Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear is on at V&A from 16 April 2016-12 March 2017
This exhibition told the story of underwear design from the 18th century to the present day. It explored the intimate relationship between underwear and fashion and its role in moulding the body to a fashionable ideal. Underwear is sometimes controversial, sparking debates about health and hygiene, body image and stereotyping. Its cut, fit, fabric and decoration reflect changing attitudes to gender, sex and morality; shifting notions of public and private; and innovations in fabric technology and design.
Underclothes have also influenced outer wear. Nightwear has morphed into lounge wear and garments such as corsets, crinolines and slips have been recast by fashion designers to challenge convention and explore the dynamic relationship between body and clothing.
This fascinating and thought provoking story was told through over 200 objects. Garments designed for men and women were displayed alongside advertising material, fashion plates, photographs and films to bring new insights into the most personal garments in our wardrobe.
The Story of Underwear
Male and Female
By: Shaun Cole, Muriel Barbier, Shazia Boucher
Mirroring the evolution of society’s values, the history of underwear highlights the continuous, dancing exchange that exists between women's styles and men’s fashion. Undergarments are concealed, flaunted, stretched or shortened, establishing a game between yesterday’s illicit and today’s chic and thereby denouncing the sense of disgrace that these simple pieces of clothing used to betray.
Featuring two separate works on male and female underwear, this study is full of surprises and powerful reflections on man’s relationship with his body, and woman’s with hers. From the ordinary, discreet underwear of ancient times to the boxer-briefs and seductive push-up bras of the 21st century, this work demonstrates how much the radical dictates of fashion reflect the evolution of both the male and female archetypes, as well as the overall values of an era.
About the Author
Shaun Cole is an independent exhibition commissioner, writer and lecturer primarily based at the University of London. As a curator for the Victoria and Albert Museum, he oversaw several exhibitions, most notably Graphic Responses to AIDS (1996), Fashion on Paper (1997), Dressing the Male (1999), Black British Style (2004), and the innovative series Day of Record, which makes the connection between decorative arts and personal identity. Shaun Cole has also written and lectured on the subject of menswear and homosexual fashion. His publications include ‘Don We Now Our Gay Apparel’: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century (2000) and Dialogue: Relationships in Graphic Design (2005).
Muriel Barbier is a graduate of the École du Louvre, where she now teaches decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. She is also a lecturer for the UCAD museums, including the Fashion and Textile Museum.
Shazia Boucher is a curator for the Museum of Lace in Calais, and often contributes to exhibitions involving fashion, lingerie and lace.