A History of Lingerie
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Has lingerie determined the way we think of the female body? World-famous French lingerie designer Chantal Thomass and fashion historian Catherine Örmen explore the influence of lingerie on our image of women’s ideal proportions and discuss the ways in which lingerie was a barometer of the social and cultural changes that shaped the twentieth century.
Meaning a piece of cloth inserted between a body and its covering, the term underwear made its first appearance in the Middle Ages. The earliest undergarments on record were worn for warmth and hygiene. Over the centuries, however, undergarments became more a matter of body style, sculpting women and revealing their erotic appeal. From the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, corsets provided less-than-perfect women the shape they needed to wear the fashionable dresses of their periods. In the Edwardian period, rigid corsets permitted—or forced—women to achieve the S-shaped curve considered the quintessence of female beauty. Lingerie continued to alter shapes and enrich women’s apparel into the twentieth century: To the continuing popularity of the “outer underwear” of La Belle Époque tea gowns were added waist-cinchers and teddy suits. Fabrics grew more sophisticated, lingerie was less hidden, and bodies were shown in more revealing and seductive ways. Did lingerie reshape the female body or merely enhance it? Did undergarments lead societal changes or merely reflect them?
Histoire de la lingerie, a thoroughly researched and highly readable study, illuminates the many revolutions that occurred in our wardrobes and how lingerie reflects social and cultural change.
Catherine Örmen-Corpet : Catherine Örmen is a curator at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile-Arts Décoratifs in Paris and a fashion historian. She is also the cofounder and creator of the Musée de la Mode of Marseille and has worked on its programs (an exhibition in 2001 was dedicated to Chantal Thomass’s work). She has written several books on the history of fashion, including Mode XIXe–XXe siècle (Éditions Hazan, 2000).
Chantal Thomass : Chantal Thomass first appeared on the fashion scene in the late 1960s. She has since built a reputation for her sexy, tantalizing, and flirtatious clothes and boudoir lingerie. Her innovative ideas, always using the most sophisticated fabrics, launched the trend of “under-over” wear. Thomass’s creations are now sold all over the world. She entered the U.S. market in the early 2000s with her first Saks Fifth Avenue trunk show, and in 2003 she designed her own line for Victoria’s Secret.