Underwear exhibition promises to reveal all

If you have ever wondered what underwear our forebears wore beneath their clothes then you're in for a rare treat. An new exhibition will, literally, reveal all.

If you have ever wondered what underwear our forebears wore beneath their clothes then you’re in for a rare treat. An exhibition at the China National Silk Museum will, literally, reveal all.

The underwear exhibit has gathered almost 100 pieces of undergarments from the museum’s large collection, revealing the fashion and aesthetics in the Western world, from Rococo period of the 18th century right up to the mid-20th century when modern lingerie took the shape of what we all know today.

The exhibition “Historic Secrets of Women’s Wear” is held at the China National Silk Museum through March 25.

One intriguing piece on display is a mid-18th century corset, which was a popular item for women at that time. The article was originally part of a collection at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The purple floral patterned corset is made up of several pieces of brocade fabric and sewn together. It is also lined inside with a layer of linen.

The 18th century also saw boning more heavily used in corsets. The buttonholes were hidden at the back with two lower tabs that extended down to the waistline, which reveals how the corset was fixed with a piece of lower body garment, possibly a petticoat.

A corset in the 18th century

In the 19th century the lower tabs disappeared as the corsets were lengthened to the hip to accentuate or even exaggerate the curves of the lower body. A 19th century corset made of bluish white silk, at the exhibition, resembling the shape of an hourglass is evidence of that.

Back then corsets were not only exclusive to women. There were corsets worn by men in the early 20th century, which were shorter and simpler. They did, however, have similar straps and eyelets at the back.

It is surprising that corsets persisted right up to the early 20th century before brassieres, which fill up the second part of the seven-section exhibition, replaced them. This section records the transition from wireless, and laced styles, which plays down the feminine features of a woman, to the cone bra, made famous again by pop icon Madonna in her “Blood Ambition” concert tour in 1990.

The exhibition also includes other sections, such as different styles of women’s petticoats and pantalettes, men’s shirts and breeches, babies’ long gowns, and also one unit for stockings and one for nightwear.

Date: Through March 25

Address: 73-1 Yuhuangshan Rd

Admission: Free

A corset in the 19th century

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