Exhibition review

I have visited the exhibition called ‘Shaping the Body’ in the York Castle Museum that has opened recently. It explores 400 years of body changes, fashion, food and lifestyle. Once inside, you could find souvenir shop and café, as well as gallery that was divided into two sections, with two entrances leading to various other exhibitions.

Entrance to York Castle museum and exhibition poster
Exhibition poster and entrance

The exhibition followed the history of the body shape and fashion that influenced the standard body shape of the era. Exhibits were presented in glass cases, inside there were posters of the epochs and information about women’s and men’s clothes, with extra fashion tips from the specific time and what it took to achieve the stylish look, and what was considered trendy.


On the walls of the exhibition one could see many quotes about fashion from people, such as Miuccia Prada and Henry David Thoreau.


Another section included beauty around the world. Beauty standards from different countries and eras showcased the differences and similarities between today’s and past fashion. Examples included: Geisha’s, Scandinavian & Indian beauty, brass rings, lip plates, Maori face tattoo’s and many more.


Also, there were body stories from different people that were put up on the walls, talking about body challenges, and overcoming it.


The most surprising aspect of the exhibition was the shocking differences between the sizes now and in the past centuries. For example, shoe size in the 1800’s was 3-4 UK size, which is a kid’s shoe size now. Mostly narrow shoes were produced, and although women had different sized feet they still had to squish their feet into smallest shoes possible. It is similar to women wearing heels nowadays that can barely walk, ‘in the name of fashion’.

Dangerous fashion was in trend back then, and women would remove ribs and wear corsets to get tiny waist, as well as apply makeup containing many chemicals. Today it is coming back to fashion with Kardashian’s and other celebrities popularising small waist and wider lower body, some girls choose to wear corsets again. It shows that fashion is always coming back.


When leaving exhibition pictures of a punk and valley girl were hung up the wall, showing the differences between two ‘sub-cultures’, presented in X – ray pictures.

Typical Valley Girl – X-Ray by Nick Veasey
Punk – X-Ray by Nick Veasey

Going further into the exhibition, in the other room there was section of ‘food and lifestyle’. It showed how diet affects body and extremes varying from thin to obese, that is especially prominent in our society of today. The timeline on the wall indicated how diet changed overtime from 18th to late 20th century.



Lifestyle section had 19th century homes recreated, and soldier of 21st century, with fact boards displayed. Kids had to work in horrendous conditions in factories and coal mines from as young as 5, and adults having almost no leisure time, due to work.


Overall, exhibition was exploring broad range of topics, and it was easy to find information, as well as quickly navigate through different exhibits. It was very interesting, and I would recommend it visiting to anyone interested in fashion.



Shaping the Body: 400 Years of Fashion, Food and Life



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