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.)

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Fashion Show from late 1929 – Kiddie Revue

This fashion show segment was the finale from a short film called Kiddie Revue, released March 1930 but probably filmed in late 1929, judging by the costumes. The film Kiddie Revue was originally a segment from the unfinished musical March of Time that was to be released in September 1930 about the history, present and future of humour. The film was never finished and segments were released in other productions, or as in this case, as a stand alone short film.

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Fashion and Humour

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Fashion in Song – Fashion Pack (1979)

Amanda Lear’s Fashion Pack disco hit charted during the summer of 1979. The song is about the fashionable lifestyle of Studio 54 denizens, and includes references to Yves St. Laurent, Lou Lou Falaise, Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily…

It was night and suddenly I felt like dancing
I took a cab to show me to the disco scene
He said: o.k.
You wanna see those crazy people
Hustling at the door to get into Studio 54.

Who is in? Who is out? Tell me
Tell me, tell me
Who is in? Who is out? Famous and trendy.

‘In’ people always have to smile in Vogue
They only travel by Concorde
Doing things you can’t afford.
They are the fashion pack
People you see in the magazines
They are the fashion pack
They’re always smiling in their limousines

They only come out after dark
Got to keep on their trendy track
They are the fashion pack.

In Paris you got to be seen at Maxim’s
The Palace, The “7” and then go Chez Regine
Champagne, Caviar, Haute-couture, Expensive cars
Saint Laurent and Loulou
Rich ladies with a few bijoux.

Who is in ? Who is out ? Tell me
Tell me, Tell me
Who is in ? Who is out ? Woman’s wear Dally.

They read a lot of silly magazines
Like to sit around gossiping
In the back of their limousines.
They are the fashion pack

People you see in the magazines
They are the fashion pack
They only come out after dark
Got to keep on their trendy track
They are the fashion pack.

Hey, What’s your name
Didn’t I see you in Interview last month
Or was it the Ritz
Gee, You’re so famous
May I have your autograph.

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Classics – The Breton

I am starting a new category today – Classics – those garments that keep on going years after they were introduced. First up – The Breton.

The horizontally striped blue and white T-shirt has been credited to Chanel who was inspired by the French Navy, but there is more to the story.

The earliest images of sailors wearing striped tops are found in cartoons (mostly English) from the Napoleonic era and shortly afterwards, when sailors had no defined uniform. British officers had adopted standardized uniforms in the 1740s, but sailors and fishermen wore ‘slops’, a 19th century term for ready-made garments. The captain may have had specific rules about what his crew wore, but there was no standard for the entire navy.


Slops consisting of jersey undershirts made of fine knitted wool (and later cotton), full cut shirts, and tunics were smart choices because one size fit most men. Most sailors wore their shirts and tunics for cold weather and shore leave, but donned only the jersey undershirts for daily work.

While checks were the most common form of decoration for cloth (the warp and weft threads being dyed before weaving), stripes were the most obvious and uncomplicated design for knitted garments because the yarn was dyed before being knitted laterally, creating horizontal stripes.

Photo taken in 1869 of Guy Mainwaring and Lord Charles Beresford, British officers in the navy who dressed as sailors for a play, presumably as a French sailor (left) and British sailor (right).

The most common, colourfast and affordable, colour to produce at the time was navy blue. It was the dominant colour of military uniforms throughout Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Green was occasionally used, which was made from a combination of navy blue over-dyed with yellow, and red, which was colourfast but more expensive, was most often used as an accent, although Britain liked their army in red coats.

In 1857, the British army standardized the sailor uniform, France followed in 1858. The French adopted the striped wool jersey to be worn under a tunic. In France, the style was known as a Marinières. They were made in Brittany (aka Breton) from sheep’s wool from the town of St. James in Normandy (near the border of Brittany.)

The blue stripe became associated with all things nautical; men’s bathing suits were often made up in blue and white stripes in the late 19th century. There is a myth about Chanel including the Breton in her early collections, and even wearing it herself as early as 1913, but there is no evidence of either story being true, although she did like using jersey material for her summer clothes.

The earliest evidence of the Breton making the leap into fashion dates from 1923 when the American couple Gerald and Sara Murphy, who took to regularly holidaying in France during the summer (they were also early proponents of suntanning), bought several Breton tops from a marine shop in Marseille for themselves and guests. Their guest list variously included: Cole Porter, Man Ray, Dorothy Parker, Igor Stravinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

From there the Breton became a standard piece of sportswear, worn as is, or reinterpreted in fashion collections. When worn with a beret, it even became a cliche of French style.

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Patent Fashions – 1937 Shoes

American design patent D104,965 was granted June 15, 1937 for 3 1/2 years to John J. Doucette, of the Pedigo shoe company of St. Louis, Missouri. Founded as the Pedigo-Weber Shoe Company by 43 year old James Pedigo in 1912 (he was born in Clay County, Tennessee on November 21, 1868) the Pedigo-Weber Shoe Company built a new factory in 1918 at 3427 Locust Street in St Louis (restored into condos in 2009.) This pair, likely made in the fall of 1937, was sold through a store in Macon, Georgia.


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Glossary – Hollanderizing, Shinerizing, Martinizing

Yesterday’s fashion in song post Take Back Your Mink from the 1950 play Guys and Dolls contains the line “So take back your mink to from whence it came, and tell ‘em to Hollanderize it for some other dame!”

Hollanderizing is a process that uses sawdust and chemicals to freshen up fur garments. It was named for its inventors, A. Hollander and Sons. Albert Hollander arrived in the United States from Poland in 1889. He eventually began a fur care company on West 29th street in New York, and later moved his business in Newark, New Jersey. In 1918, the Hollander company was granted a patent for their proprietary cleaning process known as “Hollanderizing.” Soon, a chain of Hollanderizing fur cleaners popped up across North America, with branches opening in Toronto and Montreal in 1930. However, Canada had its own version of Hollanderizing a few years later.

The rival fur-cleaning process called Shinerizing was registered in Canada in 1943. The process, which was similar to Hollanderizing and eventually bought out by them, was named for Hyman Shiner and his sons Sol and Huck who had a fur-cleaning and storage business in Toronto. The term Hollanderizing fell out of trademark in 2007 when it was not renewed – probably because so few women own fur coats anymore and it wasn’t worth protecting the use of the term.

Martinizing is a dry-cleaning process for wool and silk clothing that was invented in 1949 by Henry Martin, a New York chemist. The process didn’t use flammable chemicals, which allowed for the cleaning to be done on the premises, rather than being shipped to a cleaning plant outside of town. This allowed for a quick turn-around and the process was promoted as a One-Hour Martinizing service.

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Fashion in Song – Take Back Your Mink (1955)

The burlesque number Take Back Your Mink was written by Frank Loesser, composer and lyricist for Guys and Dolls which premiered on Broadway in 1950. The play’s writer Abe Burrows was selected as the winner of the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama but because he was identified by the House Un-American Activities Committee, his award was vetoed and no Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded that year. The play was turned into a film in 1955 starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, and Vivian Blaine.

These are the lyrics from the original 1950 play: (the lyrics in the 1955 film were altered slightly)

He bought me the fur mink five winters ago
And the gown the following fall
Then the necklace, the bag, the gloves, and the hat
That was late ’48 I recall
Then last night in his apartment
He tried to remove them all
And I said as I ran down the hall

Take back your mink
Take back your pearls
What made you think
That I was one of those girls?
Take back the gown
The gloves and the hat
I may be down
But I’m not flat as all that

I thought that each expensive gift you’d arranged
Was a token of your esteem
But when I think of what you want in exchange
It all seems a horrible dream

So take back your mink
To from whence it came
And tell them to Hollanderize it
For some other dame

Take back your mink
Take back your pearls
What made you think
That I was one of those girls?
I’m screaming:
Take back the gown
The gloves and the hat
I may be down
But I’m not flat as all that

I thought that each expensive gift you’d arranged
Was a token of your esteem
But when I think of what you want in exchange
It all seems a horrible dream

Take back your mink
Those old worn out pelts
And go shorten the sleeves
For somebody else

Well, wouldn’t you?

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Is There a Museum of Folk?

I don’t know of a museum that specializes in European folk dress – those strange costumes worn for specific carnivals or traditional ceremonies. I am sure European regional museums collect local garments, but wouldn’t it be great to see these pulled together into one spectacular exhibition and catalogue! I don’t even know of any good book that covers this information…

Gilles costume from Carnival of Binche, Belgium – a local festival held in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday where men and boys dressed like the two pictured here, throw oranges to (and at) spectators.

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Message in a Battle

Probably this year’s biggest fashion faux pas (akin to Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl pasties incident of 2004) just hit the fan two days ago. On her way to meet migrant Mexican children separated from their parents at the Texas border, Melania Trump wore a $39 (U.S.) jacket from Zara with a graffiti scrawl across the back that proclaimed “I really don’t care, do u?”

2017: Dolce & Gabbana jacket $51,500 U.S.

The mind boggles as to why any First Lady – especially this one, who is a former model and known for her expensive designer tastes should pick a cheap, foreign made jacket with a smarmy quip. The aghast reaction to the crass coat was swift, and attempts to spin the issue by the Whitehouse were clumsy. POTUS tweeted that it was Melania’s attempt to show her disdain for the media. I don’t buy it. I also don’t buy FLOTUS handler Stephanie Grisham’s story that it was ‘just a jacket’ and meant nothing. Grisham’s attempt to shame the media into their coverage of the coat story insulted the media’s ability to cover both the coat and the children’s separation story (it is possible to chew gum and walk at the same time.)

Now the question being asked is whether the coat was a stupid or evil choice – because there is no good answer. The chic-storm hit the fan even before Melania had landed back in Maryland where she donned the coat AGAIN in muggy Washington weather (a jacket was not needed) – so she clearly wanted the coat’s message to be seen. Melania is not someone who throws on clothes without thought – she is always impeccably attired to the point of being over-dressed. Her towering high heels on a trip to see Hurricane Harvey’s devastation was a poor choice, as was the $1000 (U.S.) designer plaid shirt to garden in, but this coat breaks new ground, because it was on purpose.

Does the coat’s message mean that she doesn’t care about the families being ripped apart by her husband – or perhaps it means that she doesn’t care about her husband? Whatever explanation, Melania doesn’t deserve a pass on this fashion faux pas because the best answer is that it was a stupid choice.

In response, American journalist Parker Molloy purchased the domain where people can donate to charities helping immigrants, and the brand Wildfang quickly launched their version of the coat with the slogan “I really care, don’t you?” All proceeds are going to refugee and immigrant support in Texas.

So maybe more good than harm will come out of this in the end.

Cartoon reactions to Melania’s jacket

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