Muslin Memoirs


“Miscellaneous Fashions: Vogue Pattern Service”, Vogue March 1, 1917

July, 1917 

Front View of Muslin Day Dress, 1917  (Photo courtesy of Ingrid Mida; FRC 2014.07.323)

        I will forever remember today for the rustle of muslin as the summer breeze drifted through the pleats of my skirt,  fluttering my hem about the ankles. The large, soft floral pattern printed upon the muslin quietly echoes the shades of olive green and pastel pink which surround me, while the pink silk piping outlines my best features. The netting and lace which drape from my neck and elbows is feminine, yet tasteful. Unlike the fashions of the previous generation, those of silk and elaborate beading, the purely frivolous must be forgone in favour of such styles as may also be practical. As Women’s Wear states, women must be well dressed, but “the ultra-extreme to be considered taboo” (“Dress Demand Differs”). For these are times of war; sombre and patriotic. Yet my delicate, feminine silhouette demonstrates that, while the men in distant France fight and fall, here in Toronto the demands of day to day life continue. While I understand from my companions that changes for women were in motion before war broke out in Europe, the strain upon the nation’s workforce has accelerated women’s integration into roles beyond the home. While men and resources have been directed to the war front for some time now, this month marks the first time when conscription will be implemented (Acton 282). As such, I expect there will be more asked of the women who are left to fill the void. I only hope that I might offer my mistress some support in the endeavours that will come her way.

Side View of Muslin Day Dress, 1917 (Photo courtesy of Ingrid Mida; FRC 2014.07.323)

         She, like so many other women, has been empowered by this movement towards a working life. This increase in a female workforce has been speculated to be the reason why the garment industry remains, despite rationing and restrictions; women are bringing in their own income and are able to manage their own dress allowance (Acton, 280;“Lack of Economy”). I believe this is aided by the very practical and sensible Canadian style. Again, I refer to the wisdom put forth by Women’s Wear which recognizes that while Canadian consumers are aware of new fashions, they remain keen on styles which are more conservative and longer lasting (“Outlook for Dresses Good”). I personally believe this is the best fashion tendency, especially in these uncertain times. I myself am proud to be Canadian and feel that I do embody such trends. For example, the lovely muslin draping from the waist and emphasizing the hips as well as my pastel shades (“Outlook for Dress Good).



Back View of Muslin Day Dress, 1917 (Photo courtesy of Ingrid Mida; FRC 2014.07.323)


September, 1920

       It has been a couple of years since I was last out with my mistress. The fashions have changed and my waist-cinching silhouette is no longer desirable. In these post-war years, clothing has adopted a more linear, boyish shape which my full, gathered skirt and floral motif could never hope to achieve. And having spent this past summer behind the doors of the wardrobe once again, I understand that I have ceased to be a prized garment. I no longer offer her any value within society, and I am resigned to become a relic of a society gone by. My muslin shows the signs of wear, of the good days spent in service to my mistress. The conjunction of under sleeve and bodice no longer discreetly hides marks of perspiration, my flesh- toned muslin stained an unsightly yellow. The same can be said of my collar and cuffs, the lace showing my age and time of service. Here and there are scattered patches of discolouration and stains. Sadly, I do believe that my best days are behind me.



       Having spent the last fifty years shuffled slowly from the naively hopeful back of a wardrobe to the depressing docility of a dark attic clothing rack, today marked a movement in towards a cautiously optimistic outlook. Here’s what happened:

       The descendants of my former mistress, upon deciding to clear out the old attic brought me to the rummage sale put on by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Having long ago lost any belief in my value, it came as no surprise when a tag was pinned to me declaring my worth at a mere fifty cents (Mida to Harlow). Once a garment at the height of fashion, sought after as a commodity which brought status, I was reintroduced to the marketplace at a price intended to rid themselves of my association. What I had learned long ago through my dismissal at the hands of my mistress was quantified by an amount less than one dollar. Society dismissed me, and at no value as a wearable garment, neither did I hold an emotional value to my mistress’s family.

        But despite this low-marked price, my value was evident to a very unique individual. His name is Alan Suddon. Despite me missing my waist sash, Suddon seemed to see my beauty. I could once again remember the feeling of the wind rustling through my fabric and all the possibilities I once offered. Mr. Suddon could see the significance of my history, and purchased not just myself as a garment today, but all of what I have experienced. He has been collecting old garments since 1957, appreciating what these pieces- so often thrown away- have to offer, preserving them in what is fast becoming one of the most substantial collections in the country (Finding New Homes for Dress Collections, 2). I am eager to see where this new adventure will bring, and what pages may come in my story. A story which I believed to have ended long ago.


April, 1976

        These last few years in Alan Suddon’s personal collection have been quite interesting. As a founding member of the Costume Society of Ontario, which was formed shortly after my introduction into the collection, it has become even more evident to me just how much Mr. Suddon sees the cultural significance embodied by us old garments. It is remarked upon by many, the pride which Alan Suddon feels in his gathered garments.

Alan Suddon’s living room display The Globe and Mail   (unfortunately there are no photos of myself on display, but here are some of my companions)

   Not only was I being valued, perhaps not in the same manner I once was, I was once again fulfilling my role. I was enclothing a body; a woman was made to feel beautiful by my presence. I had a cultural significance and could take pride in who I was. Soon, though, my age began to show. I was tired and could no longer keep up with the demands of a moving body. I was delicate to begin with. My centre front closure of snaps was not supported by reinforcement, my seams began to give in places and the signs of wear grew. I suspect that it was this aging that led Mr. Suddon to remove my once elegant pink satin collar. Remnants of it remain, but they are disguised by the tiers of lace at my neck. He began to recognize the threat these dress up parties posed to the continuation of our story.

       Unlike a living body, a dress form offers a perfect opportunity for my beauty to be appreciated and admired without causing too much strain on my construction. Mr. Suddon had six such dress forms set up in the living room of his home The day I was selected to be one of these special six garments was one that I had greatly looked forward to. I have just been put back away after this time on display. My feminine, floral elegance was on show to the Suddon family, any of his guests and to the many people who walked by the house and could see me through the living room window (Mida, Kim 4; Joyce). Being able to see the sunshine glimmer through the branches of the tree outside sparked memories of my summertime youth.


February, 2018

        I cannot believe that this year marks my one hundred and first year of existence. Strange to think that I once believed my value to have expired. While every year since my construction was not remarkable, there have been some significant moments in which my worth has influenced my role in Toronto society. Today marked another important evolution in my value. While I once again was commoditized during the sale of the late Mr. Suddon’s collection, I believe that here in the Fashion Research Collection at Ryerson I have attained a status of permanent (at least for the foreseeable future) singularization (Kopytoff). While I was once priced at fifty cents, what I have to offer to the students of fashion is priceless, and beyond the sphere of the commodity. My significance to society has become my role as a didactic tool. I was pulled out from the archives for what my history can show. My fabrics, construction techniques, and signs of wear reveal much about the narrative history of fashion in Ontario. This particular student’s previous interaction with historical dress once limited to reproductions, I was able to expand her studies and learning experience to encompass a tactile existence.



Dress deatils clockwise: Collar front, collar side, sleeve, skirt embellishment

(Photos courtesy of Ingrid Mida)








Works Cited

Acton, Janice, Penny Goldsmith, and Bonnie Shepard. Women at Work : Ontario, 1850-1930. Canadian Women’s

Educational Press, 1974.

Bennett, Jane. (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things..Durham, NC: Duke University Press, (pp. 1-19)

Carter, Joyce. “Crowd of Headless Dummies Display Dad’s Antigue Finery.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current), 1972,


“Dresses: Curved Openings, Bright Colored Pipings, Fur Trimmings on Serge and Cloth Frocks.”Women’s Wear, 1917,


“Dresses: Dress Demand in Canada Differs from that of Ante Bellum Days.” Women’s Wear1917, pp. 10.

“Dresses: Hand Work in Sheer Lingerie Fabrics in Pastel Shades- Handkerchief Linens Beaded.” Women’s Wear, 1917,

         pp. 10.

“Dresses: Outlook for Dresses Good Across Canadian Border — Radical Changes in theSilhouette Frowned upon.”

Women’s Wear, 1917, pp. 10, 18.

Kopytoff, Igor. “The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process”. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in

Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai,Cambridge University Press, 2013, 64-92.

“Lack of Economy Shown in Dress: Women Not Showing Signs of Thrift, is British Opinion have More Money Now and

are Spending it–Footwear and Millinery Expenditures–Poor Response to Committee’s Appeal.” The Globe (1844-

1936), 1916, pp. 13.

Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in

Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015.

Mida, Ingrid. “Re: Photos of the Dress”. Received by Sara Harlow, 12 February, 2018. 

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. “Finding New Homes for Dress Collections: The Case Study of the Suddon- Cleaver

Collection”. Fashion Theory, vol. 7419, 2018 pp. 1-21.

Miscellaneous Fashions: Vogue pattern service. (1917, Mar 01). Vogue, 49, 81-81, 82, 83, 84, 85,86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92,

93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104.




3 thoughts on “Muslin Memoirs”

  1. Sarah, this is a beautifully written and incredibly compelling narrative. It is amazing how by giving the garment a voice, you have in turn also given the reader a chance to see this garment as a holder of history and memories. You have used your previous knowledge of costumes and their construction in helping you analyze this piece both materially as well as socially and historically.

  2. What a delightful journey Sarah! I love the voice you have given to this garment. It’s like you’ve taken Mida and Kim’s process, which is written, and turned it into an audio track. I feel like I’ve learned about the dress through sight and sound. Your post reminds me of some of the “research through the senses” readings we did in Ben’s class last term. I think Blumer would really enjoy this post as it demonstrates articulately and beautifully how impactful fashion can be, in this case how a historical narrative can be carried by one garment.

    Your articulation of the garment’s feelings was quite enjoyable. From the garment lamenting her inability to keep up with the trends in 1920 to hope once she became part of a private collection and finally pride as part of Ryerson’s FRC, the journey is believable and gives life, even a soul to the garment. Simply lovely.

    I feel like I would have wanted to learn more about the garment’s use and where she travelled with her mistress in 1917. I believe you hinted to that when you mentioned “Being able to see the sunshine glimmer through the branches of the tree outside sparked memories of my summertime youth.” I’m now curious and I want to read the next prequel!

    All this while weaving in a history lesson into the narrative. One learns something without even realizing it! I hope one day to be purchasing your book of similar stories, inspired by the journeys of the garments you’ll come to know through your career. 🙂

  3. That was an emotional roller-coaster! hahaha You did a great job developing an emotional narrative and I am so happy that the dress has found her purpose. I feel like you should name her now. I think it is cool how we both had similar approaches: giving a voice to the garments. While my items had been made more recently and were still wearable, they were a bit bored been housed in the collection. I think your wise dress really helped the emphasize just how valuable the Ryerson Research Collection is!

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