Canadian Fashion Connection – Marjorie Hamilton

Marjorie Hamilton in 1965

Born 1911, Marjorie Hamilton never learned how to sew or design clothing, but in 1945 she decided that most lingerie was dull and made a pair of rayon panties with scalloped edging. When a department store placed an order for her design she gave up her job as a bank clerk and enlisted two women to help sew up the order from her living room.

By the late 1940s Hamilton, whose husband William was looking after the financial side of the business, was advertising in local papers: “Panties, Slips, Nighties, Pajamas, Negligees, Bridal Trousseau Sets”. Her lingerie was sold through high end stores like the Correct Corset Shop at 2636 Granville street, and Hilda Flinn’s at 2007 West 41stin Kerrisdale.

In 1953 Hamilton made a ‘Fit-all’ dress with elastic shirring that fit a wide range of sizes, The design was so successful that in 1959 the Hamiltons brought in partners Larry and Esther Brandt to open a factory on Cordova street (the factory moved to Water Street in 1971). The company expanded into leisure sportswear with lines under the labels ‘Cimone’ for younger women and ‘Ziba’ for petite women. In 1962, Hamilton made Ya Ya skirts (the first miniskirts (see the blog entry: Myth-Information – The First Miniskirt – ‘Ya Ya’), and hired models to wear them on Granville Street.

Interior of Marjorie Hamilton factory, c. mid 1960s

By 1965, Marjorie Hamilton had become one of Vancouver’s largest dress manufacturers, boasting 100 employees, with gross sales of over 1 million per year.  The company specialized in dresses, suits, and leisure wear with two seasonal collections per year of 150 items each, all retailing between 5 and 40 dollars.

In the 1970s, the company was the first in Vancouver to make velvet blazers – a style all of the department stores picked up. During the 1980s the Hamilton line was being sold through independent boutiques across Canada as well as through Marks and Spencer, and Nordstroms in the U.S.

By 1985, when the factory moved to 7thAvenue, the Hamiltons had sold their share in the business to the Brandts, who retained the company until 1995 when they too sold. The new owners shifted production to outerwear and the business slowly shrank into non-existence, closing sometime in the 2000s (exact date unknown.)

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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