Fashion and Reality by Ivan Sayers

Historical fashion research is usually restricted to the examination of the clothing of the elite, wealthy population. Foncie unwittingly documented fashion as it was really worn by people of all social and economic backgrounds. This is part of the value of his work.

The first group of pictures taken during WWII shows some of the reality of wartime.

A beautiful young bride in a luxurious coat pensively walking on Granville Street, missing her new husband closer to the European Front; a woman war worker in overalls walking home after her shift; two women bolstering their moral by showing off their new hats; and women good-naturedly protesting restrictions on food and clothing imposed by the wartime prices and trade board.

In the early 1950’s Foncie’s photos show a more relaxed community. Young girls in bandanas, raincoats, and saddle-oxfords. Mature women grinning from ear to ear, wearing flower-topped hats, “new look” skirts and platform shoes. The style is bulky but joyful. A young couple stepping out for a night on the town, her in a smart blazer, pleated skirt and high-heeled sandals, and him in his school sweater and buttoned-up but tie-less shirt and high-waisted “stride” trousers … with the biggest legs and tightest cuffs imaginable.

In Foncie’s photos we even find local fashion icons. Murray Goldman one of Vancouver’s more prominent male fashionistas of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, smartly dressed in a light suit and a flamboyant tie. Two two pals, almost clones of each other, wear black leather jackets and boots of the motorcycle world, but surprisingly not the tight blue jeans but instead baggy light cotton trousers. The girls these boys wanted to impress present a more delicate, sophisticated look. Jewelry sets, little light-coloured jackets, slim skirts and cutesy, boxy handbags. While girls went for a sentimental look, more mature women went for elegance, complete with hat gloves, and even furs in the middle of the day. Her young companion is in a blazer and slacks while other young men sport bow ties and topcoats.

In the early 60’s teenagers often looked like the Barbie doll and her friend Ken. Clean cut and wholesome, somehow looking more mature than youthful. By mid 60’s skirts got shorter and hair got bigger. Women’s mouths disappeared behind pale lipstick and eyes got darker and more sultry. Young men wanted to look “collegiate”. Button down collars were the rage worn with slim-fitted pants, half-inch wide belts, and loudly striped (but still manly) cardigan sweaters.

By the end of the 1960s men were more comfortable being dudes. Longer hair, sideburns, stylish suede jacket, novelty weave flares had all become acceptable. If the Beatles could dress up so could you. This new direction for men’s fashion wasn’t always an improvement and in the early 1970s flaring lapels, gaudy, wide neckties, and chunky platform shoes created a confusing impression. The last picture in this set is in some ways the most important. Just a bunch of ordinary guys with shaggy hair, t-shirts and denim flares. One wears the iconic west coast plaid shirt and Cowichan sweater. Just ordinary Vancouverites downtown on a weekend afternoon. Hanging out, enjoying the city and the company of their friends.


Ivan Sayers is a fashion historian who specializes in the study of women’s, men’s, and children’s fashions. He has one of the most comprehensive collections of historic clothing in private hands in Canada. He has produced fashion shows, lectures, and exhibitions all over North America. He commonly jokes that his collection is so vast, he sleeps in the dining room of his three-bedroom home.