June 18th, 2014 - June 30th, 2016

Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century

Transport yourself back to the 19th century where beautiful outfits fashioned by seamstresses and shoemakers supplied the privileged with enviable ensembles. Swathed from head to toe in expensive garments and shod in delicate footwear, fashion-forward women graced the boulevards and the ballrooms with their colourful presence. Their tailored male companions cut equally refined figures in their black coats, spotless white linens, lustrous top hats and shiny boots. Yet presenting an elegant exterior was not without its perils. The discomfort of constricting corsets and impossibly narrow footwear was matched by the dangers of wearing articles of fashion dyed with poison-laced colours and made of highly flammable materials.

From the challenges faced by those who produced fashionable dress to the risks taken by those who wore it, this exhibition provides thought provoking insights into what it means to be a fashion victim.

French, late 19th century.
Highly polished footwear was the obligation of the well-dressed man in the 19th century and the cities of Europe and North America were littered with ragged shoeshine boys who offered a shine for a pittance. This pair of boots is said to have belonged to the Grand Écuyer of Napoleon III in charge of the royal stables who certainly didn’t shine his own boots.

Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum
Photo credit: Image © 2014 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Austrian, c. 1850s.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria was considered by many to the most beautiful woman in the world in the 19th century. Her long hair and slim figure attracted the attention of many setting the standard for constricted beauty and became an obsession for her. This pair of almost impossibly narrow Adelaides and gloves were given as a gift to Colonel Louis de Schweiger one of her many admirers.

Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum
Photo credit: Image © 2014 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

French, late 1870s – early 1880s.
François Pinet manufactured some of the most exquisite footwear worn by the most elegant during the second half of the 19th century. Much of his footwear was factory-made but he also employed seven hundred embroiderers who labored in less than comfortable conditions creating botanically accurate floral embroidery.

Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum.
Photo credit: Image © 2014 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

French, 1880 – 1885.
The high heel was reintroduced into Western fashion in the late 1850s as part of the nostalgia for the 18th century dress that captured fashionable imaginations of the period. Along with this interest in 18th century came the specter of the licentious woman, this pair of boudoir slippers which features many hallmarks of 18th century mules, would have been perfect for this highly charged image of femininity.

Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum
Photo credit: Image copyright © 2014 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

In the June episode of the Bata Shoe Museum's video series The World at Your Feet: Stories from the Collection of the BSM, Senior Curator and exhibition curator Elizabeth Semmelhack looks at one of the artetacts featured in the exhibition, the French Pinet boots seen above.

Click here for the Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of 19th Century Dress press release.

For more information, interviews or visuals, please contact:
Rosmarie Gadzovski
Head of Communications, Bata Shoe Museum
416.979.7799 x225
[email protected]

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