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

Posted on

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

Come April 2016, the Victoria & Albert Museum will be the home of more than 200 examples of undergarments for men and women, retracing the evolution of intimates from 18th century crinolines, to contemporary designs of more modest proportions by La Perla, Stella McCartney and Paul Smith, to name a few.

Tamila lingerie set from the Agent Provocateur Soirée collection SS2015 Photographer Sebastian Faena Model Eniko Mihalik

Underwear being an element to have fiercely captured the zeitgeist of its every era, it will on this occasion serve to highlight the evolution of the ppropriation of undergarments through the centuries and up to present day. Early examples of lingerie will be displayed, from those made from luxe, sensual fabrics, to functional, modal female pants, wittily embroidered with the days of the week, illustrating one’s everyday necessities, while other examples will demonstrate the importance of fit in men’s undergarments.
Despite the obvious hygienic purposes that the above serve, underwear was originally meant to modulate one’s body before being entirely designed around the idea of enhancing it. The curation of the exhibition will come to show that, in the subject matter of underwear, it really is what’s underneath that is of the greatest importance.

Corset 1890-1895 c Victoria & Albert Museum London

Historically, women of all sizes and morphologies are known to have embraced the complexities of corseting in an attempt to transform their bodies for the outside world. Garments designed to exaggerate parts of the anatomy, as demanded the fashion of the day, will be an essential part of the display. The use of underwear to add volume to the body in the pursuit of a certain aesthetic, will be depicted by aussieBum’s men’s briefs, designed to enhance the genitals through to the ever-so popular, push-up bra, born in the 1990’s.

Cage crinoline the Princess Louise Jupon Patent c. 1871 Victoria & Albert Museum London

Further, we will have a chance to remember the spirit of liberation of the 1960’s, the deliberate burning of bras and bandaged chests, which stirred sexual ambiguity. Undressed will specifically trace the development of the bra throughout the 20th century, showing early examples of satin and lace bust bodices from 1910 and memorable advertisements by the brand Chamaux, Playtex and Spanx, that will come to demonstrate the revolutionary nature of the changes they made to the industry and, above all, the importance of support and freedom of movement for the female wearer.
'Two Lovers' film premiere, Paris, France - 04 Nov 2008

Trompe loeil corset dress designed by Antonio Berardi SS2009 Worn by Gwyneth Paltrow – Sipa Press REX Shutterstock

The exhibition will not only explore the relationship between underwear and fashions, but the one it has with the wearer’s body. Pieces such as Mary Quant’s body stocking, the gender neutral briefs by ACNE or the daring flesh coloured leggings made of lycra and mirrored perspex, will defy the issues of morality, sexuality and notably, gender. Particularly, the seduction and sex appeal associated with lingerie, and the way wearers’ fantasies and desires can be played out. Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear will explore the tempting nature of underwear through objects ranging from a vivid pink silk 1890s corset, to contemporary pieces by Agent Provocateur, which is sponsoring the exhibition. All will illustrate that the choice of underwear has always been and remains intrinsically personal.

Display figure and advertising card for Y front pants 1950s – Victoria & Albert Museum London

The exhibition will, above all, pose a particular emphasis on the contrast between the years of austerity during World War One, when corsets were made of paper, and what 100 years of technological advances have brought to us in terms of evolution of undergarments as well as epitomise the coming of age where innovation mirrors elements of popular culture. Symbolically laid out by the slimming waist belt, endorsed by figures such as Kim Kardashian, which will be on display.

Monday to Friday pants cheekfrills 2015 – cheekfrills

The exhibition will, without a doubt, trigger the question in every viewer, of whether the desire for freedom of movement and mobility, has produced tools that notion a strong societal need for crafting the ideal body today while liberating the mind by opening up on what’s beneath the surface.
Undressed: A brief History of Underwear will be at the V&A Museum from 16 April 2016 – 12 March 2017.
Tickets go on sale in February.

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

Avatar photo

Written by Joanna Uzunova

A freelance fashion and lifestyle columnist, passionate about words and substance. Joanna is also the founder of a Bespoke Personal Styling Consultancy company, through which she exerts her affinity for cultivating personal style.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *