Our mothers used to spend a lot of time and money on lingerie and I think they were right. Real elegance is everywhere, especially in the things that don’t show. 

Christian Dior 

19th century corset
Carolle Patrimony
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

Lingerie shapes a woman’s body, creating curves or flattening them depending on the fashionable silhouette of the time. In the exhibit of French lingerie at the Design Exchange, curator Catherine Orman combed the archives of French lingerie manufacturers to create a display that traces the history of women’s undergarments from the later part of the 19th century to the present day.  



My favourite part of the exhibit was the opening vitrine which features a number of corsets from the 19th century. These rigid forms, which created the ideal hourglass shape of the period, are confections of lace, ribbon and whalebone. One interesting feature of these corsets is the corset busk, a small upside-down hook that was used to anchor the waistbands of petticoats to prevent it from shifting and/or creating bulk at the waist.

Busk Hook
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

This brassiere from 1918 is made of elasticized knit, rubber, and cotton, and has an underwire of whalebone. Brassieres were a new form of undergarment after women cast off their corsets, and more than one person has claimed to have be the inventor. 

Bra 1918
Chantelle
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

This bra from 1933 by Lejaby (shown below) has no cups, and supports the breasts from underneath. 

Bra 1933
Lejaby
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

Christian Dior brought back the hourglass silhouette with his New Look which demanded more structured undergarments such as this white long-line bra and petticoat set (shown below). 

1950s Longline bra and petticoat
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

This pink gingham bra and panty set from the 1960s seems like it might have been inspired by Bridget Bardot. 

Pink gingham bra, panty and garter set, c.1960s
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

The 1970s introduced a range of colours and more sporty styles into the lingerie wardrobe. 

1970s Lingerie
Installation Shot Design Exchange
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

Today, fashionable lingerie includes scraps of lace to more structured shape-wear that compresses the body into smooth lines. 

1980s-1990s Lingerie
Installation Shot Design Exchange
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013
A Selection of Contemporary Lingerie
Installation Shot Design Exchange
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013
This exhibit gave me pause that I should revisit some recent acquisitions of lingerie for the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. The two lingerie examples shown below are salmon pink, a common colour for lingerie prior to 1950. Both feature lacing that allowed for size adjustment, but which was no doubt very time consuming to fasten and unfasten. 
Lingerie at the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013 

The French Lingerie Exhibit runs until October 16, 2013 at the
Design Exchange, 234 Bay Street, Toronto. Admission is free.