Seneca’s Rich Fashion History

Welcome to the inaugural blog post of Seneca’s Fashion Resource Centre! I can’t tell you how excited I am to share the wealth of information and fascinating stories that have developed over the years. So, why not start from the beginning so you have an idea of how we got to where we are today.

One of the things I like to share with new colleagues at Seneca College is its rich fashion history. In order to give the full picture, I have to go right back to the College’s inception. When the Ontario Government began its expansion of post-secondary education in the Centennial year of Canada; 1967, Seneca College was one of the first colleges to recognize the opportunity presented. And, it was a small group of Fashion students who were in the very first graduating class.

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First students to graduate from Seneca College’s fashion program in 1967

From this auspicious beginning there was no stopping the expansion and impact that Seneca would have on the fashion industry. The 1970s saw increased growth in programs which provided career paths and opportunities for studying fashion. The Fashion department diversified so that those who were interested could study the Business as well as the Art of Fashion. Our eclectic faculty now included Visual Merchandising, Cosmetics and Floral Design.

By the next decade fashion programs had solid support from Industry and allowed us to provide workplaces with well-prepared employees. Our School of Fashion continued to grow and continually upgrade its labs and methods of engaging our students in learning.

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Students of Seneca College’s School of Fashion

In 1989, we officially opened our Seneca Fashion Resource Centre, the first of its kind in Canada. I’m not shy to repeat that – it was the first of its kind in Canada.  Thanks for allowing that indulgence but it needed to be said.

Dale Peers working with students at the Fashion Resource Centre

Dale Peers working with students at the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

As Faculty sought out different and interesting ways of delivering curriculum, they did it through collecting, recording, accessioning and finding industry support for its unique collection of clothing and accessories.  What helped the Fashion Resource Centre really take off was the joint efforts of the Fashion Group International, members of Seneca’s Fashion Program Advisory Committees and  the Costume Society of Ontario as well as wonderful Canadian designers like Claire Haddad, Marilyn Brooks, and Vivienne Poy.  These individuals saw what a wonderful opportunity this Centre could and would be and supported it by donating large portions of their design collections, giving their time and “spreading the word”.

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Costumes donated to the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre by Claire Haddad

Marilyn Brooks, Dale Peers, and Claire Haddad at Seneca Fashion Resource Centre's May 3, 2011 exhibit celebrating Canadian fashion

Marilyn Brooks, Dale Peers, and Claire Haddad at Seneca Fashion Resource Centre’s “Oh Canada” exhibit, May 3, 2011

Great relationships with curators at the ROM and the Bata Shoe Museum helped to get us off on the right foot by creating policies and procedures that would serve the collection, the college and all our stakeholders immediately as well as in the future. We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the pioneers who helped make the Fashion Resource Centre the rich, unique institution it is. This collection is ours to protect, conserve and continue to grow.

What continues to amaze me are the treasures we acquire!  A month rarely goes by when we are not contacted by someone who has heard of the collection and has something they think might be of value.  Everything from the smallest measuring tape rewound into the belly of a tiny donkey by its tail to the rhinestone encrusted dress with matching cape that weighs at least 15 kilos; the civil war widow’s black and pink silk dress to the tiny 19th century high button baby boots; bog oak mourning jewellery to a gentleman’s gibus (collapsible top hat) to an Alexander McQueen baroque inspired pant suit.  And the list goes on… It’s a veritable feast for fashion lovers. And each addition to the collection provides an opportunity to learn more about our past – how we lived and what we have worn, and as this study inspires future designers, what we may wear in the future.

Measuring tape that rewinds into the belly of a donkey

Measuring tape that rewinds into the belly of a donkey

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19th century baby boots

In 2013 we began another amazing project that is sure to be our next milestone: the 360 degree photography of our collection.  This project will allow many more visitors to examine the collection through a digital portal.  All of this information is being shared with the public through our Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter sites…things that could not have been imagined back when the College was built and we were wearing go go boots.

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360 degree photo project

So, in 2014 I am happy to launch this blog which will be yet another pathway to learn about and enjoy our one-of-a-kind collection.

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