Written by Ellie Taylor

Lifestyle

Dresses to Impress

Bride-to-be Ellie Taylor takes a look round the V&A’s Wedding Dress Exhibition and gives it a right royal thumbs up.

Norman_Hartnell

Embroidered silk satin wedding dress designed by Norman Hartnell, 1933 Worn by Margaret Whigham for her marriage to Charles Sweeny © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

As a bride-to-be, I’ve looked at more wedding dresses in the last six months than anyone should ever look at. Ever. And I’m not saying that in a dramatic way like those blokes on Don’t Tell The Bride who look at two frocks before becoming overwhelmed with choice and committing hari kari with a tiara.

Dresses. I’ve seen ‘em all, mate. All of the dresses. There isn’t a wedding shop assistant in the South East who hasn’t seen me in a nude thong clambering into some taffeta, saying lovey-dovey things like “How much is it?” and “It has to make my tits look incredible.”

Thankfully, after following a considered dress-picking criteria (see above RE incredible tits) I’ve now chosen one. And walking around the V&A’s wedding dress exhibition, I’m very glad I have.

Seeing so many dresses ranging from the 18th Century right up to the Kate-Moss age (like the Jurassic but with closer ties to Nick Grimshaw), could well have sent me down multiple new style trajectories. If I end up buying a bonnet and staff I’ll hold the museum directly responsible.

Not that I’d fit into any of the bonnets on display. My God, the brides from the actual ‘olden days’ were weeny. The ubiquitous lady cages of boned corsets and tiny, tiny silk slippers were made for a species of woman so fragile they’d find chewing on a flapjack exhausting. As for a Zumba class; certain death.

Silk_brocade

Silk brocade gown and petticoat, silk covered straw hat and silk satin shoes, 1780. Worn by Jane Bailey for her marriage to James Wickham. Image reproduced by kind permission of the Olive Matthews Collection, Chertsey Museum. Photograph by John Chase.

The exhibition features numerous mentions of royal brides, especially Queen Victoria (well, it is her museum after all). By all accounts Vicks was quite the trendsetter with her white wedding dress deliberately trimmed with British lace, sparking a trend for white dresses but also promoting British manufacture. This is now, of course, a mantle Prince Andrew has taken up because he, too, loves British exports (and airmiles).

Film footage of British royal weddings plays on loop and includes images of the Queen Mother on her wedding day wearing a 1920s shower cap-esque veil with material flowers above both ears, making her head resemble that of a lace-trimmed koala.

Then, of course, came the Queenage on her big day, followed by images of Princess Margaret looking unsurprisingly beautiful with a 1960s bun so big she’d fit right in at any bar in Liverpool on a Saturday night.

Next came footage of Charles and Diana, at which point a lady behind me started muttering “Dreadful…” Whether it was the marriage she disproved of or Diana’s dress, with sleeves like satin sacks that once housed Iberico ham joints, I’m not sure. Sadly, there was no footage of Fergie (or indeed any of the Black Eyed Peas).

Camilla, The Duchess of Philip Treacy Fascinators, has leant her outfit from the blessing of her marriage to Prince Charles to the exhibition. The two women in front of me were fans of her embroidered frock coat designed by Anna Valentine but seemed far more interested in the fact Camilla’s shoes were “only from LK Bennett” – basically the Primark of royal wear.

But it’s not all royals, there’s a plenty of dresses from regular folk, including one of my favourites from the whole collection, a racy ruby red knee-length dress from 1938 worn by an engineer called Monica Morris. Apparently, she finished it off with a blue belt and a blue veil. A scandalous scarlet bride. I think I would have liked Monica.
But, it was the modern ‘sleb dresses that really floated my boat. It was like seeing pictures from TheMailOnline Vogue in real life.

There was Gwen Stefani’s blush dip-dyed Galliano number from her marriage to Gavin Rossdale, the bottom half pink, fading gradually up to ivory as if the gown itself has been dunked into a candyfloss-filled childhood dream. Good job it wasn’t dunked into my childhood dream or it would have been covered with a large picture of Dean Cain.

Gareth-Pugh

Pale grey slashed chiffon wedding dress designed by Gareth Pugh and veil by Stephen Jones, 2011. Worn by Katie Shillingford for her marriage to Alex Dromgoole © Amy Gwatkin

Kate Moss’ nude bedazzled gown by is also featured – also Galliano. With more sequins hand sewn onto every centimetre of the dress than have been used on all 13,576 series’ of Strictly, it is absolutely beautiful but also liable to set fire to dry scrubland if worn in direct sunlight.
Walking round the exhibition, you can’t help but think how each of these dresses, whether from last year or last century, covered in jewels or made from upholstery material, were once part of another woman’s wedding day, picked with such precision and on it placed such high hopes for what married life may bring.
I found myself imagining my own wedding dress in an exhibition like this. I started to envisage how, in 100 years’ time, strangers could be staring at my dress, perhaps seeing just a fragment of the excitement and possibility that I now see in every stitch and seam.
But then I remember, after my wedding my dress, all being well, is likely to be covered in red wine and Running Man battle scars. Oh, and I’m not Kate Moss.
Dry cleaners and a box under the bed it is then.

The exhibition is on until the 15th March 2015. For more information visit
http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/wedding-dress-1775-2014/

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Written by Ellie Taylor

Ellie is a stand-up comic, actor, writer and presenter. She’s also a fan of Nutella and naps.