Fashioning Canada:

Since Confederation 1867-2017

Hudson's Bay Company Coat (early 1970s) by Hudson's Bay CompanyFashion History Museum

Hudson's Bay Company Coat, early 1970s

For over two centuries, the fur trade dominated the development of Canada, and the Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670, was at the centre of all trade between Indigenous and Europeans. This multi-stripe blanket pattern was first produced in 1798.

Grey Wool Snowshoeing Suit (c. 1910) by Grant, Holden, Graham Ltd.Fashion History Museum

Grey Wool Snowshoeing Suit by Grant, Holden, Graham Ltd., c. 1910, Ottawa, Ontario

The jacket is made to resemble a capote – a blanket coat that was traditionally closed with a woven sash belt. The style was developed by the French Habitant.

Felt and Wool Parka, trimmed with Racoon (1975) by Alnaluaq TotalikFashion History Museum

Felt and Wool Parka trimmed with Racoon by Alnaluaq Totalik, Taloyoak, Nunavut, c. 1975

The parka was an Indigenous design created out of climatic necessity. Adapted and reinvented by European Canadians, these garments have become an integral part of a Canadian national identity.

Cowichan SweaterFashion History Museum

Cowichan Sweater, purchased 1949

Uniquely Canadian, Cowichan sweaters have evolved over the past century from a combination of European circular knitting techniques with Fair Isle patterns and Salish spun bulky wool and Totemic motifs.

Curling Sweater (c. 1960) by Mary MaximFashion History Museum

Mary Maxim Curling Sweater, c. 1960

In the early 1950s Mary Maxim began designing sweaters in imitation of the Cowichan style. However, the company found more success with novelty patterns.

Wool Jacket in Maple Leaf Tartan (mid 1960s)Fashion History Museum

Wool Jacket in Maple Leaf Tartan, mid 1960s

The Maple Leaf tartan was designed in 1964 to celebrate Canada’s new flag design and the upcoming Centennial. The pattern was officially adopted as Canada’s tartan in 2011.

Wanzet Sewing Machine (1867) by WanzerFashion History Museum

Every Lady Her Own Dressmaker

This 1867 Wanzer sewing machine was one of many brands of sewing machines made in Hamilton, Ontario during the 1860s and 1870s.

Black Satin Dress (c. 1886) by D. Gardner & Co.Fashion History Museum

Black Satin Dress by D. Gardner & Co., c. 1886, Ottawa, Ontario

This dressmaking firm catered to Ottawa society including the wives of the Governor Generals between c. 1870 and 1890.

Brown Velvet Walking Suit (c. 1905) by L. HamonFashion History Museum

Brown Velvet Walking Suit by L. Hamon, c. 1905, Montreal, Quebec

Retailers', and especially makers', labels were rarely included in garments before 1940, especially in Canada. As a result, most designers or manufacturers are unknown, or their work is unidentified in museum collections.

Brown Wool Suit (c. 1919-1921)Fashion History Museum

Brown Wool Suit retailed by Smallman and Ingram, c. 1919 – 1921, London, Ontario

Smallman and Ingram began as a dry goods store in 1877 and expanded into a full department store by 1908. The Robert Simpson Company of Toronto bought them out in 1945.

Gold Lame Presentation Gown (1938) by Ida DesmaraisFashion History Museum

Gold Lame Presentation Gown by Ida Desmarais, 1938, Montreal, Quebec

This gown features a removable trained wrap, trimmed with Sable puffed sleeves. Ida Desmarais was Montreal's premier couturier in the 1930s.

Wool Striped Suit (c. 1940) by Eaton'sFashion History Museum

Wool Pin-Stripe Suit by Eaton’s, c. 1940

By 1920, Canadian ready-made clothing sold through department stores became the largest source of fashion for most Canadians. In 1940, Eaton’s had become the 8th largest retailer in the world.

HandkerchiefFashion History Museum

Designed in Canada

Without leads from Paris, and with drastically reduced imports because of World War II, Canadian manufacturers relied upon domestic designers to originate styles during the war. As a result, a stronger Canadian fashion industry grew during the early 1940s. The names of some Canadian designers were more regularly reported in fashion magazines. building their reputation with consumers.

Rayon Satin Damask Bathing Suit with Totemic Designs (c. 1945) by Rosemary Reid for Holiday TogsFashion History Museum

Rayon Satin Damask Bathing Suit with Totemic Designs by Rose Marie Reid for Holiday Togs, c.1945, Vancouver, British Columbia

Reid was one of the first Canadian designers to gain international recognition. By 1950 she had relocated her swimwear business to California.

Black and White Wool Damask Evening Dress with Matching Coat (c. 1966) by Arnold ScaasiFashion History Museum

Black and White Wool Damask Evening Dress and Matching Coat in Opposite Colourway by Arnold Scaasi, c. 1966

Montreal born Arnold Isaacs worked out of New York after reversing the spelling of his last name from Isaacs to Scaasi.

Floral Print Cotton Dress and Hat (c. 1968) by Poupee RougeFashion History Museum

Floral Print Cotton Dress and Hat by Poupee Rouge, c. 1968

The rise of small boutiques run by independent owners, like Susie Kosovic’s Toronto shop Poupee Rouge, brought fresh ideas to Canadian fashion in the late 1960s.

Black and White Pin Stripe Shirt Dress (1948) by Le ChateauFashion History Museum

Black and White Pinstripe Shirt Dress by Le Chateau, 1984

Le Chateau grew as a Montreal boutique in the 1960s before growing into a nation-wide chain store in the 1970s.

Grey Wool Jacket (1982) by ParachuteFashion History Museum

Grey Wool Jacket by Parachute, 1982

Parachute became a very successful brand in the 1980s across Canada and the United States, recognized for their futuristic genderless tailoring style.

Motherboard Print Legging and Signature Print Top (2010) by Douglas Coupland for RootsFashion History Museum

Motherboard Print Legging and Signature Print Top by Douglas Coupland for Roots, 2010

Most fashion design and production moved off shore in the 21st century, although Canada remains strong in Activewear.

Credits: Story

Highlights from the exhibition 'Fashioning Canada: 1867 - 2017" on display March 15 - December 17, 2017 at the Fashion History Museum 74 Queen Street East, Cambridge, Ontario

All artifacts are the property of the Fashion History Museum. Photography belongs to the Fashion History Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
We Wear Culture
The stories behind what we wear
View theme
Google apps