Wednesday, 30 April 2014

You are invited to the wedding of Jane and James on November 9th, 1780, near Winchester ...

The bride, a wealthy farmer's daughter, wore cream sprigged silk and this rather fetching shepherdess straw bonnet - and wouldn't she be pleased to know that 230 years on, it would still look fresh and pretty.

This is the first gown in the V&A's irresistible exhibition of wedding dresses (which is on for ages, so no need to rush).

Do not marry a young man, you know not how he may turn out. (A mother's advice to her daughter, 1801.)

The showstopper was the Norman Hartnell gown worn by Margaret Sweeny (You're the top, you're Mussolini, you're Mrs Sweeny ...) at her first wedding in 1933 - at the Brompton Oratory, next door to the V&A - when she invited 1,000 guests and got 2,000 gatecrashers. Fun to see old newsreel footage with her nine sulky bridesmaids ... and the V&A didn't breathe a whisper about her future shenanigans. 

 But just look at that wonderful dress and its 3.6m train ...
 This is how it travelled when the exhibition went to Australia.

I loved this stylish wartime dress made from unrationed upholstery fabric in shimmering synthetic silk, embroidered with buttercups. 

I couldn't help wondering how all those marriages turned out. If Mary, who wore embroidered white muslin in 1807, lived happily ever after, if Henrietta's rose-embroidered garters were fun on her wedding night in 1848.

As ever, I lose interest in the modern section when it's all about celebrities I've barely heard of (although Kate Moss's dress, I must admit, was exquisite) and designer dresses that have never been worn by real brides.

There was the dog's dinner dress, although the V&A call it a flower bomb ... not so much a meringue as an Eton mess.

There was this famously tacky dress by Bruce Oldfield - loathed by the bridegroom  - which when you see it up close turns out to be rather nasty polyester.

But look out for the exquisite detail on Lady Oxmantown's dress, with its seams stitched with tiny seed pearls. I can't find a picture but I've never seen anything like it.

What is missing from the exhibition is common or garden wedding dresses from the 1950s up to the present. Not dresses that cost as much as a house, but dresses bought in department stores or high street bridal shops or made by local dressmakers or the bride's mum. That's real social history, not what celebs are wearing for marriages that last five minutes. The V&A used to have a brilliant section on their website where you could upload your own family wedding photos. There were hundreds, going right back to the 19th century - but I looked yesterday and it doesn't seem to be there any more. Or if it is, I can't find it. It was always rather buried away and you had to know it was there. What a shame if they've dismantled it. In fact, I'd have scrapped all of the upstairs part of this exhibition and given the space over to bouffant veils and 1960s broderie anglaise and 1970s Juliet caps ... I'm sure they are there, stashed away in boxes all around the country. 


Gina said...

Looking forward to seeing this exhibition.

Magic Bean said...

Oh my! I have to go to this- you have really tempted me into a little solo jaunt to London. Thank you, Ax

Lucille said...

As usual you have admirably sorted my next outing with old schoolfriend. Her daughter is getting married this summer so it's an ideal theme.

mary said...

Look out for those pearl seams, GIna. It's the dress with phoenix embroidery in the upstairs section.

Solo jaunts always the best, Magic Bean!

Hope you both enjoy it, Lucille!

Cosy Books said...

Just great...went to youtube half an hour ago to see Margaret Sweeny's wedding dress and got roped into cascading wedding party dances. Damn you, Mary!

The exhibit looks wonderful and I am once again, very jealous.

mary said...

Now you've driven me there and I got roped into more Pathé News weddings, Darlene - what crowds!