February 1972: Fashion and the Law
‘Mrs. Betty Ann Crosbie in her presentation on the status of women in the 1870’s to the Costume Society’s workshop last spring made mention of a tongue-in-cheek piece of legislation which purported to regulate and control female extravagance of dress. The elaborate April Fool’s day joke was presented to the Parliament of the Canadas on April 1, 1859, and Mrs. Crosbie has sent along a copy of the original bill. An act for the Reform and Regulation of Female Apparel, and to amend the Customs relating to Crinoline and other Artificial superfluities (Bill 999 2nd Session, 6th Parliament, 22 Victoria)
The humour, unabashedly male chauvinist in tone, reveals a great deal about the relation of the sexes in mid-century Canada, and is typical of the ridicule which has always greeted any change in fashion. The piece despite some offensive racist allusions would make an interesting re-print project for the Society. In the meantime a few excerpts will perhaps excite members’ interest:
“Whereas …. It hath been shown … that the Ladies of this Province have degenerated in their ideas of beauty and propriety; have deserted the wise and modest apparel of their ancestors and adopted in lieu thereof the flowing and elaborate Skirts, supported and sustained in their amplitude by certain contrivances of Springs, Ladders, Hinges, etc. and a certain other Apparatus known by the name of Crinoline .. and the gaudy and expensive Trimmings, Fashions and Appurtenances which evil and designing persons have introduced into this country from a neighbouring Republic… and whereas it hath now become necessary for the clearing of the Public Thoroughfares … the said article … should be regulated and reformed….
No female above the age of forty shall wear, deck, or bedizen in any Underskirt … the pattern of which shall be red and black striped … or any other pattern approaching to chess or draught-board pattern, or in any other pattern or colour which shall likely to cause the taking fright of any horse, ox, or ass…’