Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fashion Victims

Two skeletons dressed as lady and gentleman in “the Arsenic Waltz,” Etching (1862) (courtesy Wellcome Library, London)
Staying stylish in the Victorian period could be a dance of death. While industrialization and mass production made more beautiful fashions widely available, the green dresses were dyed with arsenic-based pigments, the mercury necessary to make shiny beaver top hats drove the hatters insane, and all that tulle and cinched corsets contorting women into airy nymphs would not infrequently cause them to tumble into gas lamps and go up in flames.
Opened this week at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century explores the dangers of style not just for the wearers, but for the people who made the clothing as well. The exhibition of over 90 artifacts was organized by Bata Shoe Museum Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, and Alison Matthews David, an associate professor at the School of Fashion at Ryerson University who is publishing a book next year focusing on deadly fashion. Together the curators explored medical archives and collections in France and England, and delved into the museums’ extensive assortment of 19th century shoes and private collections searching for examples of the “poison garment,” hauling green shoes and shoeboxes to a physics lab to test for their lethal secrets. Full Hyperallergic article here.
Boudoir slippers with destabilizing heels, French (1880–1885) Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum (photo: Ron Wood, image © 2014 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada)