Tuesday, 15 May 2012

♥ The V&A & From Corsets, Bloomers & Crinoline Cages To Bullet-Bras, Petti-Slips, Suspenders & Back Again: The Evolution of Women's Underwear & Lingerie ♥

Last week I took yet another delightful trip to the beautiful South Kensington to visit my all time favourite- 'The Victoria and Albert Museum'. The V&A is undeniably he world's greatest museum of art and design. From architecture to costume design, the V&A holds everything you could want to see in a museum of this calibre. Named after my favourite Queen & her prince, the V&A has been regular turf for me since my A-Level Fine Art days & even my Archaeology degree days, too. Now, purely recreational & without the pressure of dissertations & portfolios, like a free-range little chicken, I can wonder the galleries till my heart is content...
Before I knew it I found myself passing through the 18th &19th-century fashion gallery, all the way to that of the 20th-century. Looking at all those costumes & gowns, all beautiful in their own right, I began to think of not only the evolution of women's clothing, both the development of women's underwear & lingerie, too. It's seems it's not something to be secretive about & hide anymore!

Your undies may not be the first thing you want to reveal & show anyone, but the resurgence of the recent trend 'underwear as outerwear', designers & everyday consumers have began to look at & study under garments & their meanings in a totally different way...

Today it seems that functionality has been replaced by aesthetic importance; what it looks like is more important than what it does. As recently as say,70 years ago now, these 'foundation garments'; the original & rather orthopaedic/clinical sounding name for 'corsets', were a staple in women's undergarment draws- young & old alike, the corset was seen as fundamental to the way that women dressed & how her clothes were to suit her.

"It's now very difficult to trace the fashionable body shape through underwear as historians would have done previously. Of course we now have Spanx which is a form of corsetry using Lycra instead of whalebone but today you are supposed to be the shape through diet and exercise" (Eleri Lynn, Fashion Curator at the V&A.)

The film below, by the V&A, features the author & Fashion Curator Eleri Lynn providing a detailed & fascinating look at the development of women's underwear, shot in one of the V&A's most evocative storerooms. I suppose, much like the garments in the video themselves were & still are, like all undergarments of old, Eleri leads us on a journey of the long forgotten & hidden world of shape wear of old. Her brief, yet detailed & precise history starts with the "hourglass and S-bend forms, steel and whalebone engineering - of Victorian and Edwardian corsets carries on through the breast-flattening bandeau bras worn by 1920s flappers, the New Look underwear of Christian Dior, the conical bullet bras of the 1950s and concludes with the arrival of Lycra in the 1960s and the renaissance of corsetry through the new popularity of burlesque." (Eleri Lynn).

Eleri & the long-forgotton shapewear of the V&A...

Underwear: Fashion in Detail
By Eleri Lynn...
I suppose we have to start at the beginning of recorded history to look at underwear & it's evolution. As an archaeologist I always have to go on physical evidence to prove or disprove a theory, but clothing, depending on the climate conditions & the location, rarely survives the burial process, etc. I'd have to rely on notable & reliable written sources or pictorial evidence if I were to investigate what types of underwear was made & what were they made of...

Due to the scientific discoveries & technological advancements during Victorian England, 'stays' (a type of boning & reinforcement), as they were called previously in corsetry, fascinated the Victorians & their everlasting quest for the 'perfect hourglass' shape... Although they'd been around for centuries previous, the Victorians began working with a variety of ways to create the 'perfect shape'. Made of steel & other types of reinforcements, they began to invent a form of 'steel busk', which allowed the wasp-waisted women of the time to remove their corsets themselves, without the aid of a chambermaid or a lover. The Victorians invented metal 'eyelets', which lead to 'back lacing' the most common form of corset, 'till this very day. This meant that women could tighten the corset them-selves & adjust to various different waist widths with ease. Every stage in a women's life & in every class & woman would wear a corset. Be it the finest-made, imported silk or a rough & ready worn-in old one, it would have been shocking & considered improper if a woman did not wear one! As much as they are lovely looking & do wonders to your shape, could you imagine wearing one every, single day for the rest of your life. I suppose women who have 'trained' their waists & the women of past centuries, it was common-place, they knew no difference, but us women of today are so used to corset-free lives... I can only imagine the damage life-long wear causes-from cracked-ribs to squished organs!

Like every period in history, shape changes & by the 19th century, it really began to evolve. Early Tutor, artistic representations & written evidence of the female shape showed that a somewhat
'tubular' shape was favoured & by the early-middle 1850s, the rather pronounced 'hour glass' shape began to take over...

Not many may notice this, but there was a huge & notifiable shift & difference in Victorian to Edwardian shape & underwear. The 'straight busk' (that tied at the front), was introduced & it proved ostensibly so, that it applied less pressure on the female's internal organs. Phew! I'm sighing in relief for the women of the time. One can only imagine their joy. If they has to conform to the fashion staples of the period, then I'm sure they were comforted by the fact that they had less chance of death! Although, this relief was short-lived, as even though their lungs & intestines were avoiding a narrow squishing, the new enemy of the corset was to be the groin area. These new designs pushed on the area causing such discomfort. This caused the women's pelvis to arch backwards almost &therefore thrusting the breasts forward. Attractive in appearance maybe, but this very pronounced 'S-shape' would
have caused a lot of the same problems that extremely high heels cause today; damage to the pelvic & cervical area & posture, which meant carrying a child in your tummy would become a great deal more risky than before! It is common knowledge than whilst the Edwardians tried to make corsets more comfortable, they in-fact made thing even worse then they were previously!
Throughout the 20th century underwear started to become lingerie & as shapes changed even further, as did what you wore... The First World War really saw the start of the rebellion against previous generations of undergarments. It was over & out to the old, nurse-maid, matronly rounded figure & in with the with the more androgynous, Marlene Dietrich, flapper-style of the early 1900-1920s shape. This saw to the introduction of the 'girdle'. Those who had an ample bust were no longer envied but were deemed 'unfasionable'. Large breasted women aimed to flatten  their chests with a bra called a 'bandeau', which was solely invented to flatten your boobs.
When the Second World War arrived, the 'resurgence of femininity after austerity' took center stage once more. 'Dior's New Look'; cinched in waists and big skirts brought the feminine shape back into fashion once more & with the advent of the 1950s, saw the much lusted after & recognisable feminine shape in the world, the hourglass, return to re-claim its crown of glory once again. The '50s saw the introduction of man-made fibres, so it was out with the whalebone & in with the swell! But this meant more pressure was on the women of the world once more, to retain or create that much-loved hourglass shape. Before the boob-job was common & young girls waited for puberty to hit before they considered augmenting their chests, a surprising three out of every four women were wearing 'falsies', which were a form of 'foam cones' that were placed at the front of the bust cup to create an unrealistically 'bullet-shaped' bust. This lead to the creation of the build in, ready to wear 'bullit bra' which gave women that pointy, conical shape they yearned for. Some of the 'falsies' were very hard to the touch & heavy, others were inflatable or ones that you would fill with water! I can only imagine the horror & disaster I would face wearing them, especially if I was unfortunate enough to have someone bang into-me & knock my watery falsies clean-off!
By the 1960s Lycra had been introduced &was highly successful & tensile; it pulls you in, compresses the figure all without clasps and hooks. Women were aiming for a more natural body shape. Later in the 1960s, the introduction 'separates' came into play- bra & knicker sets.

'Foundation wear', as it's formally known as, wasn't really seductive in appearance. it wasn't until the 'contemporary era' of today, where the retro & vintage aesthetic really comes back into fashion. Brands such as 'Agent Provocateur' allowed the corset to once again take the wheel & the burlesque aspect returns to women's underwear. What was once a staple for women's dress & a rather physical display of how women had been controlled, the 80s, 90s & 2000s have seen a rise in the 'hyper-feminine' & 'hyper-assertive'. Corsets are now used as sensual garments to attract & lure men...
"It's difficult to trace a fashionable body shape now through underwear partly because underwear doesn't really do that job any more. Now you're pretty much expected to be that shape, you're supposed to have that." (Eleri Lynn).
Below is a min-visual history of the variety of women's underwear & lingerie; form everyday wear to sleepwear:

The rather unflattering & uncomfortable Tudor corset,
'Tubular' in style... Ouch!!
A beautiful vintage dusky-pink, silk, fully-boned, lace-up, full-bust corset.
A pretty vintage, ivory coloured, half-bust corset, with metal eyelets or
'hooks & eyes' as they were later often referred to.

  The Victorian nightdress...
High neck, long-sleeves & lengthily.

Victorian bloomers...
Early forms of knickers, if you will!

A Victorian lady in her underwear!

Imagine ALL this, even in the hottest of summers?!

A Victorian diagram of a woman both with (right)
& without (left), her corset!

A Victorian 'Crinoline Cage'. Before the days of petticoats,
these were used to fan-out the dress & give it that fashionable spread!

The 'girdle'. Primarily designed to hold it all in, hold up your stockings, but in a more natural way!

Modern-day example of the 'Bullit-Bra'...

Vintage, pink silk 'Bullit-Bra'...
The stunning Marilyn Monroe in the classic & iconic look of the 1950s;
a time when the 'Bullit-Bra' was at it's height...

A 1950s 'suspender belt' & clasps...

Adorable silky peach, vintage pantie-briefs.
A far cry from the g-strings & thongs of today!

A wonderful array of new, French-Made, pure silk underwear is available from One of my fave websites!!
Vintage style pure silk camiknicker by francois de Loire
Courtesy of

Pink silk half slip Ivory silk half slip
Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Courtesy of


Modern, vintage-style suspender-belt! Less material used...

Today's 'stay-up' stockings'
Courtesy of

Sexy, modern bra, knickers, etc...
Courtesy of Agent Provocateur!

*Van Raalte*
Courtesy of
Another one of my fave online stores!!

Courtesy of

*Criss Cross Back Gown and Robe*
Courtesy of

~Jacquard Bodice Gown~
Courtesy of

~Lace Waist~
Fabulous! Gown
Courtesy of

Gown & Peignoir.

Courtesy of

Grand Sweep~
Formfitting Gown.

Courtesy of

Gown & Panty.

Courtesy of

Sultry Jet Black Gown.
Courtesy of

OLGA Formfitting
~Sheer Back~

Courtesy of

RARE Bill Tice
~Liquid Satin~
Gown and Robe*Exquisite!
Courtesy of

Miss Elaine
Ultra Lace Inlay
Courtesy of

OLGA Formfitting
~160 inch Sweep~

Courtesy of

~Precious Pink~

Courtesy of

Nylon Tricot
Powder Blue Gown.

Courtesy of

*Keyhole Bust*

Courtesy of

Miss New Yorker
Ecru Lace
& Bias Cut Gown .
Courtesy of

Felina by Amir
~Open Back~ Teddy .

Courtesy of

Lily of France

Courtesy of

~Chiffon & Lace~
Teddy .

Courtesy of

*Gorgeous Lace
and Ribbon Weave* Teddy.

Courtesy of

Lily of France
~Gorgeous Lace~
Teddy .

Courtesy of

Image Courtesy of Dollhouse Bettie,

See also, for further reading on 'Underwear':

Carter, A, Underwear: The Fashion History, Batsford 1992
Cunnington, C W & P, History of Underclothes, Michael Joseph, 1951
Ewing, E, Dress and Undress, Batsford, 1978
St Laurent, C, A History of Ladies' Underwear, Michael Joseph, 1968
Shep, R.L, Corsets: A Visual History, Mendocino CA, 1993
Steele, V, The Corset: A Cultural History, New York, 2001
Summers, L, Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset, Berg, 2001
Tobin, S, Inside Out: A Brief History of Underwear National Trust 2000
Warren, P, Foundations of Fashion: The Symington Corsetry Collection 1860-1990, Leicestershire, 2001
Waugh, N, Corsets and Crinolines, London, 1954/1995

                                         Lots of Love,
                                   Lover-Doll Presley
                                           x TCB x

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