Margery Steele: First Lady of Fashion


Margery Steele, ca. 1967

Margery Steele started with Simpson’s in September, 1946 after responding to an ad for a fabric consultant. She had previously attended the Letchford Studio of Fashion Careers where she had completed courses on sewing, cutting, fitting, dressmaking, tailoring and designing. Her job,that of sales clerk at a salary of $22.50 per week soon expanded to include new areas of responsibility. After a decade she became the store’s fashion coordinator and in 1962 began buying for the St. Regis Room. In 1971, after The Room had been redesigned, she was asked to become the new couture buyer. During her career at Simpson’s and The Bay, she worked in 32 different departments.



As Director of the prestigious St. Regis Room, Margery Steele helped dress the elite of Toronto society and business for years. Her job as couture buyer took her to New York every few weeks and to the fashion centers of Europe where she attended all of the major openings. While this may sound glamorous to the uninitiated, the world of fashion could be grueling. Apart from the hectic pace, there was also the stress of being responsible for buying some of the fashion world’s most expensive clothes. However, Margery Steele was undaunted. She had not only her own impeccable sense of style to rely upon (she was known to grace the top 10 best dressed lists published in Toronto papers) but also had a common sense approach to buying. As she explained in an interview in 1971: “I always buy clothes with certain women in mind. Those particular women may not buy them, of course, but if we’ve bought for a real person, the chances are there will be a customer for the outfit.”



Margery Steele on a buying trip, 1971

Margery was able to buy with specific clients in mind because her job went far beyond merely selecting what items would be sold at The Room. In her opinion, you couldn’t be an effective buyer without also being a salesperson. When in Toronto, she spent much of her time with clients, getting to know their preferences and their shapes and her ability to sell went far beyond clothes. “I’ve made them dye their hair, lose weight, wear new colours. I love to change people, to make them look like a million bucks, and to do that, you have to be able to sell.”




Geoffrey Beene coat, ca. 1960s

While she advocated change for others where she felt it was warranted, and was always on the cutting edge of new fashion (she was the first to bring New York’s Carolyne Roehm, Oscar de la Renta’s protégée, and Geoffrey Beene to Canada), she wasn’t one to follow fads. She always favoured chic, simple clothes with good lines and everything had to be well made and in good fabrics. Her belief in simplicity and style even extended to her hairstyle, which she refused to constantly change to stay in vogue. She believed that “if you have a flattering, simple hairstyle, it’s nice to keep it.”



In terms of business, her adaptability and sense of tradition were both evident. Over the years, she had to adapt to the changing clientele of The Room. In the early years, the majority were the crème de la crème of Toronto high society but this eventually started to shift to high profile women who were business owners and directors of companies. Their needs were different but The Room adapted. One thing that didn’t change was the level of service received by customers. Margery always required her staff to display excellent manners and she herself never wore pants to work at The Room. When asked her opinion of the new trend toward casual Fridays for business, she responded “It’s a cop out.”


Margery Steele’s contribution to the world of fashion and to the company she worked for have been recognized in numerous ways. In 1994, she was honoured as a fashion industry star at the first Fashion Group International, Toronto tribute evening. Upon her passing in 1999, memorial posters were placed in the windows of The Bay Queen Street store and a scholarship in her name was established at the Ryerson School of Fashion, sponsored by the Hudson’s Bay Charitable Foundation. As one tribute to her read: “Margery Steele was a classic, a woman who was a stylist without equal, a defender of fashion, a patron of the fashion arts, a confidante to her clients, a friend.”


Career Highlights:


September 9, 1946    Hired by Simpsons

December 29, 1947   Bride’s Counsel

July 6, 1953               Bride’s Consultant

July 4, 1956               Fashion Co-ordinator, Section Head

April 9, 1962             Fashion Co-ordinator, Trainee

April 23, 1962           Buyer Assistant

January 1, 1968         Buyer

December 1, 1971    Area Merchandise Supervisor

June 1, 1976             Divisional Merchandise Manager

July 28, 1980            Group Merchandising Manager,The Room and Furs

April 4, 1984            Director, Merchandising, The Room