corset body exhibition

In quest for the ideal body: the exhibition Fashion and Physique

October 30th, 2017 / by / in: Exquisite experiences / No responses

How does an “ideal” body look like? Well, it depends, I could answer. It depends on the subjectivity of the viewer and the specific moment in history. Therefore, the Museum at FIT presents The Body: Fashion and Physique, an exhibition that examines the history of the “ideal” body in fashion and considers the relationship between the fashion industry and body politics from the 18th century to the present.

The exhibition The Body: Fashion and Physique is open at The Museum at FIT (www.fitnyc.edu) between December 5, 2017–May 5, 2018.

The exhibition includes more than 50 items (garments, images from the press, fashion media, film).

margiela body exhibition

Martin Margiela, tunic, linen, 1997, Belgium, museum purchase.

The fashionable body is a cultural construct that has shifted and changed throughout history to emphasise different shapes and proportions.

The Body: Fashion and Physique opens with a dress by Martin Margiela that mimics the look of dress forms, which are used to fit garments as they are designed. By transforming the wearer into a dress form, Margiela highlighted the artificial nature of the idealized fashion physique. Also on view in the introductory gallery is a video featuring interviews with industry insiders discussing key themes explored in the exhibition. Among them are designer Christian Siriano, model Iskra Lawrence, and activist Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance.

Dress, silk crushed velvet, circa 1887, England, museum purchase.

Dress, silk crushed velvet, circa 1887, England, museum purchase.

The history of a fashionable body includes, in this exhibition…

– Example of stays (now referred to as corsets, designed to narrow the waist) from the 18th century.

– Various skirt silhouettes from 19th century – from crinolines to skirts slim at the sides and front, with caged understructures known as bustles (to  create an illusion of a bigger posterior).

Adrian, dress, silk, circa 1945, USA, gift of Maybell Machris.

Adrian, dress, silk, circa 1945, USA, gift of Maybell Machris.

– For the first decades of the 20th century – new silhouettes that did not need to be worn with a corset. The fashionable ideal had shifted to favor a long, lean body with slim hips and a small bust.

– 1930s – a new focus on an athletic and classically proportioned physique highlighted by the bias-cut gowns designed for various body types.

Jean Paul Gaultier, sweater, wool, 1991, France, gift of Richard Martin.

Jean Paul Gaultier, sweater, wool, 1991, France, gift of Richard Martin.

– The silhouette of the 1940s was still slim in the hips, but included broad, padded shoulders. Then, Christian Dior had introduced his “New Look” silhouette, which removed the padding from the shoulders and exaggerated the narrowness of the wearer’s waist by reintroducing boned corsetry and a full skirt.

– The new, 1960s styles “freed” the wearer from constricting boned undergarments and petticoats, they were cut to emphasize a lithe, youthful physique. Mini dressed appeared. The interest in “freeing” the body continued during the 1970s.

Chromat, ensemble, spandex and plastic boning, spring 2015, USA, museum purchase.

Chromat, ensemble, spandex and plastic boning, spring 2015, USA, museum purchase.

– By the start of the 1980s, a new culture of physical fitness had begun to develop for both men and women, with aerobics at its core. A selection of menswear in the exhibition includes a Jean Paul Gaultier sweater with a padded torso that mimics the idealized muscular body that became fashionable during the late 20th century.

– The toned body of the 1980s gave way to a waifish ideal during the 1990s.

– The rise of the internet and social media have changed the way people consume and engage with fashion and opened up the industry to an ever-widening cross section of people. Certain brands have embraced this diverse view of the fashionable body (models from across races, sizes, and gender identities).

Photography: The Museum at FIT (www.fitnyc.edu)

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