On your way to London Fashion Week it’s worth taking a slight detour to the Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s currently hosting Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, a fashion exhibition that focuses on what’s worn underneath rather than on top: undergarments and their changing social and material significance.
Predominantly taken from the museum’s own collection, the exhibits date back to the mid-18th century. And they trace the changing approach to undies over the centuries. From hygiene and wearability requirements and emphasizing bodily contours to great effect with corsets and crinolines to a status symbol that simply must be shown off – think the labelled elastic waistband of Calvin Klein boxer shorts in the 90s – the exhibition explores how what we wore underneath changed not only what we wore on top, but also everything around us: society, tastes and conventions.
While smalls became increasingly erotically charged, elsewhere they maintained their function of concealing what lies beneath – though that can make them just as saucy: probably the strangest object on display is the plaster fig leaf, specially made to be wrapped around a sculpture of Michelangelo’s David around 1860 to protect Queen Victoria from the spectacle of full-frontal manhood during her visit to the V&A.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
until 12th March 2017