Monday, August 9, 2010

History Repeats Itself -Clothing

Summer Suits 1905 Eaton's Catalogue

I started out this morning wanting to write a blog on the Nicholson camera. The house account says that they purchased a Kodak for 5.00 in 1904. Thanks to the web, I can see what Kodak cameras were available then. a 5.00 camera would have been the very cheapest. Which means they either purchased a camera second hand or they got the least expensive camera available.

Which is why the average Canadian family does not have snapshots from 1910. Cameras were luxuries. Further proving this, the 1904 Eaton's catalogue doesn't carry cameras.

So I merely flipped through the pages of the catalogue on archive.org and then downloaded a Kindle version to amuse me on a trip I taking on Friday to Greece.

A statement from the Nan Enstad paper I downloaded last night haunted me. She wrote that the women working in the textile factories in the US in 1900 were well aware that the clothes they were making were more important than they were. (After all, they worked in horrible conditions, for little money.)

This Eaton's catalogue is full of clothing made by women in the textile industry, I assume in Canada. According to another paper I found, on the Canadian textile industry, 7,500 people worked in the industry in Ontario, and 9,000 in Montreal. 80 percent were women, all working in the lower jobs. Bossed around big time by men. Or treated more benignly like 'little sisters'.

Some women worked from home, at piece work, others in the factories.

The Nicholson women, no doubt, flipped through this very catalogue (they did buy things from Eaton's, I have the bills) and dreamed about being able to buy more of these glorious things Things THINGS it showcased. (After all, that's what I did as a child, when I looked at catalogues. I practically salivated over the toy section.)

(Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if they thought these clothes low-brow and that they desired the fantasy outfits in the Delineator or Harper's Bazar. When they purchased a women's suit in the 1908-1913 era, they paid around 12.00 and the suits in this catalogue cost between 8 and 15, so Eaton's was in their price-range.)

Were the politically-aware Nicholson women aware of the connection between the women's rights movement, city poverty, and the clothes they lusted after.

To some extent certainly. I have some of their clippings. One clipping "Away from Nature" is about how factory work hurts people, especially young girls. I have another clipping: A letter to the Editor in answer to another letter complaining about women's expensive clothes habit. The writer says, men only look at women who are dressed up, so women have no choice in the matter. And if women could work at good jobs, the could afford to buy their own clothing.


Yes, they were aware, up to a point. (I mean the city slums scared them silly and the suffrage movement's raison d'etre was to decrease poverty in the cities.) They also sent out some sewing to a local woman who, no doubt, was not living in their elegant neighbourhood in Richmond, Quebec. There were class distinctions in Richmond, too.

The Nicholson women were aware of the social and political repercussions of their clothes-lust in much the same way I am. I sit here typing, wearing a top that I bought in a store in Burlington, Vermont a few weeks ago. I think it cost 3.00. Probably made in Mexico or Vietnam or... I know this cheap item comes with other costs, to humanity - and the environment. I know that history repeats itself.

But it's all so complex.