By Jo Gallacher
The Victoria & Albert Museum will open its highly-anticipated exhibition on the history of underwear later this month.
Sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear will display more than 200 examples of underwear for men and women, telling the story of underwear design from the 18th century to present day.
The exhibition will explore the relationships 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.
The pieces will range from rare examples of home-made ‘stays’ worn by working women, to custom-made pieces from designers including Stella McCartney, La Perla, and Paul Smith.
Here’s what to expect from the forthcoming exhibition:
Always an issue of contention, the exhibition will explore the vigorous debate surrounding corsets and how to make them supportive and healthy.
A restrictive 1890s whalebone and cotton corset measuring 19 inches in circumference will be on display, next to x-rays and illustrations revealing the dramatic impact on the body.
Alongside this will be a World War One austerity corset made from paper, plus a waist training corset- a slimming tool endorsed by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
The progression and development of bras will be traced throughout the 20th Century, showing early examples including a lace and satin bust bodice from 1910.
From striking advertisements of latex corsetry by 1930s brand Chamaux to Spanx designs from 2010, the exhibition will also illustrate the importance and variety of support in women’s underwear.
Even royal underwear makes an appearance in the exhibition, by way of floral embroidered stockings worn by Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.
A remarkably detailed pair of 1930s silk chiffon knickers, delicately decorated in lace with a hunting scene, will also be shown to demonstrate the exceptional craft skills which go in to making luxury underwear.
Garments which provide a structure for the fashionable shape of the day will be on display. These include rare 18th century hoops, crinolines and bustles.
The use of underwear to add volume to the body will also be shown through displays of men’s briefs by aussieBum from 2015, designed to enhance the genitals, and a woman’s push-up bra from the 1990s.
The exhibition will highlight the practical and functional role of underwear by analysing types of fabric and the importance of performance in sportswear and maternity ranges.
Highlights will include a homemade bust bodice for a nursing mother in the 1820s, a contemporary set of maternity briefs and bra by Hotmilk, and a 1970s pair of men’s red string briefs by Brynje of Norway.
Underwear is by definition worn beneath other clothes, yet today social and cultural changes mean exposed underwear is common.
Garments on display will show how designers have challenged accepted ideas about private and public, gender, sex and nudity.
These include a Calvin Klein crop top and briefs, as well as a transparent embroidered muslin dress designed in 1996 by John Galliano for Givenchy haute couture.
Corsetry and lingerie are often designed to be alluring, so the exhibition will explore the tempting nature of underwear.
Objects will range from a vivid pink silk 1890s corset, to 1930s bias cut nightwear, and contemporary pieces by Cadolle, Fifi Chachnil and Agent Provocateur.
All the pieces intend to illustrate that the choice of underwear for the bedroom remains intrinsically personal, like it has been throughout the centuries.
The exhibition will also include underwear which has been designed with the intention to transform or provoke.
Alongside Vivienne Westwood’s flesh coloured leggings will be a skin-tight laced cocktail dress by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1989, and Antonio Beradi’s monochrome dress from 2009, worn by Gwyneth Paltrow.
The exhibition will take place from 16 April 2016- 12 March 2017, with tickets priced at £12. Advance booking is advised, either in person at the V&A, online, or by calling 0800 912 6961.