The Victoria and Albert Museum has such a great reputation for its fashion exhibitions and their new underwear epic ‘Undressed’ does not disappoint. The exhibition is in the fashion section of the museum and is split between the historical pieces below and contemporary pieces on the first floor.
For me the historical pieces are always the most intriguing as you start at the 18th Century corsets and work you way through. A great example of this is this baby blue corset made of cotton twill and silk lined. It is reinforced with whale bone and metal busk with machine lace and hand embroidery details. The embroidery on this piece is quite simple with the long fanned stitches around the hips and bust but it is very effective all the same. Most of the corsets are over 200 years old so it is amazing that they have survived to be displayed.
Moving forward there are some lovely lace examples from the 20’s and 30’s such as the above brassiere and negligee below. They demonstrate the development of the technology in this area and to see the intricacy that they were able to achieve.
Along side the more prim and proper pieces are those which have a sense of humour such as the knickers pictured below. They belonged to a society Lady from the 1930’s who moved to the far east and commissioned these knickers as a fun item to have. They turned out to be to be quite useful, as the story goes, when she needed an ice breaker with other ladies she met, she would lift up her skirts and flash them a look at her hunting themed knickers to their great amusement. The hunting theme is achieved by lace applique of machine lace onto silk chiffon.
The exhibition also offers a selection of garters, stocking and other underwear additions as well. There are some great examples of embroidery on these as there are greater opportunities to be create with them.
Moving upstairs, the focus is more on how underwear has progressed and its other interpreations such as into outwear. The piece below is reminisant of 17th Century fashion but is a piece from the Galliano show for Givenchy haute couture 1996 where underwear becomes outerwear. The embroidery on this piece is quite stunning with the romantic colouring of the stitching onto sheer muslin.
There is also a short video with interviews and insight into the design process with designers such as Fifi Chachnil and La Perla if you need a little sit down after all the lingerie.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear is at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7, until 12 March 2017. vam.ac.uk. Click here for another review from respected Dress historian Lucy Worsley for the Guardian.