Ball Gowns at the V & A – British Glamour Since 1950

Spring 2012 saw the re-opening of the much loved Fashion Galleries within the V & A Museum, and they have opened with a truly spectacular exhibition.  Laid out over two floors are more than sixty incredible gowns worn by celebrities, heads of state and royalty since 1950. This exhibition highlights sixty incredible years of British design. The exhibition includes gowns designed for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Diana and some of today’s younger members of the royal family, as well as dresses worn by Elizabeth Hurley, Sandra Bullock and Bianca Jagger.

Photo by Tracey & Doug
Photo by Tracey & Doug

On Display

No matter what the occasion whether a red carpet event or a royal ball, British designers have always pulled out all of the stops when it comes to ball gown design. Ball gown design has always stood on its own in the annals of British Fashion and whilst the designs may have offered a reflection on the current fashion trends; they certainly did not follow them. Ball gowns have always been something to draw the eye, capture the imagination and fill the dreams of young girls across the decades.

Those on display in this incredible exhibition are mainly one off, couture designs made for a particular client; more often than not these dresses were designed to be worn with a particular jewellery piece belonging to the client. For a designer knowing where the dress is to be worn is important as they need to ensure that the design is suitable for the event to which it is to be worn.

Changing Times

During the 1950’s the ball gown was still very much part of the debutante scene, and there were regular balls and events held throughout the year for which designers could create spectacular and stunning gowns. Over the decades though the coming out balls for the debutantes and the spectacular balls like Queen Charlottes birthday ball have faded away. Now designers are focussed on creating show stopping pieces for red carpet events, premieres and charity balls. Yet it is always the royal ball gowns that have attracted the most attention, and those designers designing for state events have a strict set of parameters in which they need to operate. These dresses need to be able to take the embellishments of royal regalia without it taking anything away from the design, for example the Garter Sash worn to state events by the queen, to which different insignia is attached.

Red Carpet Events

Gowns designed for the red carpet do not have to be so restricted or staid, here the designer can work to the whims of their client and create spectacular pieces to match the personality of the wearer, and these gowns become statement pieces within their collections. The press and paparazzi are all too ready to comment on how glamorous a celebrity looks at these events, and for a designer a good review can make or break their name. The fabulous gowns on display in this incredible collection are an illustration on just how talented British designers have been in the past, and how innovative they are today, ensuring that Britain remains at the forefront of incredible design.

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