The Underpinnings Museum Twitter Conference 2018 Photography by Tigz Rice

On Friday 12th January 2018, the Underpinnings Museum held an academic conference 100% online as part of our ongoing quest to bring the history of underwear to a wider audience, making collections and research freely accessible. Organised and run by the museum’s researcher, Lorraine Smith, the day was split into two sessions (morning and afternoon by UK time, but we had speakers and attendees join us from further afield) and there were a total of ten presentations on a variety of aspects of underwear history.

Please click on the image thumbnails to be taken to each dedicated presentation page.

Satin and lace heart embroidery tap pants Photography by Tigz Rice Studios The Underpinnings Museum


The museum’s Director, Karolina Laskowska, began the conference by reminding us of the importance of underwear history.


Keynote speaker Susanna is currently Senior Research Fellow: Archives at London College of Fashion, UAL, where she looks after the archive collections and curates Sartorial Stories, a series of talks where fashion industry guests are invited to discuss their sartorial choices, careers and work. She also works at the Victoria & Albert Museum and assists with curation of exhibitions including Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear.

1930s Kestos style bra, The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice Studios
Yellow Silk, Lace & Ribbonwork Bow Appliqué Boudoir Cap, c. 1910s, Great Britain. The Underpinnings Museum. Photo by Tigz Rice


During the First World War, technological improvements in aerial warfare allowed conflict to move from the fighting front to the home front, in the form of air raids. Civilians had to flee their beds in the case of a raid, and thus women were encouraged not only to dress practically but also to look presentable when greeting their neighbours. Using contemporary magazines and newspaper reports, this paper explores the links between warfare and the way women dressed for bed; as boudoir caps experienced a revival and, for the first time, pyjamas became a popular and acceptable choice for women.

Lucie Whitmore is a final year PhD student at the University of Glasgow, her research explores the relationship between war and women’s fashion in Britain between 1914 and 1918. She worked for three years as costume intern at the Museum of Edinburgh, where she co-curated a new permanent costume display. She is the co-founder of ‘War Through Other Stuff’, a society dedicated to exploring the non-military history of war. She recently published an article on mourning dress in Women’s History Review, and is currently co-editing two special themed issues of the British Journal for Military History.


This presentation will look at the development of women’s loungewear during the 1930s and 1940s and how clothing helped changed society’s view of the ‘boudoir’. Using key films from the period, magazines and archival garments, the author will pinpoint pivotal moments in the development of ‘loungewear’ and its subsequent direct effects on the way society dressed for bedtime. A compact object study will focus on the dressing gown, reflecting on the garment’s history and role within the ‘boudoir’ from functionality to Hollywood glamour.

Casci Ritchie is an independent researcher who recently graduated from University of Glasgow with an MLitt in Dress and Textile Histories. Casci has studied fashion since she was 17, completing a BA Hons in Fashion Design and an MA in Fashion Bodywear, where she specialised in twentieth-century lingerie research and design development. Her recent dissertation focused on the impact of Hollywood cinema and the women of Glasgow’s clothing during the 1940s. She has continued to develop her passion for historical and contemporary fashion from creation to consumption with a particular interest in Hollywood costume and consumer culture.

Lingerie Embroidery Designs Catalogue by Briggs Transfers - The Underpinnings Museum
'High Line' CC41 Cotton Bra By Kestos, c. 1941, Great Britain. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Auschwitz and Underwear, by Lucy Adlington

Underwear may be associated with structure, seduction and hygiene, but how often do we pay tribute to its humanising element? In extreme circumstances underwear provides dignity and even a sense of individuality. This is demonstrated in the harsh environments of Third Reich ghettos and concentration camps during World War II. Survivor testimonies bear witness to the degradation of being stripped of underwear… and the elation of making or acquiring it in adverse circumstances. An usual but important link between underwear and resistance to dehumanisation.

Lucy Adlington is a dress historian with 20 years’ experience lecturing on social history across the UK. She is author of Stitches in Time, the Story of the Clothes We Wear, Great War Fashion, and the YA novel The Red Ribbon, based on the true stories of the dressmakers of Auschwitz. She is currently working on a history book about women’s lives in the 1940s and researching the Holocaust and textiles.

The Big Sell, by Shaun Cole

In addressing men’s underwear advertising, a number of problems are posed, associated particularly with the fact that its visual representation falls into the interstice between the fully clothed man and the male nude. Although printing techniques made the use of photography possible in newspapers and periodicals from the late 1880s, it was not until the late 1940s that photography began to take over from illustration as the favoured type of image in men’s underwear advertising. This presentation will give an overview of the content of a number of advertisements, looking at the presentation of the garments, their particular features, the bodies they were destined to be worn upon, and the particular means of attracting both male and female purchasers of men’s underwear.

Dr Shaun Cole is a writer, lecturer and curator, and Associate Dean Postgraduate Communities at London College of Fashion. He was formerly Head of Contemporary Programmes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he curated several exhibitions, most notably Graphic Responses to AIDS (1996), Dressing the Male (1999) and Black British Style (2004). Shaun has written and lectured extensively on the subject of menswear and gay fashion and underwear his publications include ‘Don We Now Our Gay Apparel’: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century (2000), The Story of Men’s Underwear (2010) and Fashion Media: Past and Present (2013).

Detail from an advert for Imperial union suits. From the collection of Dr Shaun Cole.
Pointed Tea Rose Brocade Coutil Girdle With Side Lacing, c. 1930s, France. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice


This presentation will look at the surprising use of radioactive materials in corsetry in the 1920s-1930s specifically looking at two companies (one based in the UK and one in France) that made these – apparently best-selling products. Over 12 tweets it will look at how they worked, what benefits they were said to impart and where they could be purchased. This presentation will be illustrated by advertisements of the products.

Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of twentieth century leisure, health and beauty with a special interest (some might say obsession) for radioactivity. She is currently reading for her PhD (due for completion in 2019) on the use of radioactivity in beauty products. She has a BA in Egyptian Archaeology (UCL), an MA in Arts and Museum Management (University of Greenwich) and an MRes in History (University of Goldsmiths).


This study argues that corsets were a site of feminist agency, using Toronto’s consumer and manufacturing centres as a case study. Toronto’s corset manufactures were instrumental in the urbanization of Canadian industry, and created employment in which women earned a wage. The women who bought their wares were consumers making informed purchases, enacting agency in consumption and aesthetics; by choosing the style or size of a corset, female consumers were able to control to varying degrees, the shape of their bodies. Using archival and material culture analyses, the female economy of Toronto’s corset industry is uncovered.

Alanna McKnight is a PhD Candidate in Communications and Culture at Ryerson University in Toronto, specializing in women’s labour and history in Canadian fashion, due to complete in January 2018. Her doctoral dissertation is informed by undergraduate degrees in theatre costuming and History, as well as a masters in history, with a thesis on Toronto dressmaking. She has been an avid maker and wearer of corsets for 18 years.

'Droit Devant Forme Nouvelle' Drab Coutil Corset With Flossing Embroidery, c, 1900-5, France. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice
Red midbust corset with flossing and gores, c.1860s From The Underpinning Museum collection Photography by Tigz Rice


Since the early twentieth century, ‘modern’ society has been distancing itself from the Victorian era. One of the major methods used has been the mainstreaming of the once-fringe view that wearing corsets was an incredibly dangerous and painful practice done for the purpose of appealing to men. In this presentation, I will explore the ways that this tendency has manifested and how it distorts the actual women who wore corsets on a regular basis in the nineteenth century.

Cassidy Percoco is the author of Regency Women’s Dress: Techniques and Patterns, 1800-1829, and a graduate of the Fashion and Textile History, Theory, & Museum Practice master’s program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Currently, she runs the blog and podcast A Most Beguiling Accomplishment.

Archives: A Brief Introduction, by Georgina Orgill

UAL Archives and Special Collections Centre is home to over 25 different collections and archives related to filmmaking, graphic design, sound arts, comic books and the history of printing. This presentation will delve into some of our collections to reveal some unexpected underwear trivia and examine the practical aspect of carrying out research in archives.

Georgina Orgill is Senior Archivist and Stanley Kubrick Archivist working in the Archives and Special Collections Centre at University of the Arts London (UAL).

The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017Sheer Cream Silk Stockings With Clocked Ankle By Rosaine Hosiery, c. 1920s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice