"Supermodel" mirrors and body-bracing iron Tudor corsets: Shaping the Body exhibition goes beyond bum implants

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 April 2016

Corsets made of iron and mock-up kitchens are part of a display predating the age of sophisticated surgery in York

A photo of a historic dress on show at York Castle Museum
A mid-Victorian corset (1860-75) has a waist of 35 inches. A Waspie (1890-1900) spans 19 inches© Courtesy York Castle Museum
You could, according to curators in York, “land a small aircraft” on the shoulder pads of some of the outfits from the 1980s which have been brought out of their collection. For the strong look, though, the best bet is a body-bracing Tudor corset made of iron.

A photo of a historic dress on show at York Castle Museum
Moustache Cup (1895-1901)© Courtesy York Castle Museum
“The wearers of these clothes would be cinched in, padded out or, in some cases, malnourished to make their garments look good,” says Ali Bodley, the Senior Curator of an exhibition which includes a catwalk with a mirror designed to offer the “ultimate supermodel look” – it has a subtle curve in its surface, designed to lengthen the legs and shorten the torso. “This isn’t a new idea that has come about with J-Lo style bum implants, but has been going on for centuries with assorted health risks when the fashions are taken to the extreme."

A photo of a historic dress on show at York Castle Museum
Fashion doll with removable wig and clothes (1750-1810)© Courtesy York Castle Museum
Daniel Lambert, a 52-stone man, used his size to turn himself into a tourist attraction during the early 19th century. The rather smaller dolls around the display, meanwhile, helped keep people stylish. “Before the age of Vogue, fashionistas relied upon miniature replicas of the latest styles which were displayed on small dolls to learn what they should be wearing the following season,” says Bodley.

© Kippa Matthews / York Castle Museum
“These dolls could be much more easily transported around the country than a whole wardrobe of outfits, and so played a crucial role in ensuring that the best dressed people remained on trend – very important given the links between clothing, wealth and social status.” There’s also a recreated 1980s kitchen and, in the final gallery, a comparison of the energy levels of houemaids, farmers, sportsmen and bus drivers.

  • Shaping the Body is at York Castle Museum now. Follow the museum on Twitter @YorkCastle and Facebook.

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Three museums to follow fashion in

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Explore fashion and style in four cities at the compass points of the African continent - Casablanca in Morocco, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Johannesburg in South Africa - in the forthcoming Fashion Cities Africa exhibition. Runs April 30 2016 - January 8 2017.

Chertsey Museum
It is 50 years since Chertsey Museum first opened its doors in 1965. To celebrate, the new fashion display, 50 Years of Fashion, features fashionable women’s wear dating from the 1960s to the present days selected from the Olive Matthews Collection. Until September 3 2016.

Fashion Museum Bath
A world-class collection of contemporary and historic dress in the World Heritage City. Founded by writer and collector Doris Langley Moore as the Museum of Costume, it has been based in Bath’s Grade 1-listed 18th century Assembly Rooms since 1963.
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