Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The White Wedding Dress

On Sunday Mr. Macska and I went up to Bendigo with some friends to see The White Wedding Dress exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery.   Well, actually, they boys went and looked at other things while Alice, Kat and I went to the exhibition.

 The exhibition, which is from the V&A, covers 200 years of wedding fashions.  The first dresses were some lovely examples from the first half of the 1800s, when it began to be more common for wedding dresses to be white or cream, and lace veils and orange blossom were traditional accessories.  An example is this embroidered muslin dress, worn in 1834.  The detail is exquisite, all that plumpy embroidery!

 During the second half of the century, weddings were increasingly conducted in public in a church, rather that in private homes, and society weddings were reported on in the press.  It was during this time that a whole industry centering around weddings sprang up, as weddings became more and more elaborate.  The dress above, which was one of my favourites, was actually quite restrained for the time, although still fashionable.  It was worn by a Quaker bride in 1874, and is made of striped silk gauze.

 In the early 20th century, picturesque wedding gowns that took inspiration from earlier times were popular, such as this Liberty's dress from 1907, with its medieval-inspired long train falling from the shoulders, beaded and embroidered collar and pendant girdle.  I adore the Art Nouveau-style pearl embroidery with its dog rose motif.

This glorious dress was designed by Norman Hartnell for Margaret Whigham, who married the American amateur golfer Charles Sweeney in 1933, when she was 21.  Margaret was a prominent British socialite, and her dress was so publicised that crowds turning out to catch a glimpse of it blocked Knightsbridge for three hours! 

The whole dress is appliqued with stars outlined in beads, including all around the 12 foot train.  A team of 30 seamstresses worked on the dress for six weeks, and it cost £52 (a year's wage for a young working woman at the time).  The stars around the neckline are appliqued onto cream net, so when worn, it looked like she had on a collar of stars (you can see that better in the photo above, same dress, it just looks white here). There was some footage of the couple coming out of the church, and two men struggling to carry the enormous train through the huge crowds of onlookers.

Margaret actually ended up being married three times, the second time to the Duke of Argyll.  Their divorce in 1963 was a scandal at the time, as the Duke accused his wife of having affairs with 88 different men, and also provided Polaroid pictures of her naked except for her signature three-strand pearl necklace, fellating an unidentified man!

Alice and I also admired this cunningly constructed dress which was created by Charles James in 1934 for Baba Beaton's marriage to Alec Hambro.  Baba was the sister of Cecil Beaton, and he orchestrated the whole wedding.  The dress, of silk-satin, was cut on the bias and had no fastenings - one had to slip it over the head.  The train was split into two points, and the bride wore a choker of wax orange blossoms, and a wimple-like headdress designed by her brother.

Speaking of celebrity weddings, the pièce de résistance for me was the wedding dress of Dita Von Teese.  Designed by Vivienne Westwood, it is a giant Scarlette O'Hara type dress of the most amazing purple shot taffeta (synthetic not silk, interestingly).  Her tricorn hat with mink pompoms was by Stephen Jones, and her purple t-bar shoes with purple diamantes down the front were by Christian Louboutin.

Also included was Dita's corset and peignoir from her wedding trousseau.  The corset, by Mr Pearl was so miniscule, it looked like it was made for a child!  The peignoir was by Nina Ricci and was like a black spider's web, so fine and delicate.

Well, there were many more fantastic dresses, but if you want to see them, you should go to Bendigo and have a look at the exhibition, it really is worth it.  The weather was divine, and Alice and I had fun posing like idiots in the garden in our matching houndstooth outfits!


  1. I sooo want to see this exhibition, it was just on its way when I was last in Bendigo. Must go back soon. Re your comments on my Wendy Blog, I know this sounds ridiculous but i didn't know you worked in a bookshop, Piroska! The nicest of all job to us outsiders. So we have more in common. But meantime, i just follow you for the fashion and inspiration! jxx

  2. I'm probably a little late to see this exhibition now ... a real shame. But beautifully reported. Well done.