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.


Dior: Anniversary of an Iconic Fashion House

Drop Dior into the conversation and regardless of those assembled, everyone knows the topic has shifted to fashion.  And, most know that the founder, Christian Dior, launched an empire of fashion that reaches around the globe and into our personal space scented with aftershave or perfumed soaps.  What fewer know is that despite the longevity of the House of Dior, the creative genius of Monsieur Dior was at the head of the house for just ten short years.

This fact may be better known as the 70th anniversary of the house will be celebrating not only the establishment of the house but those individuals who continued his fashion philosophy while moving the brand forward through seven decades.

Christian Dior Garment Label

Christian Dior Garment Label

In December 2015, the Fashion Resource Centre had a visit from Séverine Breton, Cultural Project Coordinator at Christian Dior couture, who was assisting on the work of the books that would celebrate this historic anniversary.  Severine Breton came to Canada to research the Canadian link to the French house of couture.  Her journey included visiting several museums to find, photograph and confirm garments that were originally from Dior.  In a lovely reciprocal fashion Severine brought with her information regarding a couple of the Dior garments housed in our Centre.  Her visit was very timely as we were working on our first Fashion Resource Centre book.

Book by House of Dior

                    Book by House of Dior

One of the garments, the beautiful “Dior red” silk suit, comprised of a dress with asymmetrically placed bow and matching cocoon jacket originally belonged to Dr. Mona Campbell, great Canadian business icon and philanthropist.  Now we have a copy of the original sketches showing the fabric swatch to add to our files on the garment. (See my Dec. 2016 blog post).

The book that the House of Dior was working on is an anthology written by noted fashion curator Olivier Saillard.  The first section was published by Assouline just this past December – the remaining books will be published in December 2017 and 2018.  The books will chart the influence of Yves St. Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and finally, Maria Grazia Chiuri who in 2016 became the first female director and second Italian to lead the house.

The first book is 504 pages and will show 84 examples of the most iconic designs from Christian Dior including the “Bar Suit” which truly launched Dior couture in 1947.  The book describes Dior’s inspiration (flowers, travel, art, music, theatre, architecture), each silhouette and key outfits he created.

Couture Commerce

Couture Commerce

The first book is now available on Amazon for approximately $170.00.  (Dior is clearly a popular topic as there were 1,917 results for my “Dior books” search!)

There are several wonderful books on the influence of this designer and some to be found on campus.  One title that I recommend is by the Nora E. Vaughan Fashion Costume Senior Curator and Chair of the Veronika Gervers Research Fellowship in Textiles & Costume at the Royal Ontario Museum, Dr. Alexandra Palmer entitled, Couture and Commerce: The Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s.  Dr. Palmer explains the impact that Dior had on not just the fashion world but of the economy of France directly after the end of the Second World War.   Her perspective is unique in that she discusses couture in Canada and the women and the retailers who established a connection with French fashion.

For anyone traveling south (really south and west) the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne will feature a Dior exhibition and is listed as “one of three major events worldwide”.  Why Melbourne?  This was the location for the first showing of Dior couture outside of Paris in 1948.

John Galliano, Spring/Summer 2011

John Galliano, Spring/Summer 2011

The exhibit will include 140 garments, some original and some replicas of those from the “New Look” collection.  The show has been curated to not only show the beauty of Dior but to explain the concept of couture.  A replica of an atelier (a couture workroom) will give a close-up look at what went into the creation of these garments.  Looking at the beauty of a garment in terms of colour, embellishment and silhouette is similar to looking at any other piece of art.  To truly comprehend couture you must look at the internal structure, the tiny stitching and the feat of engineering that is to be found on the inside.  How wonderful it is for visitors to this exhibit to be able to experience something that only previous owners of such garments could.

The exhibition will run from August 27th to November 7th, 2017.

A little closer to home the Fashion History Museum will also be celebrating the anniversary of Dior with garments from our Fashion Resource Collection.  More details on this to follow in a future blog post.

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The Colour Purple (and pink, red, yellow, orange, blue, green……)

A few blogs ago I wrote about the colour white, the use of it in fashion and society.  I love colour and our Resource Centre allows me to indulge in a visual feast every time I do a display.  A few weeks ago our display focus wasn’t on a particular period in fashion history, instead we chose to do a rainbow theme in the garment and accessories displays we arranged.

Photo of Colourful Garments

Colourful garments from Seneca’s Fashion Resource Centre

Photo of Purple Hat and Accessories

1960s Purple Breton and assorted accessories in all the tints and tones of purple.

I think the topic of colour fascinates me almost as much as does the history of fashion and its social implications. Colour is such an integral element of fashion and our choice of colour is always personal (whether we recognize it or not).

For this blog I am going to focus on purple. The colour has been one that has been associated in western culture with royalty and nobility. The scarcity of the raw material found in nature to create purple caused its cost to be high. As a result garments which would be dyed this colour would be available only to those with the wealth to afford it. And as a result came to be a signifier of status.

Photo of hat and dress

Hat from 1960s (Left), Victorian Dress from 1885 (Right)

During the 19th century and the industrial revolution the creation of aniline or chemical dyes changed all that. Now any colour could be created and the most desirable shade for members of the rising middle class was the colour that had previously represented those of higher social status.

Purple is a colour that swings on the pendulum of fashion trends. When it is fashionable it is very popular and when we have had enough of it the colour becomes gauche.

During the 1960s the colour palette we saw in fashion was comprised of more secondary colour – green, orange and purple – than primary colours (with the exception of yellow). These bright colours were the representation of the psychedelic ‘60s. Juxtaposing purple with yellow or with other colours like green and orange which are made with yellow made this an incredible bright colour story and one that was quite at odds with the elegant black, white, navy blue and “Dior” red of the previous decade.

 Purple Givenchy Cocktail dress (Left), Purple Hot Pants (Right)

Purple Givenchy Cocktail dress (Left), Purple Hot Pants (Right)

As the fashion pendulum swung to the natural fibres and earthy tones of the 1970s, purple fell out of favour. We saw some purple return in the 1980s’ jewel tones in power dressing. And, in the minimalism fashion styles of the 90s and 00s any appearance of purple was used in deep tones or greyed tones.

Purple also seems to be a colour that individuals will be passionately in love with or they will be in the group who would “never be caught dead wearing it”. We have seen it come in the faintest of tints and the deepest of shades.

Photo of Prom Dress & Power Suit

“1980s Purple Strapless “Prom” dress (Left), 1980s “Power Dressing” Suit (Right)

From a psychology of colour perspective, purple can be seen as representing royalty (which may be why Cadbury chocolate continues to use purple in its branding) and elegance – the majesty of a king’s royal robes.

Photo of Purple Garment

Photo of sandals

Strappy Sandals

As a secondary colour it is created with red and blue and so is a blending of a warm and a cool colour. It is also created using the passionate nature of red and the calming influence of blue. No wonder it is interpreted as a colour of mystery, spirituality and enjoyed by very creative individuals.

Within our collection we have some examples of purple which are particularly representative of these different interpretations. From the iconic Victorian dress to strappy sandals when purple is on display attention is certainly generated.


A Year of Anniversaries

Mini Dress by Marilyn Brooks (Unicorn Label)

Mini Dress by Marilyn Brooks (Unicorn Label)

Before November, the month of Remembrance Day, slips away I am looking forward to creating events to remember in 2017. There are several anniversaries that we will be celebrating which will allow us to once again showcase items in our Fashion Resource Centre.

As a Canadian the celebration of the founding of our country in 1867 will be highlighted not only on Canada Day but throughout the year. Our first centennial celebrated in 1967 occurred in the midst of the “Youthquake” of the 1960s. (right, pink Mini Dress by Marilyn Brooks’ Unicorn label).

Canadian Designers who are well represented in our collection, Claire Haddad, Marilyn Brooks and Elen Henderson gained recognition with consumers and established some of the foundation and organizations that have continued to provide ongoing support for new fashion designers.

The late Claire Haddad showed her Canadian patriotism by featuring the (then) newly created Maple Leaf tartan which included all of the colours of the maple leaf transitioning from summer to fall. This green, gold, red and brown tartan was created by David Weiser of the Highland Queen company.

Tartan by David Weiser of the Highland Queen Company

Tartan by David Weiser of the Highland Queen Company

I look forward to seeing what our contemporary Canadian designers may produce to celebrate and highlight their patriotism as we celebrate 150 years of our wonderful country.

One of the initiatives sparked by the centennial of the country was the establishment of our community college system. 2017, then is also the 50th anniversary of Seneca College. Its original mandate was to provide an alternate path to university, providing post secondary education in fields that were often quite specialized but not serviced by any university. One of the first graduating classes at Seneca College was in Fashion and over the 50 years we have seen the programs within our School of Fashion expand to prepare graduates for the fields of Cosmetics, Esthetics, Visual Merchandising, Floral Design and Event Design. I am pleased to have been a product of this education system, graduating from my first program in 1976 and as a member of the School of Fashion for many years.


Thanks to the foresight of my colleagues Claire Becker, Bev Newburg, Caroline Routh and many more, we established our Resource Centre more than 25 years ago. We will be able to support the celebrations of this anniversary with displays of the fads and fashions that graced the halls during that first decade and for those of the following four.

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Fashion Group International’s Toronto chapter. This organization has been a volunteer operated association that has worked tirelessly to support its members and the Fashion industry in Toronto. They mentor new members, provide networking opportunities and highlight the contributions the fashion industry provides to society in general.


We have had wonderful links with Fashion Group International and its members over the decades as we share many of the same supporters. Many of those early supporters of Fashion Group (Marilyn Brooks, Claire Haddad, Shirley Cheatley of Elen Henderson designs) were on the early committees that helped establish our Resource Centre. Many of these members have also contributed through donations made to the Centre. We will be working with FGI to help highlight their anniversary too.

In 1947 Christian Dior’s “New Look” brought haute couture to the world but also made the house a name synonymous with fashion. The 70th anniversary of the house will certainly be a cause for celebration.


Last December we welcomed Severine Breton from Christian Dior Paris to research and photograph the “Diors” of our collection. The house was searching to find the Dior items which have been preserved at various museums throughout the world and is working on a book to celebrate this auspicious anniversary. We happily provided the items within our collection for examination and were very grateful to receive from Dior information that we have added to our research files about the designs. Included in the information were copies of some original files showing sketches, design names and fabric swatches. While each of the garments in our Centre has had information catalogued from the donor about the items having additional information directly from the designer and/or the house increases the information we can provide researchers in the future.


Each succeeding year seems to bring with it an array of diverse tasks and opportunities for our collection, but clearly, 2017 will be a year beyond the norm.

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Fall Fashion Field Trips

Thanksgiving weekend is almost upon us and the lovely fall weather might be double the encouragement for a little fashion field trip.

There are some wonderful exhibitions in full swing that you will want to catch before they, like the fall leaves, disappear. The Fashion History Museum in Hespler makes for a lovely and not too distant drive to the west of the city.  Their exhibit: “Wild and Rare: Fashion and Endangered Species” which opened October 6th in Gallery 1 includes a few pieces from our Fashion Resource Centre.  We’ve provided a purse with Kangaroo fur as well as an ocelot coat.

The “200 years of Wedding Attire Exhibition” is awash in all shades of white and some beautiful bridal pieces.  This exhibition runs until December 18, 2016.



If you are already west of the city, the Guelph Museum is just a few minutes away from the Fashion History Museum and is celebrating the fashion career of Lady Lucille Duff Gordon. Originally from the Guelph area, Lady Duff survived the Titanic and is remembered for “inventing” the fashion show as well as the Merry Widow, wide brimmed hats so popular at the turn of the twentieth century.

The garments on display are truly amazing because they are so incredibly delicate. And, perfectly feminine and appropriate for the “Lady” of the times.













Many of the garments are fragile and one beautiful piece is carefully presented lying flat so no further damage can occur.


Lucille also did designed costumes for many theatre companies including the Ziegfeld Follies.



Some of Lady Duff’s original design sketches are on display and show the silhouette of the period.


Also on display is a depiction of the sinking of the Titanic by fabric artist John Willard. It contains the names of all the passengers and officers including Lucile, and her husband Cosmo.


The exhibition is there until November 13th. For more details:

Although not technically “fashion” the Dale Chihuily glass exhibition at the ROM is a masterful use of colour, texture and pattern that needs to be experienced! There is a wonderful “room” in the midst of the exhibition with a literal glass ceiling, and comfy “pillows” on the floor that allows visitors to take in the display in comfort.


On until January 2, 2017.

Our favourite shoe museum, The Bata has “The Curious History of Men in Heels” exhibition until May of next year. It shows a range of outstanding men’s shoes from the 1800’s beautiful shoes worn by members of the aristocracy to the rhinestone encrusted platforms of Elton John. The exhibit certainly tells a tall tale.


I think we are so fortunate to live in a city and province that provides such “feasts” for the soul in the museum exhibitions available to us. Enjoy your fall fashion field trips!

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Claire Haddad: A Canadian Fashion Icon (1924-2016)

Claire Haddad (1924-2016)

Claire Haddad (1924-2016)

By Dale Peers

It is with sadness that I write this blog and offer condolences to the family of Canadian fashion legend, Claire Haddad.  Claire passed away on Tuesday May 17th just two months to the day of what would have been her 92nd birthday.  Claire was a “force majeur” in the Canadian Fashion industry.  With her husband, Albert Haddad’s love and support Claire produced designs from the 1960s to the 1980s and ran a successful fashion company in Canada.  Her beautiful and fashionable lounge and sleepwear created an entire new category of women’s fashions, “At Homewear”.    Claire believed that a woman should feel elegant and comfortable at home where the most important people in her life were. In addition she pioneered the idea of bringing loungewear outside of the home for elegant eveningwear to the theatre, balls and cocktail parties.


Fashion by Claire Haddad

Over the years I had the great good fortune to meet with Claire several times and each time it was a delight to speak with this incredible woman.  She was so proud of all her family and spoke of them often.  Her beloved husband Albert was also top of mind in our conversations.  When they say “behind every great man is a great woman” Claire would have flipped that to describe the tremendous support and encouragement Albert provided her.


Fashion by Claire Haddad

Claire and Albert were passionate about the Canadian fashion industry.  Claire often told me about her choice of fabrics.  That she looked for beautiful fabrics in Canada and when she did import something she infused an aspect of Canada into the production by having artists create some of the unique painting on the silks that were then used in the fashions.  She loved colour and elegance and embodied that in her own stylish self.  Whenever she came to visit, to attend our annual Fashion Show, Fashion Resource Centre exhibitions or student award presentations she wore a fashionable outfit topped with a beautiful hat.


Fashion by Claire Haddad

Elizabeth Taylor, Cyd Cyrisse, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett were just a few of the celebrities she dressed.  The gown for Elizabeth Taylor presented a challenge – Taylor refused to be measured so Claire asked to have a bra belonging to the actress smuggled out so she could create the perfect garment!


Fashion by Claire Haddad

Her work was recognized by members of the press as well as her peers. Claire was the first Canadian designer to be recognized in international publications such as Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue Magazine.  She won a Coty Award which was the equivalent of a fashion Oscar as well as six Canadian Edee awards.   Her contribution to the Canada was also recognized when, in 1979 she received the Order of Canada.


Fashion by Claire Haddad

Claire’s contribution to the Canadian Fashion industry exceeded the bounds of her successful company as she was actively involved in the establishment and as a member of organizations such as Fashion Group International – Toronto chapter and the Fashion Designers Association of Canada (FDAC).


Fashion by Claire Haddad

When Seneca College began the Fashion Resource Centre in 1989 Claire was front and centre as both a volunteer and donor.  Our Fashion Resource Centre has been gifted with so many of her lovely designs and each term our students are astounded by the beauty of the fabrics, the embellishments and the creative design details.

The Albert and Claire Haddad Fashion Award each year recognizes the efforts of a student in the School of Fashion and Claire was always graciously present when the student would be recognized.  The students were always grateful to receive an award but were even more excited to meet Claire in person.  As excited as the students were some were also shy.  Each time Claire made them feel so special since she talked with them about their work and hers.  The experience of winning such an honour became an extraordinary moment in their lives.

Claire led an extraordinary life that one can only aspire to.  It included love, family, integrity, generosity, creativity and a legacy that allows others to be inspired well into the future.


Fashion by Claire Haddad

Claire Haddad visiting Seneca

Claire Haddad visiting Seneca

Fashion Resource Centre Book Launch

By Dale Peers

What a wonderful crowd came to out to celebrate at The Spoke Club in Toronto the launching of two new cross disciplinary projects.  The one that I am most proud of is our Fashion Resource Centre book!

Book Cover

Book Cover

The project was completed in an incredibly short period of time and would not have been possible without the vision of our Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Design, Michael Maynard and the students who were (almost) as excited as I was to embark on this project. The students from the Corporate Communications post-graduate certificate (Laura Kelly, Kate Knight, Chantelle Ormond and Hillory Renkema) were mentored by Professor Tom Bartsiokas who I also had the great good fortune of working with on this project. Tom managed not one but two projects – this and the Art Collection Seneca @ York book. We spent many hours choosing photos, editing my descriptions and deciding where to place the most pithy comments from donors, alumni, students, designers and industry experts.

Sample pages from book

Sample pages from book

Also on our committee/support team was Chair of the School of Fashion Gitte Hansen who lent her excellent eye and assisted the students in contacting many of the industry experts who made such lovely quotes an extra special element of the book.

Snapshot of garment

Snapshot of garment

Working with photography student Roberto Vazquez and graphic designer Lily Nguyen was delightful and has resulted in a “look book” that far surpassed anything I could have imagined.

Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

I am thrilled to have been given the time by Michael and Gitte to work on this project which allows us to show the incredible and unique Resource Centre we have at SenecaCollege. I know the books are disappearing quickly, and can only hope that this means we will have an opportunity to begin Volume II.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Seneca College and the 150th anniversary of our country. I already have a list in mind of garments that would be a wonderful celebration and tribute to these two special milestones.

Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

A Canadian Fashion Story: Pat McDonagh

March 12 – April 24 – Fashion History Museum, Hespler
May 2nd to 6th – Seneca College, Newnham Campus at The Boutique, B2024.

This year’s annual Fashion Resource Centre spring exhibition is another first for Seneca College! Last year our friends at the Fashion History Museum (FHM), Jonathan Walford and Kenn Norman, contacted me about the possibility of a joint project. The family of the late Pat McDonagh had approached the FHM about a donation of Ms. McDonagh’s fashions and archives and the concept of showcasing a retrospective of this Canadian designer’s work began.

The exhibition would include garments already in the Fashion History Museum’s collection, a selection of the new donations as well as some from our Seneca Fashion Resource Centre and the Ryerson Fashion collection.


Image courtesy of the Fashion History Museum

Although born in England, Pat McDonagh immigrated to Canada with her husband as he had taken a position with the CBC in 1966. Having experienced the London Fashion scene as a model, designer and retailer she became part of the “British Invasion” along with the Beatles, Twiggy and the mini-skirt when she settled in Toronto.

Her biographical information states that, while in London, she was involved (possibly through her husband’s work in broadcasting) in providing fashion styling details and designs for The Beatles as well as prominent ‘60s actress Diana Riggs who played the character Emma Peel of The Avengers.


Image from

One of the garments she is said to have designed for Ms. Riggs’ character is a plasticized python coat with large silver buckle. This is one of the earliest pieces from our Pat McDonagh collection and was donated by former Toronto model, Donna DiMarco.

From Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

From Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

When she moved to Toronto she was not especially impressed with the fashions or fabrics being worn on our streets. She soon opened a retail store called The Establishment and began providing more current options for the 60’s fashionistas of Canada. She produced all product categories including day wear, evening gowns and fashion garments for businesses such as those worn by the staff at the CN Tower in Toronto.

A strong supporter of fashion designers, McDonagh was co-founder of the Fashion Design Council of Canada (FDCC) with Robin Kay. Her fashion career of 40+ years was recognized many times with awards including the New York Times award for Design Excellence, 1982, the Judy Award for Contribution to the Canadian Fashion Industry (1992) a Matinee International Award (2002) and FDCC Lifetime Achievement Award (2003).

The retrospective of her design work will encompass garments from 1967 to 2014. Ms. McDonagh passed away in Toronto on May 31, 2014.

The exhibition will move from the Fashion History Museum to Seneca College and be open to the public from Monday May 2nd until Friday May 6th.

Image from Fashion Resource Centre

Image from Fashion History Museum

New Year, New You?

One of the many advantages of working in an academic institution is a minimum of at least two New Years! We have the academic year which traditionally begins in September as well as the calendar year. This gives us the opportunity to have fresh experiences and new beginnings in general and more specifically with the start of the study of new courses.

For our Fashion Resource Centre, this means opening the doors and the drawers for a new group of students. Decisions must be made from an educational perspective about which items need to be brought into the different classrooms to best illustrate the concepts of the course.
And, we know that the fashion world is all about “new.” And yet, as they say, “Everything old is new again.” As our design students look for inspiration, the garments we have on display rotation may initiate the spark of a new idea.

Inspiration can certainly be found in our zeitgeist. Our students look to the world around them for ideas. Will, for example, the current slate of movies rouse interest in revivals of not just vintage fashion but new fashion?

Carol, Image from

Carol, Image from


Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, Image from


Gods of Egypt, Image from Daily Mail

Will seeing Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella or the Turner exhibition at the AGO provide a colour story or thematic inspiration?

Toronto Theatre, Image from

Toronto Theatre, Image from

Image from

Image from

And, as we embark on a new year the making of resolutions may be an opportunity for new ideas. Often these resolutions have to do with improving our bodies through diet and exercise or becoming more concerned with our health. It is interesting to note that as human beings we often incorporate our appearance into the resolution, whether it is a revision of that appearance or an announcement of having met a particular goal. We often want to communicate through our appearance an important life change. The adoption of a new wardrobe, style, even a new haircut is a subtle (or not so subtle) message that we send to the world.

For women in the past their wardrobe and fashion style would help to communicate a change in status – from girl to young woman; from bride to wife and mother.

From Childhood to Young Woman:

Left: Girl's dress from SFRC; Right: Women's dress from SFRC

Left: Girl’s dress from SFRC; Right: Women’s dress from SFRC

The seasons could be marked with the purchase of a new hat.

Left: Spring Hat, Right: Winter Hat

Left: Spring Hat, Right: Winter Hat

Even the time of day could be identified by the type of dress worn.

Left: Tea Dress, Middle: Day Dress, Right: Evening Dress

Left: Tea Dress, Middle: Day Dress, Right: Evening Dress

What have you planned for this New Year? Are you part of the group embarking on a new area of study? Has something in our zeitgeist inspired the desire for a new career or lifestyle change? Have you a resolution that you are working on and does it involve your appearance? What has inspired this change? Would love to hear from you…simply write in the comments.
Whatever awaits I wish you a Happy, Inspired New Year!

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Through the Looking Glass: Servants’ Appearance – a Reflection of the Upper Classes

by Rhonda Roth, Collections Librarian, Seneca College 

Mr. Carson, Mr. Barrow and Mrs. Patmore to name a few of our favourite characters/servants in the television show Downton Abbey (now, sadly in its last season) tell us a great deal about their position in society, without uttering a single word.  One simply has to observe what they are wearing.

All servants of the time wore some kind of distinguishing “uniform” which served as a useful reminder of status boundaries between employer and servant. It was imperative to the class conscious late- nineteenth and early- twentieth century employer that a servant be immediately recognizable as just that, but, it was carried even further to distinguish servant from servant within the stratified hierarchy “below stairs” as well.



The premier show of Downton Abbey was set in 1912 with the tragic sinking of the Titanic dominating the events of the plot. This was the Edwardian era which stands out as a time of peace and plenty until the onset of World War 1 in 1914. But for many people, it was a time of shocking levels of poverty. A report written by Benjamin Rowntree on the slums of the town of York that came out in 1901 (Maloney 4) noted that 28% of the population was living in intolerable hardship. By this time, 1 in 4 people were domestic servants, mostly women who worked seven days a week from as early as 5am to 10pm for very little money. And yet, this was considered a reasonable alternative to the slums and gave some a certain amount of social status, especially if they worked in a home like Downton Abbey where they were housed and fed.

No matter the prestige of such a demanding job, a visible distinction in appearance was seen as crucial by their employers. Butlers, like Mr. Carson, were the highest ranking official servant in the house. They were responsible for running the house. It was customary in the early 19th century for employers to give butlers and other menservants, like Mr. Bates, their cast-off clothes but at the same time to make sure that the resulting outfit was never quite ‘correct’. The tie was not quite right with the coat or the coat was slightly out of fashion. A butler looked like a gentleman’s gentleman but not a gentleman in his own right. In the case of Mr. Carson, he wears a black suit so that he is slightly differentiated from other upper level male servants, and thus displays a visible signal of his superior status.


From Downton Abbey, Footmen

The footman, like the incorrigible Thomas Barrow, was the most visible and splendid of the servants in a large Edwardian home, an adornment whose chief job was waiting at table, polishing dishes and supervising the rooms and activities of the lady of the house. Footmen reflected the wealth and class of the family, and tall, good-looking young men were quickly promoted to this position in the best households. A six-foot footman could expect to be paid more than a shorter one. Appearance seemed to be everything and some ambitious footmen made use of special pads to make their calves appear shapelier.

A whole coterie of maids would work in a home the size of Downton Abbey such as a housekeeper, lady’s maids, parlour maids, a head house maid, a nursery maid, chamber maids, laundry maids and lower on the totem pole would be the scullery and between maids. Maids who were most visible wore cotton print dresses in the morning to do the dirty work of cleaning the house and then changed to a uniform of black dress, turned-down white collar and cuffs, and muslin cap with or without streamers and bib-apron in the afternoon when, most importantly, guests came to call. Physical appearance, once again, was of considerable importance. Those maids possessing tall, trim figures were in far greater demand than short, stout individuals due to their perceived more graceful movements when waiting at table. Taller maids were favoured and could garner a higher wage just due to this advantage. Short girls were destined to be firmly below stairs or employed in poorer households.

Cooks, like Mrs. Patmore, had an important role in providing good food to the family and visitors but were not as visible and so usually wore washing dresses and white aprons, with coarse ones for cleaning purposes. Cooks did not always wear caps, except in houses where they were expected to answer the front door.

Uniforms or work dresses were rarely supplied to female servants and if they were, were taken out of their meagre wages. Boots were also expected to be provided by the maids themselves and as one girl in Somerset reported in 1913, her shoes cost an entire first month’s wages. In contrast to the more visible lady’s maids and parlour maids was the lowly “tweeny” maid or scullery maid like Daisy, who was often as poorly dressed as unskilled labourers because there was no fear of anyone seeing her slaving away downstairs in the kitchen.


From Seneca Fashion Resource Centre, Footwear



In highly- class conscious industrial societies, even accessories like hats were enormously important as signals that claimed or maintained social status. There are instances of maids instructed not to wear hats in church on Sundays but to wear identifying bonnets in case they should be mistaken for one of the family. Even personal choices like facial hair for menservants were discouraged while their employers wore the latest fashions in whiskers of the time. All of this points to the extreme social control and institutionalized separation of spheres that was imposed on working class employees. This is aptly captured in The Duties of Servants (1890), a bible for managing a household of servants, which warns lady’s maids to “never to dress out of your station as a servant: for your knowledge of stuffs, trimmings and fashions, gives you the means of doing this more successfully than any other servant.” (Lethbridge 41).


From the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre – Upper class Edwardian woman’s hat


As Downton Abbey progresses into the interwar years and winds down in the 1920’s, we see the sun beginning to set on the lavish lifestyle of the Edwardian period with its wide range of appropriately dressed servants. Labour-saving devices, alternative sources of employment for women and increased wages began to shape the view that multiple servants for every task was an extravagance save for all but the biggest houses to have. Women were attracted to the new options for work that were less demeaning and didn’t require the wearing of the hated servant’s uniform of starched cap and apron. Although it would take until WWII to radically diminish the numbers of servants, dressed to reflect their place in the hierarchy was a thing of the glorified or horrified part of the past, depending on the level of the stairs you were looking at it from.


From Seneca Fashion Resource Centre, Upper Class Dress


Servant’s Dress

Works Cited

Lethbridge, Lucy. Servants. A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain. London:
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 2013. Print.

Maloney, Alison. Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants. New York: St.
Martin’s Press, 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Author Bio

Rhonda Roth is Editor of the Fashion Resource Centre Blog & Liaison Librarian at Seneca College. She is a devotee of the history of fashion and Downton Abbey.