In a show of pre-season energy akin to athletes’ pre-game excitement, Parks Canada interpreters Carrie Docken and Carly Sims gallantly put on their copies of 100-year-old fashion and posed for What’s Up Yukon last week in Dawson City.
Sims’ tea dress is a replica of the styles Martha Black and other Klondike pioneering women, of a certain class, would wear for their afternoon teas between 1912 and 1916.
Docken travels through time and across gender roles and wears a replica of an 1898 uniform that the North-West Mounted Police would have worn in the Klondike.
The two will be joined by close to a dozen other interpreters wearing newly-sewn costumes to strut down a catwalk in the Palace Grand Theatre on May 21, in the Parks Canada event Bloomers to Sack Suits: A Klondike Fashion Show.
The interpreters’ outfits will represent what Klondike Gold Rush stampeders, and then Dawson City residents, wore in the Klondike region from 1896 to about 1920.
It’s a strong-sunshine day when we have our photo shoot. The light tempts us outdoors to the Palace Grand (built by Wild West showman “Arizona Charlie” Meadows in 1899) and then to the Old Post Office (built in 1900), where even the pragmatic postal boxes are glamorous with cut glass fronts.
Sims and Docken, both long-time Parks workers, give away tiny details of their professionalism by commenting on what isn’t right about their costumes.
“Don’t take any photos of me from the side,” Docken says, “Rose will kill me when she sees my hair like this.”
Sims laughs and, a moment later, adjusts one of her boots. Her hem rises a little as she leans her foot on the stairs, revealing modern-day knee socks in decidedly 21st century colours.
She also takes her gloves off as we test different poses for the camera. Any middle-class person in the early 1900s who wanted to keep their status clearly visual would be careful to wear hat and gloves at all times, to prevent a “labourer’s tan.”
As summer eases in, these are details that Sims, Docken and the other interpreters are well trained in keeping straight.
This attentiveness is partly thanks to the “Rose” Docken refers to, Rose Margeson, the Visitor Experience Manager for the Klondike National Historic Sites. She is also the local Parks Canada person who keeps a close eye on all the interpreters’ costumes (and how they wear them) all summer in the Dawson area.
Margeson is back in town a few days after the shoot, so I call for more insider details on the fashion.
“We create costumes by researching locally, then sending the research to the costume curator in Winnipeg at the Parks Canada service centre. There’s a military curator there as well,” the former seamstress and Parks interpreter says.
“They make up the patterns and then, as often as possible, the patterns are sent back to the Yukon to be sewn.”
Megan Waterman, Debbie Winston (both Dawson) and Lea-Ann Dorval (Marsh Lake) – all established names in the fashion and garment construction industry in the Yukon – are often contracted for the sewing.
New garments are made for Parks interpreters every few years. This year the push was on to create an expanded cast of costumes because 2011 is also the 100th anniversary of Parks Canada.
Bloomers to Sack Suits thus celebrates both the longevity of the Parks system – Canada was the first country, worldwide, to establish a national park system – and the long-term presence of Parks knowledge and historical preservation in the Klondike region specifically.
The emcee for the event, will talk about the clothes as fancy threads, and also about some of the social customs of the time. For example there will be a maid, and a widow in a mourning costume.
“The etiquette for widows was very different then. For the first three months they didn’t go out, and they also wore nothing that had any sheen to it. It had to be a very matte finish with no fancy materials,” Margeson explains.
“Our interpreter Gaby [Gabriela Sgaga] will have been in mourning for six months and so she’ll have a velvet ribbon as trim.”
Within a year, women could introduce colours gradually, a gray or maybe a dark purple.
On the other end of the self-expression spectrum, the show includes reproductions of a male and a female bathing costume based on a 1900 photograph from Long Beach, New York.
The men’s fashion will include remakes of the suits of the day, and of miners’ clothes.
“A sack suit was named after its shape,” Margeson explains. “It was rounded on the front instead of square, and they would just typically button the top button of the jacket. Today the buttons are lower and the lapels reach lower.”
The event opens with an orchestra, also dressed in period costume, and ends with birthday cake for Parks Canada’s centenary.
Unlike the afternoon teas that middle class women held in Dawson, everyone’s invited, and the free event starts at 2:00 pm.