Fashion History Museum

Located within an old post office, in a town with a history of textile and wool manufacturing lies the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario (formerly in Hespeler, Ontario) (See Figure 1 above - Exterior of the Fashion History Museum. Photo taken by Caroleen Molenaar, Summer 2019). Despite its small stature when compared to other museums in Ontario, such as the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, or any number of the national museums in Ottawa, the Fashion History Museum is a gem of a museum filling the gap of annual fashion history exhibitions within the province. 

The museum was originally founded in 2004 by Canadian fashion historian and curator Jonathan Walford and took the form of pop-up and travelling exhibitions in different parts of Canada, and around the world. In June 2015 the museum found its permanent home in Cambridge and has been there ever since.

The collections of the museum boasts over 12,000 garments and accessories dating as early as the 1600s to the present day. In recent years there has been a focus on collecting fashion and dress from contemporary Canadian designers, alongside the regular collections of historical dress, written articles, and fashion related documents.

When you walk into the museum you are immediately presented with the welcome desk, and a small gift shop comprising of fashion books; jewellery by local or stand-alone designers, as well small items that relate and promote the exhibitions. There are three galleries in the museum: to the left of the gift shop lies Gallery 1 which typically displays more fragile garments as they are protected by panels of glass; straight on from the gift shop lies Gallery 2 which is the largest of the galleries and typically displays more modern day clothes as there is no glass protection; and behind Gallery 2 is Gallery 3 which typically showcases accessories or smaller items in wooden cabinets.

Unlike other museums, the Fashion History Museum does not have a permanent display but instead displays different themed exhibitions each year between March and December. Depending on the year there can be one or two exhibitions in display concurrently. The themes of exhibitions can range to correspond to an event or anniversary – for example 2017 was Canada’s 150th anniversary of celebrating confederation of being a country, so the 2017 exhibit was rightly named Fashioning Canada Since 1867 – or they can feature around a unique narrative or theme featuring objects in the collection such as 2018’s exhibition named: 101 Tales of Fashion.

Last year’s main exhibition called Made in France which ran from March 16- December 22 2019 also fell into this latter category where it displayed objects circling around a specific theme. As the name suggests, the exhibition displayed garments, from both the museum’s own collections as well as loaned garments from private collections, that were made by French designers between the late 19th and late 20th centuries. Some highlight garments included a House of Worth evening dress from 1889 shown in Gallery 1 (Figure 2), and an orange Louise Chéruit evening dress from 1928 shown in Gallery 2 (Figure 3).

Figure 2 House of Worth, Silk wedding dress, 1889
PHOTOGRAPH BY Caroleen Molenaar, Summer 2019
Figure 3 Louise Chéruit, Orange evening dress, 1928
PHOTOGRAPH BY Caroleen Molenaar, Summer 2019

As seen in Figure 4 there are no shortage of dresses that are displayed within these exhibitions and this is something to expect when visiting any main fashion exhibition that this museum puts on.

Figure 4 Gallery 2 Dresses
PHOTOGRAPH BY Caroleen Molenaar, Summer 2019

In 2020 the Museum will be putting on two exhibitions both running from March 18 to December 20 2020. Galleries 1 and 2 will feature WARdrobe which focuses on the influences that war has on fashion and dress, and Gallery 3 will present the exhibition entitled 20/20 which looks at the history of fashionable eyewear.

Practical Information:

Opening times: March 18 – December 20 2020

Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5p.m.

Location: 74 Queen Street East, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

Admission $5.00, Children 12 and under are free

Phone: 1-519-654-0009


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Caroleen Molenaar

Caroleen Molenaar is currently completing the MA Museum Studies course at the University of Leicester’s MA Museum Studies Program having previously completed a BA (Hons) in Fashion and Dress History at the University of Brighton.