V&A exhibition showcases the social journey behind the ballgown from 19 May – 6 Jan

Sarah Burton feather dress for Alexander McQueen

From debutante balls, royal state occasions and celebrity red carpet events, this exhibition showcases the social journey behind the ballgown. For who doesn’t like a bit of glamour in their life?

Held over two floors of the newly renovated fashion rooms of the V&A museum, the setting of this exhibition is quite something. Ordered chromatically, the ground floor pays tribute to the more historical creations while the mezzanine displays the modern, sometimes experimental but just as intricate dresses. Even the ceiling possesses a somewhat haunting image projection of a dress.

Over sixty ballgowns are showcased to represent truly British glamour and traditional design since 1950. From jewelled lace, bursting feathers, full-length leather and even latex, the exhibition epitomises the word glamorous in so many ways. The changes in fabrics, designers and the women in the gowns represent social changes in British culture since 1950.

The more extravagant end of the ballgown spectrum features the likes of Gareth Pugh’s silver leather dress with an exceedingly high collar that conceals the mannequins face up to eye level. Or the beautiful feathered corset dress by Sarah Burton for McQueen. Other catwalk spectacles include Vivienne Westwood, Giles Deacon and Jenny Packman masterpieces.

Celebrity culture has become a truly undeniable phenomenon, bordering on obsession, in more recent decades. Whether we’re paying polite compliments or enjoying critiquing those in the spotlight; the outfit choices are always at the forefront. The exhibition is not shy of celebrity-adorned dresses boasting red carpet favourites worn by Elizabeth Hurley, Bianca Jagger and Dynasty star Joan Collins to name a few. The one and only independent woman, Beyonce, has earned her place with an exact replica of the Ralph & Russo strapless crystal gown, which the singer wore to perform at the White House.

And of course, it wouldn’t be truly British glamour without making reference to our national fascination with royalty. The exhibition comprises treasures such as a Normal Hartwell dress designed for Elizabeth the Queen Mother, David Sassoon’s yellow number for Princess Anne and Catherine Walkers’ famously known ‘Elvis Dress’ worn by Princess Diana in 1989.

V&A Museum
Fashion Galleries, Room 40
19th May – 6th January


Written by Grace Williams