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Discover the Art of Modern Corsetry with The Underpinnings Museum

  |   By Estelle Puleston

If you love learning about lingerie, then you need to know about The Underpinnings Museum. It’s an online fashion archive dedicated to, you guessed it, intimate wear.

A visit to the site may not be quite so fun as gawking at garments that are right in front of you. But by being online, it offers many benefits that a physical museum does not. For one, it’s available to lingerie lovers everywhere. For free! And thanks to Tigz Rice’s incredible photography, you can view each garment in exquisite detail and from all angles. Sometimes even from the inside.

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modern corsetry

Calliope corset by Tighter Corsets
© The Underpinnings Museum, Photography by Tigz Rice.

Not interested in historical lingerie? The Underpinnings Museum’s collection also includes exceptional pieces from the present day. That’s especially the case for their latest exhibition, The Modern Corset Renaissance.

Because yes, corsets are making a comeback! Although if you haven’t taken a particular interest in corsets or at least lingerie, you may not have realized that. They are indeed still absent from the high-street. That’s because corsets now are not what they were a century ago. They’re not a ubiquitous wardrobe staple.

modern corsetry

Weeping Hydra corset by Emiah
© The Underpinnings Museum, Photography by Tigz Rice

They’re also not modern fast fashion. In fact, they’re quite the opposite. Just take a look at the corset above by Emiah, part of the exhibition. With 7,000 hand-sewn pearl beads, it took over 170 hours to complete. Along with a sister garment, the two-piece collection took two years to produce. If that’s not the definition of slow fashion, I don’t know what is!

In the exhibition of modern corsetry, you’ll find not just pictures and garment details, but revealing commentary too. The museum aims to illustrate the differences between past and new attitudes to corsetry, from makers and wearers alike. As the text states in one chapter, “The nature of corsetmaking is incredibly detail-oriented, tying it in perfectly with the 21st-century fascination with ‘artisan,’ ‘craft,’ and ‘small batch’ goods”. It’s a niche of fashion that’s perfect for today’s ethically-conscious shopper.

modern corsetry

Sweetheart Victorian corset for Cathie Jung by Dark Garden
© The Underpinnings Museum, Photography by Tigz Rice

It’s also fashion full-stop. There will be people today that use the garments on a daily basis, as women generally did in the past. But for many modern customers, corsets are more of a showpiece. Something to wear for an event or a photo shoot. And as such, aesthetic doesn’t need to take a back seat to utility. In fact, eye-catching design is often kind of the whole point.

For the people designing them, that means a chance to get truly creative. Included in The Underpinnings Museum’s exhibition are two chapters on ‘The Corset as a Canvas.” Here, they’ve featured five modern creations that showcase the diversity of corsets.

modern corsetry

Jonah corset by Sparklewren
© The Underpinnings Museum, Photography by Tigz Rice

The exhibition touches on some of the technological advancements that have allowed corset design to evolve and reach new heights. For example, stretch fabrics giving rise to pieces with greater flexibility. And the advent of underwired bras leading to the modern cupped corset.

There’s also extensive experimentation among the corset-making community of today. In its opening chapter, the exhibition talks about how the corset world has dramatically evolved even during its recent, 21st-century revival. The first modern corsetieres were focussing heavily on ‘the rules’ set by history before them. But many newer designers prefer to carve their own path.

modern corsetry

c.-1860s Green Silk Swiss Waist
© The Underpinnings Museum, Photography by Tigz Rice

I could go on because the exhibition is fascinating. But I think it’s best you have a visit for yourself! You can view The Modern Corset Renaissance exhibition here. And find all of The Underpinnings Museum’s exhibits to date here. I’m sure you’ll discover at least a thing or two you didn’t previously know about lingerie!

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Are you a fan of modern corsetry? To wear or to admire?

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Estelle is a twenty-something mum who recently emigrated from the UK to sunny Spain. She launched her online boutique, Esty Lingerie, in 2009 while at university, and after adding a blog to the site realized that writing is really where her passion lies. She now spends her days waxing lyrical about bras and knickers for a living, as a full-time blogger and a freelance copywriter and digital marketer for the lingerie industry.