An iron corset, crotchless pantaloons from the time of Jane Austen, bum rolls and a killer dress are a few of the items featured in our latest permanent exhibition which charts the way fashion, food and fitness have shaped the body over the last 400 years.
“In today’s selfie generation, it is said that we have become more image conscious than ever before, with the lengths that people will go to in order to achieve the ‘perfect’ look seeming ever more drastic, but the reality is that even before the age of the digital camera, people would go to extremes to conform to fashion, whether through changing diet or clothing which modified the body’s shape,” comments Senior Curator of History, Ali Bodley.
“Although there has always been a fashion elite which exaggerates extremes, our exhibition focuses on how these affected the wider population, from wigs and weight control to corsets and cosmetics.”
Researching the exhibition has shown the curatorial team just how frequently history repeats within the fashion world, with many items or concepts familiar in the 21st century that would have been in everyday usage over the last four centuries.
Just a decade ago, young women were looking to emulate the pert posteriors of stars like Kylie Minogue, whereas the rise of the Kardashians has now changed the focus onto generously proportioned bottoms.
This is exactly what happened in the early 19th century, when the Empire line dresses favoured by heroines of Jane Austen novels made way for large skirts and tiny waists that remained in fashion for the next 80 years. Rather than simply supporting the bosom, a combination of corsetry and bum rolls created a new silhouette of extreme curves for fashionable ladies.