Wednesday, June 4, 2014

EXPOSED: A History of Lingerie at FIT Museum (c) By Polly Guerin

Upon entering the Museum at FIT, a new intimate exhibition, "Exposed: A History of Lingerie and how it strategically conceals or reshapes the female form impacts on the viewer by the first encounter of  two 19th-century corsets, one of bright-red silk, the other of peacock blue silk.
   The corsets are so petite, the waists so tiny, one onlooker asked me, "Were they designed for a child?." She had a good reason to ask such a question and though I am quite a fashion historian I acquiesced to Colleen Hill. associate curator of accessories at The Museum at Fit (MFIT) who is also the author of  the exhibition companion book, published by Yale University Press. Ms Hill confirmed that said aforementioned corsets were unmistakably for an adult woman, albeit however women were more petite at that time and could sustain being strapped into an 00 size garment. Ms Hill said, "A number of corsets during that period were constrictive and unforgiving."
  Let me remind you, worthy reader, we must remember that in the nineteenth century women were shorter, and lacking the benefit of vitamin pills no doubt this caused them to have smaller physical frames. Their lifestyle was reflected in the constraints of the corset that made their existence one of posing beautifully and escaping to the 'fainting couch," as the restraints of the corset caused them shortness of breath. Their most likely talent was playing the pianoforte or singing, albeit they were the darlings of  an elite social class. They were obliged to have a "ladies maid," to dress and undress. It was the lifestyle that had its rules of restraint not only underneath it all but in the outer world of social discourse.  
   A whalebone busk from the mid-19th century, an accessory that was inserted at the center-front of a corset served to straighten a wearer's torso and prevented one from slouching. Now that's something I might need right now as I have a tendency to bend over my computer keys to write this column.
  Featuring more than 70 beautifully crafted undergarments, sleepwear, lounge wear and robes from the Museum's permanent collection, each piece illustrates key shifts in fashion. The bustle contraction made, "a la derriere": an unnatural posterior silhouette that distorted the natural form. The crinoline, its forerunner, wasn't any better and required numerous petticoats to achieve full volume or the "cage" as decried by Monsieur Charles Frederick Worth, the fashion guru of the time.
  Then there are the most charming tea gowns of chiffon, lace, silk and even an accent collar of fur to greet guests in a bygone era of feminine frivolity. Yet, who has time to spend the afternoon in such attire, there's work to be done and miles and miles before we sleep,
  The exhibition runs through the Flapper Girl looks and the soft bandeau's of the Twenties (precursor of the bra) and the elegant bias-cut styles of the Thirties. Most revealing are the "Gay Deceivers" by Warner's--cotton filled falsies of rayon satin that were stuffed into bra cups to create a larger bosom. Then of course, today we have Victoria;s Secret to elevate the bra and give it more cleavage. Nostalgic runs rampant with Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers body stockings and the animal print bra and panties by Rudi Gernreich for Exquisite Form. 
   This exhibition is a nostalgic trip down fashions memory lane of how lingerie continues to redefine the relationship between lingerie and the body.
The Museum at FIT is open Tuesday through Friday, noon to 8:00 pm; Saturday 10 to 5 pm; closed Sunday, Monday and Legal holidays. Admission is FREE. Visit
   Ta Ta darlings!!! I been there, seen it all, but it's worth the schleep over to Seventh Avenue at 27th Street just to be reminded how fortunate women are whose unconfined free bodies define today's silhouette and lifestyle.
   Fan mail welcome  Visit Polly's Blogs: amazing women, remarkable men, hidden treasures and her poetry on

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