Underneath the Undressed Exhibition at the V&A

Advertising for the exhibit

Okay so for the last 6 months I have been a bit busy and heading to exhibitions have really not been a priority in my life, however I now find myself in a position where I am attempting to get back in to the habit. (I am gutted to have missed the Celts at the BM though)

One of the exhibitions that has been hot on my list to see is Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. One presumes that the pun was actually intended by the curators of the exhibition. The space for the exhibit is the same area as the exhibitions of wedding dresses and shoes and it is a space that works well works well. I like the flow of the exhibit space especially on the ground floor.

Amongst the exhibits were early examples of stocking for men. The different styles and changes to stays, corsets and girdles to accommodate materials available and fashions were fascinating. The fact women didn’t regularly wear knickers until the Victorian age – makes the mind boggle at how women dealt with menstruation with no knickers.

I went mid afternoon on a Friday, this seems to be a good time as the space is small and I did not have to fight for a space at the exhibition cases,  when looking and reading the exhibit information I did not feel pressured to move on before I was ready, unlike when it’s busy during school holidays and weekends.

The exhibition did not have an audio guide but it was well labels with clear information.

The ground floor part was very much underwear the upstairs part for me was less underwear and more risqué clothes or slobbing clothes I wont lie I didn’t feel that Juice Couture tracksuit was “underwear” but could see what was implied by some of the posh frocks that were inspired by underwear, in fact I was surprised that there wasn’t more Jean Paul Goutier on show.

Small but perfectly formed complete with fascinating film on people who design underwear for the big players such as Argent Provocateur and La Perla but I am not sure it was worth a full £12. I paid an ArtFund discount of £6 and for that price I felt I had enough to look at and occupy me for 45 minutes. I have said this before, but the V&A are experts in fashion and textiles so it stings a little less as it was a well put together show.

My favourite exhibit navy silk French Knickers Image not Mine from the Web

Detail of my favourite exhibit Image from the Web and not mine

My favourite pieces in the exhibition were the French silk knickers embroidered for wedding night underwear, I would happily wear them today and the workmanship and fine detail was gorgeous and the silk oozes luxury. I also loved the corsets and from the earliest periods on show, I find the fact that they would have been handmade with expensive and fabrics during those early time periods fascinating. The costs of the items to wear under your clothes was staggering when you think about the monetary worth today.

Another part of the exhibition that I found fascinating was the case housing the Maternity corsets and underwear. That is of course something I had never really thought about having no children of my own. I knew corsetry and stays were loosened as the pregnancies progressed but never thought about various nursing garments. as well as being practical in several examples on show were very beautiful as well functional.

The lack of male underwear  would be due to the fact that unlike womens garments men have seen less change and also wear less underwear than women; that is even true today, so there would naturally be less to show which is a shame to a degree as we all like a chap in pants 😉

Exhibition Catalogue

The shop is well stocked but with not much underwear based products, the catalogue was a reasonable £10 and I brought because it wasn’t the usual arm and leg. I am also pleased to say that there were postcards sold individually as well!

All in all I would recommend this exhibition to those with a fascination in period clothes and underwear or even if you don’t. The pieces are stunning on the whole and it reveals what our ancestors did not reveal and kept secret.

The exhibition runs at the V&A until the 12th March 2017 and tickets can be brought online or at the box office in the museum entrance. Booking in advance is recommended for busy periods such as during school holidays and weekends.


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