Ballgowns at the V&A

You know when you’re a child and your brain seems pretty empty? It’s only really got your phone number and your best friend’s phone number memorised, it’s pretty much an empty vessel ripe for filling. I used to read and read every fashion history book I could get my hands on, all the historical sections in encyclopedia, slowly squeezing the phone numbers for room in my tiny brain.

There used to be a dress in the V&A I called the ‘couch dress’, it was red, heavily embroidered, and about five feet wide, it filled my empty brain with complete wonder. I’d go and visit the fashion section after school pretty regularly and inhale all the craftsmanship and detailing, storing images of these exciting historical pieces. The couch dress isn’t on display at the moment, but there was a whole host of amazing dresses to awaken my inner nine year old with their Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 exhibition.

It traces the history of balls and ballgowns from the tradition-heavy days of Hardy Amies, debutante balls and old-school couture to present-day red-carpet frocks with designs by Mary Katrantzou, Erdem and Giles to name a few. The V&A have really pulled out the stops with this one, the floor level display has exaggerated cutouts of mirrors, chandeliers and dressing tables to remind you of the grand settings these balls took place in. They have also made the most of the architecture of the room with projected images of the gowns on the ceiling. You then go up a Cinderella-does-minimalism staircase to the contemporary section, which is decorated with giant pearl necklaces and chandeliers. It’s a great chance to see some incredible dresses up close and personal, I was doing a lot of the ‘taking it all in’ kind of staring and breathing when you just get into a trance state of absorption. My inner nine-year old was really chuffed.

More Exhibitions: Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern

From left: Gareth Pugh (created especially for the exhibition), Craig Lawrence, Christopher Kane and the dress Beyoncé wore for Barack Obama inauguration event
Christian Dior shoes from the 50s
Craig Lawrence knitted foil dress
Upstairs at the exhibition
The Ladies Gazette Of Fashion

Embroidered coral dress by Balenciaga

Gratuitous shot of a couch dress from the permanent collection

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