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 http://www.hipinpakiston.com

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 http://www.kateattersall.com

Guests at a ball. Image from http://www.kateattersall.com

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 http://www.persunca.com/blog/origin-debutante-ball-country/

Debutantes at a ball. Image from http://www.persunca.com/blog/origin-debutante-ball-country/

Image from  http://www.andoveradvertiser.co.uk

Modern debutantes at a ball. Image from http://www.andoveradvertiser.co.uk

shirley bob

Bob Hope and Shirley Booth at Academy Awards. Image from cdni.condenast.co.uk

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 cdni.condenast.co.uk

Grace Kelly at Academy Awards. Image from cdni.condenast.co.uk

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 graphic8.nytimes.com

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 usmagazine.com and fanpop.com

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 http://thewolfofwallstreet.com

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//ca.movies.yahoo.com

Characters in the film “The Matrix.” Image from http:ss//ca.movies.yahoo.com

Motorcycle gang from TV series "Sons of Anarchy." Image from http://miamiherald.typepad.com/

Motorcycle gang from TV series “Sons of Anarchy.” Image from http://miamiherald.typepad.com/

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 http://www.chanel.com

Woman wearing a black Chanel cocktail dress. Image from http://fashionstyleguru.wordpress.com

Black Chanel cocktail dress. Image from http://fashionstyleguru.wordpress.com

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.




Seneca Campus photos

Now that the (chalk) dust has settled – back-to-school is always busy and exciting – it is time to return to my blogging.  The new, academic year always seems a bit like the January New Year feels – a time for fresh resolutions, and embarking on new plans or at the very least, new to-do lists.  (I once came across something that was called an “Accomplished List” rather than a to-do list, don’t you think that is so much more positive?).  Let me share with you what we have accomplished to-date and what we intend to do.

While folks may think everyone who is in an educational or academic role is “off” for summer vacation that is not the reality.  Summer is certainly quieter at the college but we are by no means “closed.”  In fact, the Fashion Resource Centre continued to be used by our summer faculty teaching the Evolution of Fashion subject and enjoying the use of our fabulous garments in our History Lab.

Our large window in the “Fashion” hallway – aka 4th floor D building had a display of truly contemporary design work.  Four of our students who have now entered their third and graduating year of the Fashion Arts program were featured with some of their proposed design concepts, target customer boards, colour/mood boards and sewing samples for their final collections. All of these will be officially shown in April 2015.

Displays by Fashion Arts students

Displays by Fashion Arts students


Displays by Fashion Arts students

Displays by Fashion Arts students

Display by Fashion Arts students

In July I was pleased to attend a day- long planning session for the Fashion History Museum (FHM) which our long-time friends Jonathan Walford and Kenn Norman have been working so hard on for the past decade.  Light is appearing not just at the end of a tunnel but in Hespler, Ontario (formerly a town and neighbourhood within Cambridge) where we hope to be recommending everyone interested in all things historical and fashion related to visit.  Dates and program information are on our list to bring to you once we receive confirmation.

The FHM opened, “Street Style: Fashion and Architecture in Waterloo County 1853 to 1973 at the end of May.  The exhibit runs until January 4th 2015 and presents historic scenes of Waterloo County situated behind era appropriate fashions.

Fashion History Museum exhibit

Fashion History Museum exhibit

The FHM will also collaborate with Toronto’s Design Exchange on an exhibition entitled: Politics of Fashion – Fashion of Politics.  The exhibition, guest curated by Jeanne Beker with Design Exchange curator Sara Nickelson will explore how fashion and politics have not been such strange bedfellows from the 1960s to the present.  One item sure to be on display is a 1960s era paper dress with Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s face on it.  The Seneca Fashion Resource Centre also has one of these fragile paper dresses!

Trudeau paper dress

Trudeau paper dress

Our great Fashion Digital Photography project continued during the summer months and we spent one day filming segments we hope to air over the coming year.  These “vlogs” (video blogs) are intended to bring you closer to elements of our Fashion Resource Centre collection.  We have a bit of editing to take care of first and filming a few more segments over the coming year are both on our “Accomplishments” list.  If there are topics you would like us to focus on or items you would like a closer view of please send us a comment.

Also on the list – plans are underway to work with Elise Dintsman and Ainsley Bateman from the Faculty for Continuing Education on a display for Women’s History Month in October.  More details to follow.

And last, but not finally – (I for one find this fact very hard to believe) this year marks the Silver Anniversary of our collection.  The Seneca School of Fashion faculty officially launched the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre during the 1989/1990 academic year.  Thus 2014/2015 makes 25 years!  Exciting opportunities exist to celebrate this, not the least of which will be our annual display in May.  I have some ideas about how we might celebrate this milestone and welcome your requests.

As is generally the case with the lists I make they are always longer than I anticipate.  And, I have no doubt that for each item checked off as “Accomplished,” this year we will add twice as many.


Fashion Exhibitionism

If you define exhibitionism as exposing those things often hidden or kept to oneself then this summer might just be the time to take advantage of unlocked treasures and see three fashion exhibitions. They are the perfect reason for a summer car trip.

The first is brought to us by our friends at the Fashion History Museum and in partnership with the Waterloo Region Museum. The exhibition blends the two institutions perfectly as Street Style “explores the connections between the design of women’s fashion and architecture.”  The exhibit presents fashion and the architecture of Waterloo county from 1853 to 1973.

There are forty garments from the Fashion History Museum situated in streetscapes of some of the best examples of urban architecture from Waterloo County.

The exhibit opened on June 14th and will close January 4, 2015.  Open daily 9:30 to 5:00 the Waterloo Region Museum is located at 10 Huron Road, Kitchener.

Farther afield is the Charles James: Beyond Fashion which opened May 8th at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  A little longer trip if by car but just an hour away by plane, this is a must see for all lovers of haute couture.  James was considered the American couturier and created gowns worn by some of the most influential women of the 1950s.  The study of a James’ gowns reveals his obsession with the mathematical and structural science of fashion.  He created clothing that seemed capable of not only supporting the wearer figuratively but literally.

This exhibit also marks the opening of the newly renovated Costume Institute.  The display not only provides access to sixty-five of the designer’s most famous gowns including “Clover Leaf,” “Butterfly,” “Tree,” and “Swan” but also an exploration of his design process.

The exhibition will close August 10th.


Image from MET Museum


Images by Karin L. Willis, the photographer for the Charles James: Beyond Fashion Catalogue

And in Toronto, The Bata Shoe Museum’s latest exhibition Fashion Victims opened June 18th.  The exhibit looks at Victorian Fashion from the perspective of not only the wearer of fashion but of those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes creating the items the fashionably dressed men and women of the 19th century wore.


Image from Bata Shoe Museum

While the constriction of the corset is one of the first garments that critics of 19th century fashion will target as making victims of the women who wore this status symbol little attention is paid to the materials used in the production of fashion.  This exhibit explores how highly dangerous materials were used in the production of fashion and were then reflected in the literature of the day with such iconoclastic characters as the Mad Hatter.


The Mad Hatter as depicted by Sir John Tenniel. Image from Wikimedia Commons.


Peter Cook portraying The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (1966). Image from herbertzohl.blogspot.ca 

If you head downtown or out of town please drop us a line and let us know which of the exhibitions are your favourite!



I recently attended a Fashion Group International panel discussion entitled “Menaissance.”  This term moves us on from the previous “metrosexual” to that of gentlemen who take interest in their appearance and in presenting themselves to their audience whomever that may be — business associate, acquaintance, friend or romantic interest.  I like the term very much as it implies a re-birth in being aware of oneself.  If we view it through the lens of the term it is based upon, “Renaissance” I think it also implies that an individual is well-rounded and interested in both the internal and external aspects of the self.  It includes not only the actual fashion that one wears, but the other things a man might do to ensure he “looks the part” of a true gentleman.


George Bryan “Beau” Brummel (1778-1840)Image from wikipedia.org

And where did we first come by this definition of “masculine elegance”?  The concept is thought to have been espoused by George Bryan Brummel, or, as he was nicknamed, “Beau” Brummel.  Brummel was the trendsetter of fashion in the early 19th century who counted the then Prince of Wales as a friend.  In this time of the Industrial Revolution society began to see a change in determining one’s status.

Image from http://en.wikipedia.org

Where it had formerly been all about your birthright, e.g. being born the Earl of Sandwich (there really was an Earl of Sandwich and, as an avid gambler who did not want to leave the card table, grabbed two slices of bread and some meat and then, you guessed it, the Sandwich was born) now the measure of a man was based on how successful he was in terms of business.  Wealth and social status could now be created through hard work, not just social privilege.


“Beau” Brummel. Image from chemise.com

This was also Beau’s time and he did not relish the idea of having to work hard but felt that his contribution to society would be his fashion sense and his ability to not only set trends but to critique those of other men.  As such his opinion became what mattered to the young men about town who also slavishly followed his fashion.  They came to be ridiculed in the press (it has always been “fun” for the press to lampoon fashion) and were nicknamed “Dandies” or Macaronis (as in “Yankee Doodle went to town riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his hat and called it Macaroni”).

Beau succeeded in setting the stage for fashionable gentleman.  He created a look he referred to as immaculate understatement or masculine elegance which included no longer powdering one’s hair, but to have a good haircut.  And that suits should be tailored to fit (obviously demonstrating one’s wealth in the ability to afford a tailor) and shirts should be pristine white.

An interestingly tied cravat (in fact in Beau’s time gentleman found 64 different ways to tie their cravats!) and highly polished boots or shoes.  The rumor was that Beau achieved the proper shine to his footwear through the judicious use of champagne!


Ways to tie your cravat. Image from commons.wikimedia.org


Pocket puff. Image from shystylist.blogspot.ca

And in this new “menaissance” the concept is a return to this masculine elegance.  As the panelists defined the term, men of today are firmly in touch with their masculinity and take the time for a mani/pedi in addition to a well-timed trip to their barber cum stylist.   They recognize that dressing the part does not ensure success, but it demonstrates to others that you are headed that way.  Confident in your ability, menaissance may also be a visible demonstration of your creativity and problem solving acumen (e.g. which pocket puff will add a bit of whimsy or a touch of urbanity?).


Right: Image from nowfashion.com
Left: Image from maxmosher.blogspot.com

I quietly cheered to hear the panelists call for a return to masculine understatement.  For young men to recognize that looking as though you care about your appearance is not simply a reflection of your personal fashion sense but also a return to the social graces that have been sadly lacking in most workplaces for the last few decades.

The idea of dressing for the occasion means more about dressing than it does about the occasion.  By  that I mean that we recognize different social occasions call for different attire but that does not mean that casual = sloppy.  And, the fashion laziness that seems to have been cultivated in some work places for too long is on its way out.

While the concept of Business Casual (an oxymoron that I still can’t reconcile – business = work and casual = play.  So how can it be work play clothing???) was hard for members of the business community to understand when it was first introduced as an inexpensive perk in the 1990s.  It was also something of a slippery slope.  Dressing in casual khakis and a white shirt degenerated in some minds to jeans and a t-shirt.

Now that we are climbing out of a recession, the idea of casual dressing is one that more of us are questioning.  At the height of economic difficulties folks in financial institutions began to question casual attire as appropriate.  What message does casual attire send?  If your attire is a visual demonstration of your attitude, do you want to be seen as “casual” in regard to your client’s investments?  Or, would you rather be perceived as reputable, concerned, professional?  And, can jeans and a t-shirt give the impression of any of these?

One of the panelists also remembered being with his father and when traveling, going to dinner or an event such as the theatre, the need to dress for the occasion.  So dressing for the occasion now seems to put the emphasis on dressing.  That is, taking the time not only to think about what you will wear but whether it is showing how important the occasion is to you and to the people you will be with.  Dressing in such a way shows respect for those you will meet as well as for yourself.

I don’t think this “menaissance” is going to catch on – I think it is already here. Retail specialists have been looking at the relatively flat sales in women’s fashions and the subtle but steady increase in menswear.  In August, the very first Toronto Mens’ Fashion Week will be held at the Brickworks.  Toronto is the 8th international city to have a week of fashion dedicated to menswear and its designers.  The event has been christened TOM and, as its founder Jeff Rustia said, TOM is one of the most common men’s names and therefore embraces the idea that TOM will be for every man.  It will celebrate the young as well as mature, ethnically diverse male customer who is a member of this “menaissance”. These dandies will no doubt make Beau proud!


Summer Whites

Dresses from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Dresses from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

If the Victoria Day long weekend marks the beginning of summer for you (and after surviving ice storms, frost quakes and polar vortices who wouldn’t want to welcome summer?) then summer is here.  It might not have been the warmest on record but the grass is greening, the trees are blossoming and nature is donning her summer colours.white-after-labor-day

And what colour traditionally marks the beginning as well as end of summer? – White of course!

That old fashion “rule” of only wearing white between now and Labour Day is one almost anyone, fashion-minded or not, has heard of.  Few follow it and fewer still know its origin.

Some explanations are linked to the status given to the colour white.  It is a colour (or absence of colour) that gets dirty very quickly.  When someone wears pristine and clean white it is obvious that they haven’t been doing anything – otherwise, they’d be smudged.  The next conclusion is since they aren’t doing anything they must have someone to do things for them and therefore, if you have “people” you must be wealthy.

We also agree that white feels so much nicer in the summer heat and so has been worn to help us stay cooler.


Still image from The Eagle from http://prettycleverfilms.com

From social distinguisher to seasonal decision the colour white seems to have become a fashion rule during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.  The blurring of social class lines that began with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the middle class meant that members of the upper social classes needed to find ways to keep the unwelcome noveau riche from invading their society.  One way to do so was with the use of fashion as a signifier of class and then to have “rules” about such things.

Having multiple types of clothing for different activities was something that only the very wealthy could afford to do and, like white, implied this status.


Florida Beach, circa 1905. Image from http://jasonpollock.tv/

If you were of lower social classes you needed to spend your money on things like rent and food and having multiple changes of clothes was just not possible.  You were also more than likely to be working many more days a week and the concept of a summer vacation meant little to you.  Not so for those members of the elite who could afford to leave the hot and stuffy cities behind and escape north or to the seashore to find cool summer breezes.

So, during the summer months wearing white not only kept you cool but it was a sure sign of status

The end of summer was marked by Labour Day which became a federal holiday in 1894.  Since it seems to clearly mark the end of summer it also became the end of wearing white.

Why?  Again, lots of theories but no real answer (one of the things I love about fashion!).  One thought is that if our summer vacation is over and we are returning to the cities our wardrobe changes to reflect this return to urban.  The darker colours of the city (grey, navy, black – just like the concrete, steel and pavement) work better than pristine white.  As the days shorten and the weather changes wearing cool white seems a bad choice.


Coco Chanel. Images from http://elle.com

This “rule” of no white after Labour Day was broken by plenty of fashionistas including Coco Chanel who wore white year round.  She was always unique and this breaking of rules might have been one of the ways for her to show how avant garde she was.


Elsa from Frozen. Images from http://movies.disney.com/frozen (left) and http://eonline.com (right)

And for those who chose to wear white in the cooler months they re-named it – winter white!  And that is another story.


Winter white is snow, frost, and rabbit fur trims.  The perfect camouflage for Snow Princesses – and again status is revealed.

Enjoy your white — weather permitting!





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!