Who invented Underwear?


Undercover – the Evolution of Underwear

Undercover – the Evolution of Underwear investigates a century of lingerie showing how it has evolved from essential, but unseen garments, to being things of beauty – the ‘must have’ fashion accessories. The exhibition also asks how events such as war, public opinion, and even Hollywood, affected the design, advertising and marketing of underwear throughout the 20th Century.

The display features items such as the first ever bra patented in 1915. Also on view is a Swarovski crystal-encrusted bra, the so-called Bullet Bra by Triumph International, and a balcony bra and skirted thong by Myla. The display features items created by Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney, Elle Macpherson and other well-known designers.

Visitors are invited to explore the intimacy of the boudoir and then guided through a century of feminine underwear from the luxury of vintage garments to the innovative textiles of the 21st Century.

Shaping the Female Form

At the turn of the 19th century the female form was shaped by the bustle. As the decades passed women tried the cinched waist and the tightly laced straight corset. Straight waists, flatter busts, and narrow hips have alternated with curvy voluptuousness throughout the century. The exhibition shows how designers continue to rise to the challenge of each new or returning shape.

World War I Changes Underwear

By 1914, at the start of World War I, the needs of British women were changing rapidly. Many had joined the war effort, working in fields and factories. They required more functional under (and outer) garments. Shortages of fabric and metal meant huge cutbacks in the production of underwear, especially corsets. The new lightweight garments were here to stay and many women stopped wearing corsets completely as a new slim-line boyish shape emerged in the 1920s. However, fashions changed rapidly, and by the start of World War II, a decent cleavage was back in fashion.

World War II Changes Attitudes

The exhibition also shows how World War II changed attitudes and styles. The female shape changed very little during this time, but clothing rationing and the universally accepted mantra of “make do and mend” brought a new creativity with garments being repaired, refashioned and remade.

The Feminist Movement

It was not just war that affected what women wore. The feminist movement, extremely powerful in the 1960s and ’70s, decided restrictive garments, such as control pants, girdles and bras, were symbols of oppression and sales of these items fell to an all-time low. Not every woman burnt her bra – they sought a more natural shape which forced innovations in design such as seamless, lightweight bras.

The Influence of Hollywood

As the exhibition progresses through the 20th Century it also investigates Hollywood’s influence on fashions. One of the highlights of the show is the Merry Widow corset worn by Lana Turner in the film of the same name.

Advertising and Marketing in the 20th Century

A video presentation features advertisements from the 20th Century showing how advertising and marketing methods evolved under the influence of social, cultural and economic changes.

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