I’m very pleased to announce that the exhibition I have curated for The Underpinnings Museum is now live on the site! Lift & Separate: Technology & the Bra features over 30 beautiful and fascinating historic objects, exploring some of the many innovations in pattern cutting, padding, wiring, fabric and fibre technology that were behind the twentieth century’s most iconic brassiere shapes. The online exhibition takes you on a journey from the ‘monobosom’ of the Edwardian era, through to the ‘no bra’ look of the 1970s.
Drawing on my Master’s research, undertaken at London College of Fashion, I selected objects from the museum’s collections that showed evidence of some of the century’s key innovations, and I have also written an extended essay to give the exhibition’s visitors some background and context. After all, many people’s interest in historical garments is limited to those which are exquisitely hand crafted so it might not be immediately obvious why a relatively plain 1920s bandeau (like the Modishform bra above) or an unfussy 1970s bralet (like the Mary Quant bra at the top of this post) are important. Here’s a little snippet from the essay to whet your appetite:
Before this exhibition starts, we must address something very important. As fashion historian Valerie Steele states in her book The Corset: A Cultural History, ‘no one person invented the brassiere. Various types of bust-bodice, soutien-gorge and brassiere had been patented and advertised in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.’ This exhibition does not focus on the invention of the bra or the history of its design, but it will concentrate on the technology which made some of the twentieth century’s most iconic looks possible. These are the developments in fibres and stitching technique which took us from sturdy Edwardian ‘bust improvers’ to the light ‘no-bra’ look of the 1970s, that is popular once again today.
The bra is a unique and important garment, providing a woman with support for her breasts but also shaping the female form to the latest fashionable ideal. Although it plays a vital part in both fashion history and women’s history in the twentieth century, the bra is often overlooked or only discussed from a purely aesthetic or erotic perspective. However, technology’s role in its fascinating history cannot be understated.
The exhibition is available free to all online, via The Underpinnings Museum’s website. I’ve selected a few of my favourite images below as a taster, and you can click on any of the photos for more information about the garment featured.
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