A Victorian dress from 1870

Shaping the Body: Food, Fashion & Life, a new fashion exhibition, will open at York Castle Museum on 25th March.

The displays will take the phrase ‘killer fashion’ to a new level; Shaping the Body will explore different periods in history where following the latest fashion trends could prove lethal.

A gown made with arsenic

One of the exhibition’s highlights will be a Victorian green gown. Part of the treatment process to produce its vibrant colour involved arsenic, and traces of the poison remain in the dress today – so curators have to wear gloves when handling it.

In history, if the wearer of the dress was to perspire, the arsenic could be absorbed into the blood stream, causing illnesses from rashes and ulceration to dizziness, confusion and weakness of the hands and feet.

The dangers of corsets

A selection of rare and unusual corsets will also be on display at York Castle Museum, including one that cinched the waist to just 19 inches.

The corsets were designed to accentuate the curves from bust to waist to hips, but the years of having such a narrow waist would have forced compression of internal organs, causing women to faint easily.

400 years of fashion history

In addition to the more dangerous items of clothing on display, Shaping the Body: Food, Fashion & Life will take a broader view of fashions worn by everyday people throughout history.

It will also reflect how diet and lifestyle has affected health and body shape over the last 400 years.

Groups can learn about the once popular ‘TB chic’ of pale skin and protruding shoulder blades, and the obesity crises of the 19th and 21st centuries.

Visitors will also be able to compare their contemporary lifestyles with those of manual workers across the ages, to see how a modern gym session would compare to field ploughing or carpet beating.

GTOs visiting the York Castle Museum will receive discounted entry rates for parties of ten or more.

For further information visit www.yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk.