Last Sunday, April 30th, I went to hear Ivan Sayers talk about Lethal Fashion through history. He presented at Hycroft to a packed house. Be sure to purchase your tickets SMOC events, well in advance, online, and get there early to ensure the best seats. Ivan will be celebrating 150 years of fashion this July at Roedde House, in the West End, a not to be missed event in a fabulous location.
See more at smoc.ca. (Go to Gallery and click on photos)
Ivan began his talk by referencing a Beaver Felt Hat (WW1) which was made with a process using mercury. While this process improved improved production time, it had negative effects for works and wearers. Other beaver hats were made of velvet or silk, so this one is rare.
Right in front of the hat were a selection of shoes, surely impediments to any kind of striding or running, keeping us literally on our toes and needing assistance to do anything. Some of these are from Claus Jahnke's collection and date from 1900-1910. There are black and golds, with 5" heels, a brown pair of Christian Dior, green snakeskin (oh poor snake), brown leathers from the 40's and a cherry pink pair from Viva, a famous British shoe designer. Eventually, one of the models walked in a pair of heel less heels, again, perilous even for a runway stroll, much less on cobblestones.
We saw 'indulgent fashion' from 1740's, the more room you took up, the more important you were. All designed to impress. Illusion of very small waistline through the use of huge paniers, some as wide as 6 feet across, and, many corsets, tight tucks and other methods of torture. In the 1750's, these dresses were cut down and restyled, not unlike today's upcycling, recycling, and repurposing. And the hair, I mean wigs. Made of sheep hair, they were powdered with grease and flour, which invited pests of all sorts. (ew) Because, they took so much time to style, wigs were worn overnight and you supported your huge creation by resting your neck on a wooden block. Funny, I seem to remember sleeping on soup can rollers. (My brother wore his hockey helmet to bed, to keep his hair flat) Continuing the trend of beauty by impairment.
Victorian fashion featured a round shouldered look with such tight sleeves that if you moved your arms away from your sides, the seams ripped. So standing impassively with hands held in place, was popular. Skirts were supported by as many as 14 petticoats. And the fabrics, well, poisonous dyes, lead and arsenic, were commonly used to make and shape clothing, all of which was extremely flammable. Open fireplaces and confined spaces, plus the inability to move easily or quickly, could all prove fatal.
Foundation garments, (girls in waist training early, some as young as a year and a half), long scarves, hat pins, huge hats (no peripheral vision) long, dresses, wide skirts, hobble skirts, and then there were the examples of bad taste: overly decorated and frivolous, making women look like dolls or children.
We sat, spellbound, but not immobile. Ivan Sayers invites you to get up, look and participate. We all get dressed up but no paniers, heel less shoes, or huge hats.
The fashion victim cycle continues: above is a 50's dress, a gorgeous shade of blue (dye content?) with that nipped in waist and voluminous skirt. The monkey fur is also dyed to match the dress, of course. In addition to being a reflection of art, history, politics, and culture, clothing is a necessity. The ECO Fashion movement is a step in a better, safer direction. Lethal Fashion was such a timely show, perfect for Fashion Revolution Week. See more at FashionRevolution.org.