My great grandmother probably never wore pants nor a bra.  She would have certainly worn a corset and maybe even crotchless drawers.  Lavinia Ellwood was a respectable Yorkshire woman and her selection of underwear would have been entirely normal in Victorian Britain.  This and many other interesting facts was gleaned from Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear (such a clever title) at the V&A.

Days of the Week pants Undressed

Underwear started off mainly white and mainly in easy to wash, unshrinkable fabrics.  This was because costly outer garments, such as shirts, dresses, doublets and hose, were washed rarely and the underwear was there to protect them from sweat and the like.  As fabric and washing technology came along, so did the design of undies leading to the availability of a pair of knickers for every day of the week.

Padded underskirt Undressed

Wearing so many layers of clothing was a boon in draughty houses before the invention of central heating but even then things could get chilly.  I loved this padded underskirt for extra warmth.  I would really, really like a fashion designer to be inspired to make and market a skirt like this using the lightweight wadding that goes into those padded winter coats.

Dita_von_Teese corset Undressed

Corsets: that’s what you expect at an underwear exhibition sponsored by Agent Provocateur and you will not be disappointed.  All manner of whale-boned, tightly laced historical numbers vie for attention.  My great grandmother and her friends must have been a lot slimmer than me, most of the waistlines are tiny.  Beside a particularly wasp-waisted corset was the information that, slender though it was, the slenderest item of all in the exhibition is actually modern and worn by Dita von Teese.  Crystal encrusted and designed by Mr Pearl, the go-to man if you need a burlesque costume, it makes you wonder how she manages to move let alone perform in it.

Turns out that the history of underwear is really interesting and a visit to the V&A is always a joy.  This time the shop is selling the red Revlon lipstick that can be seen on the mannequins – clever idea.  On the day I visited the sun shone brightly, so I had my coffee sitting in the central courtyard.

16 April 2016 – 12 March 2016
Victoria and Albert Museum
Admission: £12 adults, concessions available, members go free.

Open: Daily 10am – 5.45pm, open until 10pm every Friday

Wander Mum


  1. Sarah
    April 21, 2016 / 12:02 pm

    *sigh* you have just described my perfect day out! I doubt I’ll get to see this as it’s a bit of a trek to the big smoke from west Wales, but I shall try and get my hands on a copy of the exhibition book for a vicarious visit!

  2. April 29, 2016 / 6:48 am

    Who knew underwear could be so interesting? Great pics too 🙂

  3. May 12, 2016 / 7:39 pm

    The exhibition actually goes to March 2017, I wondered about the April to March dates! Lots of time to visit then.

  4. June 27, 2016 / 9:24 pm

    It was fascinating wasn’t it? I was also staggered by how fairly recent an invention it is! Surprised not to see stuff from M and S who have some incredible stats about the % of Brits who wear M and S pants. And of course no visit to the V and A is complete without a visit to the fabulous cafe, is it?

    • June 27, 2016 / 9:40 pm

      I love the V&A cafe, I am a friend and we have our own tearoom but always go to the main one instead

  5. November 15, 2016 / 4:42 pm

    I love the v&a temporary exhibition programme esp he fashion ones

  6. November 15, 2016 / 7:12 pm

    The V&A have such great exhibitions! #citytripping

  7. Ruth
    November 16, 2016 / 3:15 am

    Who would think about an exhibition like this? What we may see as boring may end up being really interesting. When I visited Vienna, they had an exhibition about the utensils used in the Habsburg kitchen (plates, cups, molds, pots, pans, etc.). It ended up being fascinating. #citytripping

  8. tracycollins2016
    November 16, 2016 / 3:21 pm

    Really interesting post! Must try to get to the V&A to see this! I can’t imagine having a waist that small – its so tiny!! #citytripping

    • Catherine
      November 16, 2016 / 3:37 pm

      I know, so tiny!

  9. November 16, 2016 / 6:24 pm

    I do like the V&A haven’t been there for ages. Who knew underwear would be so interesting. Thank goodness corsets (for the most part) are no longer the trend. Those poor women. Think you might be onto something with that padded skirt #citytripping

  10. November 16, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    That padded skirt reminds me of a massive draught excluder! That’s what it is, I suppose. Funny how what seems raunchy now was run-of-the-mill in days gone by.

  11. November 19, 2016 / 11:09 am

    This looks fascinating- and that’s quite an image of all the very proper Victoria Street in their crotchless drawers! The corset is incredible too: I had read something about waist training where you tighten it a bit more and more each time but however it’s done that’s a tiny waist. #citytripping

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