 90 dealers because many took double spaces. Although I spent the entire day at the sale thoroughly checking racks, there were a few booths I skipped over because I know from experience they rarely have the sort of things that appeal to me: The ‘Millennial’ dealers where 1997 is considered a good vintage year and all merchandise is priced under twenty-dollars, and the ‘Pristine’ dealers who only sell items in perfect condition at high prices to women with healthy chequebooks. These dealers are aimed at a demographic that isn’t me, and that’s fine – I get what they are doing. However, there is another type of dealer I don’t get.

Girl's embroidered straw cloche from Canandaigua antique store; Green felt hat trimmed with grapes and multi-coloured straw hat trimmed with red flowers and feathers,  both early Edwardian, from the Sturbridge sale

Girl’s embroidered straw cloche from Canandaigua antique store; Green felt hat trimmed with grapes and multi-coloured straw hat trimmed with red flowers and feathers, both early Edwardian, from the Sturbridge sale

These dealers rarely have any good merchandising skills, they cram far too many items onto their racks, don’t organize their stock by any visible means, and don’t let damage influence their asking price, which is usually not marked on a tag. Their booths have a jumble sale aesthetic but their prices are commensurate with the  ‘pristine’ dealers, except that nothing is pristine. One booth from this category had a white knit dress from the 1930s with a red, yellow, and green striped collar and cuffs. The belt was missing and there were three dark brown spots on the front of the skirt. It was priced at $500.00! Another dealer had a late 1890s pink brocade evening gown with a Henry Morgan, Montreal label. There was underarm damage and the dress was not what you could call ‘fresh’ – not surprising, as I am sure it had gone through many sales with its asking price of $2,800.00! I backed away from both those booths as there was no point in even attempting to negotiate since I would value their items at a fraction of their asking price. Aside from these booths there were many dealers who had wonderful things at fair market prices. For some reason I bought mostly hats that day but I got other items too, from some early Vogue magazines to a fantastic 1880s parasol.

Gingham mob cap, c. 1910, from Canandaigua antique store; Gold silk caleche, c. 1830s, from Sturbridge sale; and man's riding hat, c. 1920, from Brimfield antique show

Gingham mob cap, c. 1910, from Canandaigua antique store; Gold silk caleche, c. 1830s, from Sturbridge sale; and man’s riding hat, c. 1920, from Brimfield antique show

The next day it was off to Brimfield. It has been twenty years since I have been to Brimfield and the differences between then and now are conspicuous. The eBay factor has changed everything, made evident by the amount of ‘junque’ on the fields geared more for decorating chic than antique collectors. There were far too many birdhouses made from vintage license plates, bulk tribal ware imports, as well as non-trendy collectables such as Depression glassware and china head dolls. Most of the few in-demand and quality vintage and antique items I saw were not priced for their rustic venue but rather a Manhattan antique shop, like a pair of garnet suede shoes from the late 1930s I found in one booth priced at $235.00. Brimfield used to be a wholesaler’s marketplace, but that isn’t the case anymore.

It didn’t help that day (Tuesday, September 2) was the hottest day of the summer. We were 3 1/2 fields into the sale with three purchases in total when we decided to call it quits – it was already 97 degrees Fahrenheit, not including  humidity, and only 11 a.m. In retrospect I was happy with Sturbridge and look forward to coming back, but I don’t have the stamina for Brimfield anymore – it ain’t what it used to be.

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What I did on my Summer Holiday – part 1 Genesee Country Village

Display cases on top of pull-out storage drawers

Display cases on top of pull-out storage drawers

Between working towards getting the museum open and caring for geriatric cats it has been 6 1/2 years since we have had a holiday. We broke that streak last week when we took a five-day car trip to Massachusetts, ultimately to attend the Sturbridge Antique Textile and Vintage Clothing sale, as well as the Brimfield Antique Show. We used to go to Brimfield all the time but the last time we were down was 1993 but more about that later.

To break our journey in two we stopped at Canandaigua New York on the way down to do a bit of antiquing, and take in Genesee Country Village and Museum. The recreated village of 19th century historic buildings also maintains a massive textile and clothing collection acquired from private collector Susan Greene, who recently authored a book on American printed textiles.

The Virginian and Ebenezer Scrooge, obscured by glare and reflections from light (we didn't use a flash)

The Virginian and Ebenezer Scrooge, obscured by glare and reflections from light (we didn’t use a flash)

Despite an oversight at the entry gate to inform us the restaurant would be closing at 2 p.m. that day (just as we stopped for lunch), we did enjoy our visit, especially to the gallery of costume. Their exhibition featured fashions from literature, with  garments that resembled what would have been worn by characters from novels such as: Pride and Prejudice, Tom Sawyer, and Sleepy Hollow. The concept and clothes on display were great (I am totally going to steal this idea), however, despite my admiration the display itself failed on technical merit.

One of the pull-out drawers featuring a man's summer jacket made from pina cloth

One of the pull-out drawers featuring a man’s 1850s summer jacket made from pina cloth

I can overlook the cases for being too narrow for full crinoline dresses, and I can’t fault the exhibition for its less than perfect mannequins because I know how hard it is to find suitable, versatile, and affordable mannequins. The real problem comes from the ill-conceived idea of making the gallery an open-storage style presentation with display cases set on top of the pull-out drawers that house the open storage artifacts. The display cases are far too high to comfortably view any garment above knee level, and most of the drawers don’t pull out sufficiently enough to view the artifacts in the back row. The worst issue caused by this arrangement is the glare created by the gallery lighting in the glass that extends all the way to the ceiling. A dark purple background inside the case makes it even more distracting by turning the glass into almost a mirror. To solve this problem the artifacts need to be lit from inside, and the backgrounds painted  a light colour to downplay the ‘glaring’ problem from gallery lighting.

Had this been a small museum that was just trying to do its best the problem could be overlooked, but the building this gallery is housed in recently underwent a 2.7 million renovation! If you can overlook the presentation, the treasures within are superb…

To be continued…

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Dye Bleeds – Shazbot!

T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork from Ork, dated 1978, Paramount Pictures Trademark

T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork from Ork, dated 1978

A few days ago I decided to clean-up the storage room as too many things were in need of being put away in their proper boxes. In the bottom of a plastic bag I rediscovered this 1978 T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork. I bought it at an ‘antique mall’ at the beginning of the summer and completely forgot about it.

Although I watched a few Mork and Mindy episodes when it was originally aired (1978-1982), it was not one of my favourites. I always thought the wardrobe for Mork was a bit past its ‘best before’ date — that disco-hobo look was a little more mid 70s Shields and Yarnell or Godspell, as I remember it. Regardless, thirty-five years later the T-shirt now appealed to me so I bought it for three dollars to use in some future 1970s exhibition.

Close-up of the bleed along the collar

Close-up of the bleed along the collar

This was before the sad news of Robin William’s death, so when I rediscovered the shirt I thought I might feature it on Facebook, but it needed a freshening up as it smelled from decades of being stored in a musty basement. Unfortunately, even though I thought I had been careful testing the blue dye on the knitted collar and cuffs for fastness, after a quick wash with PH balanced soap in cool water, a cold water rinse, then a roll-up in a bath towel to remove excess moisture and hanging to air dry, a small amount of the blue dye still migrated into the adjacent white cotton. I should have known better as I have noticed that dyes on items that have been stored in a damp place seem to be more migrant than if they had been stored in a dry place. I have rarely had a bad experience with washing things because I am usually very careful, (ever since an unfortunate event when I was a young collector involving a 1940 rayon dress with gelatin sequins…) but I should have been more vigilant in testing the blue dye on the collar – as Mork would say – Shazbot!

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Agnew-Surpass Shoes 1928-2000


Brown snakeskin shoes labelled ‘Fashion Plate – styled exclusively for Agnew-Surpass’ c. 1950

Founded in Brantford, Ontario by John Agnew in 1879, his shoe store grew to include three locations before merging in 1928 with Surpass stores. Agnew-Surpass Shoe Stores Ltd. soon grew to become Canada’s largest national footwear chain.

In 1962 the chain was acquired by American footwear retailing and manufacturing giant Genesco. In 1987 the chain was resold to Vancouver entrepeneur and former Bata Shoe executive Michael Graye for 89 million. It was discovered in 1996 that Graye had laundered money through the Cayman Islands during the deal, which lead to a 4 year jail sentence for Graye in 2003.

Shoe sales for Agnew-Surpass dwindled under competition from big-box discount shoe sellers that entered the Canadian market in the 1990s. In August 2000 Agnew-Surpass declared bankruptcy and closed its 223 stores across Canada.

Agnew Surpass Shoe Store, Fairview Mall, Toronto, 1972

Agnew Surpass Shoe Store, Fairview Mall, Toronto, 1972

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