On Friday I visited the wonderful Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 exhibition at the V&A. It was part of a wedding-themed day I was having with my mother and my mother-in-law to be, a day which started with trying on some frocks at the local bridal shop and ended with gazing longingly at dream wedding dresses through glass.
The exhibition begins with a historical overview of wedding dresses, featuring teeny tiny leg-of-mutton sleeved numbers, simple linen a-line regency dresses, elaborately beaded frocks festooned with orange blossom (a flower and fragrance which represents eternal love http://www.penhaligons.com/mobile/orange-blossoms-/) It moves into the Victorian period, where we learn that Queen Victoria’s dress for her wedding to Albert in 1840 started the tradition of white wedding dresses – before this, dress colours had been bright and varied (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_dress_of_Queen_Victoria)
We move gradually into the twenties, where we are shown some wonderful film footage of veil trends of the period (imagine Princess Leia style doughtuts at each side of the head, and a long veil covering the entire scalp and coming down to mid-fringe – see some examples here http://www.fashion-era.com/Weddings/1928-old-wedding-photos.htm#1928_Bridal_Veil_Headdresses__) and where bouquets were gigantic and were held in the crook of the elbow so the flowers could hang elegantly over one arm.
From this we are shown some short films of the various royal weddings of the past 100 years, starting with the Queen Mother and ending with Kate and Wills more recent nuptials. After this, you ascend to the second level where there are celebrity wedding dresses galore. You couldn’t fail to miss the enormous, flamboyant purple Vivienne Westwood number worn by Dita Von Teese for her wedding to Marilyn Manson and the matching Christian Louboutins. Also displayed is Kate Moss’ glittering, boho John Galliano number next to Jamie Hince’s mod-style dove grey suit. Continuing around the atrium you are greeted by a dazzling, rhinestone encrusted Jenny Packham (my personal favourite!) Gwen Stefani’s dip-dyed pink dress (again Galliano) The Duchess of Cornwall’s fashion forward gold-splattered coat and Philip Treacy fascinator. There are plenty of dresses to recognise but also some more unusual frocks to inspire and marvel over. I loved the long, linen seventies dress complete with floppy hat (not dissimilar to my mother’s 70s Laura Ashley wedding dress and straw hat combo) There was also a gorgeous, knee-length 60s dress made from gathered satin that I was also enamoured with.
For those seeking wedding inspiration, this exhibition is definitely worth a visit – not only to gaze at those dream-like dresses only accessible to the rich and famous but also to gain an understanding of the tradition of the wedding dress, the ritual of the preparation and the history behind these beautiful frocks. The walls of the V&A are adorned with delightful quotes taken from diaries, newspapers and books of the various periods, describing the arduous preparation, the money spent, the nervous energy and the ultimate elegance of all manner of brides. It really gave you a sense that you are entering a tradition, you are taking part in something so incredibly special, you are taking up an ancient ritual which has been practiced by women for centuries. Having spent the morning prancing around a dressing room in frothy, bejewelled slips of lace and tulle, this certainly gave my wedding-themed Friday some much needed weight and ceremony.
You can see more of the dresses featured in the exhibition here on the V&A’s own pinterest board:
Tickets are available here http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/wedding-dress-1775-2014/wedding-dress-1775-2014-about-the-exhibition/. The exhibition runs until March 2015