Fashion Necessities of a Bygone Era

by Dale Peers

While poking about in our massive vault of fashion reveals extraordinary design, colour and textures some of the items students fine most fascinating are items that are no longer relevant to a contemporary fashionista.

Imagine what folks 100 years from now might think of our fashionable necessities!  Here are just a few items from our fashion past which you might not recognize.

Pictured below are three versions of button hooks required to do up the multiple buttons on footwear of the 19th century.  The largest of the three has an ivory shoe horn to aid in slipping one’s foot into fancy dance slippers.

A button hook might also be used on a pair of “Spats.” Short for Spatterdashers, this accessory would be used to keep your highly polished footwear looking its best. These examples show that buttons as well as snaps, in later versions, could be used to fasten these around one’s ankle and over one’s shoes.

Keeping out of the sun to avoid skin damage is popular today but sunblock products are used. Wouldn’t a lovely little parasol such as this one be such a smart addition to one’s look? This clever example is collapsible – the shaft of the parasol folds in half and when fully extended stays in place with a small metal tube (you can see it peeking out just below the fringe) that slides over the hinge. One of the reasons such accessories as walking sticks and parasols fell out of favour was the difficulty one encountered trying to get in and out of the automobile with these.





And, if the atmosphere inside was too warm, fashionable ladies might include one of these luscious looking fans in their evening ensemble. An entire “language of the fan” might be used to flirt with a gentleman, exclaim at his brashness or entice him for a small kiss, hidden behind those lovely ostrich feathers.

Gloves were worn not just to keep hands warm on a wintry day but as an accessory for day, evening and special occasions. Gloves came in a variety of lengths and materials including delicate kid leather or silk. They might also be worn in the bright sunshine, to reduce a freckled appearance to a lady’s hands. These are examples of “Mitts,” (not to be confused with mittens)and are finger-less gloves crocheted in silk. They would have decorated the lady’s hand and arm while not being overly warm to wear.
While most people refer to their phone for the time a gentleman’s prized possession would have been one of these beautiful pocket watches. To ensure that they were safe when taken out of one’s pocket to consult the time a watch chain ending with a fob would make it possible to secure the watch to one’s suit vest. The standard horizontal bar style of fob could be replaced with something more interesting such as the tiny pocket knife found on the end of this watch chain on the right and the tiny barrel on the one in the centre.  (Was the owner a brewer or pub owner?)
The death of Queen Victoria’s consort and husband, Prince Albert made fashionable a niche market of mourning attire. Dressing in particular types of black fabrics and wearing mourning jewellery became popular. These are examples of rare mourning brooches and pendants made of Bog Oak, a fossilized wood. Their lack of shine and sombre motifs made them integral in the outward appearance of grief.
What will be thought of our fashion necessities in 100 years? Will people wonder why we needed different “skins” for our phones? Will they marvel at our obsession for handbags? Will they be unable to explain why anyone would wear Uggs and Crocs? Each generation has marveled at the “foolishness” of the generation that has come before and human behaviour is likely to continue to do just that.

Vivid and Vivacious

by Dale Peers

These two adjectives can apply equally well to the exhibition of Vivienne Poy’s work as they can to Vivienne herself.  Many family and friends joined in the celebration of the opening of our exhibit, Vivienne Poy: A Legacy of Fashion, Politics & Philanthropy.  Vivienne recounted her time in the Fashion Arts Program and spoke of her path to success in the industry.

More than one guest commented on her elegant style, vivacious personality and the passion for creating beauty that shone through each of the garments that she designed and many of which were on display.  And at least one guest appeared in an original Vivienne Poy purchase!

Above, Vivienne is surrounded by her family and left, fellow Canadian Designer Marilyn Brooks celebrates the opening of the exhibit with Vivienne.

Vivienne’s company, Vivienne Poy Mode was run for 14 years and served a clientele who were clearly interested in fashions that would never be dreary or minimal.  Vivienne described her target customers as: “Elegant, mature, active, practical, women who wanted comfort with style.” And that, “Comfort must go hand in hand with beauty and elegance.”  These affirmations explain why her steadfastly loyal clientele came back year after year.

Her work celebrated femininity in the era of power dressing.  The designs reflect the silhouettes of the 1980s and 1990s but in a way that allowed women to be perceived as vibrant and strong, confident in their abilities.

Her love of art and nature can be found in the organic lines as well as flora and fauna expressed both literally and in a more subtle, abstract way.

We posed a variety of questions which Vivienne answered and which highlighted not only the design work but her opinions about fashion and inspiration.  Below are some of those questions and answers interspersed with images from the exhibition.

Q: What first drew you to the field of fashion design?

Vivienne: I was fortunate to have been born with an artistic flare, and have painted sunsets and flowers since I was a very small child. As a practical person, it makes sense to turn that talent into wearable art.

Q: Why did you decide to specialize in knits?

Vivienne: I wanted to create my own fabric. Knitwear gives me the freedom to create textures, sheen, and colours.

Q: Colour and beautiful embellishments appear to be hallmarks of your work. Would you agree with this statement? And, if so can you explain why they were so important to you?

Vivienne: Yes, that’s my signature. We have invented new stitches, new textures, and new ways of beading. Not only are they beautiful, they are unique.

Q: Do you see a connection or relationship between your work as a fashion designer and your work in the senate advocating for gender issues, multiculturalism, and human rights?

Vivienne: Yes, they both require similar skills. Leadership, problem solving, farsightedness and the desire to improve life for others

Q: Given your education and obvious appreciation of history, how do you think an understanding of fashion history can help young designers? Vivienne: A lot of inspiration as well as techniques can be learnt from the past. Fashion history is a reflection of society of its day. Understanding social trends is important for fashion designers.

Q: How can Canadians who love fashion contribute to furthering human rights and equality when they purchase clothes?

Vivienne: Don’t buy clothes made in countries where manufacturing conditions are known to be unsafe. Buy clothes that are well made, even at a higher cost, and keep them for a long time, which in turn will help to save our planet.

Q: Do you think Canadians have a unique sense of fashion? If so what makes us unique?

Vivienne: No, Canadian fashion sense is global.

Q: What advice would you give to young fashion designers about to enter the industry today?

Vivienne: Fashion design is hard work and not glamorous. One needs to learn and be observant. Be innovative and creative!

The Seneca Fashion Resource is the grateful recipient of over 275 of Vivienne’s unique knitwear designs. In addition to the garments Vivienne has donated each pattern for her hand-knitted pieces. This provides a unique research opportunity for fashion scholars and particularly those with a love knitwear.

Vivienne Poy: A Legacy of Fashion, Politics and Philanthropy

Our annual exhibition will highlight the tremendous donation made to the Fashion Resource Centre by fashion designer and Seneca Alumnus Dr. Vivienne Poy. 


21st Century Atelier at the Royal Ontario Museum.

By Dale Peers
On Thursday February 8th, 2018 alumni from the Fashion Arts program of Seneca College’s School of Fashion presented their work at “21st Century Atelier: Redefining Fashion in a New Age of Design.” As part of the ROM’s program series, guests were able see the designers’ work from conception to completion. Live mannequins strolled throughout the evening, stopping to pose for selfies with guests while the designers gladly explained their inspiration and processes.
Here are just a few images of this marvelous event!

Designer Sepideh Ghahreman ( in the background below, left) speaks with guests while one of her designs is modeled with its dramatic headpiece

Ivan (Haorui) Liang watches from the background as this model wears one of his innovative pieces  inspired by processes of the brain.

Jing Zhao prepares to welcome guests to her display and then encourages each to add their personal touch to fabric she plans to use in her next collection.




Designer Tala Nehlawi (above) speaks with guests about her process and the laser cutting technology used in her textiles while Kinoo Arcentales works on a new graphic design for textiles he may incorporate into his line, Yana.

The concept of couture fashion is one that, in this age of fast fashion, needs to be seen to be understood and fully appreciated. The 21st Atelier at the ROM allowed guests to meet and discuss fashion design with these young, creative minds and compare and contrast the processes they use with the work of iconic couturier Christian Dior.

Decoding Dior

by Dale Peers
In February the Royal Ontario Museum was invaded by Seneca College’s School of Fashion. Thanks to the support of Seneca College’s Alumni, Annual Giving and Advancement department the Fashion Business/Fashion Business Management and the Fashion Arts students were able to visit the Dior exhibit curated by Dr. Alexandra Palmer where they came to have a better understanding of the art and science behind couture. Later this term the Fashion Arts students will also use this exhibit as inspiration for an assignment in which they will base a 21st century collection on the work of the House of Dior.

While it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of the garments in the displays, Dr. Alexandra Palmer and her team have created a learning experience for students of fashion as well as all guests to the ROM, regardless of their knowledge of Dior.

The exhibit begins with an explanation of the House of Dior’s phenomenal records for each couture garment. Called “Decoding Dior”, it describes how each garment is identified by its name, season and year, the line it was a part of, the occasion it would have been worn, the Atelier Flou or Tailleur (the person in the atelier responsible for the dressmaking of that garment) the mannequin who wore it in fashion shows and the textiles used.

Fashion Business student Jennet Moon closely examines one of the iPads positioned throughout the exhibit.

The incredible detailed information about each garment, as well as original design sketches and the history of the wearer is on ipads making the information accessible in English as well as French. For example: the Palmyre gown was worn by Toronto socialite Mrs. Dorothy Boylen for the photo published in the Toronto Telegram in 1953 on the occasion of her being on the list of the 10 best dressed women of Toronto.  Mrs. Boylen was in very good company wearing the Palmyre gown! It was also owned by two other famous women, Oona O’Neil (wife of Charlie Chaplin) and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.

Pieces of incredible embroidery created for the House of Dior gowns are also on display including this piece which became part of the Palmyre gown.


Mavis Powell’s parents purchased the Venus gown in 1949 for her debut which she recalls “was an afternoon tea.” And, that event  “was the only time the gown was ever worn.” The frothy confection of pink silk tulle, sequins, and paillette embroidery was a favourite of many of the students. And reminded at least one guest of Glinda’s gown from the Wizard of Oz.

The Cocotte wool houndstooth twill afternoon dress was worn by Mrs. Joan Lepofsky. It is a wonderful example of one of the patterns that became a Dior signature. An interesting choice for women’s wear as it had historically been used in menswear and informal sportswear. Perhaps the practice during the second world war of remaking men’s suits for women (early fashion sustainability!) was a way to transition from the war to the new look which becomes his signature style.

The pattern is also found in the glass and the boxes that housed his fragrances.


While Miss Dior was his first fragrance his favourite would have been Diorissimo which was the scent of lily of the valley. We learn in the exhibit that this flower was his good luck charm and was to be found embroidered or on textile prints for some of his garments. Dior also wore this flower and tucked a sprig of it in the hemline of his couture gowns. A fan with the scent was also given to guests at one of his fashion shows and this example shows how beautiful it was when used as inspiration for this necklace, earring and brooch set.

The exhibit is sponsored by Holt Renfrew and details the relationship with the Canadian retailer and details how Canadian customers came to be dressed in Dior.


From garden party to cocktail hour, from debutants to socialites the exhibit provides us with Dior all day. And, evidence that one could be dressed from head to toe with hats, handbags, jewellery, fragrance, stockings and shoes.


The opportunity to see this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit continues just until March 18th.

Vintage in the Age of Instagram by Emma MacArthur

I’m pleased to be adding some new writers to our Fashion Resource Centre Blog!  You will have just recently seen the blog about Dior by Jennifer Dares and now a new blog for our Vintage fashion lovers by Emma MacArthur.  Emma will also be working on our Pinterest and Instagram pages for the Fashion Resource Centre so be sure to like us and follow us.

This is going to be a fabulously fashionable new year!



Vintage in the Age of Instagram

By Emma MacArthur

In an age where everything we eat, wear and do is documented in self-curated archives online for the world to see, it´s become easier than ever to express one’s self and how one wants to be perceived by the world. From Snapchat to Facebook to Instagram, the world is enthralled by the idea that we can express our true identities (or create new ones). With this new ability to create and express, social media has become the epicenter for building communities with people who once felt alone with their interests and hobbies.

One of these, happens to be the vintage community.  If you were a lover of vintage fashion, you might have felt like you stuck out like a sore thumb, especially if you lived in a relatively small town. Now in the age of Instagram, you may no longer feel alone, because there are so many great ways to explore the vintage world on this social media platform.

In fact there are so many different types of vintage fashion accounts to pick satisfy your vintage brain and fill your feed with classic looks. Here are just a few from the many waiting to be found on your Explore Page.

Let’s begin with Personal style accounts:

Some of the greatest vintage accounts are those of the every-day common vintage-loving fan. They live their daily lives fully clad in vintage and document their lifestyle. What’s truly exciting is following people who wear different eras and seeing the difference in what vintage means to each of them.

There are people like @katielouisepowell who is fascinated by the 1920s/30s/40s. From her day-to-day wardrobe to her job as a designer for reproduction period clothing, to her husband who studies historical costume and designs with her, Katie lives and breathes her passion for these eras.

Then there are people like @marisolmuro, whose wardrobe, hair and overall energy scream 60s/70s groovy flower power.

And @burntorangepeel who wears a different era, head to toe every day.











This is just a short list of folks who might formerly have felt they belonged to a community of misfits but now share their love of a time that once was.

More include:

  • @idacath
  • @nibelungenlied
  • @erenanaomi
  • @suits_and_shooters
  • @modernjunecleaver
  • @maitoyoshima
  • @noirgirl39
  • @misslarkbahar
  • @rougeyourknees
  • @d.c.ceja
  • @joyfullyvintage
  • @thehenryrodriguez
  • @mollyrose
  • greengalosh
  • scottfrasersimpson
  • maggieloveday

Historical Archival Accounts

These accounts are wonderful for high-resolution accurate photos of real period clothing complete with full descriptions. The obvious ones would be official existing museums and archives (Like us!!) however some of the best accounts are those run by regular folks like who, on their free time, repost images and descriptions from museum databases.

Other great accounts are those run by archivists who, in the course of their work give us an up close behind doors that would likely never open for the general public.





Some examples include:

  • @terence_donovan_archive
  • @hamishbowles
  • @1837auctions
  • @chicagohistorymuseum
  • @timothyhughnicol
  • @chanel_archives
  • @thecorsetedbeauty
  • @metmuseum
  • @americanduchess
  • @historical freak
  • @Jessica_pushor
  • @Royal_collection_trust
  • @romtoronto
  • @benjamin_wild

Ecommerce Accounts

If you love vintage clothing then you most likely wear it here and there. Sometimes it can be difficult to find vintage shops in your small town or you simply don’t have time to go and shop, so online vintage shops are incredibly convenient and fun.

Some of the best vintage can be found online and a prime example of that would be Butch Wax Vintage. The owner of this Instagram shop focuses on ultra rare evening dresses (try not to drool too much when you’re scrolling).

Another great outlet for vintage online is @shopwhurl. Whurl was initially created to be one simple vintage shop, but it has now grown into a vintage marketplace app. To put it simply, it’s like a strictly vintage Ebay. To summarize, since its inception, Whurl has brought the vintage community even closer together by helping us all to buy, sell and trade with our favourite vintage-wearers.

Some other online/Instagram shops to check out:

  • @butchwaxvintage
  • @shopwhurl
  • @siberiavintage
  • @publicbuttervintage
  • @ms.tipsvintage
  • @strangedesires_
  • @scarletragevintage
  • @loftvintage
  • @crushvintage
  • @archetypevintage

These are just a few fabulous fashion vintage accounts for you to explore.  Once you start you will find your Discovery page will seek out more and more accounts to explore.

Why not forward one of your favorites in our Comment section below.

Happy Vintage Hunting.



A Dior Masterpiece

I have previously written about this year being the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior and on November 25th the Royal Ontario Museum opened a special Dior exhibit that runs until March 2018.  Earlier this year my colleague, Jennifer Dares wrote a research paper on one of the exceptional Dior ensembles in our Fashion Resource Centre collection.

Jennifer has given us permission to publish her research here.  Happy reading about this Dior Masterpiece.

Research Report: Dior, “Rubis”

This women’s ensemble, named “Rubis” consists of two garments, a sheath dress and a co-ordinate coat, from the Spring / Summer 1957 collection. The theme was “Freedom”, and was translated through the idea of freedom of movement. Christian Dior passed on October 23, 1957, making this his last collection. The textile is a solid red silk surah shantung in Mr. Dior’s favourite colour, hence the namesake “Dior Red”.

The below hip, double-breasted box-fit coat has sloped shoulders with three- quarter length kimono sleeves that are slightly flared at the hem. The side panel becomes a gusset as it extends from under the arm to more than halfway down the undersleeve. The built up neckline crosses in the front to create a wide V-shape, framing the face. There is a centre back seam and tuck darts to provide shaping for the collar. The buttonholes are bound with 1” four-hole plastic buttons. There are inseam front pockets. Side back vents allow for ease of movement. This garment is fully lined with silk, therefore the seams are not visible, but it is most likely that there is not selvedge.


The sleeveless sheath dress has wide straps that create a square neckline. At first glance, the structured and tailored bow with self-fringed edges draws you in, as it gives the illusion that the it has twisted the left front of the dress, from there the tucks radiate to shape the left side of the garment. The entire garment is underlined in organdy, providing the structure that appears from the outside. Upon further inspection, other details indicate the special attention that has been given to the design of this garment. The right front princess seam diverts and separates below the waist like a fork in the road or a broken wishbone. The interior of the garment continues to impress, with a boned foundation made of silk lining. The foundation is hip length and has metal boning inserted into exposed casings, which have been stitched over the seam allowance. The closure consists of silver coloured metal hooks and eyes. The exterior of the dress has a gold coloured metal zipper, centred on the back seam, with a single hook and eye at the top to secure. The back vent has a self panel hanging from behind, to give the effect of a second layer. The disc shaped weights in the hem allow these garments to hang perfectly. There is no visible selvedge on any of the seams in the sheath.

A size label is not found inside the garments, but the dress measurements indicate the garments were a size 4 or 6 by today’s standards. The bust is 34 inches (86.36 cm), the waist is 25 inches (63.5 cm) and the hip is 37 inches (93.98 cm). The built in foundation may have allowed the wearer to be slightly larger, as it would act as a girdle or a spanks of modern day. The silhouette and bow detail focus, give the waist a flattering cinched effect. The foundation would have provided bust support and held the waist in, depending on the wearer’s size.

The garments are machine stitched with with some hand finishing. The labels are all sewn in by hand. The majority of the coat is machine stitched, with the snap and buttons being sewn by hand in matching thread. The sheath from the exterior looks to be mostly machine stitched. The trim to finish the interior neckline of the dress has been applied by hand, all of the tucks and shaping to create the twist effect from the outside have been stitched by hand, as well the inside panel for the back vent and the hem.

The coat and dress are made of a solid red silk surah shantung. This textile has a diagonal weave and slubbed yarns. The textile has been manipulated at the edges of the bow using a fraying technique to create a self fringe. The coat and the sheath’s foundation are constructed with silk lining. The sheath is underlined with organdy to give it structure.

The coat has one label, just below the back neckline. The information woven into this label is “MADE IN FRANCE, Printemps-Ete 1957, Christian Dior, PARIS”. The sheath dress has two labels. The “Holt Renfrew & COMPANY LIMITED” label is on the inside of the back left foundation and the “MADE IN FRANCE, Printemps-Ete 1957,

Christian Dior, PARIS” label is on the inside of the back right foundation. There are no content or care labels.