NEW YORK -- Twenty-two corsets and 55 outfits, mainly dresses, are being used to trace the movement of the waist in fashion in the new exhibit at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art here.

Called "Waist Not," the exhibition opened Tuesday and continues through Aug. 1. It is sponsored by the Warner's division of The Warnaco Group.

The exhibit focuses primarily on women's apparel and how the waistline has defined fashion trends and silhouettes from the 18th century to the present. The clothes range from a high-waisted long French gown circa 1795 to a pair of overalls with suspenders from Jean-Paul Gaultier's 1993 spring-summer men's wear collection.

They underscore what the exhibit calls the "migration of the waistline" with Empire and drop-waist looks, as well as garments that highlight the natural waist area.

Six corset and waist-cincher styles by Warner's, a 120-year-old maker of foundations, are juxtaposed alongside various periods of apparel, going from the turn-of-the century look that emphasized hourglass figures, to the wasp-waist styles representing "The New Look" by Christian Dior, circa 1947.

Some of the corsets used in the exhibit are worn by the mannequins under their clothes.

Richard Martin, the Costume Institute's curator, noted, "Undergarments played an increasingly important role as we were planning this exhibit. The corsets became the signposts and the point of measure. They [corsets] explain how a silhouette is determined."

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