The V&A is a victim of its own success. Ever since the Alexander McQueen exhibition ‘Savage Beauty’, with its drama, tragedy and preposterous gorgeousness, the bar for their fashion exhibitions has been set impossibly high. While this is not another ‘Savage Beauty’, it is a thoughtful and interesting show.
‘Undressed’ tells the story of undies from the eighteenth century to more recent times. It reveals the ingenuity of underwear, from the missing bones at the back of crinolines which allowed women to sit, to corsets designed for horseriding – forerunners to the sports bra.
There are some incredible examples of underwear’s influence on outerwear. Highlights include a transparent Givenchy haute couture dress by John Galliano and a Dolce & Gabbana sheer silk dress with wicker crinoline.
Despite the inclusion of Y-fronts and ruffs to represent the men, this story about underwear is also, by necessity, a story about the female form. For centuries, women have been contorting their bodies to meet the demands of fashion, from the hoops of the eighteenth century to contemporary Ann Cherry waist-trainers and bum-lifters.
This conversation is not new. Queen guitarist Brian May has donated a revealing selection of Victorian satiricial stereoscopic images. ‘Crinoline Stories’ demonstrate just how absurdly huge women’s skirts could be, often keeping ladies from their beaus and causing all manner of accidents.
‘Undressed’ reveals more than just pants, it’s an exploration of our relationship with fashion and our bodies.
Click here to view our eight favourite exhibits on display in the show.