Sunday, 19 November 2017 14:51

Costume Museum of Canada

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Blue and white silk taffeta dress with matching shoes circa 1765

Celebrating fashion, culture and history

The costume we wear each day is influenced by climate, occupation, economic factors, societal role, religion, the task at hand, age, gender and the time in which we live. 

Our museum seeks to preserve and exhibit the costumes worn by the people of Canada over the decades.

Those lovely words are written just below the masthead on the website for the Costume Museum of Canada.

A museum curator making adjustments; notice the lab coat and gloves worn to protect the garments from dust and hand oils.

This museum is Canada's first museum dedicated to the collection, preservation and presentation of clothing and textiles reflecting the identity and social history of Canadians; urban and rural, public and private. But unfortunately, it doesn’t have a permanent home, open to the public.


The new look of the 1950s. More material was used now that war rationing was over. This whimsical skirt is hand-painted.

History of the Museum

The museum was originally founded in Dugald, Manitoba (just east of Winnipeg) by the Women’s Institute, who began with fashion shows in 1953. In 1983 the museum opened to the public and in 2007, it moved to Winnipeg.

Sadly, in 2010, the Museum gallery was closed to the public, but it continues to offer programs allowing the collection to be available to the public. Different programs include pop-up exhibits, heritage fashion shows, hat shows and educational programs

The Collection

Jo Ann Greisman, treasurer for the Costume Museum of Canada tells us that “The Costume Museum is neither a fashion nor a history of fashion museum. The CMC is a material history museum focusing on what we wear. It looks at apparel and accessories in relation to social history.”

This tuxedo was worn by James Henry Ashdown, a successful businessman and Mayor of Winnipeg in 1907 and 1908

As you walk through the exhibition you’ll see carefully-put-together outfits for everyday life, along with explanations of those historical situations. For example, one dress for the 1950s appears to be made from old flour or sugar sacks; in a bright floral pattern that was unusual. Costume museums provide an indispensable tool for costume designers engaged in researching a project.

Curator Jenny Bisch

She describes how everything was recycled during the war; for example, a small scrap of velvet might have been saved and used for trim or, a collar from one dress might be transferred to another. The same went for buttons, they were hard to find and were reused from dress to dress.

The Costume collection of 35,000 artifacts which are stared in Winnipeg includes men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, accessories and miscellaneous accoutrements. 

Moments from Canadian life are depicted through the clothing worn. For example, in the early 1900sl, hemlines rose a bit as bicycles were popular and the skirts were designed to they could quickly be gathered up.

1922-24 Dress, 1923 Fapper Dress, 1922 Gown, 1929 Tux, 1926 Dress

In the 20s hems rose again for the flappers, dropped in the 30s but rose again in the 40s.

During the war, working women favoured the smart dress suits but post-war the silhouette changed to hyper-feminine; the 50s saw huge hats and matching gloves.

Unlike other large museums, The Costume Museum of Canada is a membership organization with a volunteer board. They invite all those interested to become a member or volunteer to support the work.

Donations of garments and accessories are welcome; particularly if the items reflect every day wear. Often families keep garments worn for special occasions, or those seen as valuable or unique.

1900 Gown, 1909 Gown, 1910 Frock Coat, 1897 Worth Gown 

Items like Grandmother’s favorite apron or Grampa’s old worn overalls are difficult for the museum to find, but would be so cherished, if included in the collection. Children’s clothing is also difficult to find, as we Canadians usually handed down clothes to the younger kids until practically nothing was left.

Boy’s 1920 wool sailor suit

Often people don’t know what clothing to save; what will be valuable, and, many people aren’t aware of the historical value of what’s in closets, trunks, basements and attics. CMC’s collection was gained through donations and if they don’t collect items now, they will be lost forever.

Typical suffragette dress

 A little girl’s dress and a lady’s green corded silk hand-made 2-piece dress, circa 1867 -1870

The bottom underside of the dress was lined with a special material to protect it from dirt

If you have any items you want to donate…

2005 Women's wool coat 1950’s Christian Dior 1937 Men’s coat

 ...from any era (1800-1970) to the museum, you can email them at;

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Volunteers dressed in replicas of museum artifacts

Thanks to the Costume Museum of Canada; Canada150: Costumes pop-up exhibit, posted in Destinations, Detours and Dreams by Donna Janke; A Wearable History by Anastasia Chipelski, published in THE MANITOBAN, THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA STUDENTS’ NEWSPAPER; Photos by Anastasia Chipelski; Photographer Leif Norman; Wanda B Victorian, Victorian Costuming. Thanks  for reading this on a February Monday. Next time; The Amazing Costumes of Barbra Streisand's films .... Take care, Rae.

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The Costumer's Notebook,

The book The Costumer's Notebook is a 295 page comprehensive handbook for Costumers for stage and film including a full Glossary of stage and film industry terms. Sections include methods and tricks for laundry, dyeing, breakdown, Dresser guidelines and protocols for Stage or Film and various size charts for men and women from shoes to gloves. Other Sections include diagrams showing How to Iron A Shirt, How to Tie a Tie and How to Tie a Bow Tie. Costume fittings, costume lay out and costume storage are also discussed.