The History of Underwear

An exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum gives a glimpse of society and class differences in centuries gone by.

Silk damask corset, enforced with whalebone.From 1770 - 1790

Corsets pushed back the wearer's shoulders and ensured an upright posture.

                                            A linen chemise. From 1851

 These types of garments were scrubbed, boiled and starched to preserve its whiteness.

Crinoline made of linen and spring steel.  From 1871

These emphasised the sway of the hips, however they were also said to compress internal organs and warp the body's natural shape.

Bustle, made of linen and horsehair. From 1870 - 1875

These were later worn to exaggerated proportions, making the wearer's lower body appear wide and bouncy.

Hot pink silk satin and whalebone corset from approx. 1890 - 1895.

These were worn to slim the waist (even to less than 19 inches) and make the hips, butt more noticeable.

Embroidered stocking from around 1900.

These were worn with low cut shoes.

Brassiere made of cotton and silk, from the 1930s

These created a more natural looking profile.

Silk chiffon knickers.  From the 1930s.

Luxury item worn by those of higher class.

Garter belt made of cotton and nylon. From the 1960s

This ushered in an era of wash and wear delicates.

Nylon and lycra girdle.  From the 1960s.

Highlighted a type of undergarment that did not restrict movement


                                                                     Brass bra. From the 1970s.

                                                             A form of wearable art made by Helen Newman.

Photos courtesy the Victoria and Albert Museum.


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