Thinking about Things Canadian

For the 150th anniversary of the legislation of Canada as a nation, I have been reviewing recent photos from Ivan’s shows to focus on those items that capture aspects of Canada’s material history.  

I have a limited recall of his comments on the various outfits. I was, however, struck by the opening number for his October show on the Sinister Little Black Dress.
Even though this is beautiful dress, on the equally beautiful model Shelia, it does have a tragic overlay. This is a glamorous mourning dress. In an era of significant mortality through infectious disease, you wonder whom exactly the owner of this fashionable dress was mourning.

This is a subject that appeals to me as I prepared my Master’s thesis “On Death and Dying in the British Seventeenth- Century.” When, during the 1980s, people politely asked what I did in life there was distinct backing away as I enthusiastically explained my research. I thought this was a wonderful topic to investigate, while most considered it just peculiar. The fact is that people in earlier centuries handled death is very different ways. In the twenty-first century, we don’t much handle it at all.

I would date this dress as from the turn of the nineteenth century, or a year or so later, to be fully Edwardian.  The Victorians, and their near relative the Edwardians, were even more obsessed with death than my seventeenth-century cavaliers and puritans. The dress has interesting agenda: to be chic, while considering eternity.

Until I attended Ivan’s fashion shows I never much thought of the shape of clothing design: now I see it everywhere. Our mourning dress demonstrate the essentials of the Edwardian silhouette: front-flatted corseted waist, full chest, ample hips, pronounced posterior, forming the s-shaped side view. It was mature form meant for an imposing woman. All would change with the Great War –including those years of obsessive mourning—but that is another story.

Written by Denise Jacques