July 21, 2016 to March 5, 2017
Location: Textile Gallery



The latest offering from our extensive historic textiles collection, Killer Fashion looks at the often tragic side of fashionable dress as it relates to the natural environment and those who wore these garments.
In many ways, Fashion has proved repeatedly harmful – to the resource, to the wearer, to the maker and to the environment. Besides essential clothing, wholesale slaughter of animals for their fur or feathers, their ivory or leather, also provided frivolous ornamentation. The near-extinction of bird populations for millinery, a decimation of Atlantic whales for corsetry, and the plundering of elephants for ivory fans and jewelry are all part of this killer trade.
Stylish fashion could be harmful to the wearer as well. Corsets, if laced too tightly, impeded breathing and could rearrange the wearer’s internal organs. Chinese foot-binding permanently disfigured the foot and caused severe handicaps. Even hoop skirts could become hazardous if inadvertently brushed against an open flame.
The textile industry itself – from dangerous machinery to unsafe working conditions to child labor – caused unhealthy and shortened lives for many. Makers often suffered equally with their customers. Many textile and dye manufacturing processes were poisonous and often deadly to those employing them. The arsenic in some dye methods, for example, killed the dyers and wearers alike. The mercury in felting fur for hats led to disease and insanity (the “Mad Hatter”). The introduction of aniline dyes, while bringing a wonderful range of color to fashion, also produced noxious chemical byproducts that polluted the environment.
Indeed, it has been a deadly but beautiful business. In this exhibit, the elegant garments and accessories spanning two centuries reveal their darker side – as killer fashions.


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