In this Friday Lingerie Lust I hand over to my Paris Fashion Correspondent, Anne from Ritournelleblog, to tell us about a wonderful exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs looking at the history and architecture of female underpinnings:
Undergarments in all shapes and forms have taken over the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. La mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette (The mechanisms of underwear, an inquisitive history of the figure) leads us through the fascinating history of underwear with 200 looks ranging from the 14th century to today.
What struck me throughout this exhibition was how women’s bodies were deformed artificially, exaggeratedly and sometimes painfully by fashion to attain the beauty ideal of their time. Breasts pressed, waists strangled by corsets, legs imprisoned by panniers, bottoms adorned with bustles… Even though these “instruments of torture” hold a certain beauty of their own, you will leave the museum with a renewed love for your bras and panties.
Just look at this iron corset from the Renaissance. Can you imagine spending a whole day with your torso in a heavy metal cage? As for Monsieur, it was of utmost importance for him to show off his virility with protruding codpieces. I have to admit this armor made me smile and is very popular with visitors.
The figure of the 18th century woman was entirely remodeled. The stays created a V-shaped upper torso with breasts raised and midriffs tightened. Meanwhile, panniers restrained their liberty of movement and could reach ridiculous widths.
These undergarments were worn by women of bourgeois and noble class. After the 1789 French Revolution, they became symbols of a shameful past and disappeared from fashion. Napoleon took the reins of the country and so did the much more fluid Empire silhouette.
In the 1820s, puff sleeves came in fashion. I naively thought they were just big sleeves but it turns out women wore these underwear for arms to make them extra puffy.
Monarchy returned to power in France, and so did the corsets and panniers.
These beautiful corsets from the 1860s-1870s allowed women to have an hour-glass figure with raised breasts and round hips.
In the 1880s, the bustle gave women a “right angle” silhouette (or if you want to be mean, a goose silhouette). This shape combined with the corset accentuating the bosom and waist created a highly idealized representation of female sexual identity both exaggerated and concealed by the undergarments.
The 1910s saw the rise of the active woman compelled to change her role in society by World War I. Great designers such as Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel liberated the female body from the corset. And that’s when bras entered the stage. But they did not enhance the breasts yet. On the contrary, they tended to compress them. In 1947 Christian Dior created a New Look that enhanced a thin waist and torso with round hips. Underwear then became much more structured.
The history of underwear as a deforming item inspired contemporary designers such as Vivianne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana just to name a few.
The exhibition runs through November 24th. If you’re interested in knowing more about the history of fashion, I recommend you have a look at the Arts Décos’s past exhibition Fashioning Fashion which really completes this one.
Merci Anne! Have a lovely weekend Blog Reader – next up on StyleOnTheCouch I have some prints from Emma Louise London, and a little fitness styling for you.