Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion

Fashion photograph by Lillian Bassman (1917-2012) Harper’s Bazaar (USA), 1948

Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion, is on now at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. The exhibition is on tour from the Victoria And Albert Museum in London, and on show are eighty garments, as well as a selection of retrospective photographs, prints and ad campaigns.


Walking through an amazing archive of men’s and women’s underwear styles from the 17th century to now, I really got to appreciate the transition of styles, methodology, and changing social attitudes to womens’ modesty, over time. I winced at the tiny waist-to-hip ratios on tightly corseted mannequins, and enjoyed seeing the evolution of rigid compliance to softer, more relaxed (revealing) undergarments throughout the 20th century.

A mens dressing gown from the 1930s.

The exhibition documents changing trends with body shapes, and the underwear that flattered them, the 60s – when pixie thin was in, and bras were simple and unstructured. Get lost in layers of handkerchief bras, intimidating steel and boned ‘suffocators’ (shapewear of old), lace, cotton petticoats, pretty silks, frightful smocks (which may have doubled as an effective contraceptive), and pieces from the glorious 90s, when underwear became outerwear, thanks to the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace and Vivienne Westwood.

Highlights were an haute couture skirt made entirely of bras by Moschino, a Bottega Veneta corset dress worn by Emma Watson, and a three-screen presentation featuring then-futuristic images from the 60s of women dancing in their lingerie, with random light effects and experimental music.


Just in front of Undressed is the Powerhouse Museum’s own, on-theme retrospective collection of smalls from Berlei, Bonds and Madame Lash.


 These exhibitions are open until 12 July, 2015.

Related exhibitions at the Powerhouse Museum are A Fine Posession: Jewellery & Identity, Student Fashion 2015, Recollect: Shoes and the Lace Study Centre.

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