Surely our readers remember the mythical scene in Gone With the Wind, in which Scarlet O´Hara asks Mammy, her maid, to tighten her corset and narrow her waist. The film takes place in the 1860’s, when women used this, and other contraptions to lift their breasts, accentuate their curves and show spectacular figures according to the dictates of the time. Fortunately for us, the crinolines and uncomfortable corsets are no longer imposed by modern aesthetics, but to learn about and understand the reasons for their use sheds light on the development of fashion through the centuries.
For the first time, these gadgets come together in a fantastic exhibition titled La mécanique des dessous. More than 200 items from public and private collections are displayed to the delight of visitors who will view the metamorphosis of fashion from the 14th century until today.
There was a time, during the 18th century, when under their delicate dresses women wore complicated metal and wood structures called crinolines, which when tied at the waist gave more volume to their skirts, making them much wider. And let’s not forget the corsets (occasionally they were so hard and tight that they left no space to breathe), petticoats, panties, girdles and brassieres, all very diffetent from what today we use as underwear. These gadgets from different centuries can be seen in this show devoted to the exploration of undergarments.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition is the possibility to try on these mechanisms, perfect replicas of the ones worn in the 18th century, and experience the feeling of putting them on, walking on them and sympathizing with the women who, by the imposition of the canons of the fashion of the time, were forced to endure them.
We are only talking about discomfort, but perhaps you will feel more feminine wearing them. In today’s fashion when leather jackets and skinny pants are the hallmarks of millions of women, how would we feel wearing a crinoline and corset?
These mechanisms manufactured to embellish the body were not limited to women. The exhibition also shows some tricks, used by men, to make their masculinity more visible.
If you wish to learn about the evolution of underwear fashion from the 14th century to the present day, we invite you to visit the display which will be opened in Paris until November 24, 2013. ■
La mecanique des desossous. Une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette
Musées des Arts decoratifs.
107 rue de Rivoli.