Outerwear and Accessories

As the fashionable silhouette changed, so did women’s outerwear and accessories. At times, styles of dress influenced the accessories that women wore. When Canadian women began to wear crinolines, for instance, their usual overcoats would no longer fit over their wide skirts. As a result, there was a growing interest in shawls, which could easily be draped. The Paisley shawl, first made in India, then in Scotland, was very popular and became a common household item. As the fashionable silhouette narrowed, the shawl was replaced with the visite, stole or jacket.

Fans and parasols were often made of handcrafted materials. This fan, given to Annie Newson of Ottawa by her admirer Warren Soper around 1880, won her heart and led to marriage the following year. Given their unique and often one-of-a-kind character, accessories made special gifts.

Photograph of a woman wearing an elaborate hat

Photograph of a woman wearing an elaborate hat 1889-1899, Photo © CMH

The Confederation Generation enjoyed an exciting time in the design of purses and handbags, due to a growing interest in travel, the invention of new dyes, and the availability of stylish decoration. This chatelaine, designed to be hung from the waist, was worn by Josephine McTaggart of London, Ontario and is a unique example of the vibrant reds, blues and golds then in use.

Hats of all shapes and sizes were popular, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s, when hats mirrored the variety of layered fabrics found in skirts and dresses — as seen in the photo of a fashionable woman in Montreal. Millinery, or hatmaking, was a growing trade for women in cities across the country, and soon became completely distinct from dressmaking. As hats and bonnets became more than simply functional garments providing protection from the elements, millinery developed into an art involving the arrangement of a wide array of materials including ribbons, lace, flowers, feathers and sometimes even bird ornaments.