The Arsenic Ball Gown,

This picture is of one of the items in Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century, which opens June 18 and runs through 2016 in Toronto, Canada. I wish I could see it but I’ll have to settle for the book by Alison Matthew David, a professor at Ryerson University’s School of Fashion whose decade-long investigation into the relationship between clothing and health inspired the show and comes out next year.

I’ve always been fascinated by fashion, not in the clothes-buying sense as anyone who knows me would know but in a more cultural anthropology “body-packaging” sense so this is right up my alley. How about giant hoop skirts in a crowded city environment? Did you know that “Crinoline fires” killed 3,000 women between the late 1850s and late 1860s in England alone? Women would lose sense of their skirt’s width, step too close to a fire grate, then flames would be fanned by oxygen circulating under their skirts, really. 

The brief article describing the exhibit shows more items and discusses how fashion served to stratify society as well as documenting the ways in which it created health hazards of its own.

Read about it here..

Here are a couple of my favorite books on the topic if you are interested before the one related to the exhibit comes out:

The Unfashionable Human Body by Bernard Rudolfsky, Out of print but worth buying used. 

Body Packaging by Julian Robinson, This was a very controversial book when it came out in the 90’s and I guess it still might be from the reviews on Amazon.