Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear at V&A Museum

02Image courtesy of V&A

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear at V&A Museum

Starting from April 15, 2016 the V&A will tell the story of underwear design from the 18th century to the present day, considering the practical and personal, sensory and fashionable and exploring underwear’s roles of protecting and enhancing the body. Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear will display more than 200 examples of underwear for men and women, highlighting the enduring themes of innovation and luxury, from the custom made, such as a rare example of home made ‘stays’ worn by a working woman in England in the 18th century to pieces by designers including Stella McCartney, La Perla, Rigby & Peller and Paul Smith. The exhibition will explore the relationship between underwear and fashion, notions of the ideal body, and the ways that cut, fit, fabric and decoration can reveal issues of gender, sex and morality. It will consider health and hygiene and address the design and technological advances central to the development of underwear.

 

CIS:T.90-1984;CIS:T.90A-1984Image courtesy of V&A

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On display will be corsets, crinolines, boxer shorts, bras, hosiery, lingerie and loungewear alongside contextual fashion plates, photographs, advertisements, display figures and packaging. Highlights will include long cotton drawers worn by Queen Victoria’s mother; an 1842 man’s waist belt used on the wearer’s wedding day; a 1960s Mary Quant body stocking; a pair of gender neutral briefs by Acne; a sheer dress by Liza Bruce famously worn by Kate Moss; and flesh-coloured leggings decorated with a mirrored glass fig leaf by Vivienne Westwood. Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear will explore the vigorous debate about corsets and how to make them supportive and healthy.A restrictive 1890s whalebone and cotton corset with a waist under 19 inches in circumference will be displayed alongside x-rays and illustrations revealing the dramatic impact on the body of wearing such a garment. Conversely, corsets were also recommended to improve medical conditions and posture.

 

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The exhibition will include a lightly boned 1895 version made from aertex, an innovative cellular woven cotton, showing an alternative side to tight lacing. An austerity corset made from paper during World War One and a waist training corset, a slimming tool endorsed by celebrity figures such as Kim Kardashian, will also be on display. The development of the bra, which enabled movement and mobility, will be traced throughout the 20th century, showing early examples including a lace and satin bust bodice from 1910. Bras, girdle and shapewear will illustrate  the importance and variety of support; from striking advertisements for latex corsetry by 1930s brand Chamaux, to a 1950s Playtex rubber girdle and Spanx designs from 2010. Many designers are fascinated by the relationship between underwear and outerwear, and underwear and the body.

 

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Garments on display will show how designers have challenged accepted ideas about private and public, gender, sex and nudity. Underwear is by definition worn beneath other clothes. While shirts, chemises and petticoats were sometimes partially revealed before the 20th century to indicate quality and the wealth of the owner, today social and cultural changes mean exposed underwear is a common sight. The exhibition will include a Calvin Klein crop top and briefs worn with low-slung hot pants, and a beautiful, transparent and an embroidered muslin dress worn with lace knickers, designed by John Galliano for Givenchy haute couture (s/s 1996).

 

05Image courtesy of V&A

 

Much as underwear can be revealed, it can also be designed with the intention to transform or provoke. Alongside Vivienne Westwood’s ironic flesh-coloured leggings there will a skin-tight laced cocktail dress by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1989, a delicate lingerie dress by Ellie Saab (s/s 2011), a Dolce & Gabbana dress featuring a large cage crinoline (s/s 2013) from their Sicilian Collection, and Antonio Beradi’s monochrome dress (s/s 2009), worn by Gwyneth Paltrow, featuring a trompe l’oeil corset which reveals the underwear worn beneath.

 

V&A Museum
London
From April16,  2016 to March 12, 2017

 

more. www.vam.ac.uk

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