The V&A’s exhibition of underwear, Undressed, a Brief history is a fascinating look at how and why these garments came about, from crinolines and corsets to modern day bras and butt separators ( not sure that is the correct technical term, but try visualising it and you will know what I mean!)
The show has had mixed reviews including one that complained that the mannequins were all facing coyly away from the spectator – patently untrue and anyway since when were showroom dummies coy! I for one enjoyed the insight given into the imagination of the 18th and 19th century designers as they attempted to contort the human form into the latest fashionable shape. And I learned plenty of fascinating facts: that lycra was invented in back in 1958 – way earlier than I thought; that the design team at Agent Provocateur are all women; and that men’s shirts were considered underwear back in the 18th century and the only parts designed to be seen were collar, cuffs and the front. Some ornately pleated sleeves were not made to look interesting but so they fitted under tight jackets more easily.
I loved the silk cami-knickers embroidered with hunting scenes ( this is a fashion statement not a political statement), I was intrigued by the crinoline with the collapsing derriere allowing one to sit down and the evolution of the dressing gown as a way of allowing a woman to have breakfast comfortably before having to be squeezed half to death in a corset and I loved some of the underwear as outerwear, seen above, fashioned in more recent years.
As well as enjoying the exhibits it was a good opportunity for people watching. There were a few fashionistas… and lots of men at the exhibition – presumably it’s less embarrassing for a man to be seen looking at women’s underwear in a museum than it it in M&S or indeed Ann Summers. But before you getting any ideas, there was nothing kinky about this collection of under garments. There was one outfit in rubber and a few things in sheer silk, satin and chiffon but absolutely no whips or handcuffs. This is 50 shades of pink and beige – not 50 shades of grey. More why y-fronts? than why KY?
The focus is on the relationship between underwear and fashion and the development of materials to help support and contort the human form over the last 350 years.
Unusually the underwear is arranged over two floors – which makes the exhibition seem more compact and user friendly somehow – and it’s not as claustrophobic as some of the V&A’s exhibition rooms.
After 18 years in Notting Hill I never tire of the Victoria and Albert museum, weaving your way between extraordinary sculptures and artefacts from all around the world – just to get to your exhibition of choice and of course if you don’t find the latest showing to your taste, it does have one of the most amazing tea-rooms in London.