“WOMEN’S underwear had two functions in the 18th century: hygienic and structural,” so begins Undressed, the Victoria & Albert Museum‘s new exhibition, opening this Saturday – and some would say not much has changed since those days, at least in terms of intention.
The showcase – which is loosely chronological but also thematic – charts the evolution of that most personal of garments and our relationship with it. How it has helped us for centuries portray our best self to the outside world; how it has shifted with changing body ideals; how it helps us to conceal or subvert; and even how it has trickled into our everyday wardrobe.
Separated into sections including Fashion, Health and Hygiene; Volume; Performance Underwear; and Support: Bras and Girdles, the downstairs section of the exhibition explores how we have used underwear to “shapeshift”, to improve or disguise what nature gave us, and to allow us to do, or be, that little bit more – encompassing bustles and corsets as well as relatively modern padded bras and 21st century shapewear.Reflecting the changing body ideals of the times – the exhibition moves from elaborate padding and
Reflecting the changing body ideals of the times – the exhibition moves from elaborate padding and wiring, to simple bras of the Thirties that aimed to “separate and define” breasts for a “slim and feminine” shape, to the padded bras of the Fifties, made to create “alluring, feminine curves”. From 19th century bodices that were “shocking” by contemporary standards to rubberised black stockings, lingerie as a tool to titillate and arouse is also given plenty of attention – complete with a graphic hologram that loses layers as you watch.
Hero pieces span the decades: muslin drawers owned by Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, in the early 19th century; a plaster fig leaf made to conceal the modesty of the V&A’s cast of Michaelangelo’s David to avoid causing offence; the almost sheer slip dress chosen by Kate Moss for an Elite Models party in 1993; a silk and lace dressing gown worn by Bond girl Berenice Marlohe in Skyfall – and all demonstrate the powerful impact of lingerie upon our perceptions of beauty, sensuality and shape.
If in LONDON: Undressed at the V&A, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, is open from this Saturday, April 16, until March 12 2017.
For more information visit Vam.ac.uk/undressed