Canadian Fashion Connection – Centennial Costumes

Costumes worn July 1, 1967 for centennial celebrations in Alma, Ontario

Perhaps the first preparation to commemorate the  American Civil War (1860 – 1865) centennial began with the publishing of McCall’s pattern #1759 in 1952 – identified as a “Centennial Costume”. More patterns followed throughout the 1950s and early 1960s from the ‘Big Three’ pattern publishers: McCall’s, Simplicity, Butterick. All the patterns produced were very loosely based recreations – I have yet to see one 1960s Centennial dress that has made me look twice to consider if it might be a real dress from the 1860s. The centennial patterns were created to suit modern figures with ‘lift and separate’ brassieres and uncorseted waists. The resulting dresses were also invariably run up on a machine and made from poly-cotton, rayon satin, or nylon taffeta. Virtually all American Civil War Centennial costumes were made from one of these patterns, as well as Canada’s 1967 Centennial costumes (with the addition of one pattern produced by McCall’s specifically for Canada’s Centennial that featured a late 1860s silhouette.)

Centennial costume party in Marmora, Ontario

As celebrations geared up in Canada throughout 1967, newspapers featured front cover photographs of community elders and school children dressed in these inauthentic costume creations, often accessorized with vintage muffs or parasols, collars and hats found in attic trunks and dress-up boxes. I don’t know how many of these costumes I scornfully flipped through on racks at garage sales and thrift stores in the 1980s and 1990s, but by the time I realized I should acquire an example or two for the collection, they had all disappeared.

Fortunately, in 2013 I found two, advertised on Kijiji that had been worn on July 1, 1967 for celebrations in Alma, Ontario. The mother/daughter dresses in red gingham and mauve, were even featured on the front cover of the July 1 local paper.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.

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3 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Centennial Costumes

  1. liz says:

    The costume is long gone, but there are still pictures of me (I was two and a half at the time) in my long calico dress and bonnet. The dress, which I believe had been run up by my (paternal) grandmother, had a high neck and scratchy lace at the neck and I absolutely hated it for that reason. I wore the costume in the parade that preceded the Neustadt Fall Fair of 1967.

    I’ll see if I can find the picture and scan it and send you a copy.

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