Book excerpt: Men’s Styles of Edwardian Toronto


With only a month until launch events for the book I wrote with Terry Beauchamp on his company’s – and Toronto’s – history, I thought I’d share a bit of what’s inside for those who don’t have a copy yet. One of the things I enjoyed most about researching the earlier chapters of the book was uncovering a view of Toronto’s sartorial past that is buried in old newspapers and advertisements but not written about, as far as I could find, in books.

Early in the 1900s, Canada followed the styles and fashion of Britain, in particular, and of the United States. The dominant style in the Toronto market was the Victorian, and then the Edwardian, “sack” suit (sometimes referred to as “sacque”). It had supplanted the frock coat, which had been popular late in the late nineteenth century in the eastern United States, as well as in Toronto. Instead of the four panels of fabric used to assemble the back of the frock coat , two panels are used for the jacket of a sack suit. In this way, the jacket is assembled more like a sack, not that it looks like one. In fact, it was originally based on a more casual coat style from France. This casual look initially limited the style to country pursuits, such as shooting and riding. But by the time Beauchamp & How launched its business in 1908, the sack suit was acceptable for business and city wear alike.

Illustrations from the 1911 catalogue of R. Score and Son, a few doors down from Beauchamp and How.

Illustrations from the 1911 catalogue of R. Score and Son, a few doors down from Beauchamp and How.

Edwardian styles did not stray far from their Victorian predecessors during the first decade of the twentieth century. By today’s standards, sack jackets were quite long, falling well below the seat, making the torso look long and slim. Edwardian jackets featured naturally shaped shoulders and a slightly nipped-in waist. The buttons on the front of the jacket were just a few inches apart (as opposed to about five inches today), allowing the lapels and the quarters (the bottoms of the jacket front) to swoop away elegantly. Though sack jackets were structured to ensure a shaped silhouette through the torso, they were far more relaxed than the tails and frock coats of the Victorian era.

Trousers, as well, were changing with the times, becoming slimmer at the ankle, almost to the point of caricature. “Peg-top” pants that tapered from about twenty-four inches at the knee to a mere sixteen inches at the cuff were much in vogue. (Today’s suit pants are closer to twenty inches at the knee and eighteen inches at the cuff.) The peg-top style of pant had the unfortunate effect of making men look broad at the hips with tiny feet. Clearly one cannot account for fashion.

Much like the present day, 1908 saw seasonal changes and trends. Men were beginning to embrace colour in their wardrobes, moving away from the blacks and charcoals of the previous era. As the Dry Goods Review noted, pointing towards the spring trends of 1909, “olive drabs, olive browns and browns and blues” were finding favour. The magazine called these colours “extravagantly fancy” without being “extreme.” In fact, the November issue declared: “Browns are holding a strong place in suitings, but the opinion is it will never rank as a staple color,” a statement that still holds true more than 100 years later.

In the nineteenth century, suiting could weigh more than twenty ounces a yard, which meant a three-piece suit could easily weigh more than five pounds (the lining alone was heavier than most suiting today). But, with no central heating during a cold Toronto winter, you would have been grateful for a warm, thick suit of serge or tweed. Even so, in the early part of the twentieth century, lighter fabrics—which had traditionally been used for women’s clothing—were starting to migrate into men’s tailoring. It was a trend Walter Beauchamp Sr. certainly took notice of, as did his future wife Viola.

“Walter Beauchamp: A Tailored History of Toronto” will launch Thursday, September 28 at 5:30 at The Beauchamp Gallerie at 167 King Street East. Terry and I will be there to sign books and chat. Then, on Wednesday, October 4 at 5:30, we will be holding a talk on military tailoring at Toronto’s Royal Canadian Military Institute, at 426 University Avenue. To RSVP for either or both of these events, please email the publisher Figure 1. Books will be available to purchase at the events. They are also available right now at most book sellers, online and in stores.