The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) presents Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 from May 3 through March 15, 2015. The exhibition follows the evolution of the favored white wedding dress and its rendition by couturiers and fashion designers such as Charles James, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Vera Wang among others. It will survey wedding dress history and detail the lives of its wearers over the last two centuries.
The V&A will display over 80 of the most alluring, romantic and extravagant wedding dresses from the museum’s collection. In addition, it will contain a few new acquisitions in addition to loans such as The Duchess of Cornwall’s embroidered silk coat design, Gwen Stefani’s Dior and the purple Vivienne Westwood dress worn by Dita Von Tesse.
Organized chronologically over two museum floors, the spring exhibition will feature accessories such as jewelry, veils, hats, shoes and corsetry. It will also include garments worn by bridegrooms and attendants, bridal fashion sketches and photographs.
Traditional brides take a cue from a practice that began when Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in 1840. Prior to the royal wedding, Victorian brides wore the best garment in their wardrobe. Colors ranged from light brown, silver and black to blue and lavender. Royalty, on the other hand, wore lavish gowns, usually embroidered brocade with metallic thread. Queen Victoria broke tradition of the silver gown, with an orange blossom wreath in her hair; the Queen opted for white silk satin, which originated the white wedding dress trend that is popular today.
Historical details will bring understanding into the bride’s occupations, statuses and fashion choices. The exhibit opens with some of the earliest examples of wedding fashion including a 1775 silk-satin court dress. White as the bride’s preferential color in the 19th century will be illustrated by a white muslin wedding dress adorned with flowers, leaves and berries.
From the 1920s and 1930s, the exhibit illustrates the wedding dress as influenced by evening fashions when dresses were slender in the hips and created from luxuriously beaded fabrics and “slinky bias-cut satin.” Whereas, in contrast, World War II brides were required to make resourceful and practical fashion choices due to clothing restrictions and shortages. Designers used “non-rationed” materials such as upholstery fabric, parachute silk and net curtain. Alternately, women married in a day dress or military uniform.
The exhibit explores the growth of the wedding industry and the effect of increasing media focus on trendy wedding fashions. In the early 20th century, with the advent of photography, society weddings were reported in newspapers and gossip columns.
Two of the most spectacular wedding dresses on display are the 1933 Norman Harnell dress created for Margaret Whigham who became the Duchess of Argyll, and the 1934 Charles James elegant creation worn by Barbara ‘Baba’ Beaton, in ivory silk-satin. The gorgeous dresses are alongside archival film and news clippings of the two society weddings.
Other key designers showcased for the Wedding Dress exhibition include Christian Lacroix, Jasper Conrad, Jean Muir, Hardy Amies, Gareth Pugh, and Pam Hogg with millinery by Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy.
Visitors will learn how the traditional European white wedding dress has become the garment of choice, and what wedding dress styles say about social and economic conditions of their time.
Drawing on the V&A’s spectacular wedding gown collection from the early 1800s to today, the exhibit gives visitors the opportunity to experience the exciting world of weddings with garments inspired by tradition, fashion and practicality. The Wedding Dress exhibition is not only about the garment, but also about the cultivation of the bridal image.
By: Dawn Levesque