09/20/2014 11:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:02 EDT

Museum of Vancouver fashion show reveals how WW II changed society

A new Museum of Vancouver exhibit that opened this week uses women's fashion to trace how the Second World War changed Canadian society.

Fashion can reveal much about history, says fashion historian Ivan Sayers.

"It's a reflection of the society from which it has come," says the co-curator of "From Rationing to Ravishing." 

The show features more than 80 historic women's garments and accessories, including a wartime wedding dress made of parachute material, a suit made by Eva Braun's tailor, and a dress belonging to Peruvian diva Yma Sumac.

Museum visitors walk through galleries that showcase the relatively modest, functional clothes of the wartime era, then the growing excesses of late 1940s  and 1950s, as people tried to move away from the unhappiness and restrictions of the war years.

From shirt dresses to designer ballgowns

Through the years on display, the fashions evolve from broad-shouldered shirt dresses and prim suits to designer confections that include Lauren Bacall's shoes and a polka dot bubble dress made by Spanish designer Balenciaga.

"It's silly, but that's it's appeal," laughs Sayers of the white and black evening gown. It's one of the many items he provided from his personal archive.

The longtime collector says the journey through fashion history serves two purposes for viewers.

"I want people to understand that war is a very bad thing. They should be very aware of how much it affects everyday life," muses Sayers.

"I think that they should also learn to enjoy fashion. Enjoy the moment. You're not going to get this day back so wear your favourite thing... even if it's a bubble dress."

From Rationing to Ravishing runs from September 18, 2014 to March 8, 2015 at the Museum of Vancouver. It's curated by Ivan Sayers and Claus Jahnke.