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Eight cracking sets of undercrackers on display at the V&A

We strip the V&A's new exhibition 'Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear' down to its must-see knickers

‘Tamila’ lingerie set from the Agent Provocateur Soirée collection, S/S 2015. Photographer: Sebastian Faena, Model: Eniko Mihalik

The V&A is airing some dirty laundry in its new blockbuster show, 'Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear' (Sat Apr 16 - Sun Mar 12 2017), which takes a look at the evolution of underpants. We've picked out our eight favourite exhibits below for a sneaky peek at what's in store – or, if you prefer culture with its clothes on, check out the best exhibitions in London and the top ten art shows on at the moment.

1
Bust bodice, Dickins & Jones, 1910s

Bust bodice, Dickins & Jones, 1910s

The corsets that squeezed women’s bodies into rigid S-bends fell from favour in the early 20th century. In their place came a more upright silhouette – think Lady Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey when she’s being particularly stuckup. The trend meant new undies had to be developed. This bodice lifted and contained like an early, po-faced Wonderbra.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

2
Underwear by Collette Dinnigan, 1998

Underwear by Collette Dinnigan, 1998

There are functional tights – ideal for preventing secretaries from getting chilly knees – and then there are these beauties by Australian designer Collette Dinnigan. With the power to set hearts aflutter and trousers astir, they are an entirely different stocking species.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

3
Corset, about 1890

Corset, about 1890

If you think today’s body standards are unattainable, try living in Victorian Britain, when women nipped their waists into hourglass shapes with whalebone corsets. Today the average female waist measures 71cm. The waist of this corset measures just 48cm. Even to contemplate wearing it would require a considerable reduction in fried chicken.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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4
'Little X' girdle, Silhouette Ltd, early 1960s

'Little X' girdle, Silhouette Ltd, early 1960s

Much prettier than a pair of Spanx and not constricting like a corset, the girdle allowed for freedom of movement while keeping the wearer’s outline smoother than one of Miguel’s chat-up lines.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

5
Display figure for Y-fronts, 1950

Display figure for Y-fronts, 1950

According to grime MC Kano, only boys wear boxers; real men wear Y-fronts. Apparently that sentiment was equally true in the 1950s. This figure stood on the counter in a menswear shop, encouraging shoppers to buy ‘the one and only Y-front’.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

6
Dean Rogers Ltd mail-order catalogue, 1970

Dean Rogers Ltd mail-order catalogue, 1970

The 1960s saw a transformation in both menswear and men’s underwear, as designers started using fabrics and patterns previously associated with women’s garms. London firm Dean Rogers created underwear for a largely gay market, proving that the ‘pink pound’ wasn’t an invention of Blair’s Britain.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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7
Top and bottoms, Sibling, 2013

Top and bottoms, Sibling, 2013

Who says pants can’t be political? For its 2013 menswear collection, Sibling printed loungewear with images of the 2011 London riots. It’s not a wholly new idea: the practice of documenting historic occasions on fabric dates back to the 1700s.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

8
'Brixton Boyz' by Jean Baptiste, 2001

'Brixton Boyz' by Jean Baptiste, 2001

Calvin Klein can be credited – or blamed, depending on your taste – for precarious waistbands balancing on bums. The trend of denim dropped to reveal logo-heavy pants is thought to have originated in black communities in the USA – a gesture of solidarity with prisoners deprived of their belts.

© Jean Baptise

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