Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear at the V&A
The largest museum exhibition of underwear ever to go on display will be taking up residence at the Victorian and Albert Museum over the next 11 months from Saturday 16th April. The exhibition spans two floors: downstairs focuses on older aspects of underwear and the first floor looks at more modern times. Both levels complement each other well and create a comprehensive and united experience revolving around a strange centre point: underwear.
For the lower floor, the curator, Edwina Ehrman, has wonderfully sourced a minimalist selection of items to demonstrate the origins of underwear as we know it today. Examples of corsets, bustles and crinolines – structures that would emphasise a woman’s elaborate skirt, whilst unfortunately preventing her from sitting down – create a nice effect and quickly introduce the first ideas behind underwear: ideas of control. One of the most startling exhibits comes from the year 1871. The Princess Louise Jupon patented “caged crinoline” appears to resemble more an implement of medieval torture than a thing to wear. The sheer size of this piece, coupled with the fact that women had to wear it for extended periods of time, is very powerful and draws attention to the atmosphere of patriarchal domination of the Victorian age.
While the older elements of the exhibition are fascinating, the most memorable section is definitely the more modern items. The garish colours and revealing cuts that dominate one of the display cabinets speak volumes about the amount of change that has happened in the world of women’s underwear. Latex suits feature, as do bras that expose nipples. One of the most obvious examples, though, is the lingerie set provided by one of the sponsors of the exhibition, Agent Provocateur. As the brand’s name suggests, it is quite provocative, allowing the wearer to display a lot of their body as it appears naturally.
The exhibition does pay some attention to masculine underwear and yet it really does feel like a celebration of the liberation that women thus far have achieved. It interests, entertains and inspires and is well worth a trip to South Kensington this spring.
Photos: Minghui Reece
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear is at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 16th April 2016 until 12th March 2017, for further information visit here.