Barcelona Cultura

Rubber bodies (16th to early 20th century)

Fashion. It’s a word that, throughout history, has particularly characterised how women have had to dress to resemble the model of beauty of the era: thin, exaggerated, elongated etc.

Down the centuries, dresses have compressed, reduced and profiled the body. Women have swapped long dresses for short ones; the short trousers men used to wear have become long. Every new trend contradicts the one that came before it.

So, when did it all start? Fashion goes back centuries and here we’ll explain the changes that took place between the 16th century and the early 20th century:

  • 1550 - 1789- The dress compresses the body. Card was used to hide the chest and corsets to highlight the waist. Structures made from wire and tape were used to give the skirt volume.
  • 1789 - 1825- The body is released. With the French Revolution, the symbols of aristocracy were set free: corsets, pants, high heels... Women showed their arms and opted for light, transparent fabrics that hinted at the body beneath.
  • 1825 - 1845- The dress inflates the body. With the coming of Romanticism, what was sought after was a volatile woman with huge sleeves and pale skin. The corset was reintroduced, making it difficult to breathe.
  • 1845-1868. Exaggerating volumes. The Bourgeoisie were beginning to change fashions more often. The torso is heavily compressed with a narrow waist using corsets to compress both the waist and the stomach, which could result in severe health problems.
  • 1868-1888. It’s all about the behind. Women’s bodies adopt an angular form: flat at the front and wide at the back. The torso remains flattened and the bust raised thanks to the corset.
  • 1888-1910. The dress deforms the body. Women take on an “S” shape: the corsets are so long they prevent all but the smallest movements, changing the layout of the internal organs and leading to serious disorders.

We’ll soon be giving you a brief summary of the 20th century but don’t forget, you can see everything we’ve told you about here in the Museum’s permanent exhibit “El cos vestit” [The dressed body].

Ajuntament de Barcelona