Undressed: A Brief History Of Underwear

The weather was really pleasant in London and it was a great feeling to be back and visiting the V&A again after so long. I don’t get the opportunity to go to London as much as I’d like so when I can I’m really enthusiastic!

I went around the V&A with two girls from my textiles group. I will never forget the theatrical section where the Lion King costume for Scar and Sarabi were held, I absolutely love the Lion King especially as it takes me back to when I was little, it was my favourite Disney movie!

After walking around we noticed there were a few exhibitions on at this time, the one that really caught my eye was ‘Undressed’ as it was about discovering the evolution of underwear design from the 18th century to the present day.

Walking around the exhibition was so interesting as it had hundreds of examples of the underwear that men and women used to wear. I was fascinated by some of the designs and shocked to find out that there was  a particular underwear design for women who were pregnant. Whilst walking around the exhibition I had stopped at certain points to take down some notes and make some sketches of memorable parts of the exhibition.

It was such an interesting exhibition as it had  many great sponsors such as Revlon and at the end there was a shop which had red nail varnish by Revlon which I found fitted well with the underwear theme.  The post cards below really appealed to me as I loved the colours and the image on the left shows the structure underneath a corset and dress. It completely changed the female figure to make it more ideal for people to look at, it wasn’t practical at all and was clearly made for aesthetic. The same as corsets, they pulled the waist in and created more of a bust for the female and enhance the features.

“Hold tight: the lingerie show that will take your breath away”

Anna Murphy, The Times

The quote by Murphy demonstrates how wonderful the exhibition actually was, me and my group were amazed by everything we saw. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to document any images as there were restrictions, so I sketched and took some notes down. One of my favourite things was learning more about the health issues that corsets actually cause. I already had knowledge of this as it’s common sense really that the corset, worn everyday especially, was to have some health implications. There was a diagram of a vintage x-ray which showed the hidden effects.  It was a concern for the doctors due to the corsets becoming a part of everyday attire was causing serious issues. The tight restriction on the lungs was particularly worrying as the lungs were prevented when taking a breath to expand fully. Lung conditions started to occur and this lead to tuberculosis and pneumonia. The illnesses came more prominent before the invention of vaccines in the 20th century.

Below are some of my notes and sketches, which show my favourite, and the most eye catching parts for me.

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There was an upstairs which didn’t allow any sketches as well as images, however, I had already started and finished a sketch of a chiffon dress that was in Gobbanas 2013 spring/summer collection which was absolutely stunning. There was also fetish wear at the back of the exhibition which I found interesting. This is because I’m into that style and use of materials, such as, fishnets, leather, pvc, and see through chiffon clothing, which aren’t really notified as ‘fetish clothing’ I don’t think in the 21st century as most high street shops sell them in their collections, such as New look and Primark. Back in the 20th century fetish fashion was a style and appearance which was often provocative and extreme. I love working with chiffon material and have done during my practise plenty of times.

I am so pleased that I went to see this ass everything in there was an interest to me. I enjoyed learning about the exploration and contrasts between underwear and fashion. It shows how corsets were made to portray the ideal body on a female figure and the ways that a particular cut, fit and certain type of fabric  can reveal issues of gender and sex. I  have been inspired for my own practise and have broaden my knowledge in this field.


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