A Brief History at the V&A

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Next Spring, the V&A will pay tribute to the foundation of fashion: underwear. The exhibition, curated by Edwina Ehrman of the V&A textiles department, features underwear from all periods of history, such as corsets as well as displaying those famously exposed underwear such as Vivienne Westwood’s figleaf embroidered, flesh-coloured tights, the sheer, silver dress by Liza Bruce that Kate Moss famously stepped out in, wearing nothing underneath but a small pair of black underwear in 1993, an Antonio Berardi dress worn by Gwyneth Paltrow in 2009 of which evoked the look of a corset while revealing her underwear and David Beckham and his H&M pants.

There will, of course, feature many a pair of long cotton drawers, vanity features more than modesty. A 19th-Centruy whalebone corset designed to reduce a waist to below 19 inches will be shown next to x-rays and illustrations showing the consequences of such constriction on women’s bodies, as does the more contemporary version of the corset described as “waist training”. Featuring 200 pieces, many of them were made for the luxury market, with embroidered stockings worn by Queen Alexandra and a pair of silk chiffon camiknickers are decorated with a hunting scene in lace, complete with horses and jumping fences, hounds and a runaway fox.

Another interesting feature of the exhibition is that of a pair of stays made by a poor woman in the 18th century, and a corset made from paper during the First World War. The exhibition shows how the items were designed and executed, for example, the huge skirts worn in the 18th century were supported by elaborate hoops. They also take a look at the corsetry, the technologically complex petticoats and padded underpinning. It also shows us how underwear has changed over the years, even featuring the infamous pink Juicy Couture tracksuit everyone was wearing in 2004 with their UGG boots. From court mantuas to bustles, to finally David Beckham and a tracksuit with the word ‘Juicy’ on the bottom, the exhibition is not one to miss.



images belong to the V&A

feature image

Holly Martin


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