Corsets to Crinoline: Unmentionables and the Road to Women's Suffrage
Discover how the changes in women’s undergarments paralleled the rise of social reform and women’s rights. Includes items in both the Hunter Family and private lender collections.
The undergarments worn by women in the Victorian era were harmful, impractical, and limited the
quality of life for women. Why then did women submit to wearing tightly fitted corsets and layers upon
layers of heavy clothing?
The purpose of women’s undergarments in the Victorian era were to sculpt a woman’s figure into the
desired shape of their perspective beau. A tiny waist was desired by Victorian men, as well as a
voluminous backside, as seen in the bustle era. Upper-class and middle-class Victorian women lived in an
era in which they were required to stay in the home and could not work for a living; Therefore, a good
marriage was vital to ensure their livelihood. This caused women’s persistence to cultivate and maintain a
desirable appearance to charm the opposite sex.
This exhibit seeks to understand the changes in society that caused women’s fashion to evolve. The
rejection of tightly fitted corsets and impractical large dresses signifies women’s rejection of solely
existing within the confines of the household. At the turn of the 20th century, we see a drastic change in
what women wore and the activities they participated in that echoed this change.
Through the lens of women’s undergarments, this exhibit explores how fashion mirrored the women’s
liberation movement and social reform. The more women took part in activities outside of the house in
sports, activism, travel and exploration, and politics, the less restrictive undergarments became.