Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear

The V&A illustrates the story of underwear design from the 18th century to the present day, considering the sensory and the fashionable whilst exploring the enhancing effects on the body.

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear exhibits 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 18th century corsets and crinolin to pieces by designers including Agent Provocateur, La Perla, Mr Pearl and Paul Smith.

The exhibition explores 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. An in-depth discussion about the tempting nature of underwear takes place through exhibits ranging from a vivid pink silk 1890s corset, to 1930s bias cut nightwear, contemporary pieces by Cadolle, Fifi Chachnil and Agent Provocateur, and an exquisite negligée by Carine Gilson, like that worn by actress Bérénice Marlohe in 'Skyfall'. All illustrate that the choice of underwear for the bedroom remains intrinsically personal, and has throughout the centuries.

Undressed also explores the vigorous debate on the pros and cons of corsetry; a restrictive 1890s whalebone and cotton corset with a waist under 19 inches is 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.


April 2016


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