Canadian Fashion Connection – The Hockey Mask

I know, the hockey mask isn’t strictly ‘fashion’, but it is worn and the styles change for both technical and aesthetic reasons, so in the broadest sense, they are fashion.

Clint Benedict with padded leather mask, c. 1930

The first recorded use of a hockey player wearing a mask was Elizabeth Graham, goaltender for the 1927 Queen’s University women’s hockey team. Her father insisted she wear a fencing mask to protect her teeth.

Three years later, professional hockey player Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons was knocked out from a shot and afterwards wore a padded leather mask, but he eventually gave up on it. Many goalies afterwards would wear a baseball catcher’s mask, especially if they wore glasses, but it wasn’t until 1959 that the goalie mask, as we know it, was born.

In early 1959, Bill Burchmore, who worked for Fiberglas Canada in Montreal, witnessed Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante take a shot in the face during a playoff game. Burchmore came up with the idea of creating a fiberglass mask, and molded a custom mask for Plante during the summer.

Jacques Plante with fibreglass mask, 1959

The following season Plante wore the mask for practices but was not allowed to wear it for games. On November 1, 1959, during a game with the Rangers, Plante was cut by a puck to the face that took seven stitches to close. The look of hockey changed that night when Plante only agreed to return to the ice if he was allowed to wear the mask. It took fifteen years before every goalie in the NHL would also wear masks.

Design improvements over the years to give maximum protection, visibility and comfort have since resulted in goalies playing closer to the ice – filling the net to make scoring more difficult –a position that in the past would have guaranteed a puck in the face.

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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