Underwear Museum

Have you ever visited an underwear museum?

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has a travelling exhibition called “Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion”. Currently on exhibit at the Bendigo Art Gallery in Victoria, Australia, it highlights pieces from the V&A’s extensive underwear collection, which dates back to the seventeenth century.

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The history of underwear is tracked in this interesting exhibition, with pieces ranging from crotchless bloomers that once belonged to (and were worn by) Queen Victoria, right through to contemporary white briefs from Calvin Klein.

Throughout centuries, not worn simply for cleanliness and warmth, underwear has been a useful garment to shape the body into the ideal look of each moment in time: from tight-laced Victorian waspish waistlines, to Edwardian S-bent spines and heaving mono-bosoms, to flattened, boyish shapes so popular in the Flapper era; right though to the New Look of the 1950s with lifted, separated and defined breasts, nipped in waists, and girdled hips. After the liberated underwear of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1990s introduced the Wonderbra and in the new millennium, shape-wear has again become a woman’s fashion staple.

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The V&A exhibition currently on show at the Bendigo Art Gallery features a vast array of more than eighty pieces from the V&A collection, including bustles, corsets, girdles, bras and undies dating from well over a century ago.  For example:

  • Iron corsetry from the 1600s

 

  • A 1900s maternity corset, with differential side lacing (other corsets of the time laced at the back)

 

  • Health corsets for young girls which were worn in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

 

  • Queen Victoria’s bloomers: dating from the 1860s, they are generously proportioned, made of white linen, and embroidered on the waistband in blue: “VR” (Victoria Regina). They are also split at the crotch – very important for toileting while wearing voluminous skirts.

 

  • Avant-garde pieces from Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier

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The Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition is on show at the Bendigo Art Gallery currently, until October 26th, 2014. It will then open at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane on November 12th, 2014 and run until February 1st, 2015.