Clothing and/or Fashion, Designed and/or Made in Canada? Over and over I am asked these and similar questions.
“Preserved clothing from the arctic, thousands of years old, shows fine sinew sewing and elaborate fur decoration”*
Northern North America, now called Canada, was discovered a second time,by mistake, while British and European explorers, sometime during the 17th century, looking for a new route to India, went the wrong way. Due to fashion’s foley for beaver fur felt hats at the time resulting in the extermination of their own beaver population, and upon finding a seemingly limitless amount of the animal here, that could be easily obtained, with the help of the existing population of Indigenous peoples, who had discovered the area for themselves some 15000 years earlier, they decided to stay. Fashion was the reason those explorers undertook colonizing the land as their own, and in 1867 named it Canada.
Canada covers a lot of territory; we are the 2nd largest country on the planet. We are a bit smaller than Russia and a bit larger than the USA. We border the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Arctic Ocean laps at our northern edge and the 49th parallel, shared with the USA, is our southern border. There are 5 main climatic regions along this southern border of Canada, and several more as we move up through to our northern tip. Temperatures can drop as low as the mid -20Cs in winter and in summer may rise into the mid +30’s C., depending on where you are. What we wear to deal with the weather is part of our daily lives. There is nowhere else on the planet just like us, and our clothing has been fashioned to function as well as look good, by us, here.
The creation of apparel for protective and decorative coverage, made primarily of animal skins, by the Indigenous Peoples, was developed over millennia and its “form and function” perfected and set in place, many, many years before the arrival of the lost explorers. I call this First Nations clothing the “first generation” of Canadian clothing.
The clothing of the explorer, while fashionable from when and where they came, was soon discovered to be “impractical” at best, in dealing with the rugged land and extreme climates of their new home. From the Indigenous People’s knowledge of what would function, combined with the cut and material of the clothes brought by explorer, the two would create new hybrid garments that worked for both peoples, a “second generation” of Canadian clothing, if you will.
Canadian Fashion Historian Katharine B. Brett, writing in the introduction to the catalogue for “Mod to Modesty”, The Royal Ontario Museum’s Centennial showcase for fashion in Canada from 1867-1967 wrote that
“Our history began too late for a regional costume to develop: its decline in Europe had already begun. Some garments, which the indigenous inhabitants developed, were adopted by the white man because they were practical, such a leggings and the moccasins. Their skin clothing inspired him to have his cloths made of skin, and the blanket coat with or without hood, a trade article, was adopted by him. The knitted toque and the centre flèche have also become traditional Canadian wear.”**
I am sure that in her time she was considered correct, but due to our current perception of Canada’s history, to one where we are beginning to acknowledge that Canada’s origins predate it’s 1867 naming, and includes the Indigenous Peoples, as well as the British and French settlers, and all those who have come since, we must recognize that our history did not begin too late, and that those very garments of our Indigenous inhabitants, of which she spoke, were our regional costumes.
I believe that today we are recognized internationally by our Indigenous People’s clothes, as well as the hybrids they created with the British and French settlers; the blanket coat, the parka, etc. We are also recognized by the scarlet tunic’d uniform of the R.C.M.P. and the Maple-leaf-fronted jerseys of our Canadian athletes wear here at home, and abroad. The Toque, and the Plaid Shirt…embarrassing to some I know, but these are also seen as so very Canadian. And if you don’t appreciate these because they are not what you call fashion, what about our “designer” goods; the loungewear that Claire Haddad advertised in Vogue and sold in here and in the USA in the 1940’s, the chic, one-of-a-kind couture shown by “The Organization of Canadian Couturiers” to great applause and purchase, in New York City, in the 1950’s, and the very high fashions of Nicola Pelly and Harry Parnass for “Parachute”, which went global in the 1980’s, and the stage costumes of Todd Lynn, the Canadian in London, who dresses the Rolling Stones and others for their mega tours, and the runway savvy pieces by Dean and Dan,for D2, who, proudly Canadian, show off their Canadian roots in Milan, Italy to the fashion world…
So yes, there was regional costume, and there was and is clothing and fashion designed by Canadians whether “Made in Canada” or elsewhere. We are recognized by it globally, and it is time we recognized it here in Canada! The following 150 posts are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg (so Canadian), the website itself will contain much more as it rebuilds!
Welcome to “CLOTHINGCANADAFASHION 150 PLUS”.
*”Wearing Our Identity, The First People’s Collection”
by Guislaine Lemay, Moira McCaffrey, Sherry Farrell Racette,
McCord Museum of Canadian History,
Suzanne Sauvage Show Catalogue
**Modesty to Mod: Dress and Underdress in Canada 1780-1967
by Katharine Brett
Royal Ontario Museum, University of Toronto 1967