Exhibition File – Underneath It All

Throughout history the fashionable silhouette is always changing. Whether it includes perfect posture and a tiny waist with a large bell skirt from the 1860s or the slouchy saunter of the 1930s in a slinky dress, one thing remains constant — women’s undergarments play a pivotal role.

Although foundation garments are rarely seen, the entire ensemble and the way a person moves depends on them. Most undergarments reshape the body to different degrees. They might reduce a section of the body (such as the effect a corset has on a woman’s waist), they might increase another (such as a push-up bra making the breasts appear larger), or they might compress parts (like Spanx smoothing out the thighs). Bustles, corsets, hoops, bras, crinolines, and girdles are all types of undergarments that mold or alter the body’s natural state into whatever silhouette is popular at the time.

Underneath It All is an exhibition at the Missouri History Museum that looks at underwear and how it has shaped fashion and history. According to the exhibition, “while these ‘unmentionables’ may appear insignificant, they are powerful artifacts that chronicle the evolution of women’s progress in an ever-changing society.”

The exhibition runs until January 27. If you are curious about what women have worn underneath their visible clothing, Underneath It All is a show you don’t want to miss.

Address: Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri
Hours: Monday 10-5, Tuesday 10-8, Wednesday-Sunday 10-5
Admission: free
Website: www.mohistory.org/node/7255


  1. Amanda says:

    Wow this really must be interesting. I do love how a corset gives you a tiny waist.

    • jacqueline says:

      I should also have added that not only does a corset modify one’s waist, but it also completely changes your posture. You can’t slouch at all. When you sit, you end up perching because your back is forced to stay completely straight. One of my students is going to make a reproduction corset for visitors so they can experience this phenomenon for themselves.

  2. Liz says:
    • jacqueline says:

      Ah, yes, the recently discovered Medieval undergarments. There’s been a lot circling the internet about them, including a Daily Mail article that was more sensation than fact. It’s good to see that something academic has finally been published on it. I might need to get my hands on that copy of Archaeology magazine that Jezebel quotes.

Speak Your Mind