Professional Attire

Photograph of a man by Rousseau & Joron, Montréal, Québec

Photograph of a man by Rousseau & Joron, Montréal, Québec 1900-1902, Photo © CMH

Growth and prosperity in nineteenth-century Canada created a rising middle class. Many men working in business or the professions required clothing that was respectable and easy to maintain. Men’s fashion was moving away from the highly decorative suits of the previous century towards the more sober-looking black suit. By contrast, women’s clothing became more elaborate, reflecting the family’s refinement. Simplicity in men’s clothing, with an emphasis on expensive fabrics, skilled tailoring, and no-nonsense design, was the key to professional success.

Fashionable men, however, found a way around the formality of the black suit. Waistcoats made around 1829 for Seigneur John McNicol Nairne in Quebec are a good example how vests worn with suits could be more decorative and demonstrate individual choice — in this case, contrasting white and patterned fabric.

Prominent members of society had suits custom-made by retailers. For example, Charles Everett Graham, an Ottawa physician, purchased his evening dress suit from Holbrook, a merchant in Ottawa. Ready-made suits could be obtained more affordably from a number of different manufacturers. In the rapidly expanding ready-to-wear market, clothing was cheaper because it was produced in standard sizes and in large quantities. Canadian mail-order catalogues from companies such as the T. Eaton Co. and Dupuis Frères offered a wide variety of styles and price ranges, making suits available to men across the country, in all walks of life.