The Museum at FIT presents Exposed: A History of Lingerie, an exhibition that traces developments in intimate apparel from the 18th century to the present.Exposed features over 70 of the most delicate, luxurious, and immaculately crafted objects from the museum’s permanent collection, many of which have never before been shown. Each piece illustrates key developments in fashion, such as changes in silhouette, shifting ideals of propriety, and advancements in technology.
The concept of underwear-as-outerwear is most commonly associated with the 1980s, but the look of lingerie has long served as inspiration for fashion garments. Exposed opens with several pairings of objects that underscore that connection. For example, a 1950s nylon nightgown, made by the upscale lingerie label Iris, is shown alongside an evening gown by Claire McCardell, also a 1950s garment, created in a similar fabric and silhouette. McCardell was one of the first designers to use nylon—a material typically marketed for lingerie—for eveningwear. A 2007 evening dress by Peter Soronen features a corset bodice, the construction of which is highlighted with bright blue topstitching. It is flanked by two 19th-century corsets, one made from bright red silk, the other from peacock blue silk.
The exhibition then continues chronologically. The earliest object on view is a sleeved corset (then called stays), circa 1770, made from sky-blue silk with decorative ivory ribbons that crisscross over the stomach. Stiffened with whalebone, 18th-century corsets straightened the back and enhanced the breasts by pushing them up and together. While they were essential to maintaining both a woman’s figure and her modesty, corsets also held an erotic allure.
Women’s undergarments were generally modest in the first half of the 19th century. This is exemplified by a dressing gown from circa 1840, made from white cotton. Although the dressing gown was simply designed and meant to be worn within the privacy of a woman’s boudoir, its full sleeves and smocked, pointed waistline mimic fashionable dress styles of the era.