Monday, August 5, 2013

Caged: The Mechanics of Underwear Exhibition

Brassiere 1900-1910
For anyone who has ever wondered what the underside of Marie Antoinette’s voluminous gowns resembled, there is a new exhibition in Paris, worth the trip to see. An interesting take on costume history, “La Mechanique des Dessous” (the mechanics of under garments) takes an indiscreet look at the underbelly of fashion evolution over seven centuries. The exhibition, currently on at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs (107, rue de Rivoli. Paris 75001) through November 24, explores the world of female and male underwear featuring various artifices used to reshape the human body into the dictates of fashion. These concealed architectures have been around since the 14th century and continue to be a part of modern fashion today.
Double panier 1775-1780.

Curator Constance Guisset, rips away the outer garments and tosses up the petticoats to reveal the mechanisms used to constrain women’s bodies, whittle waists into asphyxiating hourglass extremes, uplift breasts, exaggerate buttocks, and widen hips and stomachs. All of these structures, composed of whalebone hoops, lacing, hinges, straps, springs, poufs, cushions and elasticized fabrics and concealed beneath the undergarments, come out of hiding and take center stage in the museum’s fashion space.

"Butterfly" bustle cage. About 1872
Some 200 underpinnings: whalebones, hoops and cushions, panniers, crinolines and cummerbunds, bustles, girdles and push-up bras provide a fascinating insight into fashion’s hegemony over the body. The exhibition also takes a close-up look at undergarments that shaped monsieur’s fashion statements as well. After all, they enhance their virility by artificially swelling their torsos, added forms to their calves and, of course embraced the pre-eminent codpiece.

Dolce Gabbana corset Summer 2007.
Visitors are invited to try on some of the structures. Specially made replicas of corsets, 18th century panniers and crinolines are available in order to better familiarize the public on how those structures functioned and what it was like to wear those silhouettes that played such an essential role in the history of fashion.
Corset, about 1860

Chantal Thomass

Photos for this post: © Patricia Canino courtesy of Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.

Whalebone corset 1770-80. Musee Cluny
Were we inspired by this exhibition? You bet we were. Stay tuned. The next posting shows you how to make an old-fashioned, super sexy "Merry Widow" corset for your doll!
Want to see more? Come back and visit us again!!!!

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