From the Archive
The newsletter of the Costume Society of Ontario was first published in the summer of 1971, under the able editorship of Toronto’s premier collector of historic dress, Alan Suddon. From the very start it was a rich and fascinating compendium of news, exhibition reports, research and archival material. Importantly the newsletter published information relating to the history of dress and fashion in Canada, information often very difficult to find elsewhere. This page aims to share a few of the highlights from the newsletter.
‘Attending a costume sale at Christie’s is an exhilarating experience especially if one is familiar with auction sales in Toronto. The pace is so much faster that if you are not sitting on the edge of your seat, and paying close attention, a bargain can fly by before you have caught your breath and made a note of the item just before it. I attended my first sale in the spring of 1968. The two days before the sale were set aside for public viewing. The viewing was held in very confined quarters where there were racks of dresses and other garments around the walls of a room too small to hold them. On the floor, and on old pieces of furniture, there were boxes and bundles of miscellaneous articles. I had received the catalogue in advance and had made notes of the various pieces which, from the descriptions sounded interesting. The problem was to find them in the mad crush which closely resembled the Symphony Rummage Sale. Some were readily recognisable, others were a far cry from the descriptions. There were also those which sounded uninspiring in the catalogue, but turned out to be pieces of interest for our collection. This sort of thing, of course, often happens at auction sales. Having returned to my hotel, after much pushing and shoving and waiting for a chance to get at a box or near a rack, I quietly considered what I wanted to bid on and what I was prepared to pay – another routine auction sale procedure. On the day of the sale I arrived at the sale room early, to get a seat at the back with a good view of the whole procedure. At all the sales I have been to nearly the whole of the first part of the morning is devoted to dolls or fans. There are many avid collectors of dolls who are prepared to pay what seems to me quite astronomical prices but since the Royal Ontario Museum does not collect dolls, I am not knowledgeable in this field and perhaps people were getting bargains. Nevertheless, it was an invaluable opportunity to adjust to the speed with which articles are put up, bid for, and knocked down at a Christie’s sale. No time was wasted by the auctioneer describing or “selling” the article. A description such as “grey silk dress with cape” was all that was said. Things were something held up on hangers, but often just bunched up in the hand. Everyone was supposed to know from their own examination, all details concerning the article. In this way about 130 articles were auctioned off between 10 and 12:30 in the morning. The tense moments were those when rarities came up. From my vantage point I could observe museum curators, dealers and collectors bidding briskly against each other, as well as collectors who one knew who were bidding for American museums. When it was all over the atmosphere relaxed and as we dispersed there were many congratulations and condolences. I have now attended three or four sales at Christie’s and the most notable feature has been the rise in prices. At the first I got the articles I wanted for less than I was prepared to bid....read more
‘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…’...read more
Bits and pieces from here and there relating to costume in Canada From the Evening Telegram, Toronto, May 6, 1936 “Sixty years ago Miss Ida Romain, a belle of early Toronto, dancing partner of princes and statesmen, created a sensation with a remarkable costume made entirely of newspaper, which she wore to a fancy dress ball given on behalf of the Protestant Orphans’ Home. That costume, yellowed but intact is still in the possession of Miss Romain, now a woman of 86 with a fund of interesting memories … The dress comprises of the Telegraph (predecessor to the Telegram), Glove, and Leader, Toronto papers of that time. Miss Romain made it herself with the aid of a seamstress, sewing the newspapers firmly to stiff buckram, and cleverly fashioning frills for the voluminous skirt and tight bodice … she ever contrived a newspaper bouquet-holder … A Toronto newspaper account of the ball had this to say of Miss Romain’s dress: ‘The attire worn by Miss Romain was remarkable for its novelty. It consisted of a complete dress and overskirt with the panniers made of issues of the city press with the names of the three daily papers published in the city conspicuous on the front of the over-skirt … Miss Romain’s partners could easily read the news of the day while enjoying the whirlings of the...read more