I’ve just returned from the V&A’s exhibition of Wedding Dresses 1775-2014. It does what it says on the tin; parading the bridal frocks – from the eccentric to the sumptuous to the made-on-a-shoestring – that have been worn across society over the last quarter of a millennium.
Watching the crowds coo at a screen depicting the Duchess of Cambridge approach Westminster Abbey in her spectacular Alexandra McQueen gown, I couldn’t help but wonder about our obsession with bridal dresses (have you ever heard anyone wondering what the groom will be wearing?). What do all those changing trends from the V&A’s collection say about our feelings about love and relationships? Because after all, the wedding dress is the most potent of all of love’s symbols. Does a bride’s choice of wedding gown say something about the relationship she’s chosen to enter into until death parts them?
Yes it does, says a whole host of fashion historians. Let’s look at Royal wedding dresses for a moment. Kate Middleton’s choice of elegant, simple and fuss free gown (at least on a Royal scale) has been described as symbolic of her relationship with William – low-key, modern, fresh and with none of the hyperbole that we assume goes with relationships that exist behind castle doors. It makes one think back to the showy, blowsy, over the top meringue affair, which Princess Diana wore for her marriage to Prince Charles (following their divorce she admitted that she regretted her choice of outfit).
Let’s go back another generation to Queen Elizabeth II’s marriage to Prince Phillip. Scheduled as it was during the bleak postwar years still blighted by rationing and poverty, an opulent frock would have sent the wrong message about the type of union being formed. The future Queen’s choice to have spring flowers embroidered all over the gown was, say historians, a symbol of hope for the nation and a clear message that this was one Royal couple who intended to stand by each other and their people in good times and bad.
And so this got me thinking about some of the weddings I’ve been to over the years (not Royal ones alas). Does it have any special significance that I can’t name a single trend? I’ve been witness to sexy bride, meringue bride, veiled bride, hipster bride, vintage bride, red-shoed bride, suited bride, jean-clad bride, burlesque bride, sixties bride, pretty in pink bride, black velvet bride, sequin bride, fairy bride, classic bride and (no joke) Barbie bride.
So today’s wedding dress trend seems to be ‘anything goes’. And I can’t help but think that in 2015 that’s exactly how we feel about love itself. We’re more tolerant than ever before; dating agency meet-ups have lost all the stigma that was once attached with taking romantic matters into your own hands. Perhaps, in 250 years time, the V&A’s Wedding Dresses 2015 – 4065 will hint at an even richer variety of love stories.
Watch some lovely footage below of Royal wedding frocks, which includes the reasoning behind Queen Victoria’s choice of wedding gown:
All images: Facebook.com/victoriaandalbertmuseum