Tuesday, 29 September 2015

FASHION VICTIMS: THE PLEASURES AND PERILS OF DRESS IN THE 19TH CENTURY

EXHIBITION REVIEWS

BY: STEPHANIE READ

How excited am I for my first blog post? As much as I was to visit the Bata Shoe Museum for the first time this weekend during Toronto’s Culture Days, which is to say – quite a lot!

*Nice!
The Bata Shoe Museum has much going for it right now, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary (with yet one more delightful visual shoe-related pun*), offering two intriguing exhibitions: Standing Tall: A Curious History of Men in Heels and Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. The latter exhibition is my focus in this post, although I encourage you to make a point of seeing both, as they demonstrate the heights (tee-hee!) we go to in our quest for a little glamour in our lives.

...Is that too much to ask???

Shoes like these may have started a veritable but ill-fated 'mauve-ment'.
Source: Rick Madonik, The Star

Well, in the case of our poor Fashion Victims, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes!!!’ 

Besides the delectable vintage treasures on display, the anecdotes of mayhem and tragedy (heavily tipped with Schadenfreude) truly make this exhibit. Dresses, shoes and accessories are accompanied by examples of advertisements from the period and stories of unimaginable repercussions for wearing such simple accoutrements for the missus-out-and-about-town as a crinoline.

Text: "Arabella Maria. "Only to think, Julia dear, that our Mothers wore such ridiculous fashions as these!"
Both. "Ha! ha! ha! ha!"
Source: Unknown Artist- Harper's Weekly, New York, 1857

See examples of how, in that paradoxical way perfected in the 19th century, reporters of the time simultaneously derided and pressured the public into investing in what were, in many cases, nothing better than walking coffins.

This exhibition not only allows a tantalizing glimpse into 19th century life in the West, it also provides some perspective when we consider how much of a variety of colours, materials and textures in the fashion world we have access to today without fear of spontaneous combustion.

Consider these 19th century victims as guinea pigs for those lime green chucks you would eventually make your parents buy you in high school.

'Green' didn't always mean eco-friendly. 'Emerald Green' Dress, mid-19th century.
Source: Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, 2015

There is an exciting ‘steam-punk’ vibe to the exhibition decor which, unfortunately, seems to have skipped a room, but the overall aesthetic lends itself, not by any accident, to the feeling of walking down the shopping arcade, enticed to approach the newfangled glass display windows encasing a myriad rainbow of shiny new things to own. 

Fashion Victims Exhibit. Source: Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, 2015
And it can all be yours… for a price.

Passage du Grand Cerf, Paris. Source: Spud Hilton, The Chronicle

Do see Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century, on until June 2016. In the comment section below, tell me what you think are some of the fashion perils we face in society today?

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