We Get A Man And A Woman To Review The V&A's Underwear Show

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 29 months ago
We Get A Man And A Woman To Review The V&A's Underwear Show Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A 3
An installation view of some of the exhibition's more contemporary offerings. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revealing, shimmering and sexy underwear — there's plenty of it. But you'll have to wait till the end of the exhibition for that.

We begin with a more pragmatic focus on the humble beginnings of underwear, largely for hygiene reasons. We're whisked on a tour on the evolution of under garments — from 18th century underwear made from organic cotton and linen, to the first bras from the 1860s.

Eventually we come to contemporary garments made of materials like Lycra, Luxtreme and Luon — from the moment the first of these was patented in the 1960s, the industry was never the same again.

Along the way, we see the many practical purposes of undergarments; a nightgown with vertical slits aided nursing mothers, while a warm all-in-one from the second world war was handy for slipping on during an air raid, so you didn't freeze in the bomb shelter.

We veer into fashion next, the focus is largely on women's underwear — a whalebone corset weighing over a kilo looks extremely uncomfortable and x-ray images show how much these 'beauty tolls' were damaging for women's health and posture.

Men are not neglected: we get some David Beckham branded boxers and aussieBum briefs designed to accentuate genitalia — recognising that men are just as concerned with how they look in their drawers.

The show ends with its most outlandish and glamorous additions, including a rubber fetish suit and underwear worn by burlesque performer Dita von Teese.

This exhibition seems to be aimed at women, but we thought we'd get views from a male and female perspective — read below.

Installation view of Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A man's view

I went in expecting to find nothing more than a glorified shop. So was glad to see the first half was more insightful than expected, especially the historic and practical advances in underwear.

When the show starts to lean more towards fashion it gets a little dry and superficial. But it's clearly the section that will prove the most popular.

It's by no means a must visit, but there's enough here to ensure I wasn't bored.

(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A woman's view

Start this show from the top floor — this is the fun, mischievous, sexy part. Here you will find precious examples of designer underwear and clothes with a strong sex appeal. Lace, latex and silk are the main materials used for revealing, intriguing dresses made by top fashion designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana.

I found the upper floor more compelling than the ground floor, although I really liked the historical approach the V&A took on the theme. Admiring the evolution of underwear through the centuries made me appreciate how lucky are women nowadays, not having to wear those tight corsets and uncomfortable knickers.

It's true — this exhibition is mostly aimed at women but I think it has an appeal to the male public for its unusual nature.

(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear is on at V&A from 16 April 2016-12 March 2017. Tickets are £12 for adults. Visitors to the V&A can also check out two other superb exhibitions — Botticelli Reimagined and the photography of Paul Strand.

Last Updated 18 April 2016