Monday, March 30, 2015

FASHIONING THE BODY at Bard Center Gallery: Review by Polly Guerin

Tight Lacing after John Collet 1777
It appears that there is really nothing new about how women and men have shaped their bodies into distinctive silhouettes in the name of fashion. The quest to create a new figure continues to inspire fashionistas. Even today women and men are determined to  reshape, retool and,  more often than not, they take plastic surgery to alter, improve but sometimes distort their bodies into a vision of controlled beauty.
  The historical significance of Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette is worth the trip uptown. The exhibition will be on display at the Bard Graduate Center, at 18 West 86th Street, from April 3 through July 26, 2015
   This extravagant display presents the novel devices and materials that women and men have used to shape their silhouettes from the 17th Century to today, including extra wide panniers draped in sumptuous fabrics and the underpinnings, that were necessary to support such extravagance. Corsets, crinolines, bustles, stomach belts, girdles, and push-up bras also get their due recognition. Note the image right: "Tight Lacing or Fashion before Ease," after John Collet in The Profession of the Proprietors, 1777. Hand-colored mezzotint published by Bowles and Carver. The Trustees of the British Museum.
   Beneath it all there is a world of intrigue and mystery and curator Denia Bruna, at the Musee des Arts decoratives and professor a the Ecole du Louvre, presents the history of "behind the scenes" in a well documented exhibition.
Winding  Up The Ladies ca 1828
The tricks for fashioning women's bodies have always confounded belief.  One wonders, what made these women and sometimes men allow themselves to be pulled, squashed and shaped into fashion?  Part of the answer may be the fact that the ability to engage in such body distortion, the minuscule waist, for example, required several people to pull you tight till your breath was nearly sucked out of your body.  Yet, the pain was worth it to be able to trump your nose at society and let them know that you were high-minded enough to afford such luxury even if achieving it meant by torturous results. Note the image "A Correct View of the New Machine for Winding Up the Ladies," ca. 1828. Hand;colored engraving, Courtesy of the Museum at FIT.
   A broad range of silhouette-shaping garments are featured that flattened the stomach, compressed the waist, lifted the breasts, added curves to the hips and curvature to the derriere.  As for men their vanity paralleled women's eccentricities and the perfectly curved leg of an seventeenth century gentleman would be padded to produce the perfect silhouette, Today men's underwear padding enhances the center of their charm as well as well-shaped buttocks.
The Bustle Contraption
   The exhibition is a rare insider view into the underpinnings of fashion that mirrored society's concept of one's superior status and perceived elegance.
   A series of black velvet mannequins illustrating a woman's silhouette throughout time invites the viewer to understand how a woman's body shape was altered to accommodate the extremes of fashion.
  TaTa darlings!!! I'm certainly glad that all I need to do is to go to the gym to keep in shape. Whew!!! Imagine the discomfort that women suffered wearing cages of different sizes and shapes to underscore the crinoline, to create a bustle or achieve exaggerated proportions of court dress.  Then too, men also wore girdles to enhance their posture and create a straight aristocratic silhouette.Fan mail welcome at Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the link that takes you to womendeterminedtosucceed, visonary men, poetryfromtheheart or hiddentreasures.


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