What: Underwear: A Brief History
When: Saturday-September 11
Where: Minnesota History Center
345 W. Kellogg Blvd. St. Paul,
Cost: Student discount ($8) and free Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Starting MotherâÄôs Day weekend and running all through the summer, the Minnesota History Center will feature a risquÃ© exhibit thatâÄôs stripped of all normality. âÄúUnderwear: A Brief HistoryâÄù will display selected pieces from the archives of MinnesotaâÄôs former leading underwear manufacturer, Munsingwear.
In 1886, George Munsing came to Minneapolis to shake up the underwear game. He was granted three patents that allowed his company to stand out from the competition for over a century. The most significant was a process for plating silk and wool that created a warm fabric that wasnâÄôt itchy. MunsingâÄôs innovation coincided with an increasingly active U.S. population calling for more flexible and comfortable under garments âÄî just what his patents created.
Munsingwear closed its doors for good in the early ’80s and left its archives to the Minnesota History Center. Collections curator Linda McShannock was left to sift through 120 yearsâÄô worth of bras, briefs, kangaroo pouches and union suits.
âÄúIt was a challenge making selections, taking 3,500 objects and narrowing it down to the 77 objects that will be on display,âÄù McShannock said. âÄúWe wanted them to be representative of what was produced by the company. We picked things that people would remember, things that were colorful and just things that would be interesting.âÄù
The apparel chosen for the display highlight many different eras and trends of the historic underwear scene. The exhibit reveals the evolution of American undergarments while exposing similarities.
âÄúThe visitors will see things that they recognize that may have been made with different materials but still has the same shape. We maybe donâÄôt wear union suits anymore, but we still wear long skiwear that has its roots in the union suit. Women will recognize brassieres in different shapes, but the garment certainly hasnâÄôt gone away,âÄù McShannock said. âÄúTheyâÄôll be able to see both continuity and change.âÄù
In addition to the lingerie and menâÄôs briefs, the exhibit will feature innovative sewing machines from the factory and graphics of the company advertisements. These pieces provide a glimpse into the innovative business tactics that asserted Munsingwear as the cream of the underwear crop for so many years.
The exhibit will also be accompanied by a RetroRama fashion show inspired by pieces from the exhibit. Five acclaimed designers who have absorbed the exhibitâÄôs material will be showing their creations, the product of an underwear-bred impetus.
The fashion festivities will take place May 12 and the designers have got the work cut out for them. Past RetroRama events have been inspired by specific eras, providing stable foundations that the designers could build off of. MunsingwearâÄôs underwear will be a new challenge.
âÄúWe just always throw curveballs at the designers and they come up with something good,âÄù said Aleah Vinick, organizer of the RetroRama spectacle. âÄúWe like to give them kind of an unusual starting point to work from, and they always surprise us with the way they find connections between their design vision and the inspiration that we supply.âÄù
Guests are encouraged to flaunt their underwear-inspired vintage threads and will even be offered the opportunity to strut their stuff on the runway after the designers have had their turn.
âÄúSometimes thatâÄôs the most fun because people really get dressed up and want to show off,âÄù Vinick said.
RetroRama costs $15, or $12 for Historical Society members.
Beyond the historical value and fashionable conjurations of the exhibit, the Minnesota History Center is here to remind us of underlying, hopefully universal human connection âÄî underwear.