Our latest exhibition ‘Exposed’ had prompted us to look more widely at our collections to see how the perception of the perfect figure has changed over time. Fashion, like art, is a case in point, manipulating the body to fit the latest trends. With this in mind, our costume volunteers had selected a piece from the collection to display outside the special exhibitions gallery.
This day dress was made in the Edwardian period by upcycling an 1830s outfit. In the late 19th century concern about tight lacing corsets caused a change in fashion. The new S-bend corset thrust the hips backwards and forced the chest forward into what was called the ‘pouter-pigeon’ shape. As this exerted less pressure on the stomach area it was thought to be safer to wear. However, any benefits were more than outweighed by injuries caused to the back due to the unnatural posture that it forced upon its wearer.
By the First World War women were abandoning corsets and moving to less restrictive undergarments. The invention of latex in the 1930s also allowed the production of washable elasticated fabrics. Silhouette, who had their factory in Shrewsbury was one of the first UK companies to adopt these new styles and to begin manufacturing more comfortable elastic girdles. From the 1950s onwards their Little X, which is on display in the costume gallery, proved particularly popular among young women.
From our carefully preserved chinese ‘lotus feet’ slippers in the store through the jimmy choo shoes tip tapping down the gallery for our weddings brochure fashion shoot the story of women’s pursuit of the perfect outline is here to be seen.