Paper Dolls: Evolution of Women’s Fashion


photo from The Museum of Costume and Textile of Québec

You plan. You do research. You expend energy, to go to just the exhibit or gallery show you know you need to see.

But sometimes serendipity steps in and you just happen to be in an unexpected place, to see an unexpected display of something wonderful.

We were in Bonsecours Market in Montreal in September. We never go to Bonsecours Market, with its trendy, expensive shops—a bit much for our tastes.

But that day we did, and we saw this wonderful, understated exhibit that captured changing trends in women’s fashion, “DE LA BELLE ÉPOQUE AU PRÊT-À-PORTER.”

The exhibit was presented by The Museum of Costume and Textile of Québec, to illustrate the evolution of women’s fashion in the province of Quebec between 1880 and 1930. The five dress reproductions were made entirely of paper by costume maker Michael Slack.

Because the dresses were all made of simple paper, the focus was on style, not on fabric textures or colors or prints. The degree of evolution, from voluminous and fussy to body revealing and sleek, was highlighted . . . and dramatic.

Lessons learned–keep your eyes open and your camera at hand. Serendipity rules!

49 thoughts on “Paper Dolls: Evolution of Women’s Fashion

    • It was lucky, indeed, especially since we normally never go into this marketplace. But now I realize that the same museum often has exhibits in the space–the current one is buttons and gloves!!

  1. I have just checked out the MCTQ website. What an amazing place! They had an exhibition of button and gloves, all in showcases on the wall. I love this place and would have loved to have seen the paper dresses. Fabulous!

    • Actually, those gloves and buttons are on display, not in the museum itself, but in the same marketplace where the dresses were. I see a trip back to Bonsecours Market in my future!

    • As I just wrote to someone else, seeing it in person was really cool–the little details are much more likely to register. And there’s no ignoring that it’s all just paper!

    • I did think how glad I was not to be wearing those dresses! I dressed up once, to help a student, in a full dress, with corset and petticoats and hoop skirt, for a Civil War reenactment. I cannot even begin to tell you what a relief it was to get back into my 20th-century professor clothes!

    • I don’t know how they were made–there was no info about those details (or at least, if there was, it was in French beyond my meager skill!) Even the pearls on the flapper outfit and the feathers on the hats were paper–amazing!

  2. Serendipity DOES rule!! Half the world and their husband must have been mesmerised by this small display. What amazing artistry – I too wonder how they were put together and held in place. Were you allowed to touch – I should have so wanted to touch – my eyes are good but somehow my hands help me see more………… And we all know everyone doing that would be just plain Disastrous!! [Once in the Tate Gallery I stepped across the viewing line and stroked Waterhouse’s velvet drape on the barge of the Lady of Shallot – not to check he hadn’t glued a bit down, but because it looked so real it needed to be stroked. Imagine if everyone did that!] I am ashamed of my untamed impulses!!

    • Ha! My husband was in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and got his face so close to a painting that bells went off and he got scolded! This fashion exhibit was in a public space and there were no guards but the displays were set up so that each mannequin was in a low plexiglass box. That kept us a certain distance away but it still would’ve been easy to touch. Maybe the thinking was that, since these weren’t ancient treasures but just paper reproductions, that touching would be okay?

  3. Never been to Bonsecours market, Kerry. Only to the farmers market that published that wonderful cookbook (can’t remember its name right now).
    But what an interesting display you encountered. How beautiful those dresses are – and to learn that they are made from paper! Looking at them made me slightly nostalgic for some of the ealier styles – but never the crinoline or girdle-like ‘stays’ that made women faint. Never!

    • The farmers’ markets (Jean-Talon and Atwater) are usually much more my speed but I’m so glad that, just this once, I went to Bonsecours! Actually, now I’ve learned that the textile museum regularly has exhibits at Bonsecours, so I may need to become a regular there!

  4. This is FAN-tastic!!! I absolutely love this. Imagine the talent to recreate these dresses. Thank you so much for having your camera at the right and ready in this marvelously serendipitous moment. Truly some of the most memorable moments are the unplanned ones.

  5. Wow this is amazing! What a great discovery. I have often wondered why these things happen, being in the right place at the right moment. Thank you for sharing, I think I would have lost myself on this one, even the type that displays the years appeal to me! Really beautiful!

    • It was such a nice surprise. We tend to always do the same things when we go to Montreal so finding a new wrinkle was great. Now I need to go find the actual textile museum and see what treasures it holds!

  6. What a wonderful post. Your gorgeous photos praised this museum so nicely. Thank You. I did not knew that “The Museum of Costume and Textile of Québec” exists. To me it is interesting to know different museums in our world. There are many special museums which we do not know or ever heard. In Finland we have for example: “International Coffee Cup Museum” or “Mechanical Music Museum”.

  7. What fun. I’ve never seen costumes presented like that. They look wonderful. I THOUGHT the post was going to be about those 2D paper cut outs, which enabled you to dress a paper doll, also 2D, in various costumes. I loved those as a girl….. but I guess you’re too young for them to be part of your childhood

  8. I have a background in costume design from my college days. I would have loved to have stumbled upon something like this. I’m so glad you found it and with your camera at the ready.

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