Fashion Statement

Modes of expression change when traditional styles and techniques collide with modernity. Historically, clothing styles and decorative schemes have been used to express lineage, class, status, gender, occupational and cultural affiliations. Many decorative stitches, colours and motifs used in the past endure today through fashionable attire. Immigrant women were able to introduce symbols of ancestral identity and solidarity into their handiwork balancing their heritage and new found nationalities in a form of non-verbal communication.[1]

Over time, the globalization of fashion and the introduction of new fibers, dyes and clothing styles impacted dress behaviours. Each new generation reinvented their dress to conform to their surroundings. In the process, embroidery patterns have also been transformed into cultural logos that communicate community allegiance.[2] While folk patterns appear static to many, they are part of an ongoing process that has changed with time yet continue to strengthen social bonds.

The garments on display address the intergenerational transmission of skills between mother and daughter that could also occur between other family members. Time to share knowledge and to produce elaborate hand-stitched items has now become a rare commodity. These dresses were produced between 1934 and 1970. Made by machine, they exemplify the process of modernization yet shine through their use of hand-stitches where it matters most. This embroidery has come to convey a respect for craftsmanship, history and identity, creating a stitched language that, through its time consumption and commitment, speaks more concisely to the viewer than words. Precious and meaningful, these designs are decoded instinctively. They are a valuable part of a language that survives and can be heard, if we stop to listen.

[1] Frances Swyripa, “From Sheepskin Coat to Blue Jeans: A Brief History of Ukrainians in Canada,” in Art and Ethnicity: The Ukrainian Tradition in Canada, ed. by Robert B. Klymasz (Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1991), 11-27.

[2] Robert. B. Klymasz, “Crucial Trends in Modern Ukrainian Embroidery,” Material Culture Review 26 (Fall 1987): 27-31.

Photograph by Anne Bissonnette©

Cite this page (bibliography):

Bissonnette, Anne, Larisa Cheladyn, Stephanie Huolt, Robyn Stobbs and Sarah Woodyard. “Fashion Statements.” Stitched Narratives, Clothing and Textiles Collection Web site, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta, July 15, 2015. [INSERT URL].