Dressmakers and Seamstresses in Toronto, 1834–1861

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The young colonial city of Toronto was a landing place for many newcomers to Canada, and was a city of opportunity. The steady growth in population between 1834 and 1861 afforded women employment outside of the home, notably in the needle-trades (i.e. the roles involved in the manufacture of clothing). This article argues that the needle-trades were a significant source of employment for women in pre-industrial period Toronto and explores the social and professional distinctions between ‘dressmakers’ and ‘seamstresses’, by enumerating and aggregating women from the City Directories and 1861 census. Several biographical case studies are included to demonstrate the variety of women employed in the needle-trades, based on information from the primary source data.

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Recent interest in ‘vintage’ and second hand clothes by both fashion consumers and designers is only the latest manifestation of a long and complex cultural history of wearing and trading second hand clothes. With its origins in necessity, the passing of clothes between social and economic groups is now a global business, but with roots that are centuries old. To move from one social and cultural situation to another used clothes must be 'transformed' to become of potential value to a new social group. How, when and why this has happened is the subject of this book. Old Clothes, New Looks presents a three-part focus on the history, the trading culture, and the contemporary refashioning of second hand clothing. Historical perspectives include studies located in Renaissance Florence, early industrial England, colonial Australia, and mid twentieth-century Ireland. The global nature of the second hand trade in clothing is presented through original research from Zambia, India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan. The reuse of garments as contemporary fashion statements is explored through studies that include neo-mod retro-sixties subculture in Germany, the impact of 'vintage' in the USA on consumers and designers, as well as consideration of its sartorial and cultural challenges, encapsulated by the work of designer XULY.Bet. This groundbreaking book will be essential reading for all those interested in fashion and dress, material culture, consumption and anthropology, as well as to dealers, collectors and wearers of second hand clothes.
This article presents a study of dress worn by women living in Canada West, now called Southern Ontario, as seen in daguerreotype photographs from the late 1840s until about 1860. This rich medium chronicled not only a woman’s appearance, but also her values, sartorial tastes, and family’s relative wealth. As well as the physicality of the sitter, photographic images projected how her appearance was constructed with signs and symbols that were part of the philosophy of early Victorian Canada. Daguerreotypes captured images of women in all stages of their lives: as young adults, through marriage and the birth of children, and as older women. Analysis of selected images of Canadian West women in each stage helps catalogue dress during a relatively short period and serves as a basis for further investigation.
The years between 1870 and 1939 were a crucial period in the growth of industrial capitalism in Canada, as well as a time when many women joined the paid workforce. Yet despite the increase in employment, women faced a difficult struggle in gaining fair remuneration for their work and in gaining access to better jobs. Discounted Labour analyses the historical roots of women's persistent inequality in the paid labour force. Ruth A. Frager and Carmela K. Patrias analyse how and why women became confined to low-wage jobs, why their work was deemed less valuable than men's work, why many women lacked training, job experience, and union membership, and under what circumstances women resisted their subordination. Distinctive earning discrepancies and employment patterns have always characterized women's place in the workforce whether they have been in low-status, unskilled jobs, or in higher positions. For this reason, Frager and Patrias focus not only on women wage-earners but on women as salaried workers as well. They also analyze the divisions among women, examining how class and ethnic or racial differences have intersected with those of gender. Discounted Labour is an essential new work for anyone interested in the historical struggle for gender equality in Canada.
In this renowned 1997 study of the clothing industry in Canada, Mercedes Steedman examines how the intricate weaving together of the meanings of class, gender, ethnicity, family, and the workplace created a job ghetto for women. Although women comprised a significant majority of garment workers, their roles were limited both in the workplace and in the trade union bureaucracy. Detailing the disparaties between men and women in terms of wages and representation, Angels of the Workplace is the definitive history of discrimination against women in Canada's clothing industry. Steedman shows the crucial role that women played at the front of the picket lines during labour strikes and reveals how they gained sympathy and favourable media coverage for the workers' cause. Tracing both the new hopes for more equitable work brought about by left-wing unionism, and the disappointments caused by the cooperation of labour and management in the "new unionism" of the 1930s, Angels of the Workplace reveals how formalized workplace gender discrimination was formalized for the rest of the century.
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Nancy Greene, Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris
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Caverhill's Toronto City Directory (Toronto: W. C. F. Caverhill, 1859)
  • W C F Caverhill
Wives and Mothers, School Mistresses and Scullery Maids: Working Women in Canada
  • Jane Errington