Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 - V&A Exhibition (London)


What started out as a short blog hiatus, somehow managed to turn into a very long break. All of which I blame on work, other commitments and the fact that fashion in the last few months has left me slightly uninspired. But having dragged my friend T to the V&A Ballgowns exhibition last week, I thought it would be a nice way to revive Haute World for a bit (though bear with me - updates may still be somewhat sporadic).

Having first perused the reopened fashion galleries, which I'd highly recommend - especially considering it's free - T and I began our cultural journey on the ground floor of the exhibit. Split into two parts, this area showcased the ballgowns since 1950, while the upper level featured the more contemporary dresses. Throughout the visit, various dresses from the exhibit could be seen projected on the ceiling of the dome above.

Not surprisingly, the most striking gowns were the ones from past eras - back when formal attire was only the norm for private events and handmade for a particular client. Wearers ranged from royalty to debutantes with every outfit immaculately made and beautiful to behold. Through time, private functions evolved to the more public charity balls - and in recent years: red-carpet events.

Ballgowns since 1950

Top: Mary Donan, Yuki, Matthew Williamson and Belville Sassoon, left: Victor Edelstein, Bruce Oldfield (made for Bianca Jagger) and Murray Arbeid worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, right: Hardy Amies.

Designed for the ball: David Emanuel, Worth of London, Norman Hartnell

Rayne Shoes. Gowns and accessories by Dior

Radical Robes 1990-2012, including gowns by Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and, Zandra Rhodes

Left: Alexander McQueen dress from his last collection. Right: 'Elvis Dress' by Catherin Walker created for Diane, Princess of Wales

The biggest contrast, once you reached the upper level was that despite the beauty of the dresses, grouped together in three clusters, there seemed to be a personal touch missing. As everyone knows, these days evening dresses are worn on the red carpet for a mere few hours, chosen by a stylist and lent to a celebrity, who's body shape was never the intended target of the designer. Unlike the lower level, which featured gowns that were actually purchased by their wearers and lovingly stored for future generations, it seems an awful shame that most gowns these days are passed from one celeb to another before ending back in a designer's showroom. 

Contemporary Ballgowns

Overview of one of the upper level displays. Right: Alexander McQueen feathered gown as worn by Daphne Guinness.

Left: Craig Lawrence, Christopher Kane, Ralph & Russo (as worn by Beyonce). Right: Vivienne Westwood.

Craig Lawrence, Jenny Packham (as worn by Sandra Bullock) and Gareth Pugh's metallic gown made of leather.

Giles Deacon, Nicholas Oakwell

Amanda Wakely, Holly Fulton

Roksanda Illincic

Left: Marchesa. Right: Mark Fast, John Galliano, Felicity Brown

Erdem, Mary Katrantzou

Nevertheless, the exhibition made a good point of showing that even contemporary British fashion houses like Alexander McQueen or Vivienne Westwood have successfully bridged the gap between the red carpet and traditional royal functions. With Britain being a focus of pretty much everything these days, this exhibition is definitely worth a visit and will thankfully be open for quite a while longer. If you're in London around this time, I'd definitley urge you to check it out - especially considering the images I took don't really do the gowns much justice...

Additional images shown above are the copyright of the V&A,  Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images


  1. How I wish I could see this. Especially the McQueen feathered gown. Great post !!

  2. OMG! Beautiful!

    P.S.: I have missed you!

  3. I always find the best ideas in your blog so i come often.

  4. Great to see a post from you again ~ Many thanks for sharing the wonderful V&A Exhibition and all these fabulous gowns.

    Have a great week

  5. Welcome back! Oh my god this looks stunning - I really need to get my behind in gear and get to this exhibition.

  6. Ooh I' m in London next week. Is this worth a visit? Looks as though it is!

  7. Welcome back! What a fantastic exhibit. It would definitely be a treat to see these gowns in person. It is a little sad that custom-made is so rare these days. I wonder why modern day celebs don't patron that anymore, they certainly have the means to.

  8. What an amazing exhibit!
    Especially loving that Gareth Pugh gown.
    Thanks for sharing these fabulous pics, darling!


  9. just gorgeous.. always love a wonderful Fashion exhibition and love the Retro Styles! xo

  10. Welcome back! I've missed your reviews and incursions into the fashion world. I love Catherine Walker's dress and jacket and the Alexander McQueen dress next to it. And i liked your comparison between the past and present collections, it's so true.

  11. totally love the Dioresque feel to this whole exhibit. Lovely post

    oxoxox from San Francisco

  12. Welcome back! And I've been wishing for a ticket to London for this V&A exhibit! I love your comment about the personal touch, how glamorous gowns really take on the personality of its (loving) owner rather than just being a garment used for a few hours. -- J xxx

  13. I wish I have an occasion to wear ball gowns but alas... :( and welcome back!!

  14. so glad you are ALIVE! yay!!! the blogging thing takes so much time. i think we have both been blogging for years, and sometimes one just runs out of time and/or ideas. i am in that boat and do not post nearly as often as i used to. but it is nice to post when one has the time and inclination.

    the elvis dress is my favorite. not that i could wear it well or anything, but it is AWESOME.

  15. Welcome back!! I totally understand what you mean about taking a blogging break. Sometimes life just gets busy! Anyways I'm glad you visited my site otherwise I wouldn't have known you were back.

    This looked like a wonderful exhibition. So many beautiful pieces that are essentially wearable art.

  16. Wow I would have loved to see that exhibition. Some of those gowns looks absolutely stunning!

  17. Welcome back! Ooh this is my kind of exhibit! Sigh I wish I was still in London!

    Chic 'n Cheap Living

  18. It looks like an exhibit I would love! Welcome back! And just blog the way you enjoy, don't put too much pressure on yourself!

  19. I hadn't heard from you in ages! I thought you were done blogging... Great images of the exhibit! Wish I could go and check it out!

  20. I love ballgowns, and so this looks like such an interesting exhibition. I'm definitely due a visit to the V&A.

  21. These gowns are exquisite pieces of art. I'd love to check this out later this year. Welcome back!xx :)

  22. You're making me miss the V&A desperately! This looks like it was quite the exhibit.


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