The Seduction exhibition begins with a display of lingerie. As the final barrier to the nude body, lingerie carries unique erotic connotations, and quite literally acts as the foundation for seductive fashion.
Throughout the twentieth century, lingerie changed quite dramatically. This black cotton sateen corset dates from about 1903 and its shape represents the ideal figure for the feminine and statuesque Edwardian lady. This especially constricting style creates what is referred to as the “S curve” silhouette. It cinches the waist, arches the back, forces the bosom forward, and exaggerates the derrière. Lingerie from this era became increasingly provocative, as exquisite lace and colored silks moved from the realm of actresses and courtesans to that of the fashionable woman.
By the 1920s, styles in lingerie had changed dramatically, reflecting the equally significant changes that had occurred in women’s fashion. Straight, streamlined silhouettes highlighted an ideally slim, boyish figure that was no longer molded by corsetry. This garment was referred to as “cami-knickers,” as it combined a woman’s top, known as a camisole, and the bottoms, called knickers, into one streamlined piece. Although simply constructed, the sheer silk chiffon and fine lace of this example make it particularly alluring. Like the tubular dresses of the 1920s, this style deemphasized the bust and fell loosely over the waist. Its short hemline ensured that it would not show beneath newly fashionable, knee-length skirts that bared a shocking amount of the wearer’s legs.
By the 1950s, girdles, sometimes also called corsets, were essential to forming the fashionable silhouette. The underwire bra cups of this example supported the breasts and molded them into a conical shape. The boning over the torso, visible here beneath the girdle’s sheer fabric, shows how the figure was formed and controlled. This helped to create the hourglass shape advocated by Christian Dior, which entailed “rounded shoulders, full feminine breasts, and a hand-span waist.” Garters were a practical necessity before the widespread acceptance of full tights in the 1960s, but they remain an element of some of the sexiest contemporary lingerie designs.
Underwear of the sixties coincided with the youthful, free spirit of the era. Rudi Gernreich’s feather print bra and slip set includes a variation on his influential “no-bra” design, which featured two soft bra cups free from underwire or padding. This allowed the woman’s natural form to shape the garments. The bold print alludes to the sensuous, tactile appeal of feathers. The patterned stockings are by Balenciaga. Decorative tights were important complements to dramatically short miniskirts of the mid 1960s, providing a more risqué display of the legs than ever before. The comfort and simplicity of this lingerie set provide a stark contrast to the controlled sexiness of the corset ensemble of 1903. However, both prove that lingerie is an essential element of seductive fashion.