Fashion in the 1910s: Gertrude Pennington

Gertrude donated this piece to the collection in 1982 from her own closet. She wore this dress in 1915 but paired with the green straw hat of Grace Spurr of the same year, we can get a glimpse into what it was like to live in the early decades of 1900.

Gertrude moved to Dundas in 1892 with her father and brother. Born in 1887, Gertrude lived 100 years, surviving her husband, Charles, by about 30 years. After her marriage in 1915, she came to Dundas from Toronto and lived here for the rest of her life. The couple had four children. Willis, the eldest, lived with his parents in their later years in the 1950s and 1960s and then stayed with his widowed mother. Stuart, born in 1917, was killed in action during the Second World War in 1943 after being considered missing for one year. James was also overseas in 1943 but survived the war and moved to Hamilton. The youngest child, Elizabeth (Betty) Pennington born in 1921, moved to Montreal in 1945. Gertrude, Charles, Stuart, Willis, and James are all buried at Grove Cemetery.

1910 marks the tapering end to the severe S-bend silhouette of the Edwardian era. Remnants of this trend can be seen with this dress as the chest puffs out a fair amount. Hemlines gradually shortened as some dresses even exposed the ankle for ease of movement. The slim, narrow skirt of the previous decade was gone and replaced with a fuller skirt with cleverly placed pleats or slits that allowed steps to be taken with somewhat easier movement, though it was still awkward.

Hats were considered to be symbols of wealth, the more extravagant the hat, the more money you had. Until about 1960, hats were considered essential to any fashionable woman’s attire. Indeed, in 1910, there was a hat for every occasion where the right hat depended on your activities for the day; a riding hat was significantly different from a hat worn out for a stroll. Women used hats to create an overall voluminous look when combined with an elaborate up-do.  This straw hat most likely would have been a day hat, worn strolling around the streets of Dundas. The faux grapes serve to make this hat more extravagant.

This was the decade where the Industrial Revolution really took off in Canada with Quebec and Southern Ontario being key areas. These industrial jobs featured poor conditions with little pay and often dangerous work. Women were the perfect candidates for these jobs as the employers could pay them a cheaper wage and women couldn’t complain. After all, there was not many working opportunities for women at this time. This precipitated early women’s labour unions such as the ILGWU (International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union) that advocated for better pay and conditions.

It is important to note that while female presence in the work place did increase, it was only by a small amount. The jobs women held in the war years were temporary and given to them out of necessity. It was largely accepted that they would return to their womanly duties post-war and that men would resume their regular jobs. Because of this (marginal) increase of women’s labour, fashion reflected the need for mobility and durability. Dresses became more simple, one-piece frocks with buttoning up the back and were often made of unlined muslin. Those working in industrial settings, chose materials that were durable and darker in colour, so it could be cleaned more easily. The long Edwardian sleeve of the previous era gave way to options of forearm or elbow length, again providing ease of movement for women in factory jobs.


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