Slow Down Fast Fashion

Browsing through a magazine today,  I came across what is not really news, nor a really a new movement but one that has become more a part of the way we are choosing to eat.  The article discussed the concepts of dining close to where the chef has a farm, or “farm-to-table” and savvy shoppers who fill their grocery carts with food that is not only wholesome, organic and good for them but is produced in a way that is good for animals and the environment alike.  You too may know the concept of sustainability as one that has become trendy in the food world.

What has this to do with fashion?  The concept of fashion and sustainability is also one that is not really news but has begun to become a movement that will hopefully become as important to us as the attention we are paying to feeding our bodies.

It is important to remind ourselves that there are 7 billion people currently on earth,  and the vast majority made up of societies who deem wearing clothing a necessity,therefore  the fashion industry is as important to humans as the food industry.  One of the inherent characteristics of fashion is that it involves change.  And, as so many people tell us – “Change is Good!”  This adage might help someone who is balking at the idea of accepting a new technology into their business lives, but is a motto that few fashionistas need to be given?

The speed of change is something else that we should examine.  If change is good does it necessarily mean that it must occur immediately?  Our initial answer may likely be a resounding yes!  We seem to have little patience anymore for the light to turn green, for the song to upload, for the app to open.  We want everything to happen quickly and no better example of that in the fashion world is what has been deemed “Fast Fashion”.

Fast fashion has certainly contributed to a fashion addiction for many.  The need to have the newest and trendiest is not necessarily a new concept but the possibility of that being available to anyone with $14.99 is what has enabled us to become the ultimate consumers.

Gobbling up a new product every two to three weeks was not possible, even five years ago.  Slow fashion meant that there were new fashions but it took much longer for those trends to diffuse through society.  The production of merchandise was slower and I would suggest it was better for this lack of speed.  The quality of the product was definitely superior to some of the merchandise available to us today.  This superiority also meant that the longevity of the product was assured.

In the not so far off past, there were items in everyone’s closet that they kept for years because the style was deemed to be classic.  The LBD as proposed by Coco Chanel is a perfect example.  Our Fashion Resource Centre has many wonderful examples of these Little Black Dresses for exactly that reason – they were classic, could be worn for a number of different occasions and by more than one person in the family!


Dresses from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

In examining some of today’s fast fashions, there are few that I could say “need” to be added to our Fashion Resource Centre. In fact, I’m not sure that they would ever make it to the collection as the quality of the product is so poor that it is likely to be discarded by a wearer rather then them thinking it would make a good donation.


Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Earlier periods in the history of fashion production attempted to create patterns that would be as economical in the use of the fabric as possible. During WWII “Utility Dressing” was a movement of British fashion designers to create fashionable and utilitarian garments for women during a period when rationing was required. Today the wastefulness to be found not only in the cutting of fabric but in the use and pollution of natural resources is appalling.

Customers paid dearly for the garments they purchased in times past and this might have been one of the reasons for the slower diffusion of fashion trends. They paid for the artistry of the designers as well as the producers of the actual garment. Today, men, women and children are paid wages that are as close to slave labour as it is possible to be. And, these business practices are fueled in part by the consumers who demand low prices and fast fashion.

It is not simply the Little Black Dresses that prove interesting in the study of fashion. The attention to detail that designers and manufacturers considered important to their reputation as well as to the comfort of their clients is important to examine. When we look at the care to ensure that each tiny pleat has been added with mathematic precision to add the desired fullness to a skirt or the exacting placement of each bead, rhinestone and thread in the embroidery of a gown we admire not only the symmetry, the decoration and the artistry but the passion that fueled the need to create such a thing of beauty.

Although we have the ability to create fast fashion there is a need, and hopefully a desire among designers and consumers to pause and consider the value of slow fashion. The fashion industry needs to feed the soul with the beauty of a unique garment, lovingly created and done so with the least impact on human beings and the endangered environment.

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Fashion Exhibitions – Summer 2015

If you are planning any trips this summer and are looking for Fashion Exhibitions here is a list of just a few to consider.

The Fashion History Museum, Hespler, Ontario

Fashion History Museum

Johnathan Walford, left, and Kenn Norman of the Fashion History Museum posing in front of the old Hespeler Post Office. Image from

About 45 minutes from Toronto and housed in the town’s original Post office the Fashion History Museum will open the end of June.  Jonathan Walford and Kenn Norman have been working on this labour of love of all things fashion history for at least 10 years, and have been welcomed by the town of Hespler.

One of the opening exhibitions will feature the 1980s, and our Fashion Resource Centre has been happy to loan a few of our very glam 1980s pieces to the FHM for this exhibit.

1980s jumpsuit from the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

1980s jumpsuit from the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

The Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Ontario:

Bata Shoe Museum, Standing Tall exhibit, Image from

Bata Shoe Museum, Standing Tall exhibit, Image from

2015 marks the 20th anniversary of The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.  The latest exhibition moves on from Fashion Victims to Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels.  And it looks at who has worn high heels: ” From privileged rulers to hyper-sexualized rock stars this provocative exhibition will explore the history of men in heels from the early 1600s to today, delving into the use and meanings of heeled footwear in men’s dress over the last four hundred years.”  This exhibit will run until June of 2016.

The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario:

¡Viva México! Clothing and Culture exhibit, Image from

¡Viva México! Clothing and Culture exhibit, Image from

¡Viva México! Clothing and Culture in the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costume examines the rich textile history of Mexico.  “Over 150 stunning historic and contemporary pieces are on display, including complete costume ensembles, sarapesrebozos, textiles, embroidery, beadwork and more.”This exhibit runs until May 23, 2016

Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver, British Columbia:

From Rationing to Ravishing exhibit at Museum of Vancouver, Image from

From Rationing to Ravishing exhibit at Museum of Vancouver, Image from

EMP Museum, Seattle, Washington:

Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit, EMP Museum, Image from

Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit, EMP Museum, Image from

If you are a lover of all things Star Wars and on the west coast the EMP Museum in Seattle is the first city of 12 to host: Star Wars and the Power of Costume.  The exhibit includes 60 hand-crafted costumes from the first six blockbuster Star Wars films and runs until October 4, 2015.

The McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec:

Horst: Photographer of Style exhibit, McCord Museum, Image from

Horst: Photographer of Style exhibit, McCord Museum, Image from

Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York:

Karl Lagerfield dress from Ebony Fashion Fair, Inspiring Beauty exhibition. Image from

Karl Lagerfield dress from Ebony Fashion Fair, Inspiring Beauty exhibition. Image from

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair runs until April 24, 2016 and explores the tremendous influence of Eunice Johnson, publisher of Ebony magazine who was determined to “gain access to the upper echelons of fashion design, which at that time excluded African Americans, resulted in a traveling road show that presented the work of black designers side by side with that of the world’s leading fashion houses.”

Designers represented in the exhibit include: Stephen Burrows, Christian Dior, Christian LaCroix, Bob Mackie, Jean Patou, Nina Ricci, Emanuel Ungaro and Vivienne Westwood.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York:


China: Through the Looking Glass is a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art at the Met and examines the western world’s fascination with the East.  From Paul Poiret to Yves St Laurent fashion designers have been inspired by the silhouettes, fabrics, colours and patterns of China and its ancient culture.  “The exhibition features more than 140 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art.”

The exhibit runs just between May and August 16, 2015.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England:

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit, Image from

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit, Image from

If you did not see the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum you have another opportunity to see it if you will be in London, England this summer.  The exhibition at the Victorian and Albert Museum runs until August.

Whether you stay in the GTA, visit another province or plan a grand European getaway this is the season not only for glorious weather but amazing fashion exhibitions.

Wishing you a fashionable summer!

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Silver is the New Black

Event poster

Event poster

Another opportunity to invite everyone into the Fashion Resource Centre has come and gone.  And judging by the responses we received in our guest book and from emails, one week just isn’t long enough.  An enthusiastic group of supporters enjoyed their first visit to this exhibit celebrating our 25 years.

I would like to thank all of the Friends of the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre, former faculty of the School of Fashion (Bev Newburg, Rosemary Webber), our Alumni and donors like fashion icon Marilyn Brooks, and Carolyne Pascoe for attending our reception the evening of May 4th.

The exhibit was “officially” opened with the cutting of a silver ribbon by former and current student employees of the Fashion Resource Centre including Bev Newburg who was there in 1989/1990 when she, Claire Becker and I began the task of organizing the collection.  Of course, there have been many more Senecans involved in this labour of fashion love. Caroline Routh, Nancy Bursey, Gitte Hansen, Francoise Rioux, Wayne Norrison are just a few of the Senecans who believed that examples of fashion items would make learning come alive. They began to bring these items to their courses and what feels like overnight, the collection has grown to more than 15,000 examples of what Canadians have worn.

(l to r: Shauna Wittenberg, Malvika Rana, Emma MacArthur, Kelsey Mills, Bev Newburg, Alex Burke and Dale Peers.)

(l to r: Shauna Wittenberg, Malvika Rana, Emma MacArthur, Kelsey Mills, Bev Newburg, Alex
Burke and Dale Peers.)

For those of you who were unable to attend, I hope the images in this Blog will give you a sense of the exhibit.


Visitors enjoying exhibit




Visitors enjoying exhibit

A 25th anniversary is a silver anniversary and that became our theme this year. The students and I chose garments that had obvious connections to that through the use of silver in the fabric and embellishments. The exhibit featured silver garments from the 1920s through the 2000s, making it a colour apparently as popular for special occasions as black is.

Black and silver dresses

Silver garments from the 1920s to 2000s


Silver garments from the 1920s to 2000s

Pink dress

Pink dress with Accession # 00001


The exhibit was also an opportunity to reflect on our past, our present and our future. On display and representing our past included the pink beaded and sequin embellished flapper dress from the 1920s which was the very first garment we accessioned into the collection. I should clarify that it is virtually impossible to determine the first garment in the collection as dedicated faculty
in the School of Fashion had been bringing garments into their classrooms for years before we officially established the Fashion Resource Centre. However, the pink dress is accessioned as #00001.

Long time champions and supporters of the Fashion Industry in Ontario and Canada, Claire Haddad and Marilyn Brooks were represented with three of the garments that each of these talented women have designed and donated to our collection. They have been wonderful supporters of our collection and our students through donations of their archives, the establishment of the Albert and Claire Haddad Bursary Award and their service on Advisory Committees.

Dale with Marilyn Brooks

Dale with Marilyn Brooks

Two Claire Haddad designs with beautiful beading and lace; Fuschia and Black by Marilyn Brooks

Two Claire Haddad designs with beautiful beading and lace; Fuschia and Black by Marilyn Brooks

Next, are examples of some of the early additions to the collection. An aqua and white Courrégès, an extraordinary yellow beaded and black ribbon embellished mini dress and white and mint gown worn by former model and Style Coordinator of Yorkdale Mall, Norma Wildgoose.


Dresses from collection

The next vignettes represented just a few of the very interesting donations made to the Fashion Resource Centre this year. Two elegant and black gowns from the 1930s, a dramatic strapless blue and turquoise Italian made gown from the 1970s, and a delicate white cotton day dress from 1915.


Dresses from collection

The first wedding scene represents a donation made by Carolyne Pascoe on behalf of her mother Doris Pascoe Penrose and her sister Beverlee Pascoe Mintern. The soft blue dress with delicate floral embroidery is Doris’s wedding dress from 1937. The crocheted wedding dress with hood was worn by Beverlee Pascoe Mintern at her wedding in 1972. To the right, is Carolyne’s wedding dress, also from 1972 as well as the leopard print and black “going away” outfit that Carolyne wore.

Carolyne Pascoe and her donations

Carolyne Pascoe and her donations

In addition to these garments, Carolyne provided us with images of all three ladies in their wedding finery.

Photos in frames

Pascoe family photos

Deirdre Macdonald visited us in late December and brought with her the beautiful pink wedding gown with beaded bolero she wore in 1971. This dress came with the original sales receipt from Toronto designer Sybil Casey and photographs of Deirdre, her husband Robert and her mother. After visiting the Fashion Resource Centre Deirdre returned home to Dingwall, Nova Scotia and was able to send us not only her mother’s dress but the suit that her groom wore!

Dierdre MacDonald donations

Wedding dress and groom’s outfit donated by Deirdre Macdonald

In keeping with our Silver theme a selection of shoes, handbags, compacts, and buckles were also on display.

Silver items

Silver items on display

Thanks to our friend Ingrid Mida of Ryerson University, we were contacted by The National
Ballet of Canada this year and acquired some very special additions to the collection.

Costumes for both male and female dancers of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Elite Syncopation have been added to our collection. These have quite different structural details that will be of interest to our students, especially those who wish to design and execute costumes.

Ballet costumes

Donations from The National Ballet of Canada

Donations from The National Ballet of Canada

Donations from The National Ballet of Canada

And, we presented our future as a question mark. What will be our next donations? We do continue to collect and now is the time to acquire fashion items from 2000 to 2015.

We are very fortunate to have a space at the college to do such an event. And for that there are always many people who contribute to this event and who have my thanks.

Firstly, Sue Roadburg and Anna Cappucitti of the Fashion Business/Fashion Business Management program for the use of The Boutique space; to David McDermid, Ginny Kim and the Visual Merchandising students and my own Fashion Resource Centre students (Emma MacArthur and Kelsey Mills who also staffed the exhibit all week long) for all of the help in setting up and taking down the display; to all of the folks in our School of Fashion office – Gitte Hansen, Stephanie Valadao, Debbie Cadoo, Patricia Hines, and Marsha Wineman for their help in our opening evening. A big thank you to Barry Naymark and Alison Gibson in the Alumni Office who helped us secure a Pillar Sponsorship that helped to make this Exhibit possible.

Happy Silver Anniversary – now let’s work on a Golden Anniversary!

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Easter Bonnets, Parades and the Fashionable Arrival of Spring

Spring has indeed arrived and the latest flowers which have sprung can be found on the Newnham campus in the Fashion Resource Centre window. A selection of over 40 hats is currently on display in the fourth floor hallway in D building, in celebration of Easter Bonnets.

bonnet1 bonnet2
The history of Easter finery in particular has been attributed to the celebration of re-birth and new life with a new addition to one’s wardrobe. Circlets of flowers were also worn in young women’s hair to herald the arrival of spring. What better way to recognize the change from winter to spring than with flowers blossoming?

bonnet3 bonnet4

Spring hats or Easter Bonnets provide the perfect base for a floral celebration. And, when women add a new chapeau to their wardrobe they definitely want to show it off to admiring audiences.


Image from T2Conline

The Easter Parade up and down Fifth Avenue in New York City began as early as 1870 and by the mid-twentieth century had hundreds of thousands of people promenading on a Sunday afternoon.

While the wearing of hats began to lessen the crowds did too but the ritual continued. In 1948 “Easter Parade” starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland ends with the (now) happy couple strolling along the Avenue.


Image from Wikipedia

Easter Parades were found not only in New York City. Below are images from Toronto’s Sunnyside from the 1920s when beautiful cloche hats were all the rage.


Image from City of Toronto Archives


Image from City of Toronto Archives

The wearing of ones’ best hat, shoes and gloves was not restricted by age. We have a few rare children’s hats in the collection such as this blue felt one that was worn by young girls and purchased at historic Canadian department store retailers such as Simpson’s and Eaton’s.

hat3 pinkhat

The pink straw hat from our collection is similar to the one I am wearing in this photo. One of my first fashion memories is this multi-coloured gingham dress with tulip petal skirt supported by a (scratchy!) crinoline and was my favorite dress of all time. I do recall that the dress came with its own hat, made of the same gingham and was a series of flower petals that duplicated the shape of the skirt. However, the pink straw hat was my new Easter hat and felt more sophisticated than the other! (Please note that my hat and handbag match.)


Fewer opportunities seem to exist today to wear or to own a wardrobe of hats as women once did. If you would like to re-live the glory of hats make a trip up to our fourth floor sometime before mid-April and see the varied choices for Easter Bonnets.


Be-gone Blizzards


Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Be-gone Blizzardy weather! Let’s bring on the Beach! The current display in our Fashion Resource Centre window at the Newnham Campus of Seneca College was inspired by the coldest February on record.

The thing about Canadian weather is that a) it is a frequent topic of conversation b) it changes rapidly and c) no one can really predict what we are in for – not even Wiarton Willy!

However, the respite of a winter vacation is one thing that Canadians do look forward to and, as a result we chose to present His and Her Hawaiian attire and bathing suits.  If nothing else this colourful window is sure to help alleviate some of the winter blues brought on by sun deprivation.

Hawaiian shirts from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Hawaiian shirts from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

The colourful Hawaiian or Aloha shirt is an easily recognized fashion icon.  Whether it is recognizable for its colourful patterns or the equally colourful personalities who choose to wear it is up to the observer. The history of these fashions can be traced back to missionaries who looked to cover the nakedness of island inhabitants.  As the plantation economy of Hawaii began to emerge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, workers needed a shirt that could weather the physical efforts of sugar, coffee and pineapple farming.


Image from East Coast Radio,

Ellery Chun is credited with creating the popularity of the Aloha Shirt.  With a degree in economics from Yale University, Mr. Chun returned to Hawaii in 1931 to take over his father’s dry goods store.  The establishment had catered primarily to the local Asian Community but Mr. Chun wanted to expand the scope of his retail enterprise.  He and his sister began selling bright, print short sleeve shirts made of leftover material from Japanese kimonos. (Lisa (da Beanteacher))

When Hawaii became a state in 1959, tourists came and the distinctive shirts became popular souvenirs. However due to the warm climate they are considered by the locals to be the equivalent of a suit and appropriate for business wear.  While we may have Casual Fridays the people of Hawaii have Aloha Fridays.


Images from Karmakula, and Ragstock,


Image from Vintage Aloha Shirts,

While tourists may prefer brightly coloured versions with “hula girls”, pineapples and surfboards, native Hawaiians prefer more subtle patterns.  “Reverse print” shirts have the pattern printed on the inside which creates a more muted effect.  Status can also be perceived in Aloha shirts with border prints.  More fabric must be used in the creation of a border print which makes the shirt more expensive.

hawaiian shirt

Image from Maui Shirts,

The construction of an Aloha shirt is deceptively simple.  It has a left chest pocket sewn in and a good quality shirt must have a pattern that is uninterrupted by that pocket.  The lower hem of the shirt is straight and is never to be worn tucked in.

The beautiful tropical prints in exuberant colors found in Aloha Attire are a perfect choice for either the extrovert or the introvert.  The extrovert expresses loud and clearly their enthusiasm while the introvert can let their attire spark a conversation with a perfect stranger.

Winter will probably linger on for a few more weeks, making the weather a constant topic of conversation and the need to book a winter escape all the more necessary.  Perhaps into that conversation you will now include a tidbit or two about this colourful fashion choice.  Aloha!


Works Cited:

Lisa (da Beanteacher). “Beanteacher Hawaiian Style Home.”, 2011. Web 25 Feb. 2015.

Waist Management

If you can’t wait until spring arrives to throw off your heavy clothes you might like to examine what lurked under some of the layers worn by our predecessors. During the month of February, in our Fashion History classroom we are progressing through the 19th century and studying the “etiquette” of dressing.

Victorian Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Although the last item you might have put on this morning would be your footwear, shoes and stockings were often donned first by fashionable Victorian ladies.  What was the reason for this order?  It was their dedication to the beauty culture of the time, and the quest for a fashionable body.  This fashionable body was one that clearly defined their feminine attributes and revealed the female and fashionable body.  It was tightly corseted, curvaceous and to us, curious.  Why, we might ask would anyone want to so manipulate their bodies to emphasize their femininity when doing so would actually have a negative impact on one of the defining characteristics of what it is to be female?  And that was to namely, bear children.

There have been many reasons given for this including, but not limited to, the approved career path of the Victorian woman.  To be a wife and then mother was the goal and to achieve this one needed to be as attractive as was possible.  And to be considered attractive meant the adherence to the socially defined beauty of the moment.  This beauty was fair of face, her hair was her crowning glory and her figure made it clear for all to see that she was feminine.  A tightly corseted waist that might be spanned by a man’s hands was the goal.

And this corseted waist is the reason why her stockings and shoes would need to go on first.  Once she was tightly corseted after stepping into her drawers and putting on her chemise, the strait lacing of her corset would make reaching her feet virtually impossible.  Of course, dressing in the Victorian style with the corset would have required the assistance of someone, be it a maid if you were wealthy or your husband– who might do this even if you were wealthy.  The corset might be perceived to be a “modern” chastity belt as it would require someone’s assistance to get into and out of it.


The next layer would be a corset cover that would help to smooth down any ridges that might develop as the stays of the corset would push into the breasts.  The corset is not a brassiere and does not have “cups” so an unsightly ridge might develop.  The corset cover would add an additional layer which, under the dress bodice, would create a lovely, rounded, monobosom effect.

Next, would be the substructure to add important fullness to the back of a Victorian lady’s gown – the bustle.  Pictured here is our modern, collapsible bustle that would allow a lady to sit with some degree of comfort.  When she sits, the hoops fold up and when she stands they drop back into place, adding just the right amount of support to her dress.  A wondrously convenient style!

Image from Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700 – 1915, Sharon Sadako Takeda and Kay Durland Spilker, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Page 99

Image from Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700 – 1915, Sharon Sadako Takeda and Kay Durland Spilker, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Page 99

Topping this substructure would be at least one petticoat.  And, if it happened to be February the choice might be a red one, as this was believed to add extra warmth!

Although this may seem like extreme lengths to go to achieve the fashionable body, consider what we do today to achieve the desirable shape: diets, body cleanses, abdominal crunches, personal trainers, liposuction and Spanx!   Maybe we aren’t quite so different in terms of our quest for the fashionable body.

If you happen to be in the Peel Region you might want to drop into the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA) and visit their temporary gallery where our friends from the Fashion History Museum have an exhibit entitled Waist Management on until February 16th.  In this exhibit are further examples of the types of undergarments women have worn to manage the fashionable body.


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



Black Friday

While the North American retail world has become obsessed with “Black Friday” the term sparked an idea about the meanings and symbolism of colour in the fashion world.  From a retailing perspective the term Black Friday was coined to describe the potential influx in store sales in this last quarter of the year pushing achieved sales, and therefore profits into the “black” or plus sides of the accounting ledger.

Basic Black and the LBD are fashion terms which denote classic styles that can be dressed up or dressed down and move from social circle to social situation.  Black is also seen as a colour of power in fashion.  The black, pin-striped suit represents the most powerful of Wall Street and is frequently used in costuming to identify those with not only financial acumen but those with power.

Leonardo DiCaprio in the film "Wolf of Wall Street"

Leonardo DiCaprio in the film “Wolf of Wall Street.” Image from

Wesley Snipes in the film "Blade 4"

Wesley Snipes in the film “Blade 4”

Black is a colour that we associate with danger – it is the colour of the night and all those scary inhabitants of the mysterious netherworld. It is the colour of witches, demons, vampires – those beings who are most powerful in the dark.

Consider all the black worn by both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in films like The Matrix:

Characters in the film "The Matrix." Image from http:ss//

Characters in the film “The Matrix.” Image from http:ss//

Motorcycle gang from TV series "Sons of Anarchy." Image from

Motorcycle gang from TV series “Sons of Anarchy.” Image from

And, this association of power and danger has been adopted by those who wish to be seen as dangerous.  Not too many motorcycle clubs choose pink as the colour for their club logos or “leathers.”

So, black also becomes the colour of those who walk the edge of danger, the sophisticated and rebellious.  When Chanel makes the Little Black Dress the popular colour for her era she is not only reflecting the popularity of the Art Deco movement but it is the opposite of all those ethereal Edwardian ladies who wore white and pastel shades.  While it might also have reminded her of the austerity of dress worn by the nuns in the orphanage where she lived for part of her youth it also becomes part of the Lean Chic and Deluxe Poor Look she favored.  The box her Art Deco bottle of Chanel No. 5 is sold in is outlined in this sleek and elegant line of black.

Chanel No. 5 perfume. Image from

Woman wearing a black Chanel cocktail dress. Image from

Black Chanel cocktail dress. Image from

Interesting that when describing the little black dress the terms sophisticated, elegant and classic are synonymous.  A red dress, on the other hand is sexy and seductive.  The power of colour is one that we respond to consciously as well as sub-consciously and cannot be underestimated.

Of all the colours of all the items we have in our Fashion Resource Centre black would be the most prevalent.  Whether the colour is found in a gentleman’s tuxedo and top hat, in a pair of black stiletto pumps, in the satin and beading of a chic cocktail dress or the feathered drama of an evening gown we do own a lot of black.  And, it does make sense since we do consider black to be a good investment in clothing.  As basic black it matches with many things and we do believe that a black suit or dress will strike just the right tone no matter the social occasion.

So, while you may be looking for bargains on Black Friday, I will be considering a display featuring some of our Black Fashions.

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Fashion Costume – Who will I be this Halloween?


Madonna on cover of first album. Image from Wikipedia.

The weather in my neck of the woods was dreadful this Halloween, but it did not stop the trick-or-treaters from coming out.  As always there were lots of superheroes and baby animals, but one intrepid girl did her best, despite the cold and wet, to channel her inner Madonna. Her t-shirt – “I love the ‘80s” was worn with fishnet black mitts and fingerless gloves, her jewellery included neon plastic bracelets, and her hair was in a messy updo.  She told me that she had a great mini skirt and stockings that she had wanted to wear but the weather just made it too cold.  I think she might have had a bit of help from her mom in putting the ensemble together since some of the bits might easily have been found at the bottom of mom’s jewellery box or closet.

Her enthusiasm for her costume was evident in her beaming smile and the high five we exchanged as she danced down the drive.  It started me thinking about the endless possibilities that fashion and fashion history provide on a night when we can choose to be anyone and from anytime that we want.

Students in Halloween costumes

Students in Halloween costumes

Our costume choice requires a fair bit of thought and not just from the perspective of assembling the pieces.  The hallways of our School of Fashion were filled with pirate babes, day of the dead women and others (who I needed much more time to recognize than the fleeting glimpse I got!)  As students of design they have the ability to assemble just about any character they desire.  For the rest of us it might take a bit more effort in shopping for the components that we can use to create our character.

And, the thought process involved in choosing who we want to be takes almost as long as the time to assemble the representative elements.   Who will we be this year?  The opportunity to reveal a hidden side of our character or to “become” someone so completely different from our normal self is what makes this something to consider carefully, if not, gleefully.

Seneca College English professor Rona Kaushansky in a flapper dress

Seneca College English professor Rona Kaushansky in a flapper dress

Do we want to be the happy-go-lucky flapper with her fringed dress, long pearls, headache banded hair and Betty Boop lips?  Or you may choose the seductive vamp (taken from the word vampire!) with her slinky satin halter dress and fur stole?  Are we looking to channel the elegance of Audrey Hepburn with our classic LBD (little black dress), long black gloves and cigarette holder or the free-spirited hippie with bell bottomed jeans, floral top and long, centre parted hair?  And let’s not forget our Madonna or punks of the 1980s.

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And let’s not forget about the gentleman out there.  I think a really amazing (not to mention versatile) purchase from a second hand store would be a tuxedo.  In that you could become the debonair Fred Astaire to a gorgeous Ginger Rogers, or a sophisticated Cary Grant or the mysterious Bond, James Bond.

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Wouldn’t it also be fascinating, especially for our fashion lovers, to become their favorite designer?  How about Coco Chanel, the original flapper and advocate of the LBD, with her costume jewellery and two-toned shoes?  You could become Karl Lagerfeld with a long black jacket, stiff white collar, topped with a white wig pulled back into a ponytail, a pair of sunglasses and costume jewellery chains.  Betsey Johnson, one of the original free-spirits of the 1960s could be assembled with pigtails and a mini metallic bubble skirted prom dress.

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It might not be too early to begin thinking about your next costume.  With 360ish days to go before you have your next opportunity to express your inner ________, perhaps starting to think about it now is not such a bad idea!


Giving and Thanks!

Dale Peers being interviewed by Kristiaan Yeo for China Central Television

Dale Peers being interviewed by Kristiaan Yeo for China Central Television

We just celebrated Thanksgiving, midterm is just about here, the United Way campaign has been launched and Study Week begins next week which all spell out that we are well and truly in the midst of the fall term.  This means that things are getting busier for students, faculty, support staff and administration.  And yet, once again I find myself marveling at the incredible dedication and stamina in our college.

Over the past few weeks we have welcomed a news team to the Centre to talk about the Politics of Fashion, our friends from the Fashion History Museum have paid their semi-annual visit, an installation celebrating Women’s History Month has been installed (one location across from the library and the other in the D building, fourth floor window) and faculty and students alike have accessed the Fashion Resource Centre collection to study not only history of fashion but the details of skirts from a pattern making and clothing construction perspective.  A long time donor and supporter of the collection also dropped off some new items just last week. And all of these events led me to this posting of our blog.


Fashion display

Display of outfits from the 1960s

Display of outfits from the 1960s

Display of outfits from the 1970s

Display of outfits from the 1970s

Display featuring outfits from the 1980s

Display featuring outfits from the 1980s

Visitors to our incredible collection of fashion (after having gasped at the size of the collection) invariably ask where everything comes from.  Initially they think the fashion items must have been made by students from our Fashion programs, and, although we do have items our alumni have left in our care this is a very small part of our collection.

I always answer this query with a certain amount of personal awe as our collection has been donated over only the past 25 years by more than 650 donors who have loved fashion and wanted to find a home for a cherished piece of fashion apparel where it would be valued, studied and possibly become a source of inspiration.


Karen Bennet with dress from 1865 that she donated (left); Dale Peers, Bev Newburg, and Alex Burke at opening of SFRC event (right)

That old commercial of “you tell two friends, and they tell two friends and they tell two friends” is  the reality of the collection.  From industry leaders like Claire Haddad, Marilyn Brooks, Vivienne Poy, Sonya Bata to fashion faculty (many retired but to whom I am most grateful!) – Claire Becker, Caroline Routh, Bev Newburg to museum colleagues like Jonathan Walford, Kenn Norman, Alexandra Palmer, and friends of the collection like Charlotte Graham, Mary Ham, Penny Potter and Jim Payne have ensured the growth of the collection through their communication of its importance.  All of these people have been such staunch supporters of the importance fashion plays not only from a design perspective but from the social contribution that the art of fashion and costume has played.  And, to the faculty, support staff and administrators of Seneca College who have not only provided their support through projects like our Digital Fashion Photography project (Tanis Fink, Rhonda Roth, Ewan Gibson, Lydia Tsai) to so many other members of the Seneca Community for their donations.  There are so many who have donated personal items and who have told their friends about the collection that it is impossible to list everyone.

Students working on SFRC displays

Students working on SFRC displays

And, the group of constituents who play a huge part in this operation include so many students who not only accessed the collection in their learning but became integral members of the  Resource Centre team.  They have dragged bustforms, packed and unpacked boxes of garments, sewn buttons and hooks, photographed shoes and hats, mounted displays and staffed the Centre so that if could be made available to as many people as we can manage in a year.  Anne Chan, Calvin Butts, Stacey Yoo, Jennifer Fulton, Jennifer Hord, Lianne Brickell, Janelle Newbold, Alicia Mitha,  Malvika Rana, Joanna Rajarathnam, Shawna Wittenberg, Nina Pimental, Amaryn Boyd, Alex Burke, Shelly Dilouya, Irina Bikeeva, Dayna Stevens, Anne-Marie Di Iullio, Alex Backa, Kelsey Mills, Nicole Knight and Emma MacArthur are just a few who have contributed time and energy, and in some cases have also become donors.  My thanks and gratitude to all!

So, my thanks go to all of the people who have given their time, their fashion and their dedication to our incredible Centre.