Chronicles

Clothing... from utilitarian to pleasurable

Clothing... from utilitarian to pleasurable

Les Filles du Roy
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Collection Eleanor-Fortescue-Brickdale/Acquisition 1996-371/c020126k

The universe of clothing is a fascinating one, involving several aspects of life. In addition to protecting our bodies against inclement weather, and the hot rays of the sun, clothing indicates the social status of individuals, their trades, their origins, and their religious beliefs... Clothing also reveals customs, inhibitions and standards of beauty.

This new series of chronicles, covering the general theme of Clothing... from utilitarian to pleasurable, takes you into the captivating world of clothes.

Discover the origins of the fashions of New France and allow yourself to be charmed by certain characteristics of dress. Maybe you’ll be tempted to adopt certain features of this clothing, with just a hint of flirtatiousness... Why not!

Click on a title to access an episode or to close the tab.

First episode
Dressing “like a Canadian”
Dressing “like a Canadian”

Habitants canadiens
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Fonds Millicent Mary-Chaplin/Acquisition 1956-62-70/c000867k

In the 17th century, the lifestyles of the French who came to North American changed very quickly. As soon as they arrived in the New World, the first settlers in the St. Lawrence Valley had to deal with different seasons, climate changes, isolation and infrequent contact with their home country. Contact with the Native Peoples also had a major impact on their customs and traditions, and particularly on the way they dressed.

In France, each of the metropolitan regions had its own clothing styles even though basic clothing was the same from one region to another. When they left their country, the settlers brought clothing from the various regions in France in their luggage.

Men’s dress included the shift or shirt, worn daily by the settler, as well as breeches, the justaucorps, the vest or short waistcoat. It is interesting to note that several colonists in New France wore clothing and accessories that were not found among the comfortable middle-class or the gentlemen of France.

The feminine wardrobe was less varied than the masculine one. However, the women preferred better quality fabrics. Their shifts, the only clothing worn directly against the skin, were used both as underclothing and nightgowns. The women owned about 20 or so skirts and petticoats made of various fabrics. Since the skirts had no pockets, each woman would make a pair which would be sewn to a ribbon. This ribbon would then be tied around the woman’s waist, under the skirt. Women’s dress also included a coat, bodice, the dressing gown or house dress or the simar, the apron, the justaucorps (coat) or mantle.

In this new country, the French and the Native People were in frequent contact. The Native People were thoroughly familiar with the climate changes and adapted their clothing to the seasons. However, their influence on French clothing was not as significant as might be thought.

Dressing “like a Canadian”

Enfants en traîneau et femme en raquettes
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Collection de Canadiana Peter Winkworth/Acquisition R9266-438/c150328k

In the case of women, the Amerindian influence was limited to the shawl. On the other hand, men wore leggings and mocassins. Occasionally, the breechclout replaced breeches, to the horror of the priests!

The Amerindians quickly acknowledged the qualities of the textiles imported from France. Through trading furs with the coureurs de bois, the various Amerindian nations came into contact with textiles from France as well as with the clothing and accessories in the newcomers’ wardrobes.

The so-called “French-style” dress gradually changed as a result of the harsh winters and the economic conditions in the new colony. For example, the English cap and the tuque are two head coverings that the settlers in New France borrowed from sailors to protect themselves from the cold and bad weather. The justaucorps gave way to the capot which was made from homespun fabric. Thus, as of the middle of the 18th century, people said they dressed in the Canadian style.

To learn more about clothing in New France, we invite you to come back on April 3, 2007.

Sources
  • BACK, Francis. «Le costume des coureurs des bois: le mythe et la réalité», Cap-aux-Diamants, no 76, hiver 2004, p. 15-17.
  • BACK, Francis. «Le tapabord», Cap-aux-Diamants, no 60, hiver 2000, p. 50.
  • BACK, Francis. «Tuque, teuge, toque ou bonnet à la Turque?», Cap-aux-Diamants, no 53, printemps 1998, p. 56.
  • BOUCHER, François. Histoire du costume en Occident de l’Antiquité à nos jours, Paris, Flammarion, 1965, 448 p.
  • GOUSSE, Suzanne et André. Lexique illustré du costume en Nouvelle-France 1740-1760, Chambly, La Fleur de Lyse, 1995, 62 p.
  • SÉGUIN, Robert-Lionel. La civilisation traditionnelle de l’habitant aux XVIIe et XVIIIth centurys, Ottawa, Fides, 1967, p. 459-503.

Second episode
Wigs and Masculine Hair Styles
Wigs and Masculine Hair Styles

Perruques et coiffures du XVIIth century
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/La collection de peintures des Archives nationales – collection Henri Beau/Acquisition 1937-58/e002936k

Throughout history, various accessories, occasionally strange ones, have been included in people’s wardrobes. In the 16th and 17th centuries, people wore beauty spots, muffs and ruffs. Wigs, which are still in use today, were fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in France and New France. Although they were also used by woman, they were very popular among men.

When the king of France, Louis XIV, whom some think suffered from baldness, started wearing a wig, he was quickly imitated by the members of his court, followed by men in various social classes. When people with less wealth could not afford wigs made of real hair, they purchased wigs of lesser quality made of wool, goat hair or horse hair.

After 1680, wigs became so huge and voluminous that men had to carry their hats under their arms. Later, this obligation became a trend, even when wigs became lighter and light.

At the turn of the 18th century, lightweight wigs, worn with a hair pouch or tied in a pony tail, became fashionable. Moreover, the color of wigs was standardized: they were powdered white. While increasing numbers of men started styling their own hair, the most elegant continued to wear wigs.

In the 1730s, wigs were sold in the store run by Alexis Lemoine dit Monière. Also, several wig makers worked in Quebec. According to the Prévôté archives, during the first half of the 18th century there were eight processes involving five different wig makers!

Wigs and Masculine Hair Styles

Perruques et coiffures du XVIIIth century
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/La collection de peintures des Archives nationales – collection Henri Beau/Acquisition 1937-65/e002952k

In Europe, the hair pouch, which was worn over one’s own hair, was reserved for city dwellers. However, in New France, it was also popular with those living in the countryside. This accessory was particularly popular in the middle of the 18th century. The hair pouch was an unexpected sign of elegance in our ancestors!

Another masculine hairstyle, indicating just how vain the gentlemen were, was the cadogan wig. This type of hair style was popular with the French infantry in the 18th century, and quickly copied by the civilians living in the large cities and in the colony.

During the time of the French Regime, several men wore their hair tied back in a pony tail on their necks. In his travel journal, Swedish naturalist Perh Kalm noted: “The young people and even the older ones tie their hair up behind their heads and many of them wear a red wool hat all day long in the house. Some even do this when traveling.”

To learn more about the clothing habits in New France, we invite you to come back on April 17, 2007.

Sources
  • BOUCHER, François. Histoire du costume en Occident de l’Antiquité à nos jours, Paris, Flammarion, 1965, 448 p.
  • KYBALOVA, Ludmila, Olga Herbenova et Milena Lamarova. Encyclopédie illustrée du costume et de la mode, Prague/Paris, GRÜND, 1986. p. 177-222.
  • ROUSSEAU, Jacques. Guy Béthune et Pierre Morisset (avec le concours de). Voyage de Perh Kalm au Canada en 1749, Montréal, Pierre Tisseyre, 1977, p. 194.
  • SÉGUIN, Robert-Lionel. La civilisation traditionnelle de «l’habitant» aux XVIIe et XVIIIth centurys, Ottawa, Fides, 1967, p. 459-503.

Third episode
Signs of lack of modesty
Signs of lack of modesty

© Bibliothèque et Archives nationale du Québec. 2002-2007

In New France, the corruption of customs was above all attributable to dancing and fashion. Since clothing reveals certain parts of the body and hides others, it became a part of the game of seduction. Wearing certain pieces of clothing can, in this way, violate a society’s moral rules. During all periods of time, certain people have stood up as guardians of moral behavior, protesting against signs of a lack of fashion modesty, particularly when it comes to women’s clothing.

“Cover up that bosom, which I can't endure to look on. Things like that offend our souls, and fill our minds with sinful thoughts...” says Molière’s Tartuffe. The ire provoked by low-cut necklines is nothing new. In 1690, an order issued by Monsignor Jean-Baptiste de Lacroix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, Bishop of Quebec, instructed women to dress modestly in church and at home because they “have no scruples about leaving their bosom and shoulders uncovered when they are in their homes [...].” Priests could not absolve “[...] girls and women whose bosom and shoulders were uncovered, either inside or outside their homes, or who only covered them with a transparent veil.”

Fingers were also pointed at hairstyles and hair. In the same order, Monsignor de Saint-Vallier said: “[...] in following the Apostle, we want girls to appear veiled, namely with their heads covered in church”. In 1694, Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac, Governor of New France, stood up against the bishop, who wanted to prohibit the wearing of lace and to refuse to give communion to women who wore “a fontange and other ribbons.”

Several testimonials reveal that preachers accused women of teetering on the brink of immodesty by focusing too much on their hair, which was confirmed by naturalist Perh Kalm: “It’s a fact: the women take great pains with their hair, which they wrap up every night.”

And no discussion of decency would be complete without mentioning skirt length. In New France, a military man named Jean-Baptiste d’Aleyrac stated, in 1755, that women and girls here wore “skirts that barely reach their calves.” Perh Kalm added: “[...] they wear a small, elegant mantle over a short skirt that barely reaches halfway down their legs [...].” This was a far cry from the mini-skirt, which was created in 1962, but these gentlemen did take note of this detail...

During the 1920s, women’s clothing changed radically. The body was uncovered more and more. During this period, sports fashions appeared, with clothing that was very short, made of fabrics that were light and clinging. Alarmed, the Roman Catholic Church denounced this fashion which it categorized as “indecent”. The Ligue catholique féminine (Women’s Catholic League) was founded in 1925 to promote feminine modesty.

To learn more about the clothing habits of New France, we invite you to come back on May 1, 2007.

Sources
  • KYBALOVA, Ludmila. Olga Herbenova et Milena Lamarova. Encyclopédie illustrée du costume et de la mode, Prague/Paris, GRÜND, 1986. 600 p.
  • RAYMOND, Sylvie. «Sexe et pudeur chez Dupuis Frères», Cap-aux-Diamants, no 40 (Hiver 1995), p. 45-47.
  • SÉGUIN, Robert-Lionel. La vie libertine en Nouvelle-France au XVIIth century, Montréal, Leméac, 1972, p. 225-233.

Fourth episode
A Thousand and One Ribbons
A Thousand and One Ribbons

Mme Durell, 1746
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Collection Thomas-Hudson Acquisition 1980-22-2/c117938k

Excellent symbols of stylishness, ribbons have been used for a long time. In the 17th and 18th centuries, both women and men decorated their clothing lavishly with ribbons.

In France, at the start of the 17th century, ribbons and other trims were used extensively. Some trim makers melted coins to make rich laces, embroidery and ribbons with gold and silver threads. They were used in such profusion that, on several occasions, decrees were issued against this luxury.

As a result of these decrees, the rich trims were replaced by knots of silk ribbons, called “«galans»”, which had already been used for hair ribbons. These ribbons were very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1656, up to 600 of these bows could be found on a “French-style” outfit! As a result, men’s and women’s outfits were heavily decorated with bows of various colors of ribbons.

The French, who came to settle North America, brought this taste for trim along with them. In the colony, in the countryside as well as in the towns, ribbons lace, braid and a specific type of ribbons referred to as “padou” could be found in large quantities. In each family, they were kept in a trim basket used by both men and women.

Since Velcro, elastics and zippers had not been invented yet, the various ribbons were used not only to decorate outfits and hairstyles but also as accessories that were essential for holding the various items of clothing in place on the body. For example, they were used as garters to hold up socks. Dress sleeves, which were more subject to wear, could be removed. They were attached to the shoulders of the bodice by laces or ribbons.

These ribbons were not only very useful, but they could also have various meanings. For example, in New France, there was the custom of the “livrée”. Before marrying, the future bride would choose ribbons, on various colors, which she would tie into bows. These bows were then sent to the family and friends to invite them to the wedding. On the day of the wedding, the guests and future couple would pin these ribbons and bows to their clothing. This tradition continued to be in use in the 19th century in Acadia.

Today, ribbons still have meanings. A red ribbon indicates that the wearer supports the AIDS cause; a pink ribbon is worn by those who support the cause of breast cancer; and a white ribbon is worn by those who oppose violence against women.

To learn more about clothing traditions in New France, we invite you to return on May 15, 2007.

Sources
  • BACK, Francis. «Une mariée en 1637», Cap-aux-Diamant, no 50 (été 1997), p. 60.
  • BOUCHER, François. Histoire du costume en Occident de l’Antiquité à nos jours, Paris, Flammarion, 1965, 448 p.
  • RUPPERT, Jacques. Le Costume: II La Renaissance – Le style Louis XIII, Paris, Flammarion, 1947, p. 6-42. et Le Costume: III Louis XIV – Louis XV, p. 5-19.
  • SÉGUIN, Robert-Lionel. La civilisation traditionnelle de «l’habitant» aux XVIIe et XVIIIth centurys, Ottawa, Fides, 1967, p. 459-503
  • SÉGUIN, Robert-Lionel. La vie libertine en Nouvelle-France au XVIIth century, Montréal, Lemeac, 1972, p. 225-233.

Fifth episode
Distinguishing Social Rank by Dress
Distinguishing Social Rank by Dress

Ingénieur 1750-60.
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Fonds Henri Beau/Acquisition 1989-559-32/c002719k

More than just an element of protection or decoration, clothing is also a sign of social identity. It highlights the bonds of belonging and provides evidence of the wealth and status of the person who wears it.

In the 17th to the 18th centuries, it was important for everyone to respect their social rank. For this reason, a certain amount of control was exercised, particularly with respect to clothing. For example, in the middle of the 17th century, police instructions stated that everyone should dress in keeping with their rank and the shape of their clothing should respect their situation. The principal objective was to preserve class differences.

Let’s see how certain characteristics of clothing served to identify social rank. In France, for a long time, certain types of fabric were reserved for the nobles. Gradually, the middle classes, which wanted to imitate the nobles, started using these rich fabrics. As a result, it became difficult to recognize social rank based on fabric. However, in order to stand out further, the nobles constantly sought new, increasingly luxurious textiles.

It is certain that the greater a person’s wealth is, the easier it is to distinguish social rank by clothing. For example, in New France, the “justaucorps”, worn by the colonial elite, was made of rich, colorful, embroidered fabrics. In the case of rural settlers, this piece of clothing was made of durable fabric that was often brown or gray in color.

In France, as in New France, certain accessories were intended for high society. To enter a royal home, men, with the exception of the clergy and court magistrates, had to wear swords, which were reserved for nobility. Aristocratic women wore masks or half masks called “loups” in French. Masks, which were very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, protected the delicate whiteness of their skin and kept them... anonymous. Decency required them to remove this accessory when they entered a house.

In addition to fabrics and accessories, certain features of clothing can indicate social rank. The dresses worn by noble women ended with trains. The length of the train was proportionate to the level of nobility. The higher a woman ranked in the social hierarchy, the longer her train was. Noblesse oblige...

This is the end of our series of chronicles on Clothing... from utilitarian to pleasurable.

Sources
  • BACK, Francis, «Un justaucorps du règne de Louis XIV» Cap-aux-Diamants, no 55 (automne 1998), p. 54-55
  • BOUCHER, François. Histoire du costume en Occident de l’Antiquité à nos jours, Paris, Flammarion, 1965, 448 p.
  • GALLICHAN, Gilles et Jean-René Lassonde, «Le costume sous différentes coutures», Cap-aux-Diamants, vol. 4, no 2 (été 1988), p. 15-16.
  • KYBALOVA, Ludmila, Olga Herbenova et Milena Lamarova. Encyclopédie illustrée du costume et de la mode, Prague/Paris, GRÜND, 1986. p. 177-22

Back 

Laces
Strings that have iron tips at both ends and are used to trim or close clothing. In popular tradition, no one would laugh when someone told a man they would “nouer les aiguillettes” (tie his laces) since this was a curse that would render him infertile...
“Padou” (type of ribbon)
A “padou” is a ribbon made of thread and silk.
Vest or short waistcoat
A sort of short waistcoat, without collar or sleeves, worn under the coat or suit. This piece of clothing was not used in New France before the middle of the 18th century.
Breechclout
The breechclout was a rectangle of fabric that was passed between the legs and held in place at the waist by a belt or leather tie. In New France, the settlers occasionally wore breechclouts under their shirts to work in the fields when it was hot and humid. The priests, who could not see this detail, complained, thinking the settlers were wearing only their shirts.
“Galans” (type of bows)
In the middle of the 17th century, “galans” were small ribbon bows that were placed in people’s hair and everywhere on their clothing.
Trim
In French, the passement (trim) was the first term used to designate all lace, in the 16th and 17th centuries. Gradually, the word dentelle (lace) was used for lighter works made with spindles and needles while the word passement evolved into passementerie (trim) to refer to all forms of trimming materials.
Ligue catholique feminine (Catholic Women’s League)
The Ligue catholique féminine (Catholic Women’s League) was created in Quebec to fight against the various causes of immorality. It wanted to maintain Christian modesty, particularly with respect to women’s clothing. In 1927, the Ligue catholique féminine had close to 30,000 members, which provides evidence of a certain polemic concerning the change in women’s customs in the 1920s.
Jean-Baptiste d’Aleyrac
Jean-Baptiste d’Aleyrac was born on April 29, 1737, at Saint-Pierreville, in France. At the age of 17, he signed up with the Languedoc regiment. In 1792, when he was a lieutenant-colonel, he left the army for health reasons. He died in 1796.
Pehr Kalm
Swedish naturalist who, during a trip to New France, kept a travel journal published under the title Voyage de Perh Kalm au Canada en 1749 (Perh Kalm’s Trip to Canada in 1749). He took scientific notes in which he described not only animals and plants but also commented on the customs of the people, religion, domestic sciences, attitudes, etc.
Fontange
The fontange is a towering hairstyle with lace and ribbons that was made popular by Mademoiselle de Fontanges and worn for many years by women at the end of the 17th century. It developed into a very tall, elaborate headdress.
Frontenac
Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac, was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France) in 1622. A soldier by profession, he served as the Governor of New France from 1672 to1682 and from 1689 to 1698. In 1690, he told an emissary of William Phips, who was laying siege to Quebec City: “I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouths of my cannons and muskets.” He died in Quebec City in 1698.
Monsignor de Saint-Vallier
Jean-Baptiste de Lacroix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier was born in Grenoble in 1653. After being ordained as a priest, he served as the curate for Monsignor Laval de Montmorency (first bishop of Quebec City) and was later appointed the bishop of Quebec City, from 1688 to 1727. He founded the Hôpital général de Québec. An excessive man, he was on bad terms with Governors Frontenac and Callières, the army, the Récollets and the Jesuits. He refused to allow Molière’s Tartuffe to be performed in Quebec City. He had so many enemies that no one made any effort to release him when he was captured and imprisoned in England for five years. He died in Quebec City in 1727.
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière, was a French dramatist in the 17th century. Protected by Louis XIV, he presented several plays, written in verse or prose, to the Court and the Parisian public. He is known for Les Précieuses ridicules (The Affected Ladies), Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope), Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Affected Ladies), and numerous other plays.
Pehr Kalm
Swedish naturalist who, during a trip to New France, kept a travel journal published under the title Voyage de Perh Kalm au Canada en 1749 (Perh Kalm’s Trip to Canada in 1749). He took scientific notes in which he described not only animals and plants but also commented on the customs of the people, religion, domestic sciences, attitudes, etc.
Cadogan wig
The cadogan wig was a small pad of rolled hair. This fake chignon was tied to the person’s real hair with a ribbon.
Alexis Lemoine dit Monière
Born in Trois-Rivières, Alexis Lemoine dit Monière was a “merchant-supplier” (he provided products for the fur trade and kept merchandise for general consumption). When he was young he traveled for other merchants. In about 1715, at the age of 30, he set up his own store in Montreal. Lemoine’s career continued until the end of the 1740s.
Hair pouch
The hair pouch was a small bag of taffeta used by mean to cover their pony tails.
Louis XIV
Son of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, Louis XIV was the king of France from 1643 to 1715. His long reign marked the apex of royal absolutism by divine right. Ruling with absolute power, he put an end to the major revolts of the nobles, parliamentarians, Protestants and peasants that had marked life in the kingdom for over a century. He was called the Sun King.
Ruff
The ruff is a pleated, starched collar worn in all western European countries. The shape and size of the ruff varied from country to country and from period to period.
Muff
In the 16th century, the muff was a strip of fur or fur-line fabric used to protect the wearer’s hands from the cold.
Beauty spots
Beauty spots were small dots of black taffeta that women in the 17th and 18th centuries stuck on their faces or their throats to highlight the whiteness of their skin.
Homespun fabric
Homespun fabric was specific to New France. It was made from homespun wool which was turned into felt through fulling. Fulling involves wetting the fabric then crushing it several times using fullers and rollers. The operation involves melding the wool fibers into felt. This household chore is now an industrial operation.
Capot
The capot was a cross between the French justaucorps and the coats worn by sailors. This coat was generally not lined. There was a single button at the collar and a hood. This typically Canadian piece of clothing was more elegant than the sailors’ cloaks since it was fitted in a manner similar to the justaucorps worn by men. The capot was warm since it was closed by means of a belt.
Tuque
Wool stocking hat that has been popular with sailors since Antiquity. In French, it was also called a “bonnet à la matelote”, “bonnet à la Turque” or “bonnet rouge”. The origins of the word “tuque” are confused. Did it come from “toque”, a sort of flat hat or from “bonnet à la Turque”? Regardless of where the word came from, the color red was popular starting in the 16th century. Jacques Cartier gave red tuqes to the sons of Chief Donnacona in 1534.
English cap
This was a type of hat with flaps which, when tied under the chin, prevented the hat from flying off in the wind. This cap was also equipped with a visor that could be folded back.
Moccasins
These shoes were borrowed from the Native people and made by hand, generally from the skins of horses or cattle that died on the farms. They were worn essentially by men, since women preferred French-style shoes.
Leggings
Leggings were made of strips of fabric that were wrapped around the legs. The Native People wore such leggings to protect their legs against shrubs and plants while walking through the woods
Mantle
The mantle is a short woman’s coat, originally always equipped with a type of hood.
Simar
A dress worn on top, of varying shapes. It always opened to reveal another dress underneath.
Dressing gown / house dress
The dressing gown or house dress was a colorful dress that women wore when alone, getting dressed or getting undressed.
Waistcoat
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the waistcoat was worn by men, under the justaucorps. Initially very long, it gradually became shorter and shorter and was then simplified in the middle of the 18th century, when it transformed into the vest.
Justaucorps (coat)
The justaucorps was a sort of fitted coat. Adopted initially as part of the military uniform, it was borrowed by civilian dress in about 1670. Although the details changed, it remained in use until the middle of the 18th century when, its cut and decoration simplified, it transformed into the suit. Women also wore justaucorps in the 18th century. They were fitted, as the men’s were, and adjusted to the female shape.
Breeches
The piece of men’s clothing that covers the thighs. They are buttoned on the side at the knee and held tight by a buckle or garter. Loose or tight, short or long, they were an element of male dress until they were gradually replaced by pants at the beginning of the 19th century.
Shift / shirt
Men’s shirts were different than those worn by women because they included a collar and buttoned cuffs. Boys over the age of five wore the same shirts as their fathers. They were made of fabric made from flax, hemp or cotton.Shift / shirt
Men’s shirts were different than those worn by women because they included a collar and buttoned cuffs. Boys over the age of five wore the same shirts as their fathers. They were made of fabric made from flax, hemp or cotton.