V&A Wedding Dresses – 1775 – 2014: Exhibition Review
"The exhibition features some amazing dresses and details the traditions around weddings and wedding clothing throughout the last few centuries, including mens wedding attire, childrenswear, hats, accessories and more."
On Saturday I went to the V&A to view the new exhibition for V&A Wedding Dresses. The exhibition features some amazing dresses and details the traditions around weddings and wedding clothing throughout the last few centuries, including mens wedding attire, childrenswear, hats, accessories and more. It also features details of news reports from the weddings of celebrities, royal wedding videos and some interesting anecdotes from wedding in the last 240 years.
The V&A Wedding Dress exhibition takes place in the fashion gallery and is in chronological order, showing the progression of dresses from a range of different social classes. Of course, most of the dresses are fairly intricate and well made meaning a certain level of wealth was required, but there are some lovely dresses from more rural communities in the 1700s and 1800s, all the way up to some amazing celebrity dresses from more recent years.
Pre 1900 V&A Wedding Dresses
It’s no surprise that the majority of the dresses in the collection are white. As is explained, white was not always a traditional wedding dress colour but since Queen Victoria chose white for her wedding in 1840 it has remained a strong tradition in the western world and is now popular worldwide for it’s association with a bride. In recent years many brides have chosen to go for something a little different, but we’ll get to that later.
Queen Victoria’s dress in 1840, and a dress from the V&A Collection from 1857 | © V&A
As weddings were mainly carried out in churches, it was appropriate for the bride to cover her shoulders and arms, and not reveal too much. This seems in huge contrast from the current styles of backless or strapless dresses. Dresses were also heavily symbolic, often using flowers or symbols tied to fertility, fidelity and love in the fabrics.
Non-traditional V&A Wedding Dress
While the white dress may be the most recognisable type of wedding dress, in many other cultures different colours and styles are more traditional. Indian weddings have a strong association with red for a bride, and in African weddings many bright colours are worn. But there were also other reasons not to wear white. Many brides in different circumstances chose not to wear white, such as age, previous marriages (of themselves or their bridegroom), or even austerity. The two dresses below are both western dresses. The bride who wore purple in 1899 felt she was too old, at 34, to wear white. The bold red dress was worn by bride Monica Maurice in 1938 in order to represent her strong independence. She went on to be the only member female of the Association of Mining Electrical Engineers until 1978. Her bold choice reflects her bold personality.
Modern V&A Wedding Dresses
In recent years, celebrity wedding dresses have become a huge affair, with many designers using celebrity weddings to show off the best of their style, often creating bespoke wedding dresses for the bride. Standing out from the crowd with something different and exciting has become the norm for many brides.
Kate Moss made waves when she wore a gorgeous, intricately beaded golden dress for her wedding. The bespoke dress was made by designer John Galliano. The couture piece features layers of tulle, richly beaded, and fits Kate Moss’ figure perfectly with its 30s look.
Visit the V&A Wedding Dresses 1775 – 2014 Exhibition
The exhibition runs until March 2015 so there is still plenty of time to go. Be sure to pre-book to avoid the queues!
If you’re interested in finding more about the history of wedding dresses, then be sure to add The Wedding Dress – 300 years of bridal fashions to your fashion library.
All images are copyright of V&A unless otherwise stated.<