Ladies' Daytime Wear
"The above...will scarcely be recognised as a description of dress in Antigonish. Two or three years behind the fashions! Goodness gracious! Is there not telegraphic communication between Paris and Antigonish?" [Aurora, 2 September 1884]
The large plate-glass windows are so elegantly decorated and display so rich a quality of goods that they would attract attention in any large city. One side is filled with beautiful ostrich plumes, flowers, laces, etc., cunningly combining the witchery of color and the sheen of gold in artistic negline. The other side is filled with elegant silks, satins, velvets, in as fashionable styles and colors, and of as good material as can be found anywhere."
[Aurora, 9 May 1883]
"...neither would he think of being any longer satisfied with the stiching done at home. Just as soon as he earned the money he must have a suit of 'superfine'...Just now, spring catalogues are eagerly scanned for the standard fashions and styles of the spring and summer. It seems to me it is a system, insidiously invented just for the benefit of manufacturers. It has its headquarters in Paris and its branches all over the world." [Casket, 19 March 1914]
Comments: This black taffeta outfit, lined with cotton, was part of the trousseau of Flora MacDonald. She wore the dress the day that she married stonecutter John MacIsaac in 1878. This two-piece ensemble was the handiwork of a Mrs. Chisholm (probably Margaret Chisholm) of St. Andrew's. It features a long hip-length jacket bodice, with buttons and darts, decorative ribbon on the long tight sleeves and in the front, and a decorative fringe along the bottom of the fitted top. The skirt has some distinctive elements such as flared pieces on the sides with bows and a pleated skirt border. The skirt (which is not shown) is long and tends to gather at the back near the waistline. The seamstress achieved some striking visual effects with her skilful use of fabric (such as the cloth-covered buttons) and form-fitting cut. This outfit must have been regarded as very fashionable and high-style for Antigonish in the 1870s.
This garment was made at a time when women's fashions were undergoing a profound transformation. The growing popularity of sewing machines was a powerful force of change. So too were the introduction of standardized measurements and the increasing availability of materials, pattern catalogs and ladies' magazines. Even small towns were not insulated from the dictates of the latest fashions and the vast improvements in the marketing and manufacture of readymade clothing and patterns. As a result, the 1870s witnessed a great proliferation of fashion choices and elaboration of detail. During this period, the two-piece dress with deep pleats and bows, and a long buttoned bodice closely fitted at the front and sides, was one of the most popular styles. The late 1870s also saw a movement towards darker, richer colours. The silhouette of the female figure changed dramatically at this time, as substantial bustles disappeared and the narrow, attenuated form prevailed. Corsetry also reflected this change, as the new bodice style and the popularity of the long, small waist demanded longer, lower-busted and more heavily boned corsets. Clearly, Flora Macdonald's trousseau was on a par with the work of any city dressmaker. This elegant outfit also reveals that high fashion reached into the homes of rich and poor, rural and urban alike during the late 19th century.
Comments:This shirtwaist blouse came from the McPheehousehold in Lochaber. It is of washable cotton and was factory-made. There is decorative lace on the sleeves and in the buttoned front with its bib-like lace insert.
The blouse became popular in North America when the tailored suit became favourite daytime wear. Shirtwaists were initially regarded as summer garments, but they soon caught on as an essential part of a woman's wardrobe. They could be adapted to the workplace as well as informal afternoon and evening wear. By the 1890s, shirtwaists were advertised as a separate garment to be worn with just a skirt. Soon they were worn with a suit jacket, a slim ankle-length skirt and a tie. This item of clothing was especially popular with the working woman who could supplement her limited wardrobe with a wide selection of inexpensive shirtwaists. This new style of clothing enabled women to dress in separates and hence economize. The "New Woman" also embraced the shirtwaist for reasons of physical comfort. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the blouse closely mimicked the trends in sleeve shapes and bodice styles. In the 1890s, shirtwaists featured high collars, narrow shoulders, full upper sleeves and a full front accentuated by pleats, gathers and lacey inserts. Blouses were generally made out of washable cotton or linen and were often worn with a detachable linen collar and cuffs. For dressier occasions, blouses were made of finer fabrics and were trimmed with ribbons, lace ruffles, tiny buttons and pintucks. According to Eaton's catalogue for 1901, the prices for shirtwaists ranged from 50 cents to $8.50, depending on size and complexity of design.
Most of the blouses in the McPhee collection belonged to Winnifred McPhee. A native of Lochaber (near Antigonish), McPhee headed to Boston in 1907 to work as a nurse.