Monday, July 29, 2013

"The mechanics of underwear, an indiscreet story of the silhouette" - a "naughty" exhibition at Les Arts Décoratif

Peeking under a lady's crinoline, the entrance to the exhibition.

Who can forget the scene in "Gone with the Wind" when Scarlett O'Hara clutches the four-poster bed while Mamie tugs on the laces of her corset to cinch Scarlett's waist to a minuscule 17 inches (43 cm)? As Scarlett cries out in pain, Mamie scolds, "Just hold on and suck in." Mamie's determined to help Scarlett achieve her goal of being the most fashionably dressed young woman at the Wilke's barbecue, even if Scarlett has to suffer some pain in the process.

In a fascinating new exhibition, Les Arts Décoratif explores the underworld of female and male undergarments and the devices that were used to model the body to meet the demands of fashion. Starting with the 14th century, we peek under ladies' dresses to discover what artifices were used to give them wasp-like waists and uplifted bosoms. For the first time, some 200 stays, panniers, crinolines, bustles, corsets, waist cinchers, girdles and push-ups give have been assembled to provide fascinating insights into fashion's iron rule over our soft bodies.

Lest you mistakenly think that men are immune to shaping their bodies, you'll probably be as astonished as my friend Carolyn and I were to discover that the nobility enhanced their virility by padding their calves and their very remarkable codpieces to simulate erections. There's even a shiny suit of armor with a noticeable protuberance.

The exhibition is scandalous, yet fun! Much to the delight of all the women and girls who've ever wondered what it's like to flounce around in a crinoline, there's a dress-up space with bustles, push-up bras and ruffs. Imagine the comments when one brave Frenchman ventured among the women to strap on a codpiece. In an effort to keep this blog family friendly, I posted the photo that he nobly allowed me take on Facebook rather than here.

"The mechanics of underwear, an indiscreet story of the silhouette" is at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until November 24, 2013. Don't miss this titillating exhibition!

Musée des Arts Décoratifs
107, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Open every day except Mondays from 11 am until 6pm (9 pm on Thursdays)
Admission: 9.50€ / 8€

The dressing room - the only part of the exhibition where it's permitted to take photos.

11 comments:

  1. What fun to visit the exhibit with you. And thank you for the photographs. My iPhone does a good job outdoors, but yours were so much better in a darkish room. Nancy B., you would have loved it! I can just see the piece we would have put on you. A corset perhaps? You are tiny enough.

    - Carolyn

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    1. LOL Carolyn, By Parisian (and Scarlett) standards I am a 'double-wide' Sorry I missed the fun. Looks like a great exhibit.

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    2. @Carolyn, Thanks for joining me! You'll have to tell me about your adventures when you return to the exhibition with Donna.

      @Nancy, Carolyn kept saying, "Where's Nancy when we need her" while she was trying on different bits and pieces of undergarments. I wish you could have joined us!

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  2. Goodness, I love it!

    I don't think this has ever come up before, but I did a speech piece my senior year of high school about women's undergarments. So fun.

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    1. How daring! I would love to hear more about it the next time that we're together. It's a very interesting topic with lots of historical implications.

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  3. I'm on my way today. Can't wait!!!!

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    1. It was great, wasn't it! I can't wait to read your blog post!

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  4. Nice undercover work, MaryKay. Are you guys in Annapolis this summer at all?

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    1. Ha! I wish I would have thought of that pun, Bob. Unfortunately, we won't be in Annapolis this summer because we were already there in June. Are you planning a trip to the East Coast? I'll be in Boston from September 10-24, with hopefully a couple of days in Annapolis.

      Stephane and I have a difference of opinion about the hotel that you stayed at while in Paris. Was it the Hotel Raphael or Hotel Baltimore?

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