Gender-bending at the start of the last century…and the circle goes round and round…

“Woman’s suit
About 1900, 19th century or 20th century
Gift of Miss Winnifred Marler
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Suit (38)

Keys to History

“By the late 19th century, taboos against cross-gender dressing for women had eroded. Despite the long-standing social prohibition against wearing men’s clothing, women frequently turned to men’s fashions for inspiration, a tribute to the appeal of men’s clothing styles and the power they represent. However, the masculine influences were sometimes so feminized that their manly origins were almost obscured. In the 1890s, “tailor-mades”–women’s skirt suits like this one, modelled on the male version and made by men’s tailors–became very fashionable. For many women entering the workplace outside their homes for the first time, the comfortable, practical and stylish tailor-made became a symbol of independence.

Like a riding habit, a tailor-made suit was usually of wool and incorporated obviously mannish details, though it fit like conventional women’s clothing. It was worn with a shirtwaist blouse, modelled on a man’s shirt, and a ribbon tie; the allusion to menswear was obvious.

Despite the strict masculine tailoring of this woman’s suit, it conforms to the shapely fashionable female silhouette of the late 19th century.

Women’s tailor-made suits were not only worn in the workplace. The masculine styling was also adopted by fashionable women for walking suits and day wear.

Miss Winifred Marler wore this tailor-made suit in 1898, the year she made her social début.

This suit was made by the notable Montreal tailoring firm of St. Pierre, “Ladies and Gentlemen’s Tailor,” for Miss Winnifred Marler.”*

*McCord Museum