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Fashion, Fabrics and Clothing Collection (C609)

Letter from John Simson (detail), 1826. Fashion, Textiles and Clothing Collection C609, C609/A6.2.1 © McCord Museum

A tartan that will never sell

"Dear Sir,

[Annexed?] you have [?] of tartans with proceeds of £288.4.9 [?] at your credit, there is still 2 pieces of a very bad pattern called Rob Roy, which pattern will not take in this market[.] [A] considerable quantity of [...] this pattern and Camblets could have been disposed of."

Part of the lumberjack's signature look in popular imagery, now adopted by the hipsters, lumbersexuals and other sociotypes of the millennial era, the Rob Roy tartan shirt would appear to be a staple of the Canadian wardrobe.

However, as this 1826 document shows, Montrealers were not always drawn to the Rob Roy tartan. In this letter to his supplier, merchant John Simson complains that he could have done without this "bad" tartan that has failed to sell.

Officially listed by the Highland Society of London in 1815 or so, the Rob Roy, named for the Highlands hero immortalized in the 1817 novel by Sir Walter Scott, is the oldest tartan associated with the MacGregor clan and one of the oldest known tartans. This red and black fabric has been used for clothing since the early 18th century and, contrary to popular belief, its use was not limited to kilts. The Rob Roy seems to have been caught up in the trend to commercialize and democratize tartan that began in the early 19th century and culminated in the punk, Neo-Romantic and grunge movements. With all due respect to John Simson, today the Rob Roy is one of the most popular patterns on the market!


C609 Fashion, Textiles and Clothing Collection. - [1826-2008]. - 125 cm of textual records. - 82 photographs.

Scope and Content

This collection focusses on the fashion industry, the clothing aspect in particular, and the textile industry. It documents the creation of clothing and accessories, as well as the promotion and commercialization of various items. The collection also chronicles the activities of associations of weavers and fashion designers, and includes a number of theoretical and instructive works offered to the public.

Among the businesses documented in this collection, underwear manufacturer Canadelle has the most impressive corpus of documents. There are publications recounting its history and that of corset and undergarment manufacturer, Dominion Corset, several sketches of undergarments, and numerous catalogues illustrating the Wonderbra, Christina, Dici Nova and other collections marketed from the 1950s to the 2000s. Press clippings and various documents associated with a lawsuit brought by the diocese of Quebec City against Dominion Corset complete this voluminous series.

The collection also contains correspondence, order forms and photographs chronicling the activities of Montreal tailor Samuelsohn Ltd., as well as various documents tracing the career of a Woolworth Co. Ltd. employee. Numerous advertisements of all kinds illustrate the promotion of items, notably clothing, shoes, hats, undergarments and jewellery. Several invoices and receipts document the purchase of specific items from retailers in and outside Montreal. There is also a scrapbook devoted to the career of hat designer Claire Robert.

A significant share of this collection consists of works on the history of fashion, along with a variety of instructive works. For example, there are booklets published by weaver associations and the Macdonald College Handicrafts Division, sewing and knitting patterns, models and guides, and numerous specialized magazines about knitting and various types of needlework. Photographs illustrating underwear and bathing suit models produced by Canadelle and several snapshots depicting the facilities and employees of Samuelsohn Ltd. complete this collection.

Variations in title: The collection was previously entitled "Fashion, Fabrics and Clothing." This title was modified in 2017.

Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the collection.

Physical description: Contains 80 B&W and colour prints and 2 B&W negatives.

Immediate source of acquisition: The documents in this collection come from various sources (donations from individuals and information transferred from files and the Costume and Textiles collection). A significant share of the archives preserved in this collection were given to the McCord Museum in 2015 (M2012.92.20), following the closure of the Canadelle factory and distribution centre when the Montreal company became a subsidiary of the US-based HanesBrands group.

Arrangement: Several documents from the Pamphlets and Advertisements (C283) and Susan Alain (C339) collections were added following the adoption of a new classification plan in 2017.

Language: The documents are in English and French.

Associated material:
LAC: Dominion Textiles Fonds (R1351-0-6-E)

BAnQ (Sherbrooke and Old Montreal branches): Fonds Association canadienne des coloristes et chimistes du textile - section du Québec (P43); Fonds Laurette Cotnoir-Capponi (P186)

Archives of the École supérieure de mode de Montréal, ESG, UQAM: Fonds Montréal Mode

Accruals: Further accruals are expected.

Related groups of records: Several fonds and collections preserved at the McCord Museum contain archives covering the fashion industry. For example, the Museum's collection includes the fonds of fashion designers like Jean-Claude Poitras (P689), Betty Guernsey (Gaby Bernier) (P349), Lawrence Sperber (P753), Jacques de Montjoye (P768), Claude Gagnon (P765), Jane Harris (P563), Edith Strauss (P584), France Davies (P703) and Rita Simard (P749).


The collection is divided into the following series, subseries, sub-subseries and files:

  • C609/A Businesses
    • C609/A1 Brown's Shoe Shop Co.
    • C609/A2 Canadelle
    • C609/A3 Dominion Rubber System
    • C609/A4 Samuelsohn
    • C609/A5 Woolworth Co. Ltd.
    • C609/A6 Other manufacturers, merchants and retailers. - [1826-1955]. - 18 cm of textual records.
    • Scope and Content: This subseries documents the activities of various manufacturers, merchants and retailers working primarily in the fields of clothing, shoes, undergarments, jewellery and textiles. It covers the advertising practices of these businesses, the commercial and financial operations associated with the retail industry, and customer relations.

      It contains various forms of advertising such as blotters, business cards, flyers and brochures. There are also clothing catalogues, including one from corset manufacturer La Divine Créature (ca 1905), and a men's clothing catalogue published by International Tailoring (1926-1927). A catalogue from Corbeil-Hooke Arts & Crafts Ltd. (1955) and a catalogue entitled Train-exposition français au Canada (1921) are included as well.

      Several invoices and receipts document the purchase of specific items, primarily clothing, from French couturier Paul Poiret and retailers like Holt Renfrew and Henry Morgan & Co. There is also a customer address book, possibly associated with the dressmaking salon of Gaby Bernier or Marie-Paule Nolin.

      Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the subseries.

      Langue des documents : The documents are in English and French.

  • C609/B Designers. - [1946-1956]. - 4.5 cm of textual records.
    Digitized documents
  • Scope and Content: This series focusses primarily on the creative work and promotional efforts of women's hat designer Claire Robert, as well as the media coverage of her career from 1946 to 1951.

    A scrapbook traces the activities of the Quebec City milliner. Numerous articles from the fashion pages of Quebec newspapers covered her new collections and fashion shows featuring her hats. There are also several interviews and profiles published by specialized magazines like Hats and Style, advertisements, pages from fashion magazines (like Mayfair) illustrating some of her creations, several photographs and a fashion show program. This collection portrays a respected designer who gained a degree of public recognition in Quebec, Canada and internationally.

    The series also contains a sketch of a Raoul-Jean Fouré wedding dress from 1956.

    Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the series.

    Language: The documents are in English and French.

  • C609/C Associations and Interest Groups. - [ca 1945-1956]. - 1 cm of textual records.
    Digitized documents

    Scope and Content:
    This series chronicles association and educational activities, along with the achievements of various Canadian interest groups involved in the fields of weaving and fashion design. It contains promotional cards, brochures and information sheets about associations of weavers, technical guides, and a program from an event organized by the Fashion Designers Association of Canada.

    Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the series.

    Language: The documents are primarily in English, but several texts are in French.

  • C609/D Amateurs and Individuals. - 1843-1908. - 3 cm of textual records.
  • Scope and Content: This series documents various concepts and techniques used by individuals learning to crochet and sew, from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries. It includes a notebook, instructions and knitting patterns belonging to J. K. Bowsfield, along with two notebooks on cutting associated with the first, second and third years of a sewing course by Marie-Rose Pellerin.
    The series also contains a list of jewellery belonging to Miss Nora Hunter, dated 1864.

    La série contient également un inventaire des bijoux appartenant à Mlle Nora Hunter, dressé en 1864.

    Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the series.

    Language: The documents are in English and French.

  • C609/E Documentation
    • C609/E1 Historic and theoretical works
    • C609/E2 Guides, magazines and other instructive works. - [ca 1893-ca 1960]. - 9.5 cm of textual records.
    • Scope and Content: This subseries documents various trends and techniques associated with the fields of clothing and decoration, in the form of patterns and models, guides and specialized publications. The majority of the items in this corpus are knitting and needlework magazines like Mon Tricot and Corticelli Home Needlework, produced by the Corticelli Silk Co. Ltd.

      There are also knitting guides and patterns, published by companies like Lever Brothers Ltd., Henry Morgan & Co. Ltd. and Mary Maxim, used for commercial purposes or to promote crafts as a way for Canadian women to get involved in the war effort.

      Guides published by Singer explaining how to create decorative items and alter clothing, and guides on weaving and making a loom produced by the Macdonald College Handicrafts Division complete this collection.

      In addition to providing information on how certain businesses promoted their products, these documents, published primarily between the early and mid-20th century, paint a portrait of a society in which a housewife's worth was measured by her ability to sew and do needlework.

      Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the subseries.

      Language: The documents are in English and French.

  • C609/F Photographs

 

Last update: August 30, 2017