Museum Curation

I am doing a curation project for graduate school. We are required to present an exhibition idea. As a previous employee of the one of the largest undergarment distributors, I couldn’t help discussing panties. Would you attend my exhibition proposal?


A Brief History of the Modern Panty

I propose to do an exhibit on the history of the panty. The exhibit will showcase current underwear styles and display famous photographs/paintings concerning the history of panties. I would set up the room like a runway during Fashion Week.

The Room

The room will have exposed ceilings with only spotlights as lighting. The walls will be black. There will be two entrances/exits to the room on the same wall. There will be a catwalk in the center of the room reaching out from the space in between the doors. It will be elevated one foot from the floor. It will be four feet wide and white. The floor will be a standard wooden gallery floor for the rest of the room. On the wall opposite the catwalk will be one solitary picture.

The Display Particulars

On the catwalk will be ten mannequins from the waist down. They will be varied in skin tones and it would be interesting to have them varied in shape. All must be the same height for the ease of viewing. The mannequins will either be barefoot or in matching black high heels. All images along the walls with the exception of the Henri de Toulouse Lautrec Troupe de Mlle Eglantine will be framed in simple black frames.

Main Signage

When walking through the furthest right entrance, there will be a brief history of the panty on a sign that is two feet by four feet.

Women first wore underwear below the waist during the French Revolution. In the 18th century, a Parisian police ordinance reportedly required women who appeared on stage to wear shorts. However, it is Cancan dancers who are credited with stitching the two leggings together. The invention of spinning machines and cotton gins in the second half of the 18th century facilitated the development of cotton fabrics. Factories subsequently mass produced underwear, and, for the first time, people began to buy rather than make such garments at home. Elizabeth Miller is recognized as the inventor of bloomers, the precursor to panties, and Amelia Bloomer is believed to have popularized bloomers during the mid-19th century.

After the 1920s, women’s underwear shortened in accordance with shorter skirt lengths, whilst comfort and durability gave way to fashion and sophistication. In the 1960s, cotton briefs were the most common type of panties amongst girls and younger women. This new generation preferred denim jeans to pencil skirts and wore their briefs in basic cotton; cotton was re-adopted after the silk, rayon and nylons of the older generations became problematic (issues included skin irritation). The miniskirt fashion required panties to be short and for wearers to appear indifferent to the potential for their exposure; it was this culture and attitude that led to the next phase of bikini-style panties.


The Catwalk Objects

Each mannequin will have one of the following types of current panties. I cannot decide on the color. Color has such significant meaning. Perhaps the color could be random. Perhaps the panties could be donated by celebrities. Perhaps the color could just be black. I believe that this is something to work with the educational element. Below is the signage attached to each panty.

  • Briefs rise to the waist, or just below the navel, and have full coverage in the rear.
  • Classic (or full brief) features sides that extend below the hip.
  • High-cut (or French cut) is designed with sides that are somewhat narrower.
  • Boyleg (or boyshorts) are styled after men’s briefs and may have short legs extending below the crotch.
  • Control panties (or control briefs) are special and designed to offer support whilst giving a slimmer appearance. This type usually contains a stretch material such as spandex and may extend above the waist.
  • Hipsters are similar to briefs, but are worn lower down the body, with the waistband around the hips.
  • Bikinis sit at hip level, like the Hipsters, but the fabric of the side sections is narrower. With the string bikini type, the side sections disappear altogether and the waistband consists of only string-like material; also, the rear coverage of the bikini is not as concealing as the design of the brief. Bikini is the most widely worn style amongst women worldwide.[citation needed]
  • Tangas provide full rear coverage, but the waistband is reduced to a narrow strip at the sides.
  • Thongs have a waistband similar to tangas, but the rear coverage is not as full. The crotch is extended to the back of the wearer and a narrow strip of fabric fits between the buttocks, becoming wider towards the top.
  • G-string is a thong with virtually no rear coverage and the narrow strip at the back extends to the waistband. This type exposes the vast majority of the buttocks.

Wall Objects

I would want to have the following images in the same size with the signage attached:

  • Catherine de Medici riding side saddle

Catherine de Medici is credited with the invention of panties-style underwear, conceived so that she could fold her legs across the horse’s neck without exposing her crotch when riding side-saddle. During this time, women wore full length leggings that were tied at the waist but left the crotch uncovered. Medici’s early version, which originated in France in the early 19th century, was known as pantalettes, and it quickly spread to Britain and the US. Pantalettes were produced in two forms: as a one-piece item; or as two separate garments, where each piece was used on a separate leg and became attached at the waist with buttons or laces. The rationale for the open crotch was a perception of improved hygiene.

  • Scene from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ when the women are dancing in their bloomers

From the 1920’s bloomers began to get short. For a classic visual of bloomers the best bet is to watch the bloomer-dance in the Hollywood classic ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ where the delightful brides prance around bloomers, the ancestors of panties!

  • Abram Nathaniel Spanel with his created latex panties

In the 1930s, the Dunlop Rubber Company invented latex, it was a combination of latex rubber and ammonia. Abram Nathaniel Spanel started up the International Latex Co., now known as Playtex and in 1930 and began creating panties made of latex that were to be worn by toddlers but were not considered to be diaper covers. In 1939, a New York department store featured an ad for panty girdle briefs. They sold for $5.00, which was a whole day’s wage for most people then. Panty girdles were very much like long athletic shorts are today, the provided support and good hygiene.

  • Image of Gertrude Moran

Meanwhile in 1949 an American tennis player named Gertrude Moran or Gussie Moran (1923-) caused a sensation when she appeared at Wimbledon wearing frilly panties. She was known as Gorgeous Gussie and it was very daring in 1949!

  • Image of 1960’s undergarment advertisement

Women began demanding that lingerie manufacturers create lines of lingerie to make their form look more feminine during the 1960’s. They felt underwear of their time was restricting and created to distort the female figure. They succeeded and panties began to evolve into something soft and pretty. Just ten years later in the 70’s women’s sexual revolution took hold of the lingerie industry and panties continued to get smaller, skinnier and sexier.

  • Image of Frederick Mellinger

Frederick’s of Hollywood is a well-known retailer of women’s lingerie in the United States, with stores in many modern shopping malls across the USA.

The business was started by Frederick Mellinger (inventor of the push-up bra) in 1947. The original flagship store was a landmark on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. In September 2005, after 59 years, the store moved to a larger space a few blocks away, near the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

  • Image of Roy Raymond

Roy Raymond (April 15, 1947 – August 26, 1993) was an American businessman who founded the Victoria’s Secret lingerie retail store.

He opened the first Victoria’s Secret store at the Stanford Shopping Center after feeling embarrassed trying to purchase lingerie for his wife in an awkward, public department store environment. To open the store, he took a $40,000 bank loan and borrowed $40,000 from relatives. The company earned $500,000 in its first year. He quickly started a mail order catalog and opened three more stores.

  • Image of ‘Flashdance’

This new style rocked aerobics classes all over the western world, and can be seen in its full glory in the classic 80s movie ‘Flashdance’, where Jennifer Beal leaps and bounds in high-cut cotton briefs, perfecting her dance routines.

The Henri de Toulouse Lautrec Troupe de Mlle Eglantine

The Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine will be on display opposite the catwalk. It is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It will remain in the frame designated by the Met. The signage to accompany the piece would be approved by the Met along with this additional information.

It was commissioned by Eglantine Demay and one of Lautrec’s favorite subjects, Jane Avril, to advertise the performance of Demay’s dance troupe at the Palace Theatre in London.  The fact that they had been booked to perform the Quadrille Naturaliste (a can-can style dance created by Celeste Mogador which was performed in a line formation of four) is testament to the spreading international popularity of the bawdy Parisian dance styles of the period, then considered to be quite risqué because of their exposure of legs and petticoats and even skin.  Now that nightclub patrons in cities other than Paris were demanding such performances, no longer was the can-can to be the exclusive property of cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge, the Jardin de Paris, the Frascati and the Elysée Montmartre.


  • The obvious first education element would be the chronological development of underwear. Just walking through the gallery as intended would provide a brief history of the panty.
  • I would like to do an additional educational installment. “Men Making Money on unMentionables” would be a detailed look at the business men that decided to build a business on strictly feminine products like panties. I think it would be interesting to get marketing and business experts to weigh in on the profitability of lingerie and how to keep the money train moving.
  • Lastly, an educational element could tie in textiles. Bring in swaths of the most used material used through the last 150 years for undergarments. It is amazing to think about muslin instead of silk. The swaths would be available to touch and all in a standard white color.



All of the above material was pulled from Wikipedia and the sources listed there. I would consult several historians before finalizing signage.


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