Category Archives: Film & TV

Red Carpet looks for 2017

True fashionistas love the award season because the most elegant, over-the-top (some might say bizarre) looks are absolutely appropriate.  We get to see, for a few short weeks the artistry that is haute couture worn by our silver screen royalty.  Let’s look at how the eclecticism of fashion is reflected in the past influences filtered through modern style.

Janelle Monae, singer, songwriter, actress and model channeled the Madame du Pompadour and Marie Antoinette set in this Elie Saab masterpiece.  In the incredible split skirt with paniered hips as well as embroidery and touches of gold, Monae could have waltzed down the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles as confidently as she did the red carpet in La La Land.

Janelle Monae (left), Marie Antoinette (right)

Janelle Monae (left), image from; Marie Antoinette (right), image from

Both Emma Stone (in Givenchy) and Olivia Culpo (in Marchesa) incorporated “flapper fringe” in their elegant attire while Octavia Spencer evoked the glamour goddesses of Jean Harlowe, Ginger Rogers and Carol Lombard with feathers and satin.

Emma Stone,

Emma Stone (left), image from; Woman from 1920s (centre), image from Wikipedia; Olivia Culpo (right), image from

Octavia Spencer (left), image from

Octavia Spencer (left), image from; Ginger Rogers (right), image from

While not one of my personal favourites, Dakota Johnson’s gold gown by Gucci seemed to reference the work of Elsa Schiaparelli who often had a padded shoulder and jewelry that complemented her work. Her famous trompe l’oeil sweater also made use of the feminine bow.

Dakota Johnson (left), image from; Elsa Schiaparelli (center), image from; Sweater by Elsa Schiaparelli (right), image from

Dakota Johnson (left), image from; Elsa Schiaparelli (centre), image from; Sweater by Elsa Schiaparelli (right), image from

Dior couture seems to be the definition of elegance and the gown worn by Kirsten Dunst is no exception to the rule. Complete with the high-low hemline, model Dovima wears Dior as beautifully as Dunst.

Kirsten Dunst (left, image from; Dovima (right), image from

Kirsten Dunst (left, image from; Dovima (right), image from

While the hem length of Priyanka Chopra’s gown is by no means “mini”, the geometric pattern and colour palette that Ralph & Russo have used is similar to the work by 1960s designers like Courreges, Cardin and Rabanne.

Priyanka Chopra (right), image from; Fabric (right), image from

Priyanka Chopra (right), image from; Fabric (right), image from

The renewed Halston label pays tribute to his use of bias cut fabrics as worn here by Rachel McAdams and in the vintage halter neck gown by Halston.

Rachel McAdams (left), image from; Halston Dress (right), image from

Rachel McAdams (left), image from; Halston Dress (right), image from

Ryan Gosling’s tuxedo shirt with the ruffles is perhaps a nod to his role, not in La La Land but in The Nice Guys (2016) in which he plays a 1970s era private detective. The shirt is certainly reminiscent of those found in that era.

Ryan Gosling (left), image from; Ruffle Shirt (right), image from

Ryan Gosling (left), image from; Ruffle Shirt (right), image from

I can’t decide whether Terrence Howard’s Smoking Jacket style tuxedo is better or worse – especially since smoking is not as fashionable or at least as possible within three metres of most buildings as it formerly was. (Should anyone, even Hugh Hefner, be sporting a smoking jacket?)

Terrence Howard (left), image from; Smoking Jacket (right), image from (right)

Terrence Howard (left), image from; Smoking Jacket (right), image from (right)

And finally, Naomi Harris in Calvin Klein brings us to the minimalism of the 21st century via Calvin Klein during the 1990s.

Naomi Harris (left), image from; Kate Moss, image from

Naomi Harris (left), image from; Kate Moss (right), image from

Fashion, whether on the runway or the red carpet is so interesting to observe because it is modern and new but the photos in this blog post remind us that the past can often be seen in the present.


To the Nines

The 73rd Annual Academy Awards - Press Room

Julia Roberts at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards. Image from

Regardless of which award show is your favourite – The Golden Globes, The People’s Choice Awards or The Oscars -they all provide the opportunity to critique red carpet fashions.  There are always hits and misses but, more importantly from a costume perspective these are the events at which our modern nobility wear the fashions of the moment.  And sometimes, these fashions are reminiscent of an earlier era or are perhaps, vintage fashions from a designer – remember Julia Roberts in vintage Valentino at the 2001 Academy Awards?

The opportunity to wear such glamorous dresses with fabulous jewelry, shoes, hair and makeup are few and far between for most of us.  In centuries past, even decades past, there were certainly more reasons to be dressed to the nines. (And what does that fashion phrase mean?  There are a number of suggested explanations for being considered “dressed to the nines” — one is the nine yards of fabric that it would take to make a really nice suit, another attributes the phrase to the 99th British Regiment of the Foot who were always immaculately dressed and still another suggest the French “neuf” which means both nine and new meant someone was dressed to the “nines” in their new clothing.)

In earlier years, pre-Awards, men and women used their fashionable attire to demonstrate their social standing in society.  “Looking the part” meant making it clear what your role in society was.  If you were a young lady in British society you would be entering the marriage mart and had to dress to draw the attention of a suitable husband.  (For suitable, read wealthy and acceptable to mama and papa.)  If you were of a particular social status you would be presented to the monarchy (the original fashion trendsetters) and this would call for very specific clothing that would appease the Crown and again demonstrate for all, your place in society.  Attending balls, the theatre and racing or sporting events like Ascot also required appropriate attire.

Image from

Guests at a ball. Image from

Debutante balls provided an opportunity for both British and North American women to be presented to society and then, on a more equitable level, the high school prom (another opportunity to dress to the nines) marked the transition for young girls/teens of different classes to be seen as fashionable women.

Image from

Debutantes at a ball. Image from

Image from

Modern debutantes at a ball. Image from

shirley bob

Bob Hope and Shirley Booth at Academy Awards. Image from

By the time the Academy Awards were first presented, film stars had supplanted members of the nobility as the fashion trendsetters.  (One could argue that Grace Kelly/Princess Grace of Monaco was able to be both celebrity and nobility.  She was an award winner in 1954, and then a princess in 1956).

Image from

Grace Kelly at Academy Awards. Image from

The first Academy Awards were presented live in 1929 but it wasn’t until 1953 that the first televised Academy Awards was aired, hosted by Bob Hope.  The winner of the Best Actress Award, Shirley Booth, wore clothing reflecting the times.  She wore little white gloves and a gown from an unknown designer.

The Academy Awards are but a few weeks away yet we have already seen some red carpet fashion moments. Amy Adams seemed to me to be Grace “Kellyesque” in her elegantly ruched dress choice while Anna Kendrick’s ball gown reminded me of Shirley Booth’s in terms of the decoration and the fullness of the skirt.

Amy Adams and Anna Kendrick

Left: Amy Adams, Right: Anna Kendrick, at Golden Globe Awads. Images from

The original Blonde bombshell, Veronica Lake seemed to be channeled by Reese Witherspoon this year.

veronica reese

Left: Veronica Lake, Right: Reese Witherspoon, Images from and

There are often fashion faux pas (would this be dressed to the threes?) everywhere from the red carpet to prom night, and we certainly don’t want some of these looks repeated. This is one reason why it is important to study these as well as the classic fashions of eras gone by — all of which are available as part of our unique Fashion Resource Centre.

Seneca Fashion Resource Centre Costumes

Seneca Fashion Resource Centre Costumes



Downton and Us


We have just closed the doors on our Fourth Annual Fashion Resource Centre Exhibition.  Real estate is always an expensive proposition so we are fortunate to have access to 1000 square feet of prime space through our Boutique @ Seneca.  During the lull in-between winter and spring semesters we are able to transform the space into a gallery and this year (as mentioned in our previous blog) our topic was the au currant – Downton Abbey.  On display were approximately 40 garments from the era in which the series is set.  Although not worn on the show the items chosen were selected because they were comparable to what we might have seen worn by the characters. The parallel between the television show reproduction costumes and the beautiful pieces in our collection couldn’t have been more perfect!


The Exhibition covered everything from dowager Countess Violet’s predilection for styles worn in the past during her heyday to those that the new vanguard of Mary, Edith, Sybil and cousin Rose wore. We, in turn, have lovely garments from the 1900s to the late 1920s.  Underwear, hats, shoes, coats, gloves and jewellry were also on view.  Images of the actors wearing similar garments gave a point of comparison for those visitors who are not yet fans.


And, as the series chronicles the lives of males as well as females, upstairs as well as down, we had suitable attire for the Earl of Grantham, his son-in-law Matthew, and servants Mrs. Hughes, O’Brien and Anna.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words (and because I’m sure you would rather see than read about it) here are more photos from the exhibit:

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Our visitors signed our guest book and wrote comments like: Wonderful!, Gorgeous!, Just beautiful!, Exquisite Collection!  Great Exhibition!  Enjoyed my trip back in time! I think we can safely say it was a success.

One comment suggested “you should publish some kind of book to show the public your collection.”  How appropriate as we continue to work on our Digital Fashion Photography project.  This is exactly what we hope to accomplish – a site that will allow virtual visits at any time of the year rather than having to wait for that one week between semesters to mount an exhibit.  That isn’t to say that we wouldn’t still do exhibitions because I believe we would still want to be able to create a context for the garments to be shown within.  There is nothing like being able to see how much people appreciate our artifacts.

In good Downton style we celebrated the opening of the exhibit with a lady-like tea complete with china cups, scones and cream and delicious party sandwiches.


Many thanks go to the wonderful staff of the School of Fashion for their support.  Gitte Hansen, Chair of the School of Fashion, support staff: Debbie Cadoo and Stephanie Valadao, student staff of the Fashion Resource Centre, Amaryn Boyd and Alex Burke.

So, what’s next?  After the garments are safely stored, back in their boxes or on padded hangers I will be back in the classroom with our summer semester and introducing another class to the Evolution of Fashion using our special archives.

In terms of projects, I am already thinking about next year.  Any thoughts?  What might you like to see in our 5th annual exhibition.  I would love to know what you would like to see.  Send us a comment!


Downton Abbey and Us

The Spadina House exhibit, “Dressing for Downton” runs to April 13th but tickets for die hard Downton Abbey fans to be up close and personal with garments worn by Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, and Elizabeth McGovern are sold out! No surprises there! The British television show has enthralled many of us over the 3 years it has been on the air.


Costumes from Downton Abbey on display at Spadina House

photo 4 (3)

Lord Grantham’s suits on display at Spadina House

Downton Dresses on Display at Spadina House

Dresses from Downton Abbey on display at Spadina House

The cost of admission to the exhibition also included a special treat – a chance to tour the whole house. After viewing the costumes, a wonderfully knowledgeable tour guide led us upstairs/downstairs and gave us the unique perspective of the lives of the house’s owners, the Austin’s, real-life contemporaries of the fictional Grantham household of Downton Abbey.

Frequent comparisons between the families as we wandered the halls of the great house, allowed all of us to step back in history, and think about what it would have been like to be a privileged member of the family who danced at a ball in the living room or in contrast, scrub potatoes in the kitchen as a hardworking maid.

Family Portraits of the Austin Family

Family Portraits of the Austin Family

Like the Grantham’s, the Austin’s had a long and lovely history with Spadina House. They were the first, last and only family in residence having built the house in 1866 and lived there continuously until they made an arrangement to donate the house to the City of Toronto in 1982. In 2010 the house was renovated to replicate the period between the two world wars with wallpaper, furnishings and décor of that period. This is the same period of time in which the family at Downton is shown.

Left: Spadina House, Right: Set of Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle)

Left: Spadina House, Right: Set of Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle)


Left: Drawing Room of Spadina House, Right: Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey played by Maggie Smith (Images from Toronto Star: 01, 02)

There were other parallels drawn between the two families. Fictional Lady Sybil spent the First World War as a nurse and one of the Austin’s daughters did the same. With the deaths of so many young men during World War I the social institution of marriage and therefore the position of women changed radically. Like Lady Edith, one of the Austin daughters’s missed out on marriage as a result of this, and remained a “spinster.” We can all wait in anticipation to see whether Edith is able to recover from being first left at the altar and then having her fiancé disappear into Germany.


Left: Lady Sybil’s nurse uniform on display at Spadina House, Right: Image of Lady Sybil from PBS

The Austin’s elegant dining room resembled (on a smaller scale) that of the one at Downton Abbey with beautiful antiques, silverware and the requisite gallery of family portraits. The butler’s pantry just behind the dining room brought to mind the character Carson, lovingly polishing silver and determining what wine should be decanted. I could easily see him working in this little room.

Dining Room of Spadina House

Dining room of Spadina House

Downton Abbey Dining Room

Downton Abbey Dining Room. Image from

The great day at Spadina House has inspired me to provide another opportunity for fans to view garments from this era which are housed in our Fashion Resource Centre Collection. The exhibit, “Downton and Us” will run for just one week – April 28th to May 2nd from 10:00 to 5:00 in the Boutique, Newnham Campus, Rm. B2024, Seneca College, 1750 Finch Ave. East. It will hopefully provide one more opportunity to enjoy the elegance of the era. Although we do not have any costumes from the program we do have beautiful examples of the same types of garments that would have been worn by these characters.

Opening night will be on Monday April 28th from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and, as all well-mannered inhabitants of both Spadina House and Downton Abbey would know, the favor of a response regarding your attendance would be greatly appreciated.

If you would like to attend our opening night please email me at: so that we may be sure to put the kettle on for a sufficient number of cups of tea!


Calling all Downton Abbey fans


Downton Abbey cast. Image from

Calling all Downton Abbey fans!  (And, if you aren’t, why not?)  This wonderful British series by Julian Fellowes has been all the rage especially in the costume community for a couple of years now.  From March 11th to April 13th a selection of gowns from this series will be on display at Toronto’s Spadina House Museum.  I thought we might take a sneak peak at garments in our collection before going to see these costumes.

From left: King Edward VII,  Titanic. Images from

From left: King Edward VII, Titanic. Images from

Not sure this qualifies as a spoiler alert but the opening of this series is marked by the sinking of the Titanic (April 1912), neatly setting the era for us.  And, for fashion fans what a wonderful place to begin! This period has been referred to as the “Transitional Era or Decade” and for many good reasons.  To begin with, it is the turn of the 20th century and as King Edward passes away in 1910 so too do the social conventions and attitudes of his conservative mother Queen Victoria. The decade of the ‘teens” (1910 to 1919) will see a number of transitions.  The most radical event of the decade, the First World War (1914-1918) will see horrific changes in warfare with modern weaponry, fighting and death on a previous unimaginable scale.


British suffragette. Image from

The social positions and lives of women will change with the suffragette movement (Votes for Women, as Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins proclaims – before quickly stuffing her banner in the closet with the arrival home of Mr. Banks) and the “weaker” sex confirming they are so not the weaker sex as they take over the vacancies left by men on the farms, in the factories and in business during the war.

On the fashion front, great Designer Paul Poiret, loudly proclaims to have freed women with eliminating the corset in his designs.  But, women should not get too excited as he shackles their ankles with his signature hobble skirts.

Downton Abbey beautifully traces the social changes occurring during this fascinating time through the story lines as well as the fashionsAnd the characters are larger than life.  The Earl of Grantham, owner of Downton Abbey, has three daughters and no sons.  As the story begins these young women are living through radical change in their roles as the second decade of the 20th century progresses. The eldest Mary, who loses her fiancé on the Titanic must now find another suitable man to marry as the Abbey can only pass to a male heir.  She is bound by the social requirements of the previous century and seems somewhat cold and rigid in this role.  Her beautiful gowns announce her and her role as the future Countess.

Lady Mary. Image from

Lady Mary Crowley. Image from

The Earl’s mother, the dowager Lady Grantham wears gowns that are appropriate to her Victorian upbringing and confirm that her character (and she is a character-  as only the great actress Maggie Smith can be!)) finds the clearly defined lines that separate social classes to be reassuring. She knows not only her place but everyone else’s too!  She is appalled to see her son come to dinner one night dressed casually – a tuxedo instead of the formal tailcoats she is used to seeing.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham. Image from

The Dowager Countess of Grantham. Image from

Youngest daughter Sybil is a true rebel and appears in season one in a (gasp) pantaloons gown!  She has made friends with the chauffeur and is off to political meetings unchaperoned. She enlists the help of the below stairs staff to teach her to cook so that she can qualify to become a nurse and will eventually convince her family to turn the Abbey into a convalescent home for soldiers of the war.  She puts away her gowns and adopts the shorter hem lined nurse’s uniform to perform the tasks that her grandmother would never have considered.

Lady Sybil Crawley

Lady Sybil Crawley and soldier. Image from

Since Poiret’s hobble skirts and delicate dresses would not stand up to the rigors of the war women had to adjust them.  Sadly, our Collection does not possess a Poiret gown (Yet!) but we do have some pieces that are truly Transitional.   While the colours are similar to the soft whites and pastels that were popular in the Edwardian decade these pretty pieces show the rising waistline that Poiret suggested.

Dresses from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Dresses from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre


Dresses from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Anna, maid to the Downton Abbey girls is an indispensable servant to them (helping them dress each day, caring for their clothes, even helping them re-locate a body).  Getting into and out of these dresses requires help.  Although corsets have been phased out they are not gone completely and boning/stays are found inside some of these gowns.  Zippers have not yet made their way into fashions of this period so hook and eyes as well as buttons (and often both) are used to fasten these dressesIf we still dressed this way today – we would all need our very own ladies maid – sounds good, doesn’t it?

Anna dressing Lady Mary. Image from

Anna dressing Lady Mary. Image from

Many of the dresses are also constructed and decorated in such a way that you cannot really make out the closing.  This attention to detail is also a thing of the past.  Thanks to designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s the zipper became a quick substitute for all those hooks, eyes and buttons. But in this period great effort was made to conceal them.  As you can see here (see photo) black lace appliques are used to decorate the sleeves and the piece on the centre back of the bodice actually fastens over the closure.  The inside of this has an ingenious hook and eye fastening.  Where the average placement of hooks and eyes places all of the hooks on one side of an opening and all the eyes on the opposite, this one alternates hooks and eyes from side to side.  Why bother going to so much effort?  The opposing force that pulls one hook one way and another hood in the other direction means that the closure stays tightly fastened.  And, if you think about this placement of hooks and eyes you can compare this to the teeth of a zipper!


Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre


Close-up of hook and eyes closure

This series follows the residents of Downton Abbey through the First World War and the beginnings of the Roaring Twenties.  Cousin Rose, in season four is presented to the King as a young debutant reflecting an earlier era but she is a flapper at heart.  Despite her rebellious spirit, Rose does what is conventionally acceptable and dresses in a lovely gown of white appropriate for her presentation at court.


Rose being presented at court. Image from


Lady Edith. Image from


Seneca’s Fashion Centre yellow satin gown with purple floral embellishment is just the sort of thing that Edith, middle sister of the Downton girls, might have worn as a presentation or debutant gown.

For cooler evenings our wonderful pink and blue cape or orange faconne shawl would have added a “wee” bit of warmth and a big splash of panache!  Our automobile coat or “duster” would have been perfect for Sybil as she learned to drive with Tom.


From left: Orange facon shawl, automobile coat, and pink and blue cape from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

As season four progresses we see the female silhouette becoming flatter and more boyish.  Rose, Edith, Lady Mary, and even their American grandmother(played by Shirley MacLaine) wear the flapper style!  (But, that we’ll save for a future blog!)

One of the things I really love about Caroline McCall, costume designer for the series is that the Crawley ladies repeat their fashions.  Despite the success of the program they haven’t taken advantage of the concept that real women didn’t purchase and purge their wardrobes.  They bought something and wore it more than once and you see this with the re-appearance of certain dresses in different scenes, even different episodes.  As much as I would love a fashion feast for the eyes with each new episode the repetition makes the Crawley family seem real.  Despite living in an Abbey.

Spadina House Museum, Toronto. Image from Facebook.

Spadina House Museum, Toronto. Image from Facebook.

If you are a Downton fan too, I’m sure you can hardly wait to visit Spadina House this spring to see some of these costumes.  And, do take some time to look at the restoration of the house.  It has been lovingly restored with colours, fabrics, and furnishings appropriate to this time.

More details about tours, including times and ticket prices, can be found on this website.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this little peak at the Transitional fashions of our Fashion Resource Centre.