In her 2001 book Couture and Commerce: Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s , Alexandra Palmer wrote about her surprise at the condition of the Chanels and Givenchys. "As I looked at garments that repeatedly revealed evidence of wear- worn hemlines in ball gowns, shortened hemlines, and numerous alteration and careful mends to many delicate and elaborate evening dresses as well as to day wear- I found myself with many unanswered questions."
Now, she is the Fashion Costume Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum and is opening the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costume in the Daniel Libeskind- designed "crystal", where many of those questions are answered.
Fifty years ago, when William Harris's dad had that hunting jacket made on Saville Row, one never threw out an article of clothing. They were designed with enough fabric so that they could be let in and out, lengthened or shortened as required as our bodies changed. (sorry for the poor quality, no flash)
If an article of clothing really wore out or went out of fashion, you took the fabrics and reworked them for your kids.
People spent a lot of money on their clothing, but they bought quality construction and timeless designs from the best designers in the world, and they made certain that it lasted a long time. Alex writes "These traces of wear and modification do not support the commonly held assumption that haute couture clothing was treated as a disposable commodity, to be replaced by the latest style."
Today the popular H&Ms; pride themselves on quick-changing fashions and cheap clothing that self-destructs in sixty seconds; there are lessons to be learned at the Museum. ::Patricia Harris Gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum