Via my one of favorite guilty pleasure blogs, GoFugYourself, I was directed to this interesting behing-the-scenes look at the careful consideration that goes into dressing mannequins for a historical fashion exhibit.
Something that visitors to a museum may not stop to consider are the structures underneath that support the weight of the potentially fragile fabric and structure of the garment. While reading the article, one thing that stood out to me immediately was this statement about the museum's mannequins:
We have male and female mannequins that were built to represent each dramatic change in the fashionable silhouette from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries. For women, corsets, crinolines, and bustles dictated not only idealized waist-to-hip ratios, but also posture and whether “fat” was pushed up, down, in, or out.
Fashion designers have always created with an idealized figure in mind, and that ideal changes over time, right along with popular culture such as music and art, and the celebrities themselves. Before there were cameras, the celebrities of the day had the trendiest dresses made, and sat to have their portraits painted. Two hundres years ago, the fashionable silhouette was an Empire waist, which required not much structural alteration fo a woman's own figure. Fast forward fifty years, and in order to have the fashionable silhouette, a woman needed a tightly corseted waist and layers of pouffy crinolines. In the Twentieth Century, a similar timeline followed - Edwardian era fashion required a columnar silhouette with a more relaxed waistline, and Mid-Century gave us the New Look, with a girdle cinching the waist and again, the full skirted hourglass silhouette.
Today, instead of having portraits painted, celebutante wanna-be's put on the trendiest clothing and handbags, and dash about town to be photographed by paparazzi and end up on TMZ. We no longer have corsets or girdles, but there are waist-slimming spandex undergarments and fad fasts and diets. And don't forget the current epidemic of figure mutilating cosmetic surgeries. Many today would shudder at the idea that Victorian women had ribs removed to achieve the wasp waist (even if no such thing actually happened) but think nothing of liposuction or breast augmentation. All in the pursuit of the fashionable silhouette.
Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915 opened October 2, 2010 and runs through March 6, 2011 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.