The Royal Alberta Museum has a number of GWG catalogues and almanacs from the 1930s through the 1980s that provide valuable information for dating GWG clothing. You can learn a lot about changes in not only GWG clothing but in Canadian society in general by examining the catalogues, and by comparing GWG catalogues from different periods in time.
Who was GWG trying to appeal to with these catalogues? Compare the people in the GWG advertisements to the workers producing GWG clothing. What details about the clothing, and the company, do the catalogues emphasize? How did the advertisements change through time? How did the styles change through time? Think about the purpose of individual ads. Did they intend to: encourage brand loyalty? convince consumers to switch brands? introduce new products?
Fall/Winter 1938/39 (32pp) download pdf (8.20mb)
1947 (7pp) download pdf (0.8mb)
1959 (12pp) download pdf (8.20mb)
1965 (12pp) download pdf (1.69mb)
1970 (12pp) download pdf (1.44mb)
1981(12pp) download pdf (13.39mb)
The earliest GWG catalogues in the collection, Fall/Winter 1938/39 and Spring/Summer 1939, were provided to retail stores to give to their customers. In some cases, the same illustration was used for several years and for magazine advertisements and in-store advertisements, as well as for the catalogues.
The 1940/41 GWG Catalogue is a wholesale catalogue used by stores to place their orders. The staff at the store that originally used the catalogue now in the museum's collection hand wrote in code in the page margins to keep track of orders. There is no sign of the wartime rationing that was to come.
The 1942 Household Handbook, which includes recipes, home information, handy tables and breeding records, was given by retailers to their customers. GWG wanted customers to keep the catalogue around for a while: there is a 1943 calendar on the back cover and a string to hang it in a convenient place. From 1944 to 1949, GWG published a series of almanacs, featuring photographs of the GWG factory, horoscopes and handy hints. The 1947 Almanac includes tips on how to re-make military issue clothing for civilian wear. The almanacs were advertised in a magazine called The Country Guide, and readers were asked to write to GWG to request a copy.
The 1950 GWG Catalogue is a large, 50 page catalogue, but only includes fashion illustrations and retail prices of clothes. GWG also produced flyers for their most popular brands that were sold through retail stores. By 1959, the catalogue was reduced to 12 pages in a horizontal format that was used for the next decade. The catalogues were again given to customers by local dealers, with the dealers' names printed on the cover.
A number of changes were introduced between 1965 and 1968, after which the format returned to the vertical, and the catalogues were bilingual, printed in English and French. The cover of the 1968 GWG Catalogue says, "Get in the color picture with GWG," suggesting that that was the first year that photographs replaced fashion illustrations.
Until the late 1960s, GWG used fashion illustrations rather than photographs in its advertisements, although illustrators often used photographs for reference. Staff and family members often posed for these photographs which helped the artists to visualize how the clothing appeared while being worn and create an accurate image. It was much faster to photograph a model and create an illustration from the photograph than it was to draw from a live model. Artists could modify the image, placing the clothing in context by inserting their own backgrounds, whereas 'Dropping out' backgrounds in photographs was very time-consuming. Illustrations were less expensive than photographs. They could be created without the use of live models, and depict any age, gender, or expression.
Until the mid-20th century, photography entailed cumbersome equipment, expensive materials, and time-consuming processes. The use of photographs for the lithographic process regularly required dust-spotting and air-brushing, which involved an artist's time. Before Polaroid film was introduced to Canada in the late 50s, there was no way to instantly verify that the photographer had captured the image successfully. Editing tools and procedures for film and print were limited.
When faster medium-format cameras, less expensive roll film and electronic studio lighting (strobe) became common tools for fashion photography, illustrative art lost its edge. Markets required colour photography and four-colour lithography for magazine advertising and catalogues, and the demise of mainstream illustrative art—and the catalogue itself—was imminent.
Today, fashion photography is widespread, and the use of digital cameras and Photoshop technology simplify the process considerably. However, photographs are still often used as a source for artists' drawings and paintings.