Got ladies' underwear and lingerie from 1860-1960? This museum wants it

A museum in Shelburne, N.S., has made an unusual request to local residents by asking for donations of ladies' underwear and lingerie that date back to between 1860 and 1960.

Upcoming Shelburne exhibit looks at how and why women's underwear has changed

Some of the items the Shelburne County Museum has in its collection include a camisole (left) and stockings (right). (Shelburne County Museum)

The Shelburne County Museum in Shelburne, N.S., has made an unusual request to local residents by asking for donations of ladies' underwear and lingerie that date back to between 1860 and 1960.

The clothing will be used in an upcoming exhibition that looks at how women's underwear and lingerie evolved because of societal changes during that 100-year span.

"I think that using women's clothing as a way to look at society is very interesting," said Allison Burnett, museum curator. 

The exhibit was created by the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, Mo., and consists of interpretive panels with text and images. However, it doesn't actually have any artifacts, which is why Burnett is looking for undergarments.

What caused women's clothing to change?

Burnett said the exhibit shows how the clothing of the 1860s — the Victorian era — wasn't very practical. Over time, as the First and Second World Wars broke out and women's roles changed, so did their clothing.

"They're working outside of the home, so their clothes tend to become more practical and less restrictive," said Burnett.

She said while men's clothing has also changed over the years, but the changes weren't nearly as substantial for the time period looked at in the exhibit.

Shelburne County Museum curator Allison Burnett hopes the upcoming exhibit will catch people's attention and attract more visitors. (Submitted by Allison Burnett)

"When you're looking at women's clothing, there's more complicated fashion trends and the silhouettes change consistently," said Burnett.

She said the museum is going through its collection and while it does have some pieces of clothing in it, it needs more for the exhibit. As well, because part of the museum's mandate is to exhibit and preserve the history of the area, it's asking locals for what they may have.

So far, one person has responded to a Facebook post by the museum. That person said she has a wedding boudoir set from around 1930 that belonged to her great aunt. The item was handmade by the bride's mother-in-law.

"I'm looking forward to hearing more from her and finding out more about this particular piece and the story behind it because it sounds kind of unusual," said Burnett.

'A flashy topic'

Burnett said if the museum can't get the donations it needs from within Shelburne County, they're open to items from outside the area.

The plan is for Underneath it All: 100 Years of Underwear and Lingerie in North America 1860-1960, to launch next spring, likely in June.

The exhibit includes panels with images and descriptions of how and why women's underwear and lingerie evolved between 1860 and 1960. (Submitted by Allison Burnett)

Burnett hopes the exhibit gets more people coming into the museum for visits.

"Having a flashy topic like women's underwear will catch people's attention," she said.

Anybody who is interested in providing some items should call the museum at 902-875-4444 or email Burnett at

With files from CBC's Mainstreet