Vintage Wedding Dresses at the V&A

Dear Reader

I was delighted to be invited to a preview of the V&A’s vintage wedding dresses exhibition at the weekend. It’s a great day out with eighty spectacular dresses and some lovely stories about the brides.

Kate Moss in fabulous vintage-inspired dress, and designer John Galliano

The show starts with some amazing examples of 18th and 19th Century wedding dresses, including many Victorian dresses – all works of tremendous skill and opulence. 

1885 wedding dress by Gladman & Womack
Satin court dress, 1775-80

I enjoyed seeing these older dresses from the V&A’s own collection. But I did feel there were a few too many, compared to the 20th Century dresses. While these earlier dresses are interesting, they’re not so relevant for a modern bride considering a vintage dress – being neither wearable or flattering!

Dress of Cara Leland Huttleston Rogers, 1890. However did she breathe!

The show then romps through the 20th Century at a very fast pace. It begins with 1920s dresses and has a few examples which are much softer and prettier. I particularly liked one lovely example, which reminded me of a very similar Edwardian lace blouse I sold last year.

Norman Hartnell wedding dress for Margaret Wigham, 1933
Its 3.6m train famously stopped traffic on the day!

I was disappointed to see only two 1930s satin dresses, and no 1930s lace gowns which are famously wonderful. And I could only see a few 1940s and 1950s wedding dresses. Since this is considered a golden period for wedding dress design, I felt the show didn’t really do justice to it. Most of the gowns in the show are British and I imagine few girls could afford a wonderful dress at that time, but there must have been some society weddings with beautiful dresses?

Charles James dress for Barbara Beaton, 1934
Barbara was the sister of Cecil Beaton
Dress and hat by Geoffrey Beene, 1970s

Upstairs, the show features late-20th Century dresses, including some very well-known contemporary dresses, Some fabulous, some less so!

Gwen Stefani’s dress by John Galliano, 2002
Gwen Stefani’s wedding to Gavin Rossdale, 2002
Dress by Gareth Pugh for Katie Shillingford, 2011
Veil by Stephen Jones
Bruce Oldfield wedding dress for model Lisa Butcher, 1992
Lisa Butcher marries chef Marco Pierre White, 1992

But I was most pleased to see Kate Moss’s vintage-inspired wedding dress close up as it is far more lovely than the newspapers photos could show. It’s worth going just to see how the gold sequins have been applied to the train!

Dress by John Galliano for Kate Moss’ wedding to Jamie Hince, 2011
Hand-embroidered sequins and pearls for Kate Moss’s fabulous dress

Each dress in the show has its own story, illustrated with newspaper articles etc. I can see that’s very important from the V&A’s historical point of view, so I’m sure it would influence the curator’s choices. But I would have liked to see some dresses chosen purely for their design qualities – their sheer beauty and ability to flatter – rather than for their provenance.

‘Bird of Paradise’ wedding dress by Vivienne Westwood for Dita Von Teese
Grosgrain, velvet and mink tricorn hat by Stephen Jones, 2005

After the wedding dresses, I dropped in to see the Italian Fashion exhibition – which I loved. One thing I noticed was the great number of talented women designers from the 1940s and 1950s producing wonderfully glamorous dresses. But they seemed to disappear towards the latter end of the century – when the boys took over again after the War!

Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 runs at the V&A until 15th March 2015. The Glamour of Italian Fashion runs until 27th July 2014. Do go to both exhibitions. There are some things of real beauty to be seen in each.



Heavenly Vintage Brides

Photographs c. Victoria & Albert Museum