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Quebecois Women's Fashion: A Marvel, A Mystery

Montreal is generally regarded as the fashion hub of Canada, but one thing that is talked about considerably less is what I consider to truly be Quebecois women’s fashion: balloon pants, useless seams, and mosaics of patched textiles that don’t match.

An classic example of classic Quebecois fashion. All photos via the author.
When I first moved to Montreal I was expecting to find sophistication and good taste like all the other assholes that move here. The city is generally regarded as the fashion hub of Canada, with many local trendsetters having emerged onto international platforms. One thing people don’t talk about, however, is the severity of the phenomena that is true Quebecois women’s fashion. Balloon pants, useless seams, mosaics of patched textiles that don’t match… It’s all a part of this strange, unspoken subculture, primarily found amongst the francophone community, ou les Montréalaise vrais (no one says that). Before you go shitting on me in the comments saying that I’m just isolating a few rare, terribly "funky" examples of Quebecois style, just ask anyone who’s spent time in Quebec—this style is EVERYWHERE. In honour of this precious homegrown secret, I am going to give you a probably-somewhat-racist tour of the staple boutiques in the city.


Who wears this stuff?
First, pictured above, is a small shop on St. Denis near Rachel, the heart of francophone Montreal. As you can see, we have six very loose-fitting garments, and one mannequin is sporting a neck-scarf. What does it look like at first glance? Three granola moms. The window says something about loving silk, even though nothing but the scarf looks like its made out of silk, unless maybe it’s raw. There are some impractical seams going on in the shirts, especially to the left, while contrarily the pants seem very practical in terms of venting out your cooch. Generally, this place looks like it’s attempting to pull from Indo-Eastern-European culture more than anything else, with its viney embroidery and billowy fabrics. However in our next example, you can see how the Quebecois image is beginning to take shape.

Here is a classic example of what has been going on in la belle province FOR YEARS. Look at all of this shit. Fake-ripped fabric across the stomach, a child’s lunch bag as a purse, semi-tie-dyed stripes, and accents of detailed floral print. The pants. What are they? What is this contour along the calf? The horizontal pleats exaggerating the knee. I’m also picking up Lululemon vibes. I don’t get it. I’ve never gotten it. I used to walk around and see these boutiques and think, “Oh, it’s hippies.” Then I started encountering people from Cirque du Soliel, and Les FrancoFolies, and Montreal East, and then it occurred to me that it is not hippies at all. It’s something uniquely Canadian that I have literally never been aware of until now. As you can see, juxtaposing the playful style of the pants, which seem like they should be animating a hacky-sack, are more slightly sophisticated flavors, like the dramatically angular shirt-dress, and the form-fitting knee-length dress. It’s fundamentally confusing—that's maybe the best and only way to describe it.


Here we have Kaliyana, which I’ve only recently developed an affinity for. I’ve walked by this window at least a hundred of times in my adult life and after nearly gagging from repulsion, in the beginning I’d learned to eventually ignore it for the solace of my eyeballs. First of all, why was my hatred so passionate? Second of all, what the fuck is going on here? Oversized draping garments haven’t been in style for western women for maybe two centuries. There’s nothing sexy about obscuring your body in an expensive garbage bag—but then again—maybe that’s what’s so enticing. I feel like this brand mostly appeals to post-menopausal empty-nesters who don’t care about fucking anymore, or circus lesbians, or mythological creatures. Maybe I just hate it so much because I’m a closet circus lesbian.

Kaliyana has been around for a while—I just Googled it and it’s been around since 1987. The designer, Jana Kalous, sounds fucking rad. I quote: “If you haven’t discovered us yet, it’s probably because we prefer spending our time creating great designs, rather than wasting our days with endless self-promotion.” What a refreshing outlook!

I don’t know why this seemed so "Quebecois" to me. I guess it’s the mix of bad textiles with ridiculous contours? This also originated in Ottawa, which technically is not Quebecois at all. I would say that although this does exude the general aesthetic of Quebecois women’s fashion, Jana Kalous has carved out a specific, recognizable brand amongst the near-comparable competitors. This is maybe an enormous digression. In short, I want to drape myself in this woman.


The more I look at these photos, the more I feel 47. Notice how many of the mannequins are plus-sized? This window says “not your daughter’s” and I can’t tell what the rest of it says. When my mother came to visit me from our hometown, 800 km south of the Quebecois border, she was distracted by all of the boutique windows and we spent an entire afternoon contemplating how diagonal lines of thick stiches accent her D-cup.

This store, which may or may not actually be local, has a nice subdued appeal, keeping the colour scheme monochromatic while still participating in the strange culture, with its love for harem pants and totally impractical details. Take for example the vulva-esque pockets on this transparent black shirt. Why would someone spend time making these? Why would anyone spend time making anything?

Of course there are wonderful things about Quebec's neverland culture: a carefree environment where artists can feel free to gestate and experiment, a rejection of capitalist values and embracing of European joie de vivre, cheap rent. But all of this comes at a price, namely a heinously whimsical approach to women's clothing. Ultimately, the francophone women of Eastern Canada seem to have an impressive grasp on not-caring about attracting anyone to their bodies but preschool children, hippies, and LARPers. If I had to guess I would imagine that the appeal could be attributed to: pride rooted in the gestation of Cirque du Soliel, a resistance against anything typically anglophone or Americanized, a historical appreciation or lack of progression from early French settlement, and something secret that only true Quebecois know about.