LivingTravelKiller Fashions at York Castle Museum

Killer Fashions at York Castle Museum

Victorian styles and killer fashions may not coincide in the same sentence, but an exhibition at York Castle Museum, in a dress with arsenic, could change your mind.

Shaping the Body: 400 Years of Food, Fashion, and Life, a permanent exhibition at the museum (open March 25, 2016) explores the relationships between lifestyles, fashion, food, and body modification to over 400 years.

Did you think the big booty fetish was a 21st century idea that Kim Kardashian made popular? Think again. Padding the body to make certain curves look much more curvy dates back to around 1580, when knees were popularized to accentuate the hips. And, according to Ali Bodley, the show’s lead curator, they remained popular into the early 1800s.

“Since Elizabethan times, with some notable periods, women’s fashion has been obsessed with highlighting and accentuating a woman’s curves…”, she explains. Straight-line Victorians were just as obsessed with big tramps as some people are today, but they used the most refined and primitive word, bustle, to describe the elaborate frame and cushion that supported the black of a woman’s dress. . The photo on the right, above, is a parody of The Kardashian’s famous Internet Breaker image, but, as the exhibition in York shows, exaggerating the rear with a bustle was once the rage.

Visitors to the exhibition can try on various original and replica dresses that are worn with cushions tied at the waist to create the bottom shelf so desired by 19th century fashionistas.

Body shapers

The exhibition explores the strange world of body modification, starting with 19th century corsets and moving straight to the 21st century version of this fetish. Early corsets gave women wasp waists and lifted breasts and accentuated curves from bust to hips. Some of these contraptions would create an idealized hourglass figure by compressing a woman’s waist to just 16 inches. No wonder these Victorian women always fainted or had “the fumes” – the poor just couldn’t breathe.

The great poisoners of fashion

Tight corsets weren’t the only reason those Victorian ladies were always so dainty. Some of his clothes were really lethal. Take the beautiful mint green dress pictured above to the left. A key ingredient to finish that color was arsenic. As long as the dress remained dry, everything would be fine, but as soon as the wearer perspired, the poison was released and absorbed into the bloodstream. Over time, this could cause irreversible damage, such as rashes, ulcerations, dizziness, confusion, and weakness.

In fact, this killer dress is still so deadly that museum curators have to wear gloves when handling it.

The most things change …

… The more they stay the same. The exhibition looks at how diet, lifestyle, and fashion have influenced body shape and health over the past 400 years, and it turns out that some things haven’t changed much at all. Everyone may be talking about the obesity crisis in Western countries these days, but did you know that an obesity crisis was also perceived in the 19th century? And in the 1990s, educators and health professionals criticized “fancy heroin” in fashion magazines, an unhealthy look that required slim, pale models with dark circles under their eyes and protruding shoulder blades.

A version of the look was also popular in the 19th century. Then it was the pale and tragic look of TB chic. And while today’s politicians debate a sugar tax, the politicians of the 18th and 19th centuries already had one. A huge 34% tax on sugar raised around £ 1 million a year between 1764 and 1874.

Hundreds of years of style

Visitors to Shaping the Body at York Castle Museum enter through the sounds of the paparazzi and can explore galleries dedicated to all sorts of fascinating facts and trends, including transgender styles and heroes, body piercing, padding, and tattoos. There is a catwalk, with a funhouse mirror at one end that lengthens the legs and can create a supermodel look. Said lead curator Ali Bodley, “Clothing and body shape have been intrinsically linked for thousands of years,” explaining that all sorts of health risks could arise when fashions are taken to the extreme.

He added: “Visitors will see how diverse the silhouette can be in the suits displayed, but the wearers of these garments would be snug, padded, or in some cases malnourished to make their garments look good.”

If you are interested in style or have ever joined an exercise class or been on a diet, this exhibition is definitely a must-see.

Exposure essentials

  • Where: York Castle Museum, Eye of York, York YO1 9RY. The museum is close to the Clifford Tower and Coppergate Shopping Center, about 25 minutes from York Train Station. Green pedestrian signs will point you toward the castle area.
  • When: every day from 9:30 am to 5 pm, closed Christmas, Boxing Day and New Years.
  • Admission: £ 10 for adults, children 16 and under free when accompanied by an adult.
  • Other Exhibits: Other exhibits feature a Victorian shopping street, a riverside Victorian water mill, vintage toys, York Castle Prison, 1914, the 1960s, and more.
  • Facilities: family cafe open for lunch and tea.
  • Contact: Telephone +44 (0) 1904 687687
  • Visit their website

Find out how to get from London to York by train, bus and car.

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More things to do in York

  • The national railway museum
  • York Monastery Church
  • York’s Secret Passages and Snickleways
  • York’s most infamous son
  • Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms

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