Next year, Victoria&Albert Museum will go undressed. Only in the major exhibition “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear”, which will be held in London in the spring of 2016. Corsets, knickers, crinolines, tights, boxer shorts, bras, hosiery, lingerie and loungewear and long cotton drawers – over 200 examples of underwear from men and women will highlight the enduring themes of innovation and luxury.
The exhibition will tell the story of underwear design from the 18th century to the present day, considering the practical and personal, sensory and fashionable and exploring underwear’s roles of protecting and enhancing the body. The pieces are diverse, from those custom-made, such as a rare example of home-made “stays” worn by a working woman in England in the 18th century to pieces by designers including Stella McCartney, La Perla, Rigby & Peller and Paul Smith. A remarkably detailed pair of 1930s silk chiffon knickers, decorated in lace with a hunting scene, will show how the finest fabrics and exceptional craft skills contribute to making luxury underwear.
Highlights will include long cotton drawers worn by Queen Victoria’s mother; an 1842 man’s waist belt used on the wearer’s wedding day; a 1960s Mary Quant body stocking; a pair of gender neutral briefs by Acne; a sheer dress by Liza Bruce famously worn by Kate Moss; and flesh-coloured leggings decorated with a mirrored glass fig leaf by Vivienne Westwood.
Much as underwear can be revealed, it can also be designed with the intention to transform or provoke. Alongside Vivienne Westwood’s ironic flesh-coloured leggings there will a skin-tight laced cocktail dress by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1989, a delicate lingerie dress by Ellie Saab (s/s 2011), a Dolce & Gabbana dress featuring a large cage crinoline (s/s 2013) from their Sicilian Collection, and Antonio Beradi’s monochrome dress (s/s 2009), worn by Gwyneth Paltrow, featuring a trompe d’oeil corset which reveals the underwear worn beneath.
The exhibition is sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear will be held at Victoria & Albert Museum in London between 16 April 2016 and 12 March 2017 – www.vam.ac.uk/undressed
(Main photo: Detail, Silk chiffon knickers, possibly Hitrovo, 1930s / The Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)