The Victoria and Albert Museum’s latest exhibition focuses on the changing attitudes toward underwear from the 18th century to the present day, revealing two very different sides to the way in which we wear it: practical and provocative.
This light and breezy exhibition devoted to our changing attitudes towards underwear from the 18th century filled with corsets and bustles, all the way through to today’s slightly more racy attitude towards bras and corsets, is devoted to as much to our attitude towards body shape as the underwear itself.
Focusing on the techniques, materials and purpose of the different types of underwear that men and women have used over the years, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear fully examines the many different ways in which underwear has protected and enhanced our bodies.
It takes us through some of the health hazards that these items could cause for example x Rays on display show how corsets make the ribs move, putting pressure on the diaphragm or how crinolines as much as they heightened the sway of the hips, the size of them were difficult to manage, becoming a potential fire hazard.
The exhibition is a must see for those with a curiosity in how underwear was developed and changed according to the style and fashion of clothing – and body shapes. With the garments on display, information tells us what body shape was fashionable at the time it was created and how it helped to create that illusion, making it a display which celebrates all shapes and sizes. For example, Ruth Sheradski’s bra and knickers on display, reveals how that in 1953 it was fashionable to have a sizeable bust and slightly rounded stomach.
But the display also argues that it wasn’t just women who were expected to be a certain shape according to fashion, with sportsmen and military men able to purchase waist belts to create a certain shape to the their bodies.
The consistent theme in Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear shows that although fashion and style may have changed, we still rely on underwear to create illusion and support our bodies.
Among the highlights on display are the long cotton drawers worn by Queen Victoria’s mother, a sheer dress worn by Kate Moss and a diamond encrusted corset – showing the variety of undergarments nicely, while comparing and contrasting with different times between the 1800’s and the modern day.
But it has to be said that towards the end, it gets a little bit tacky with some of the garments on display, particularly in the more erotic section that takes away from elegant nature of the exhibition overall.
Well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in fashion, showcasing the best (and in some occasions the worst) ideas that have been created in supporting our bodies through our clothes. Nothing is left uncovered that is for certain.