Toronto’s Golden Lion (photo taken by Notman & Fraser, 1872), was a men’s clothier in existence from 1847 to 1898 and was, at the time of Confederation, Ontario’s largest retailer. By 1900, Toronto had become a clothing manufacturing centre and the ready-to-wear it produced was retailed across the country through department stores and catalogues. It was only during World War II that original Canadian fashion design emerged, displacing the practice of copying European and American styles.
Black Wool Tailcoat (c. 1870) by D StevensonFashion History Museum
Black Wool Tailcoat, labelled 'D. Stevenson, Toronto' c. 1870
With improvements in tailoring systems, ready-made and semi-fitted men’s suits and coats became popular in the mid 19th century.
Grey and Brown Wool Dress (c. 1876) by UnknownFashion History Museum
Wool Dress, c. 1876
Made and worn in Woodbridge, just north of Toronto, this dress was machine sewn and was probably made by a local dressmaker.
Most Women didn’t make their own clothes until sewing machines became more affordable in the early 20th century.
The Great Department Stores: Eaton's and Simpson's
Irish-born Timothy Eaton founded Eaton’s as a dry goods shop in 1869. The T. Eaton Company began a mail-order catalogue in 1884 and in 1905, the store held its first Santa Claus Parade (an idea copied by the New York store Macy’s for Thanksgiving.)
Eaton's Catalog Cover (1904)Fashion History Museum
By 1920, the T. Eaton company complex of stores and factories in downtown Toronto employed over 11,000 people. By 1940, they had become the 8th largest retailer in the world.
Simpsons Catalogue Cover (1916)Fashion History Museum
Simpson’s was founded by Scottish-born Robert Simpson in 1872 with its flagship store, at the corner of Queen and Yonge streets in Toronto, opening in 1896.
Simpson Sears Catalogue Cover (1956)Fashion History Museum
In 1952 the American mail order giant Sears Roebuck entered into a joint venture to build retail stores under the name ‘Simpsons-Sears’. The Hudson’s Bay Company acquired Simpsons in 1978 and merged operations in 1991, ending over a century of the Simpson’s name in Toronto retail fashion history.
Black and Brown Silk Suit (c. 1958) by RodolpheFashion History Museum
Black Silk Suit, 1958
Rodolphe Liska apprenticed for a Viennese tailor before immigrating to Toronto to launch his couture salon in 1956. He became a member of the Association of Canadian Couturiers, which existed from 1954 to 1968 and was modelled after the Paris system.
Pink Sheer Nylon Evening Dress (c. 1969) by Susie KosovicFashion History Museum
Pink Sheer Nylon Evening Dress, 1969
In 1964, English-born Susie Kosovic invested $6,000 to open her Yorkville boutique called Poupee Rouge. Two years later, MacLean’s magazine called Susie Canada’s Mary Quant. She closed her business in 1970.
Black, Cerise and Forest Green Taffeta, and Black Lace Cocktail Dress (1986) by Winston KongFashion History Museum
Silk Taffeta Cocktail Dress, 1986
Jamaican-born Winston Kong set up his Toronto couture business in 1966 and made clothes for individual customers but also carried a small selection of off-the-rack clothes until he closed his shop in 1994.
Green Boiled Wool ‘Tulip’ Coat (1986) by Marilyn BrooksFashion History Museum
Green Wool Coat, 1986
In 1963 American-born Marilyn Brooks opened her Unicorn Boutique that offered a Carnaby-street style mix of fashions and housewares.
After closing Unicorn in 1970, Brooks incorporated a ready-to-wear fashion company that she operated until retiring in 2003.
Red Wool LaParka Coat with Totemic Design (1994) by Linda LundstromFashion History Museum
Red Wool Coat, 1994
Ontario-born Linda Lundstrom began designing in 1974. In 1987, she created her ‘LaParka’ coat and produced it for twenty years.
This coat uses a Nisga First Nations crest design by Lillian Tait of the Gitlakdamix Band. Lundstrom closed in 2007, but restarted in 2012.
Silk Shoe Print Cocktail Dress (1995-05) by Kingi CarpenterFashion History Museum
Shoe Print Cocktail Dress, 1995
Kingi Carpenter is standing next to the dress she designed for a client to wear to the opening of the Bata Shoe Museum in 1995. Carpenter opened her silkscreen studio on Queen Street in 1987 and after closing in the spring of 2012 has recently reopened.
Beginning of the End
The golden era of Toronto’s fashion industry which lasted from the 1970s to the 1990s began to fade at the turn of this century as competition from foreign mega-retailers, online shopping, and off-shore manufacturing made their impact. (view of exhibition opening, November 1, 2018)
This pop-up exhibition of 26 garments was done in conjunction with Museum's "Discounted Histories", and was on display at the Toronto Media Arts Centre during the month of November, 2018.
All artifacts are from the Fashion History Museum Collection. Photography is the property of the Fashion History Museum.