Best to wear black or navy

Before he was a model railroader, my friend, Mark Dance was an award-winning figure painter.  So, when he asked if he might try painting a couple of the lovely pewter figures from A C Stadden, I leaped at the chance.

Mark sent through some in-progress photos today, along with the question “I couldn’t find any good colour images of representative clothing from 1905.  Do you have any?”

Somewhere mixed among my virtual shoebox of digital photos are a number of records of costumes from museums that I’ve taken over the years, but finding them is a matter of hours of work. It’s also problematic that the clothes that are saved are not the ones that people wore every day.  Google could help, but how do you sort out the Canadian fashion from London, Paris or New York?  Pembroke would have lagged the trends by at least a couple of years.

So, I turned to my reprint of the 1901 Eaton catalogue, which is probably about right as fashion didn’t move quite a quickly in those days, and besides you could expect to get a few years out of an outfit if you cared for it properly.  I figure a survey of the colours offered in ready-made clothing should help Mark out.

Mens’ suits haven’t changed too much in terms of colour over the century. Most people wear dark suits – black, navy, brown and grey were common. Lighter colours seem to denote someone who is wealthy or foolish as they require more frequent cleaning, and you need to have a second suit.

Womens’ dresses are more difficult. To get an idea, I created a histogram of mentions of the colours in the catalogue. I reckon that Eaton would have produced more styles in the more popular colours. Unsurprisingly, Black and Navy are strongly represented – most everything was offered in these two staple colours. Greys and browns, taken as a collection of colours were also popular for suits and skirts.

Waists (we would call them blouses today, I think) were in the lighter spectrum, with Pink, White and Heliotrope (purply-pink?) the most popular colours. This matches the typical outfit for a summer’s day: light top and dark skirt.

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