Museum Monday: Fashioning the Body at Bard Graduate Center

The history of jewelry and the history of fashion are closely intertwined, so we went on a field trip to the Upper West Side to visit the Bard Graduate Center’s current exhibit Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette (on view through July 26th).

Some of the elaborate old-timey undies currently on view at Bard Graduate Center.

Some of the elaborate old-timey undies currently on view at Bard Graduate Center.

The exhibit traces the evolution of body-shaping undergarments from the 1500s to the present day, and presents a number of gorgeous (and torturous) corsets, stays, bras and bustles. Also on display are exquisite examples of the outer garments meant to be worn over these impressively engineered undies. An eighteenth-century gentleman’s overcoat with gold embroidery and diamond buttons (and space for “muscular”padding) was a favorite piece.

All the tight-lacing reminded us of an unusual Victorian bangle we had in the shop a while back:

15k & garnet Victorian "corset" bangle. 

15k & garnet Victorian "corset" bangle. 

Fashioned in 15k yellow gold and garnet, this corset-style bangle is an example of what jewelry historians Ginny Dawes and Corinne Davidov call “Victorian Porongraphica” – a cheeky reference to the famous prudishness of the era.

While we’d gladly submit ourselves to wearing this slightly-naughty bangle for a day, we’re content to limit our interactions with actual antique corsets to museum visits. Though they may look glamorous, constricting corsets are completely incompatible with running to catch the subway.