CNE Fashion – From Elegant Tea Dresses to Funky Go-Go Boots

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1971 - Fun at the CNE in front of the Princes' Gates
1971 – Fun at the CNE in front of the Princes’ Gates (CNE Archives)

While many of us head to the Canadian National Exhibition for tradition, fun and food, let’s look at how fashion at the CNE has changed over the years.

What were people wearing at the Canadian National Exhibition?

1910s: It was the Edwardian era, so, in the summer, women wore tea dresses made of white/cream lace and an elaborate hat. Men wore 3-piece suits with ankle cuffs and topped off their attire with a straw Boater hat.

1920s: During the Roaring ’20s, women’s summer wear included a no-waist sheath dress with a sash tied at the hips, T-strap or Mary Jane shoes and a cloche hat. Men’s suit attire was fashioned around the Jazz Age, but this time with softer collars and fabrics.

1939 - Ladies wearing beach pajamas in the Hollywood Follies sideshow on the CNE Midway
1939 – Ladies wearing beach pajamas in the Hollywood Follies sideshow on the CNE Midway (CNE Archives)

1930s: The midway bathing beauties graced the shores of Lake Ontario and Toronto poolsides in a garment called Beach Pajamas. The summer leisurewear was very wide palazzo-style pants with an attached sleeveless top featuring bold prints. For men, pants with non-matching sports coats were considered semi-formal attire.

1940s: At The Ex, men looked sharp in an informal summer suit with a white double-breasted dinner jacket, white shirt, black pants and bow tie. Ladies looked sophisticated in dresses with defined waists and calf-length hemlines. Fur coats and vests were fashionable then, and accessories included a hat and high ankle strap shoes.

1950s: Fashion had shifted to a more formal look when going out. Women wore dresses with soft shoulders and accentuated their waists with a billowed skirt. It was essential to match your hat, belt, purse and shoes. Men were still wearing suits but with fedora hats.

1960s - Model looking glamorous in a white dress with oversized angel sleeves at a furniture exhibit in the Better Living Centre
1960s – Model looking glamorous in a white dress with oversized angel sleeves at a furniture exhibit in the Better Living Centre (CNE Archives)

1960s: Fashion in the 60s changed dramatically over the decade. In the early to mid-’60s, women wore Jackie-O style attire with tailored skirts/dresses and jackets with hats. Other fashion included swanky, flowing gowns made of luxury fabric. Men wore slim-fitted pants, button-downs, or polo shirts (the Ivy League Look).

In the middle of the decade, Go-Go boots appeared on the scene. By the end of the decade, fashion was once again transitioning. Clothing like mini skirts with simple mock/turtleneck tops, Windsor glasses and ankle boots were in, as well as over-the-top Flower Power outfits. Britain had a significant influence on men’s fashion in the late ’60s. Outfits were showy, with bright colours and bold patterns.

1970s: In the early ’70s, Go-Go boots were still in, along with short skirts and hippie dresses. T-shirts, short-shorts, bell-bottom jeans and plaid pants were in style for both women and men. There were no rules when it came to ’70s fashion. It was pretty much anything goes, especially when it came to men’s shirts. There were many styles, from flashy disco to cowboy and everything in between.

CNE Fashion Photos

1911 - A couple enjoying a day out at the Canadian National Exhibition. The woman is wearing a tea dress and fancy hat while the man is in a 3-piece suit wearing a straw boater hat
1911 – A couple enjoying a day out at the Canadian National Exhibition. The woman is wearing a tea dress and fancy hat while the man is in a 3-piece suit wearing a straw boater hat (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1876)
1910 - Ladies in tea dresses and elaborate hats at a reception on Exhibition grounds for Sir Henry and Lady Pellatt, who built Casa Loma
1910 – Ladies in tea dresses and elaborate hats at a reception on Exhibition grounds for Sir Henry and Lady Pellatt, who built Casa Loma (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 555)
1913 - CNE's President Noel Marshall and a group of women looking proper in mid-1910s attire
1913 – CNE’s President Noel Marshall and a group of women looking proper in mid-1910s attire (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1384)
1920 - Fancy 2-piece bathing costumes with head attire, rolled stockings and beach slippers
1920 – Fancy 2-piece bathing costumes with head attire, rolled stockings and beach slippers (CNE Archives)
1928 - Two models - one wearing a pink silk dress and the other a blue taffeta dress at the Canadian National Exhibition
1928 – Two models – one wearing a pink silk dress and the other a blue taffeta dress at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 14768)
1928 - Two models - one wearing a red satin dress and the other a black taffeta dress at the CNE
1928 – Two models – one wearing a red satin dress and the other a black taffeta dress at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 14767)
September 7, 1928 – CNE fashions titled “final ensemble”
September 7, 1928 – CNE fashions titled “final ensemble” (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 14771)
1930 - Prime Minister RB Bennett and the group wearing top hats and 3-piece suits with long jackets. Notice the Administration/Press Building's semi-circular pediment in the background
1930 – Prime Minister RB Bennett and the group wearing top hats and 3-piece suits with long jackets. Notice the Administration/Press Building‘s semi-circular pediment in the background (CNE Archives)
1935 - Front program cover for the Canadian National Exhibition fashion show
1935 – Front program cover for the Canadian National Exhibition fashion show (CNE Archives)
Circa 1937 – The Miss Toronto Beauty Contest at the Canadian National Exhibition with the roller coaster in the background
Circa 1937 – The Miss Toronto Beauty Contest at the Canadian National Exhibition with the roller coaster in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2381)
Circa 1939 - Ladies wearing beach pajamas in the Hollywood Follies sideshow on the CNE Midway
Circa 1939 – Ladies wearing beach pajamas in the Hollywood Follies sideshow on the CNE Midway (CNE Archives)
1940 - Models at the CNE wearing classic wartime attire that was both flattering to the silhouette yet featured masculine details
1940 – Models at the CNE wearing classic wartime attire that was both flattering to the silhouette yet featured masculine details (CNE Archives)
1940 - A dapper-looking man sporting a white double-breasted jacket, black pants and bow tie while the woman is wearing a calf-length dress and a fur vest for an evening out at the Canadian National Exhibition
1940 – A dapper-looking man sporting a white double-breasted jacket, black pants and bow tie while the woman is wearing a calf-length dress and a fur vest for an evening out at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1940 - Model wearing a Kitten Mills sweater
1940 – Model wearing a Kitten Mills sweater (CNE Archives)
1960s - Model wearing a matching skirt, short waist jacket and snood in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre lobby at the Exhibition
1960s – Model wearing a matching skirt, short waist jacket and snood in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre lobby at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1960s - Model looking glamorous in a white dress with oversized angel sleeves at a furniture exhibit in the Better Living Centre
1960s – Model looking glamorous in a white dress with oversized angel sleeves at a furniture exhibit in the Better Living Centre (CNE Archives)
1960s - Kitten Sweaters brand is worn by models standing on ladders at The Ex
1960s – Kitten Sweaters brand is worn by models standing on ladders at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1965 - Miss Hawaii Bonnie Conlan looking polished in a pencil skirt and matching short jacket. Notice the Princess Margaret Fountain and the Horticulture Building in the background
1965 – Miss Hawaii Bonnie Conlan looking polished in a pencil skirt and matching short jacket. Notice the Princess Margaret Fountain and the Horticulture Building in the background (CNE Archives)
1966 - Model on the CNE fashion show runway wearing a funky purple mini-skirt, pink mock neck top, boots, long beaded necklace and tiny sunglasses
1966 – Model on the CNE fashion show runway wearing a funky purple mini-skirt, pink mock neck top, boots, long beaded necklace and tiny sunglasses (CNE Archives)
1960s - Psychedelic, over-the-top, flower-power patterned crop top with ultra wide-leg pants in front of the Horticulture Building
1960s – Psychedelic, over-the-top, flower-power patterned crop top with ultra wide-leg pants in front of the Horticulture Building (CNE Archives)
1965 - Walking by the Princess Margaret Fountain at the Canadian National Exhibition
1965 – Walking by the Princess Margaret Fountain at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 15, ID 2)
1966 - Model wearing a long coat on the runway at a CNE fashion show
1966 – Model wearing a long coat on the runway at a CNE fashion show (CNE Archives)
1967 - Fun on The Midway in classic, mid-60s attire
1967 – Fun on The Midway in classic, mid-60s attire (CNE Archives)
1967 - Five young men in retro mid 60's clothing, posing on a vintage tractor at The Ex
1967 – Five young men in retro mid 60’s clothing, posing on a vintage tractor at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1967 - A couple looking stylish by the Princess Margaret Fountain
1967 – A couple looking stylish by the Princess Margaret Fountain (CNE Archives)
1968 - White pants, a bold print blouse and 50¢ body painting
1968 – White pants, a bold print blouse and 50¢ body painting (CNE Archives)
1969 - Model at the CNE with a fancy updo
1969 – Model at the CNE with a fancy updo (CNE Archives)
1969 - Prime Minister PE Trudeau in classic late 60's attire
1969 – Prime Minister PE Trudeau in classic late 60’s attire (CNE Archives)
August 1970 - Walking along the CNE Midway
August 1970 – Walking along the CNE Midway (York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC06887)
1970 - T-shirts, short-shorts and striped tube socks in front of a games booth on The Midway
1970 – T-shirts, short-shorts and striped tube socks in front of a games booth on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1970s - Jean cut-offs, plaid pants, cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway
1970s – Jean cut-offs, plaid pants, cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1971 - Fun at the CNE in front of the Princes' Gates
1971 – Fun at the CNE in front of the Princes’ Gates (CNE Archives)
1970s - Plaid pants and T-shirts on the CHUM Wild Cat ride on The Midway
1970s – Plaid pants and T-shirts on the CHUM Wild Cat ride on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1974 – Hanging out on the CNE Midway
1974 – Hanging out on the CNE Midway (CNE Heritage)
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