Sunday, November 16, 2014

Slaves to fashion

While today's fashionistas continue to risk their health balancing on high heels and slimming their waists with corsets, Victorians risked their lives to costume themselves in the most up-to-date colors. The first synthetic dye, created by William Henry Perkin in 1856, was mauve – and the woman who wore the shoes above would have been considered especially fashion-forward – but the dye was incredibly toxic, made with arsenic, picric acid, and other harmful chemicals. The chemicals were hazards for both the wearer and the maker, such as the mercury used by milliners that led to the proverb "mad as a hatter." A long-term exhibit focusing on the historic dangers of style has just opened at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century was organized by senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack and fashion professor Alison Matthews David of Ryerson University. The exhibit is structured like a period showroom and Matthews David remarks, "You could just go through this beautiful Parisian shopping arcade and enjoy this spectacle of consumption, but if you read into it you find that the story behind it is not quite as pretty as the artifact."

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